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6594th Test Group

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posted on Aug, 20 2013 @ 02:18 PM
I had typed this up as a response in a thread previously, but when talking about it earlier today, I decided they need their own thread. The mission the Test Group performed was extraordinary, and not well known.

The 6594th Test Group was stood up in 1958 to support Air Force Systems Command missile and space development operations in the Pacific. In 1995 large portions of their real mission were declassified (for those that didn't live and work around them, it was an open secret on base with them).

Beginning in 1960, the unit, flying JC-119 Boxcars and H-21 helicopters would attempt to recover film canisters falling from Corona program satellites, the first US spy satellites. The first successful in flight recovery occurred August 19, 1960. The mission was flown by a number of JC-119, H-21s to recover the capsule if it landed in the water, and RC-121 aircraft to try to track the capsule on radar to guide the JC-119s in to the area to catch it.

The capsule was captured in flight by flying over the top of the parachute, with several poles extended out the back of the aircraft through the cargo door. The poles had as many as 8 hooks attached to them, and would snag on the parachute. The capsule would then be retrieved into the aircraft, and flown back to Hickam. Once at Hickam the film was flown back to New York where it was developed and analyzed at the Eastman Kodak Hawkeye facility. Each film canister cost between $7 and $25 million, and was filled initially with 8,000 feet of film for each camera (16,000 feet total), and later with 16,000 feet of film for each camera (32,000 feet total).

The mission proved so successful that Test Group received brand new JC-130B Hercules aircraft to replace their JC-119s, along with six SH-3 helicopters. The helicopters would be supported by two WWII Era Liberty Ships modified with landing pads and hangars. In 1967 they received an additional three JC-130H to support Senior Bown (D-21) missions.

When on a recovery, as many as seven C-130s would fly to the target area, where they would wait for the transponder to activate on the capsule. The aircraft closest would move into position, and attempt to make the recovery. If they failed, and the capsule landed in the water, one of the helicopters would move in, and recover it from the ocean, using a rescue swimmer and hoist.

In 1974 the last aircraft upgrade occurred when they received six HH-53 Jolly Green Giant helicopters with refueling probes, and three HC-130P Hercules modified to refuel helicopters in flight. These replaced the two ships, and the SH-3s. The HH-53s carried rescue swimmers on their missions to send them into the water to hook the capsules if they landed in the water, which meant that when they weren't recovering satellites, they were available to help the Coast Guard with rescue missions.

This led to tragedy in 1985 however. On January 15th 1985, Test Group received a call from the Coast Guard that a ship located 540 miles North of Oahu, well out of helicopter range for anyone else, had a sailor in trouble. The Asian Beauty had a 27 year old British sailor with apparent internal bleeding, who needed to be airlifted.

Capt. David Mason, Capt.Steve Pindzola, 2nd LT. Russel Ohl, Ssgt. Kyle Marshall, Ssgt. Daniel Reihman, Ssgt. John R. Gilbert, and Ssgt. Robert Jermyn boarded HH-53 tail number 355. Aircraft 357 would accompany them on the mission, with an HC-130P tanker aircraft, due to the range. Their callsign for the mission was Arris 01. Upon arriving over the Asian Beauty, 355 moved into position and began to lower one of the rescue swimmers to the deck. During the deployment, the tail of the aircraft suffered a catastrophic failure, and broke off, taking the tail rotor with it. The aircraft instantly went out of control, and slammed into the deck of the ship, where it exploded, killing all 7 crew members. Capt. Mason had been on his honeymoon at the time of the accident, and returned early as a volunteer specifically for this mission.

The 6594th Test Group operated from 1958 until 1986, and completed 40,000 successful "catches" during that time, including 200 film canisters, as well as supporting dozens of missile and weather balloon operations. More than 60 people were rescued, in one of the best records in the entire Air Force for open water rescues. They were the only unit in the free world that performed this mission, and all recoveries took place near Hawaii.

During one of their recovery missions a Soviet sub was detected under the recovery area. After that, a method was developed to allow the satellite to develop the film in orbit, and electronically scan the images down to earth, ending the mission of the 6594th Test Group.

At the time of deactivation, the unit had 7 JC-130Bs, 3 JC-130Hs, 5 HH-53s (355 was never replaced), and 3 HC-130P tanker aircraft.

posted on Aug, 20 2013 @ 03:20 PM
So even in the mid 80's we were still using this?!

I thought the military industrial complex was 20-50 years ahead of anything civilian.

Maybe they're not as advanced as I thought....?

The first digital camera was made by Kodak in '75 -- you'd think they's slap some telescopic optics on it and send that puppy up there. And that was the first publically known digital camera.

posted on Aug, 20 2013 @ 03:57 PM
reply to post by MystikMushroom

It was a lot more than just the cameras that they were doing. The Corona program ended in 1972, with OPS 6371 a KH-4B satellite mission that lasted 6 days of a planned 19.

Test Group also supported missile launches from the missile agency, weather balloons that were used for both actual weather, and for spying missions, and a host of other missions. Just that by the mid-80s their primary mission of catching satellites was over, so there wasn't as big a need for them as there had been 10 years prior.

posted on Aug, 20 2013 @ 04:09 PM
I've been looking for info on these aircrafts thanks for posting
I remember years ago seeing something similar where a C-130 had like a pincher device on the nose of the aircraft

posted on Aug, 20 2013 @ 04:35 PM
reply to post by ThePeaceMaker

That was the Fulton Recovery System used to get people out where they couldn't land. They'd launch a balloon with a rope hooked to the person. That hook on the nose would snag the rope, and yank them into the aircraft. The bad part is that it tended to so disorient you, that they'd unhook you, and you'd turn and walk out the back of the airplane.

This video is worth it just for the sheep test.

edit on 8/20/2013 by Zaphod58 because: (no reason given)

posted on Aug, 20 2013 @ 04:50 PM
MARS was pretty useful.

Later we used helicopters with MARS to grab Firebees and other items, too.

posted on Aug, 20 2013 @ 04:53 PM
Oh thank you for that video that was brilliant! And thanks for the info on that. I never did know how they actually collected the stranded person once they had caught the wire

I had images of the poor survivor being dragged along the ground when it came into land haha

posted on Aug, 20 2013 @ 05:08 PM
reply to post by _Del_

We knew about the satellite grabs when Test Group was active, but it wasn't until they declassified a lot of this stuff years later that we found out about the D-21, and some of the other stuff that was going on as well as the Corona program.

posted on Aug, 20 2013 @ 06:35 PM
They made us kids play a game called "battleship" back in the early 60's based loosely on the photodetector technology of the period. Just long strips of data sometimes you got lucky depending on the boat size.

They never could give me any details due to non disclosure agreements that covered about everything except toilet paper.

Only mention of Corona photodetector technology that I could find quickly was here.

Is it classified again?

posted on Aug, 21 2013 @ 04:35 AM
reply to post by Cauliflower

They've declassified some of the material from Corona, but not everything. Some of the technical aspects are still classified I believe.

I just found a great book online that interviews crews from the 6593rd Squadron (Special) which was the squadron under the 6594th Group banner.

posted on Aug, 21 2013 @ 08:36 AM
reply to post by Zaphod58

Thanks heaps for posting this, I was actually trying to research this not to long ago and didnt come up with much. I find it really interesting, thanks

posted on Aug, 21 2013 @ 08:48 AM
Did the Soviets ever try this, or anything similar. I have seen footage of the C-130's catching the capsules on the History Channel. It is amazing what lengths this country went to, to make sure the Soviets didnt catch us of guard.

posted on Aug, 21 2013 @ 09:14 AM
reply to post by Glassbender777

The soviets used Zenit spy satelites, instead of catching them in mid air they used to jettison a re-entry capsule about 2.5 meters wide, it contained the camera system, film, recovery beacons, parachutes and a destruct charge.

posted on Aug, 21 2013 @ 09:33 AM
reply to post by Stealthbomber

Corona used something similar with the film canister. If it sat in the water for so long (I believe it's 48 hours) the capsule would flood, ruining the film and sinking it to the bottom.

The crews all said they really didn't like to have to recover them from the water, because the capsule would hit and sink to 12 or 15 feet, and even at that depth would allow water to start to enter the canister, damaging the film.

Once they switched to the JC-130, the dropped the R-121 (or EC-121, I've seen both used), and only had to send out seven aircraft instead of the 9-12 with the JC-119s, and eventually only five JC-130s were used. They'd get to the area the canister was expected to come into, and fly line abreast waiting.

I actually miss the days of Test Group. It was really cool to even be on the periphery of this and knowing what they were doing, even if we didn't have any idea the extent of it.

posted on Aug, 21 2013 @ 09:58 AM
reply to post by Zaphod58

Yeah I can imagine they wouldn't have liked it much.

Seems like there was an awful lot on money being spent on those systems too, 40,000 recovered at even the lower amount of 7 million would be around the 28 billion mark for the canisters
but then I guess spying does get the big budgets

posted on Aug, 21 2013 @ 10:02 AM
reply to post by Stealthbomber

It wasn't all from Corona. They were also going to recover D-21s at one point I believe, as well as weather balloons, and were involved in missile tests. They caught a lot of things through the years, but their primary mission was to catch Corona pods. I believe they caught 200 pods from Corona missions.

posted on Aug, 21 2013 @ 10:20 AM
reply to post by Zaphod58

Oh that's good, I thought the number was pretty high

I think the D-21 only had around 4 operational missions, over china, but then perhaps some it's still classified I'm not sure, I'd have to look into it further.

posted on Aug, 21 2013 @ 10:31 AM
reply to post by Stealthbomber

There are four acknowledged missions, all ending in failure. Two crashed, one had a partial parachute failure, and one had a failed catch, and the ship that was supposed to recover it hit it in the water and sank it. But the three JC-130H models that Test Group got were for D-21 mission support, so I wouldn't be surprised if there were more than four missions and a number were successful.

posted on Aug, 21 2013 @ 10:50 AM
reply to post by Zaphod58

Actually now I come to think of it, what's on the Internet says that the only operational flights were over china but I do know that one crashed over the Soviet Union in a remote farming area and was returned back to the USA through the CIA many years later, as far as I recall it was about 15 or 20 years after it crashed and the soviets though it was good technology from then not 20 years earlier

posted on Aug, 21 2013 @ 11:22 AM
reply to post by Stealthbomber

They said that one went over China, but never made the turn to the recovery area and ended up over the Soviet Union, where they reverse engineered it as the Voron, but never built it. The KGB returned a panel of it to the CIA.

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