The New Mission – Sparring Partners

Long before the building program got underway, though, the 190th had more changes to face. In April 1974, less than two years after the conversion from reconnaissance to bombing, the 190th changes mission and name again. From the interdiction of hostile supply lines, the 190th converted to the penetration of the friendly air defenses. It was actually a reversion to operation "Eye-opener." By skillful flying and the use of electronic counter-measures (ECM) the 190th and the 158th (Vermont ANG) together with a squadron of regulars, were to find out how tough American air defenses were. Accordingly, on 6 April, the 190th Bomb Group became the 190th Defense Systems Evaluation Group. Clearly this was not a mission for the B-57s, with their three tons of special bombardment equipment. It also required ECM equipment not present on "stock" B-57s. What was used was yet another variation on the Canberra theme - the EB-57B, earlier production models with ECM gear installed in place of bomb load. This new mission, then, might well have been the return of some of the B models the squadron had in 1958. Certainly, after the G models, it was a relief to fly something with the weight a bit better distributed, and the whole load reduced to something like the original burden. At any rate, off to Davis-Monthan went the G models, and the EB-57B's began to come in from Westover AFB, Mass. , and Malstrom AFB, Montana .

Under the general heading of "defense systems evaluation," there were a number of distinct types of missions conducted by the men and machines of the 190th. Five were fairly common. One was COLLEGE DROPOUT, a test of Nite-Hawks radar and computers. Another was SAGA, which was a test of a Fighter-Interceptor Squadron. VIGILANT OVERVIEW was a multi-region test of Air Defense Command, and MUTE was an evaluation of a single Air Defense Region. The BRAVE SERIES exercises were non-evaluation practice exercises.

On the 29th of November 1975 , the 190th met with the third major accident in its eighteen years. A B-57C, containing Lieutenant Gary Keller and Captain Wiley Nolan, flew from Forbes ANGB to Sawyer AFB, Mich. , where they picked up an EB-57B that had been snowbound and left there earlier. On their return flight, bad weather caught up with them. Forbes was inaccessible. A stopover and refueling at Offutt AFB would be necessary. In the meantime, the radio on Keller's B-57C malfunctioned, so all communications had to be through Captain Nolan's set. Besides, the weather at Offutt was tolerable only in comparison with that of Forbes. There was a 5,000-foot overcast, and broken clouds at 700 feet, a general four-mile visibility, and fog. Evidently, the two aircrafts collided four miles northwest of Offutt. They must have only brushed one another, for both pilots were able to eject safely, though Lt Keller suffered a broken leg. Both aircrafts crashed and burned.

Again, the findings of the investigators were not made available to the public.

May of 1976 saw the biggest single change in the unit's history. After 34 years of service, and 17 years on his current job, Col Boggs retired. He was, after all, going to turn 60 on the 26th of May. He had served with the Kansas Air Guard since its post-war formations and participated in three wars. It was as well to retire while he still had the health to enjoy it, and let someone else have a turn with the 190th.

The formal Change of Command took place on the 23rd day of May, the Sunday of UTA, and was climaxed by the presentation to Col Bogs of the Legion of Merit Award. It was a smoothly run ceremony, but perhaps more emotions were tied up in the previous night's "Boggs Roast," in which the 190th assembled for an evening of festivities in honor of their old commander. The featured activity, of course, was the roast itself, with Captain Walter Grant of the Supply Squadron appearing as Col Boggs' instructor pilot, providing details concerning the career of Col. Boggs that somehow escaped the official records.

As is customary on retirement, someone had to ask Col. Boggs what he would do now, but everyone knew the answer before he said it: "Anything I damn well please."

Colonel Boggs' successor and the second commander of the 190th was LtCol William S. Mahler. Col Mahler received his commission through the AFROTC, being commissioned on 5 June 1954 , with his graduation from the University of North Dakota. In September 1954, he went on extended active duty, and reported to Laredo , Texas for pilot training. In the next 20 years, he held a variety of positions in the active Air Force, and flew F-84s, F-101s and F-102s, in addition to various trainer aircraft. He served for one year in Vietnam as a forward air controller, flying O-1s.

After Vietnam came his association with the Air National Guard. First, he was commander of Detachment 1, 445th FIS, Alpena , Mich. , then worked with the Plans and Operations Division of the National Guard Bureau. In July 1974, he became Deputy Commander for Operations of the 190th, and transitioned into EB-57. By Sunday, May 23, 1976 , when he assumed command of the unit, he had 3,500 flying hours. His decorations included the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star and the Air Medal with eight Oak Leaf Clusters.

Among the many missions of the 190th as a "friendly enemy" as GALLANT CREW 77, conducted in March of 1977. GALLANT CREW was a small war between the Republic of Bando - the good guys - and the imperialist aggressors of Alton . Bando was represented on the ground by the Second Armored Division, and Alton by the First Calvary Division. Combat, in order to spare the local civilians, was localized at Fort Hood , Texas . Of course, both armies needed air support, and Col. Walter J. Sobosley, Deputy Commander (Operations) of the 301 Tac Ftr Wing, USAFR, was given a temporary position as Commander of the Altonian Air Force. After so many years of trying to infiltrate the US defenses, the 190th just naturally gravitated toward the Altonians. For the rest, another Air Guard unit provided O-2s, the regulars sent in F-111s (27TFW) and RF-4s (67TRW) but the muscle of the Altonian Air Force came from the Air Reserve, 18 F-108s of the 301st TFW.

On Monday, 21 March, the 190th's contingent arrived at Altonian Air Force HQ, Carlswell AFB, Texas : three EB-57s and one C-131 carrying equipment and ground support personnel. Tuesday morning the flight crew and ground support personnel were instructed concerning the operation, and three sorties were flown for practice. The rest of the week was spent waiting. Thursday and Friday the weather was bad, and Saturday it was worse. Sunday, with some breaks in the cloud cover for encouragement, Altonian F-105s attempted to make simulated strikes on the Bondoian 2nd Armored. They were stopped by Army Nike Hawk anti-aircraft systems. That was where the 190th came in. From Sunday to Wednesday the three EB-57s made one mission after another, trying to jam Army radar so the F-105s could penetrate the defenses. ( Alton lost anyway, but that was in the plan. The Opposition, or Aggressor, always loses in such exercises.)

By Thursday the 31st, the units were back at their home bases, including the 190th at Forbes, being blamed or praised for their performance. For 10 days, the 190th had carried on operations "with a bare minimum of tools and nearly no support from the Air Force."

The fourth serious accident (and second fatal one) in the 21 years of the 117th/190th came on April 5th, 1977 . At 10:00 that morning, a flight of two EB-57s left Forbes Field to practice formation flying. After reaching Richards-Gebaur AFB, Mo. , they turned back toward Forbes and split up, intending to complete separately any remaining training requirements. One, with Major Kenneth Simpson and Captain Butler, continued on normally. The other, with 1stLt Carl D. Camp III and 2ndLt Ross C. Keller, disappeared from the Kansas City radar screens at 11:03 .

The remains of the aircraft were found about 30 miles from Forbes Field, in a crater about 10 feet deep and ten feet in diameter. The cockpit canopy was about 125 feet away, and the body of one of the crewmen was outside the main area of wreckage, suggesting a belated attempt to bail out.

Beyond that, no one but those with "need to know" can even speculate. The plane should have been 1,000 feet above the ground at that point if visibility was good. There was some mild turbulence, but not enough to affect a light civilian aircraft flying in the same area.

Most mysterious of all, there was no radio communication from the doomed aircraft. Standard operating procedure, in event of an in-flight emergency, would have been to radio Forbes Field explaining the emergency and then, if necessary, to eject. No word was ever received.

Whatever the cause, we may be sure that it was not the inexperience of the crew. Lt. Keller, 28 years old, had been an Air Guardsman for three years, and had been flying EB-57s for a living for the last two. He had 475 hours as a military pilot. Lt. Camp, the Electronic Warfare Officer, had been at his job full time for the past three years. The EB-57C was also a veteran. It had been accepted by the USAF on 10 Jan 1955 , and had logged 6,624 hours since that time. If its average airspeed was 328 knots, it had flown two and a half million miles.

In the first 15 years of its stay in Kansas , the117th had lost only a single plane and pilot. From 1972-1977 the unit lost four aircrafts and two crewmembers. Certainly the suspicion arises that this was partly due to the advanced age of the Canberras. By 1977 many of them were 25 years old - older than some of the pilots and many of the mechanics. It was time for a change.