TD Barnes Beatty station NASA High RangeBeatty Tracking Station 1960s

radar In 1964 I was honorably discharged from the Army TD Barnesand immediately hired by Unitec to work at the Beatty station of the NASA High Range for flight testing of the X-15, XB-70, the LLRV (Lunar Lander prototypes), the lifting bodies, occasional CIA A-12, Air Force YF-12, and SR 71 Blackbird flights.

The X-15 and Lifting Body projects developed the Space Shuttle. The LLRV projectspeed run patch developed the lunar lander. The XB-70 project paved the way for the future development of supersonic transports. The CIA A-12 developed into the Air Force SR-71 Blackbird.

On May 1, 1965, I participated in establishing four world speed and altitude records in the YF-12A, the Air Force’s secret titanium-skinned interceptor. The flight averaged 2,070 miles per hour over a 17- kilometer straight away course, then held 80,257 feet to establish a world record for sustained horizontal flight.

When the Oxcart flights started at Groom Lake, I often fired up our radar and scanned for something to track. One day I obtained skin track of a high and fast moving target in the direction of Groom Lake. Thereafter, I sneaked a track at every change. My commo tech scanned the radio frequencies until we located the channel being used during these mysterious flight. We didn’t learn what we were tracking until we were officially invited to participate in the May 1965 speed record flight of the YF-12.

While an engineer at the NASA High Range’s Beatty station during the hypersonic flight testing I made a contribution to aviation history by forcing my pilot safety concerns upon NASA that ultimately shutdown flights on the entire NASA High Range to fix a 2,000 foot altitude problem in the Dryden and Ely radars that had for years been mistakenly accepted as an “inherent error” in the Beatty radar. Being formerly schooled and having served as instructor with Army Nike Ajax, Nike Hercules, and HAWK surface to air radar and missile systems plus a combat deployment with the HAWK during the Berlin Wall crisis, I insisted that such a deadly error was unacceptable and that there was no such thing as an “inherent error” in the NASA SCR-584 Mod-2 radar systems. I insisted the problem was in the NASA Dryden and Ely systems because the Beatty radar data always agreed with the altitudes reported by the planes. While the radar data at both Dryden and Ely agreed with each other in altitude, they falsely indicated a pilot being at 2,000 foot altitude while the plane was actually sitting on the runway. Because the data from two radar systems always agreed, it was NASA’s belief that the problem was with the Beatty system, not realizing that they had for years endangered the lives of countless test pilots depending on faulty local radar data. Laying his career on the line, I confronted my NASA counterpart about fixing the Dryden and Ely problem during a period the range had no flights scheduled. Overhearing my persistent argument on the High Range net and noting a reluctance of NASA to react or accept it was the Dryden radar at fault, NASA Chief Test Pilot Joe Walker, backed by the other X-15 and lifting body pilots, refused to fly until the error was fixed. During approx 3 weeks of correlation flights and intensive tests that first proved that I was right, the Ely and Dryden radars were repeatedly dismantled and tested until it was finally discovered that a field modification had been issued nearly 20 years earlier for the 1940;s vintage “Mod-2” radar, however had been installed in only the radar located at Beatty.

By now my uninvited tracking had been going on for a couple years. My interest became official when we suddenly started getting cross talk on the HF radio channel we used while talking to the pilot of the X-15. I notified NASA who investigated the source. About a month later NASA told us that the source had higher priority and that we were not to mention it again. Shortly this and my confronting NASA about the radar system error I was recruited for a highly classified special project of the CIA by a Mr. John Grace with EG&G in Las Vegas. I was not told what or where. Nonetheless, I associated my confronting NASA and being right, plus my hypersonic tracking of the fast targets and the UHF interference to my being invited to join that project, whatever it was. After the speed record run, I of course knew about the Blackbird and assumed that was the project to which I was being recruited.

Following the links below you will find a brief story about each project accompanied with photos and film clips. As you tour the site, think of the heroic men and women who played such a vital part in our winning the Cold War.


XB-70 Story XB-70 Mid-Air Crash Sequence Crash Sites Today X-15 Story X-15 Crashes Adams Crash
B-52 #008 X-Planes LLRVs Lifting Bodies NASA 50th NERVA

Click on images to enlarge

The X-15 #2 (56-6671) launches away from the B-52 mothership Both the HL-10 and X-15A2, shown here parked beside one another on the NASA ramp in 1966 XB70 Valkyrie XB70 Valkyrie Beatty High Range Tracking Station.
High Range flt ops during flight test. Mod II radar operators. Beatty Data Transmission System Plotting Board. High range operations during flight

**TD Barnes X-15 Alumni **
X-15 Alumni at Dryden on 24 October 2008 for 40th anniversary of Bill Dana’s flight that ended Project X-15

T. D. Barnes and Pete Merlin, NASA Historian
T. D. Barnes and Pete Merlin, NASA Historian

Barnes and Bob Gilliland, 1st to fly the SR-71.
T. D. Barnes and Bob Gilliland, 1st to fly the SR-71.
Occasion is the Gathering of the Eagles banquet and symposium at Lancaster on 24 October 2008 to recognize participants in the XB-70 program.

Posted by Thornton D. Barnes