Night Lark Chapter II

ec97camoI hate when that happens! Just when you have the paint scheme just right a mishap occurs and ruins everything you’ve achieved. It happens to the best of us. So what do you do? Toss the model into the trash? Spares stash? Strip it down and start again?

Well, I chose to repaint the whole thing AGAIN. Originally I used enamels, but on the second round I switched over to acrylics. Why because if it happens again they are much easier to strip off.

The scheme is one of black under surfaces, and upper surfaces painted tan, dark green and drab green, much like the standard SEA scheme.

Besides the repainting of the fuselage and wings, I also have the cowls painted and ready for them to receive the engine assemblies. Started painting the propellers but it was getting late so I left them for another session. Still have to get the landing gear painted and assembled so I can get this gal on her legs instead of clothes pins.

The crew made their final farewells and climbed aboard. The preflight was done and it was time to start engines as the darkness started to sweep across the base where the EC-97 Night Lark had been calling home for these past several weeks. Inside the crew went about their tasks quietly, the only conversations were brief, mostly relating to checklist items. In a matter of minutes the Night Lark was airborne and heading northwest towards Seattle, then her crew would point her towards Shemya AB, Alaska.

The low pressure system coming down the west coast would give her tailwinds most of the way once past the Washington state coastline. An unexpected bonus to the mission planners. This meant no stops at populated bases that had no adequate places to hide her. The crew settled in for the long trip, chasing the night in a jet was one thing, doing it in a piston powered behemoth was another. The flight deck was subdued but vigilant at watching the gauges and the black sky.

One hundred miles from Shemya the crew started their descent. When the copilot made his initial call to Shemya approach control the rest of the crew half dozing took notice to the break in silence on the intercom. “Shemya approach this is Spud three three seven, ninety miles south east, starting our descent from two three thousand, with Victor.”

“Spud three three seven, Shemya approach,  squawk zero three three seven and ident, turn left to course of three five zero.” The approach controller said.

“Roger, left to three five zero, squawking zero three three seven, Ident.” The copilot replied. The pilot rolled the EC-97 slightly left to swing her on to the new course heading. The approach controller was obviously setting them up for a short ILS approach.

“Spud three seven radar contact now seven eight miles out, descend to nine thousand, altimeter three zero point zero zero, looks as if we have some fog rolling in, visibility now one mile and expected to drop to a quarter mile or less soon. Keep your speed up.” The tower advised.

The pilot didn’t reduce power on the four big radials as much as he normally would, instead he kept the airspeed up during the descent. He knew that once visibility dropped to near zero he’d have to go elsewhere and that really wasn’t an option with this aircraft. No he’d zip in before the weather closed in.

Thirty minutes later the crew was hobbling down the stairs onto the Shemya ramp trying to rid their muscles of cramps from sitting for so long. The fog along with the darkness was a blessing. It helped keep Night Lark’s secret protected. Just a few miles off shore laying in wait was a Soviet submarine which watched the comings and goings of aircraft at Shemya AB. Tonight they had nothing but a radio conversation as they never were able to see Spud 337 land.

The refueling of both the aircraft and the crew took just over an hour but their departure would be delayed. The fog that arrived when they did settled in firmly. You couldn’t see more than a few feet, barely visible was the number two engine from the cockpit window. The pilot caught a ride to the base command post to “phone home” on a secure line. The conversation wasn’t a pleasant one, those in charge of the program Night Lark were upset that their established timetable had been broken. But by the time the call was over a new time table was being worked out. By the time the weather started to show signs of lifting the sun was beginning to set.

The crew ended up spending their time either in the aircraft or hanging around base operations. Each took time to wash up in one of the sinks in the latrine. They also grab their meals from the snack bar’s limited menu. It was that or dine from the vending machines, which didn’t look like they had been used since the end of the Korean War!

Finally the weather started to improve and the fog was showing signs of lifting. The aircraft commander called back to his command section  advising them they would be departing within the hour to ensure they could depart unnoticed. He was informed to monitor a specific HF frequency for further instructions once airborne. With that he got an update on the weather along his planned “route” and headed back to the aircraft to brief the crew.

The crew had the aircraft ready to go, all they needed was just a bit more visibility and they’d be able to depart. They still couldn’t see more than a couple taxiway lights in distance but it was improving. About a half hour later engine number three was being cranked over followed by number two. Once they were up and running the remaining two were started and the EC-97 started to taxi under a new callsign, Tater 337.

“Shemya tower Tater three three seven ready for takeoff.” The pilot radioed.

Tater three three seven, altimeter two niner point niner two, left turn on course approved, Cleared for takeoff.”

“Tater three three seven Roger on the go.” The pilot replied as he pushed the four throttles forward, his hand guarded by the copilots.  Visibility was still pretty poor, only able to see five or six hundred feet at best. That didn’t stop the crew from making perfect takeoff and as the pilot banked left the gear were retracting into their wells.

“Gear up, flaps coming up, trim.” The copilot said as he read his checklist. “Shemya Departure, Tater three three seven with you climbing through thirty five hundred.”

“Tater three seven, radar contact five miles west of the field, continue on course, cleared to climb to two five thousand. Suggest you monitor Sapporo Radio for traffic advisories. Frequency change approved.” The departure controller said.

“Three seven copies.” The copilot responded.

As Night Lark continued its slow laborious climb, the crew in back were warming up their receivers, the flight along the coast of Russia might provide some interesting listening to distract them from their otherwise boring ride. The pilot’s voice broke the silence on the intercom. “Before you guys start evesdropping on the commies, listen for our message traffic. Of course that was primarily an automated process. The operator only had to make sure the frequency was properly set, then once a signal with the proper authenticaion identification came through the teletype would start printing the coded message. All he’d have to do is give it to the crew on the flight deck to decode.

Upon Tater 337’s departure the clerk on duty at base ops that evening sent a message to his reporting authority notifying them that Tater 337 a C-124 bound for Clark AB, Philippines departed on time with seven souls aboard. This message was no doubt going to be intercepted so a little white lie was tossed in. Nothing unusual about a C-124 landing at Shemya, they typically bought in personnel and supplies.  With the war on in Vietnam they also typically flew onward to either Japan or the Philippines.

Night Lark was just reaching its cruising altitude flying a heading of two hundred and ten degrees when the radioman brought up a teletype sheet of paper with a lot of numbers and words that looked like jibberish.  In fact it was a complex coded message. The navigator and the copilot worked through the message to decode it. Once done they learned where they were heading and the route they would take.

The navigator a Major who had more than seven thousand hours in the air quickly plotted the routing information on his charts. Then he used his navigators wiz wheel to do the mathematics and noted them on the chart as well. With the courses carefully plotted their journey now had them flying to Yokohama, Japan from there a turn westward towards South Korea.

To be continued in Chapter III.

Click here if you missed Chapter I.


  1. I agree with Rich Bartlett, a great way to provide interest for the builder of the aircraft as well as those modelers interested in the possible history of the project. I would like your permission to publish your story on my club’s website – Vero Beach IPMS “THE NIGHTFIGHTERS”.

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