The Flight of the Blue Eagle
|This article was first aired on AWR’s “Wavescan” program in November 2001 and now forms part of the Radio Heritage Collection ©. All rights reserved to Ragusa Media Group, PO Box 14339, Wellington, New Zealand. This material is licenced on a non-exclusive basis to South Pacific DX Resource hosted on radiodx.com for a period of five years from October 1st 2001. Author: Adrian Peterson|
Following the events of September 11th 2001, the United States began a series of radio broadcasts to the people of Afghanistan, using a total of 7 different airplanes for this purpose. According to a report from BBC Monitoring, these new broadcasts began about three weeks ago, on October 14.
These airplane broadcasts are heard in Afghanistan on two mediumwave channels, 864 kHz and 1107 kHz, which were the channels in use by Radio Afghanistan in Kandahar and Kabul. These broadcasts are in alternating languages, Dari and Pashto, which are the twin official languages in Afghanistan. The program feed to the airplanes can be heard on the shortwave channel 8700 kHz in the upper sideband mode, though it is not yet known where this transmitter is located.
Each of these radio broadcasting airplanes contains a bevy of electronic equipment, which includes three broadcast transmitters at 10 kW for use in the mediumwave and FM bands. Electric power for all of the onboard electronic equipment is generated by four generators which are driven by the propeller engines on the aircraft.
The story of these aircraft used for radio broadcasting goes back over a period of some 30 years. Today in this additional Wavescan feature, we trace the fascinating story of “The Flight of the Blue Eagle”.
It all began back in 1962 during the Kennedy Era and the Cuban Missile Crisis. A large cargo plane operated by the United States navy was quickly stowed with broadcasting equipment and flown over the waters separating Florida and Cuba.
For these inaugural broadcasts, a radio receiver in the plane took an off-air program feed from the VOA mediumwave station at Marathon in Florida. The ground-based VOA channel was 1180 kHz and the plane re-transmitted this programming on 1040 kHz.
Since this historic though unannounced beginning, airplanes have been used for local broadcasting in the mediumwave, FM, TV and shortwave bands while flying over a total of at least 11 different countries.
Two years later, in the summer of 1964, a series of mysterious radio broadcasts were heard by DXers living in the central coastal areas along the Atlantic seabord in the United States. These broadcasts were first noted on the shortwave cahnnel 19,100 kHz and later on 532 kHz on the lower edge of the mediumwave band with identification announcements as “The Blue Eagle”. Programming consisted of their own presentation of popular music, and sometimes a relay of local mediumwave stations such as WLDB and WMID in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Subsequent information revealed the fact that these broadcasts from the “Blue Eagle” were actually test broadcasts from an airplane before transfering over to Vietnam for use as an aerial broadcast unit. It should be noted that the Blue Eagle is a symbol of the United States navy.
A total of six Lockheed Constellation EC-21 aircraft were fitted out with similar equipment for the purpose of aerial broadcasting and these are operated by the 193rd Operations Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard. Currently, new Constellation aircaft are beginning to replace the 30 year old planes, though the same electronic equipment will be transferred from the old planes into the new.
The broadcasts from these airplanes were originally identified on air as “The Blue Eagle”, though this radio broadcasting network of 6 Constellations is now known collectively as “Command Solo”. On each occasion of active deployment, the identification is changed to meet local circumstances.
When flying over Vietnam during the Vietnam War, the Blue Eagles identified as “AFRTS, the American Forces Radio TV Network”. In Vietnamese, their programming identified as VPMF, “The Voice of Patriotic Militiamen’s Front”.
During the invasion of Haiti in 1994 in an attempt to restore democracy, the radio programming from the aircraft was identified in French as “Radio Democracy”. While flying over Serbia and Bosnia, the identification was “Radio Allied Voice”, and in the Gulf War, it was “Voice of the Gulf”. In the current broadcasts over Afghanistan, no clear identification announcements in the local languages have yet been noted.
These planes have also flown on active broadcast missions over several other countries, including the Dominican Republic, Panama Grenada, and Somalia. Very few QSLs have been issued for these unique broadcasts, though at least three QSLs are known.
One of the very pleasing aspects associated with presenting a regular DX program on a global scale is the listener response. Quite frequently, listeners write in, by postal mail or by email, and they provide additional information about a topic that they heard in our program.
In recent time, we have received several significant responses of this nature, containing some very interesting and important information, supplementing what we have already presented. In this edition of Wavescan, we present the response from a listener who was personally involved with the Flight of the Blue Eagle.
He is Steve Robbins in the United States who read the script of Wavescan edition WS359 on the web site, CRW. The topic on this occasion was the “Flight of the Blue Eagle”, which presented the story of American shortwave broadcasting from airplanes. In his report, Steve Robbins states that he was one of the engineers who designed, fabricated, and operated “Project Jenny”. Here is his summary:
1962: The two original C-118 aircraft were based out of NAS Patuxent River in Maryland and the electronic equipment was temporarily installed in the two aircraft, numbered 611 & 429. These two planes carried radio relays for listeners in Cuba.
1965: The electronic equipment was re-installed into two Super Constellation aircraft and test broadcasts were made over the DC Maryland areas with identification announcements as “Blue Eagle”. Steve Robbins was on this aircraft at the time.
1966: Four of the Blue Eagle aircraft were flown out to Vietnam, where they relayed programming in English & Vietnamese. When the 50 kW VOA mediumwave station at Hue in central Vietnam was raided and captured by the North Vietnamese, the Blue Eagle took over the relay of VOA programming on the same channel, 760 kHz.
After the Vietnam War, the broadcast equipment was removed from the older aircraft and fitted into new aircraft of the same type, Super Constellation and they were re-designated as “Coronet Solo”. Several years later again, new and updated aircraft were commissioned and they have been on the air in recent time over Serbia and Afghanistan as “Command Solo”.
If you access the web site of the clandestine radio watch, you will see reference to several QSLs received by listeners in Europe and the United States. Our thanks for these personal memoirs to Steve Robbins who was in the air and on the air with the “Flight of the Blue Eagle”.
QSLs from American “Blue Eagles” & “Commando Solo” Planes
Listener Location Year kHz Flying Over ID QSL
Mr C. M. Stanbury USA 1962 1040 Cuba VOA VOA card
Terryl Krueger Florida 1994 1035 Haiti Democracy Letter
Clive Rooms England 1999 1270 Balkans Allied Voice Letter
Radio Broadcasting from Aeroplanes
Territory Year Date No Aircraft Events
Cuba 1962 Nov 13 2 Super Constellation C118 Relay VOA Marathon
1994 Constellation Relay Radio Marti
USA 1964 Summer 1 DC 6 Test flights over Maryland
1965 April 2 Super Constellation New series of tests Maryland
1965 Super Constellaiton Flight out west
1996 Jan 9 6 EJ130E TV tests over DC
2001 6 C130J New planes same equipment
Dominican R 1965 May 2 Cargo planes, Constellation Attempted revolution
Vietnam 1965 3 Lockheed Constellation AFRTS & Vietnamese
Haiti 1994 Jul 15 2 Hercules (?) 130E FM 91.9 MW 1035 (4VEH)
Somalia Constellation Deployed over Somalia
Grenada Constellation Deployed over Grenada
Yugoslavia 1999 Constellation Over Bosnia & Serbia
Iraq 1990 Nov 22 2 Hercules (?) Before & during war
Panama Constellation Served over Panama
Afghanistan 2001 Oct 14 7 Constellation
Radio Broadcasting from Aeroplanes – The Blue Eagles
Country Event & Reference
Cuba – Cuban Missile Crisis October 1962
Nov 13, 1962 C118 relayed VOA Marathon 1180 on 1040; RTVE 83.2 3 66
1962 Cuban Missile Crisis; RA499
1st operational use, Cuban Missile Crisis, 2 converted cargo planes; MT 9-94 14
Relayed Radio Marti on MW around same time as Haiti; DXplorer
VOA QSL card, C. M. Stanbury, 1040, U. S. Government Station; RTVE 83.2 66
USA – Test broadcasts
Early Summer 1964 MD area SW & MW; PC 8-84 32
April 1965 new series of tests; PC 8-84 34
1965 test broadcasts; RA499
2 Super Constellations AM FM TV 1965 test broadcasts East USA; PE 4-66 69
Voice of Blue Eagle, Navy DC6; MT 9-94 14
Testing in USA before assignment to Vietnam; EA 7-66 143
After Dominican Republic, 1965 flew out west; PC 8-84 34
193rd Special Operations Wing, Pennsylvania Air National Guard; MT 6-99 22
Replacing with C-130J beginning in 2001; MT 6-99 22
EJ130E 1@ 10 kW SW; 1 @ 10 kW MW, 1 @ 10 kW TV, 5 FM; MT 6-99 24
Commando Solo, full total of 7 planes; CNN
Jan 9, 1966 test flights over DC TV on 2 channels; MT 9-94 16
Upgrading planes, transferring equipment; DXplorer
Dominican Republic – Attempted revolution April & May 1965
1st Constellation during thwarted revolt April 1965; PC 8-84 34
2 cargo planes reactivated May 1965 for political crisis; MT 9-94 14
Vietnam – Vietnam War 1957 – 1975
2 Super Constellations AM FM TV 1965 AFRTS Vietnam; PE 4-66
1st Constellation over Vietnam; PC 8-84 34
2nd Constellation; PC 8-84 34
AFRTS & VPMF broadcasts; RTVE 83.2 132
AFRTS on 7460, Vietnamese on other channels; RA499
193rd Special Operations Wing, Pennsylvania Air National Guard; MT 6-99 22
3 Blue Eagles flew to Vietnam few weeks after Jan 9, 1996; MT 9-94 16
Blue Eagle 1, AM FM TV transmitters; MT 9-94 16
Blue Eagles 2 & 3, TV 2 kW, 2 @ 10 kW AM FM SSB; MT 9-94 16
Lockheed Constellation over Vietnam; PC 4-88 20
Old Lockheed Martin (?) over Vietnam; CNN
Haiti – U.S. invasion 1994
Radio Democracy began July 15 over Haiti; MT 9-94 14
2 Hercules (?) EC-130E Commando Solo; MT 9-94 16
Radio Democracy 91.9 & 1035 (4VEH) 91.1; MT 9-94 16 & 17
Served over Haiti; MT 6-99 22
Over Haiti; NZDXT 1-95 29
Radio Democracy 1994; BBCM
Radio Democracie over Haiti 1035; DXplorer
Radio Democracie 1994 QSL Terry Karl Krueger FL; DXplorer
Somalia – U.S. invasion
Deployed over Somalia; DXplorer
Grenada – U.S. invasion
Served over Grenada; MT 6-99 22
Yugoslavia – Peace-keeping in Balkans
Served over Yugoslavia; MT 6-99 22
EC130 on 1003 kHz, 3 FM channels & 1 TV channel; PC 8-99 67
Clive Rooms UK received letter QSL NATO 1270 kHz; DXN 29-11-99 23
2 units left March 27, 1999 for Serbia; DXN 19-4-99 14
NATO Radio Allied Voice Sarajevo new 1270 began Jun 8 99; DXN 19-7-99 27
Allied Voice 1999; BBCM
Iraq – Desert Storm 1990 – 1991
EC-130E during Desert Storm; MT 9-94 14
Voice of the Gulf on MW Command Solo began Nov 22 1990; MT 5-98 18
2 Hercules Commando Solo Voice of the Gulf Jan 19 1991 40 days; MT 9-94 16
Served over Iraq; MT 6-99 22
Served over Iraq; NZDXT 10-01 14
Voice of the Gulf 1990 -1991 Command Solo; BBCM
Served over Panama; MT 6-99 22
6 Hercules (?) aircraft; NZDXT 10-01 14
7 planes over Afghanistan, including 1 new; CNN
Command Solo on 864 (Kandahar) 1107 (Kabul); BBCM
Began Oct 14 2001 over Afghanistan; BBCM
Rumsfeld states already on air Oct 12; CNN
SW 8700 feeder to planes; E-mail bulletins
Not in Turkmenistan; GVG