Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Google Earth: Hidden History

Snooping around in Google Earth the other night, I started trying to solve a little mystery. In the northern reaches of Eglin Air Force Base southeast of Crestview, there's a field of small circular sites lined by roads. When I first saw it in 2006, I called it the Mystery Flower.

Google Earth didn't allow much zooming at the time, let alone Street View, so I just put a placemark pin there and went on to more interesting sights.

Now I can zoom in close enough to see the buildings in each site and travel the nearby roads to look at signs. My "Mystery Flower" is Test Area C-72, but I still don't know much about its purpose.

The really interesting item here, though, is the triangular airfield across Bob Sikes Road from here. If you get down into Street View at the side road leading to the field, you find a plaque (photo credit: Mark Sublette):

This is Wagner Field, where Jimmy Doolittle and his Raiders practiced for their 1942 mission to kick the Japanese in the tail. It was more of a morale-booster than an effective campaign, but it showed the Japanese that the US could reach across the Pacific.

After WW2, a V-2 rocket launch ramp was built just southeast of the field. The rusty ruins are still there.

Wagner was also used to test an oddball C-130 Hercules project called Credible Sport. In September and October of 1980, a heavily modified Herc fitted with 30 rockets was put through several test landings and takeoffs. The idea was that as the plane's on its final approach to the runway, some of the rockets would fire and slow it down significantly, allowing it to land in a short space--say, a soccer field in downtown Tehran, Iran, right next to the US Embassy.

This was during the Hostage Crisis, in the aftermath of a failed rescue attempt.

The other half of this plan would involve firing more rockets on the Herc to help it into the air with a load of rescued hostages. From there, it and its sister planes would head to the Persian Gulf and land on the carrier USS Nimitz. The test plane crashed at Wagner Field October 29, 1980 and was buried somewhere nearby.

More recently, Wagner was used in Unmanned Aerial Vehicle test flights.

Paul Freeman has an interesting writeup of Wagner at his "Abandoned and Little-Known Airfields" site.

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