"Motorpool" - The rest of the story

An RF- 4C from the 14th TRS
(Photo courtesy of Pete FitzGerald)


Howard Kidwell here, and I flew RF-4's with the 14th TRS at Udorn, Thailand 1970-71.

While there, I kept hearing the call sign "Motorpool" used by two of crews in the 14th. When I inquired what they did, I got the usual reply that it was Top Secret and no one knew. I knew the crews and they wouldn't say zip. This grows on a guy, and I had to find out what was going on. So, dummy me, I volunteered. Well, in a little while I was interviewed and told they would get a higher security clearance for me. In a few short weeks and I was told to come to Motorpool Ops for a briefing. (I found out later that friends and relatives in the states were contacted about me).  The Lt Col in charge said the room had been swept for monitoring devices, etc., and I had one last chance to withdraw my volunteer statement.  I had fleeting thoughts of flying over China, working for the CIA, you name it... but what the heck.  I signed the statement and found out that I was going to make rain!  Geez!  I thought they were kidding! Not so, and soon I was flying with a Motorpool guy or Squadron GIB (Guy-in-Back) cleared for Motorpool ops.

The RF-4 could carry 52 photoflash carts or chaff carts on each side. We carried chaff to defeat Fire-Can or SAM Radars (more on chaff later). The "rain making stuff" was carried in these racks. 

During the rainy season each crew flew once a day, on the average, in addition to regular missions.  A "scout" plane (WC-130) would call back and "scramble" us -- giving us a flight level, which was usually 19,000. We would go into the roll cloud (or whatever you WX guys call it) by the side of each thunderstorm. When it got to raining like crazy we would pickle off a cart, count to 5, pickle off another one and then you were out in the blue, made a 360 degree turn and, like magic, another thunderstorm had usually formed and you did the same thing again.  It was all over Laos and we would go over the passes to do our thing. 

We were constantly getting struck by lighting of course. You could hear the rapid build up of a high pitch whine on the SAM warning gear and then "Bang!"  I never got used to it. We tore up radar warning and ECM pods, you name it. Once I had a nose cone shattered, which knocked out the airspeed, so I landed using the angle of attack indicator. The Wing Commander was a friend and he would say; "Howard, I don't know what the heck you're doing, but whatever it is, can you please not tear up my planes?" 

Motorpool carried such a high priority that if we had just one RF-4 in commission, it would fly the Motorpool mission. We would usually go to a tanker after takeoff, get some gas and go do our thing. Sometimes, if we still had carts and the "bumpers" were going, we would go back to the tanker, get 15,000 lbs. of gas and do it again. Several times we would get so fired up about our success that we found ourselves over North Vietnam with active SAM sites -- and of course no chaff on board. Sometimes we would have to fly over
North Vietnam to the coast, down the coast and come around south of the DMZ.

They told us that some "little green suited men" on the ground would give us "mud BDA" and it sounded like it was working.

The DFC I got for the Motorpool mission is sort of generic.  Ahhh, the games people play...

Howard Kidwell

(Photo courtesy of Pete FitzGerald)

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