Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron FOUR [VQ-4]
The VQ-4 Shadows fly and maintain the E-6A and E-6B "Mercury" aircraft. VQ-4's primary mission is to provide the president of the United States and other decision-making authorities with a survivable and endurable means to command the nation's strategic nuclear weapons arsenal. The execution of the TACAMO mission requires aircraft to be on alert status 24 hours every day of the year.
Ten aircrews make frequent, independent deployments to U.S., Canadian, Caribbean and European bases. Each crew is deployed between five and six months per year. A typical aircrew consists of 14 crewmembers. The cockpit crew is made up of three pilots, one navigator, and two flight engineers. The communications crew consists of one airborne communications officer, one airborne communications supervisor, one airborne communicator, three flight technicians, who are also qualified airborne communicators, and two reel operators.
In the E-6B upgrade, the crew is augmented with a battlestaff; this platform provides increased communications capability. In addition to the required flying and communications duties, the crew is capable of repairing virtually every system on the aircraft.
The task of maintaining constant alert coverage requires tremendous effort from all squadron members. At VQ-4, operations continue around-the-clock to maintain and support deployed crews. Under the leadership of the commanding officer and the executive officer, the various departments have pulled together in a smooth, never-ending operation for an impressive 32 years.
The TACAMO mission began in 1961 as a test program to determine if an airborne Very Low Frequency communications system was feasible. Weapons Systems Test Division conducted this program, using a U.S. Marine Corps KC-130 aircraft as a test vehicle. The overwhelming success of the test program prompted funding for the first production aircraft. The project was designated TACAMO.
To avoid long lead-time delays, four U.S. Air Force C-130 aircraft were taken from the production line in early 1963. After extensive modification, the aircraft was designated C-130G. The first of these aircraft was delivered on Dec. 26, 1963. At this time, the communications equipment consisted of removable vans that could be installed in a matter of hours.
Plans were formulated in 1966 to expand the TACAMO program. This expansion included the addition of eight aircraft with the communications equipment permanently installed in the aircraft. The plans also updated the original C-130G aircraft to a new configuration aboard the EC-130Q aircraft. On July 1, 1968, VQ-4 was established at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., as a permanent operational squadron.
The next major aircraft modification in 1974 incorporated a new power amplifier, a dual trailing wire antenna system and a high-speed reel system for deployment and retraction of the antennas. Additional improvements included satellite communications and enhanced VLF capability.
On Jan. 25, 1991, VQ-4 took delivery of its first E-6A Mercury aircraft, and in November 1992 moved to Tinker AFB. On Sept. 20, 1999, VQ-4 took delivery of its first E-6B, which contains upgraded systems, enabling VQ-4 to perform the Airborne Command Post "Looking Glass" mission.
Despite an exceptionally demanding tempo, which included 175,000 hours of Continuous Airborne Operations, VQ-4 Shadow teamwork has achieved an incredible amount of unit excellence awards. Since its commissioning, VQ-4 has evolved into a squadron of approximately 400 officers and enlisted personnel making it one of the largest operational aviation squadrons in the Navy today. The squadron surpassed 28 years and 283,000 flight hours of mishap-free operations.
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