• Alan Shepard is hoisted aboard Wayne Koons' helicopter after the successful Freedom 7 mission.

  • Alan Shepard is hoisted aboard the helicopter, deftly piloted by Wayne Koons, after completing his 15-minute suborbital flight. The patch of fluorescent green marker dye in the water around Freedom 7 is particularly obvious. 

  • Pilot Wayne Koons eases Freedom 7 off the landing pad ahead of the delivery flight across to Cape Canaveral.

  • Photo taken at Langley a day or two after Shepard's flight (May 5, 1961), in front of Helicopter #44: L-R, Command pilot 1/Lt. Wayne Koons, Astronaut Alan B. Shepard Jr., Co-pilot 1/Lt. George Cox. 

Wayne Koons oral history project, Interview 1

Thursday, October 14, 2004

(Transcript from NASA Johnson Space Center Oral History Project)

Interview 1:

Edited Oral History Transcript

Wayne E. Koons

Interviewed by Rebecca Wright

Houston, Texas – 14 October 2004

Wright: Today is October 14th, 2004. This oral history is being conducted with Wayne Koons in Houston, Texas, for the NASA Johnson Space Center Oral History Project. Interviewer is Rebecca Wright, assisted by Sandra Johnson and Jennifer Ross-Nazzal.

We thank you for coming in this afternoon, and welcome back to Houston.

Koons: Thank you.

Wright: We'd like to begin today by asking you how you first became involved with Project Mercury.

Koons: When that all started, I was a very junior co-pilot with Marine Air Group Twenty-six, specifically Squadron HMR262. The sequence, as I was told later, was that the Space Task Group [STG] was just being formed, and they had concluded that they would like to find out if they could use helicopters to get the spacecraft [and crew] out of the ocean.

They first went to the Army, and the Army said, "We could handle that much load, but we don't know to operate off [aircraft] carriers, and we hardly ever fly over water. So maybe you ought to talk to the Navy."

The Navy said, "We do all that stuff, but we don't have external cargo capability, and also we don't have the size helicopter you're talking about. We don't have [very much] lift capability because our helicopters are pretty well maxed out with antisubmarine warfare equipment."

So the third stop was the Marines, and it came to my Group Commander, who didn't know me from one of the doors. The question he asked was, to his Adjutant, "Do we have an engineer anywhere around here?" The answer came back, yes; me. And so he said, "Get him over here."

So my Squadron Commander and I found ourselves in the Group Commander's office, and I was completely baffled by what was going on. I had never heard of man in space or orbiting or—I just never had thought about it. I was busy learning to be a Fleet Marine Force pilot. So that's how we got started.

Shortly after that, we made an exploratory, get-acquainted trip to the facility at Langley Air Force Base [Virginia]. I think [NASA] was still called NACA [National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics] at that time. The transition was just taking place. We sort of talked about what was going on, got our first look at what a spacecraft would look like, talked just very generally about the weight and so forth, [and] whether we could handle it.

Then later, the Squadron Commander wisely concluded that he'd better put an aircraft commander on the job with me. So a Marine captain named Lawrence Flannagan was assigned with me to be the Mercury Project Officers for our squadron.

That early time involved a lot of experimentation. Conceptually, they said, "How will we get the helicopter engaged to the spacecraft?" I can vividly remember one of the early boilerplates. They had some hooks, three hooks, spaced 120 degrees around the cylindrical section with the hook downward and the little keeper in there. Somebody there had made a net with a spreader bar on it that we were supposed to hook on our cargo hook and then drag this net over the top of the spacecraft.

We tried that, and it didn't hook up. So we tried it again, and it didn't hook up. The third time, it did hook up, and as we then started trying to lift, it turned out the net was not nearly strong enough, and the thing just ripped the net apart. Fortunately, it was not very high off the ground. So we concluded, what we learned from that, that was just a really brief—not really an experiment; we just tried something out. What we learned from that was that the net was a pretty awkward thing. Unless you tied it off to extra points on the helicopter, you couldn't really keep it facing the way you were going so that it would engage the hooks that they had positioned on the spacecraft. And [the net]was pretty heavy. It was going to be quite a payload penalty.

So a group of us just sat down and started kicking around ideas, and out of that informal discussion came the idea that the better configuration would be a loop on the top of the spacecraft to snag onto. In fact, there may have already been a loop on the spacecraft, because they knew that in some cases they would use ships to get the thing out of the water. So then we cooked up the idea of using a long pole with a hook on the end and somebody leaning out the door of the helicopter to engage the spacecraft, with the helicopter alongside. And that conceptually is the way we did it.

We did a lot of refining on that as time went by. We found out, for instance, that we had to have a swivel in that sling line so that the spacecraft could rotate. Some of them were just determined to rotate when we carried them through the air, and others were quite stable; they didn't rotate at all. They just hung there and rode along nicely.

We found out that the sling [which was 12 feet long] needed to be kink-proof, and for reliability, it was actually made out of a special stainless aircraft cable. There was a company somewhere in the Newport News [Virginia] area that made these things. I wasn't involved in the manufacture of them, but it was basically an endless braid. It was a four-way braid. ([A] leather worker would know exactly what that looks like.) But it was a four-way braid, and there was only one joint end-to-end of this cable, which was actually run four ways through the eye on one end and the hook on the other end.

The eye was another piece of stainless that went in the cargo hook of the [helicopter], and the hook was a special design, to be as light as possible, because the co-pilot, as it turned out, was going to be leaning out with this thing on a pole. He had the sling to hold up and the hook to hold up, and it was pretty heavy, so it took a fair amount of dexterity and physical strength to do that particular job in the retrieval. So we sort of started off in that way as a way of getting a hold of it.

Wright: Did you have to make modifications to the helicopters?

Koons: Yes, we did have to modify the helicopters. There [was] one simple modification that involved the crew chief's intercom. We modified that so that we put a toggle switch on it, so when the co-pilot was working at that station, he could just flip the toggle switch on and his mike stayed hot. That way he didn't have to use one hand to press or push [a] switch to communicate to the pilot.

The major modification I'll come to in a little while. It involved the cargo hook.

So, very early on, they abandoned the three little hooks that were spaced 120 degrees around the cylindrical section, and we got busy learning how to engage the spacecraft.

We were also studying the mission. At that time, we were told, as I remember, that the spacecraft would weigh 1,700 to 1,800 pounds. We were also given some really wide target areas. Even though the ship, the primary ship with the helicopters on it, would be at the aiming point or the intended landing point of the spacecraft, it was possible that the spacecraft could be a substantial distance away. So we began the initial process of analyzing just how much range could we develop, how far could we go with the helicopters to pick up the spacecraft.

We got some initial sets of equipment that worked reasonably well, and then NASA began to say, "… We want to do some testing. Bring [a] helicopter and come up for a day. We want to do this and do that." So we got pretty involved.

Throughout [most of] this, Larry Flanagan was the pilot and I was the co-pilot. We got involved in the beach abort series up at Wallops Island [Virginia]—made a number of trips up there because they were having just as much trouble as ever being able to get a test off exactly when they wanted to. So there were a number of times that we got there and the test had to be postponed, so we'd go back to our normal duties and then come back later.

There was one test in which the spacecraft was just sitting on a cradle on the beach, and that was our first really operational retrieval. They just used the escape rocket to pull the thing off the cradle, and it landed in the surf a little ways out. We picked it up and had it out of the water in less than a minute and set it back on the beach for them. So that was the first, I guess you would call it operational, retrieval. [For that retrieval, 1st Lt. Norm Labhart was the pilot, and I was the co-pilot.]

We continued then with the mission development. The mission planning that was given to us indicated that we might, in some cases, need to support two ships at once with the helicopters. We did quite a bit of analysis to determine how many helicopters should be used on a ship, with an eye to having a maximum reliability. The helicopters we flew were not models of reliability. They were single engine with reciprocating engines and lots and lots of mechanical gadgetry on them, not nearly as simple or reliable as modern turbine-powered helicopters. There were lots of things that could go wrong.

So we began to develop concepts of how would we deploy a small detachment. Normally, the helicopters, at least our squadron, deployed a whole squadron at a time, or maybe they'd make up a special detachment of ten or twelve helicopters for, say, a deployment to the Mediterranean for a period of time. But we eventually came to the point that we decided that three was the optimum number, because that gave us an appropriate amount of reliability. We weren't going to be particularly bothered if one of them was inoperable on the day of the mission. Two gave us plenty of in-flight backup.

Also, our planning or typical mission involved operating off of an LSD. Now, that stands for landing ship dock. The LSD—there were a number of them in the Navy at that time—was designed as an amphibious assault vehicle. It was developed, I think, during the Korean War, and there may have been some of the early models during World War II. They were twin-hull ships, not catamarans but they had twin hulls, and the bow was completely closed off; in other words, a large, open—it was called a boat deck between the two hulls and this gigantic tailgate that went down. And when they took these things to sea, they'd have the boat deck stuffed full of landing craft, and they'd close the tailgate and go. Then when they got ready to deploy troops to assault a beach, they would lower the tailgate and literally flood the ship to lower it so that the landing craft were [afloat].

This had a number of advantages over the older-type troop deployment, where you sent the troops down the nets into the landing craft. You've seen World War II movies. A lot of people got smashed up with [the] landing craft bobbing alongside the [landing ship]. Anyway, that was the idea of the landing ship dock. You could put the troops in the boat and then put the boat in the water, literally by flooding down the ship. And you could retrieve the [boats]. In fact, in some assaults when they were used, the ship would just stay in the hull-down position, and the landing craft could come in to pick up more people or deliver wounded or whatever the job was. It made a nice, stable internal environment. So that was the ship that we were told to expect to deploy on.

The typical LSD had hangar space. If you used that boat dock space down below as a hangar, there was room to put three of our helicopters in there and keep them in position to avoid weather damage and whatnot when you were at sea for a long time.

The helicopters, then, operated off of a helo deck on the very back end of the ship, where there was actually room on most of the LSDs that we worked off of to have two helicopters up and their rotors spread at the same time. The way you had to operate was that the helicopter had its rotors folded and the tail folded, and you'd hoist it up using the cranes on the ship and set it on the deck. Then the crew people would spread the main rotors, swing the tail around [into flight position], straighten up so everything was in flight position, then roll it back onto the aft end of the deck, and you'd launch from the aft end of the deck. This could be done in about ten minutes.

So that worked out to be a convenient sequence, because some of our extreme missions might involve going as far as 110 nautical miles from the ship to a spacecraft that had missed [the aim point. We] worked out that a ten-minute interval was good, because if you launched the first helicopter and he went to the spacecraft and for some reason was unsuccessful in getting it out of the water, whatever that lack of success might be, we figured ten minutes was long enough for him to mess around and it's time for him to get out of the way and let the second guy make the retrieval. This also, the ten-minute spacing, worked out well for handling on the deck of the LSD, so we had a good working concept. We did a number of training missions with LSDs where we would actually not have a spacecraft in the water, but when we were on a trip with the LSD, we would actually crank up a training mission where we would go to the maximum range [after launching] the helicopters in that sequence.

The [spacecraft] weight was critical. As we were developing our retrieval capability, the guys at Space Task Group were developing their spacecraft, and the spacecraft kept [getting heavier]. It didn't take us long to conclude that we were going to have to strip down and really get serious about lifting the maximum amount of weight that we could handle. So whereas the helicopter normally flew with a three-man crew—pilot, co-pilot, and a crew chief down below—we figured out early on that we were going to have to dispense with the crew chief. So we flew with a pilot and a co-pilot. [We also stripped out some non-essential avionic equipment and the large life raft.]

In the typical mission, the co-pilot would be in the cockpit for the takeoff, and he would be there to help navigate, find the spacecraft. When you got to the spacecraft, he had to fold up his seat, secure his flight station, and shinny down into the cabin and do the engagement, which I'll come to later. Then after we got the spacecraft airborne and headed back toward the ship, the co-pilot came back up to the cockpit to help the pilot with systems management or fuel management or navigation or whatever we needed to do to get back to the ship.

So we ran several of these test missions where we'd go to just [an arbitrary] point out in the ocean. We were all used to operating in formation, and it's a pretty lonesome feeling when you head off across the ocean [alone] in a single-engine airplane. That was something we all had to get used to, because at the ten-minute interval, you couldn't see the helicopter ahead of you. You could readily talk to him on the radio, but you couldn't see the guy ahead of you, nor could you see anybody behind you. So you were out there by yourself. It was good that we trained so that we got used to that.

The procedure evolved as we went along. There were some more tests off of Wallops Island. [On one test], I think it was going to be a max-q test, somebody installed the batteries backwards or got a relay backwards or something in the spacecraft. What happened, we had gone [to Wallops], and a couple of NASA guys were taking us for a walk-around where this thing was sitting. It was a Little Joe sitting on this launcher with the spacecraft on top. When we were pretty close by, they started to charge the batteries, and [as] we were standing there talking, all of a sudden the launch abort system went off and ripped the spacecraft off the top of the Little Joe and headed out toward the ocean.

It was a pretty loud noise, and we kind of recovered ourselves, and it knocked a couple of guys down because we were in the blast area when the thing went off. Larry Flanagan said, "Get in the helicopter. Let's see if we can get it." It turned out that was futile because the main parachute didn't open, and the [spacecraft] just hit the water and sank.

But the humorous thing that happened then was that as we started at a [run] down this little trail toward where the helicopter was sitting, which was maybe, I don't know, 80 yards away or something like that, somebody let out a big yell and said, "Look out for that smoke! It's toxic!" Sure enough, this big cloud of smoke was sort of drifting toward us. So we sort of [ran a] little faster to stay out of the smoke, and one of the NASA guys fell down and landed in the ditch. A few seconds later, then, he passed us up, and he was still on his knees. He was thoroughly motivated to get out of the smoke.

Wright: He took it seriously, didn't he?

Koons: Yes.

To talk a little bit about what went on with the flight crews while they were doing the typical retrieval, I just told you about the sequence of leaving at ten-minute intervals and going to the spacecraft. Once you got close to the spacecraft and the co-pilot went [below], the retrieval was fairly difficult to fly. As you approached the spacecraft, the pilot had to look out his window in order to keep it in sight, and as you got closer to it, in order to maneuver really close to it so that the co-pilot could reach with his 12-foot pole to hook onto it, [we] had to be pretty close to it. In fact, a lot of times in training, we would bump it with the right [main] landing gear.

When you're in that position and doing that flying down close to the water, you've got several things going on that tend to confuse you. One is that the rotor wash from the helicopter whips the water into a froth around the spacecraft. Secondly, you've got the wave and swell action that's making the spacecraft heave up and down. And with your head in that position, [looking out and down from the right-hand cockpit window], as a pilot, you tend to lose your orientation.

So we had several things that we had to do. Number one, we had to rely on what was called the automatic stabilization equipment on the helicopter. It had the capability to fly as a straight, level autopilot. It couldn't do any kind of descents or anything like that. It was kind of a rudimentary autopilot. But it did have a good system for maintaining yaw control, and that turned out to be indispensable. The pilot would get thoroughly confused if he tried to maintain yaw, and he'd wind up slewing the thing around. He'd get messed up, and he'd have to raise his head and regain his orientation. So we had a standing rule that the ASE [Automatic Stabilization Equipment], it was called, had to work, and the pilot relied on that for yaw control. He'd just take his feet off the rudder panels and trust the autopilot, or ASE, to do the yaw control.

Then you literally chase the spacecraft up and down the waves, and that's [somewhat] difficult. If it's choppy, it gets to be really tricky if you're in a swell out in the ocean. So that was part of the training, as we were training aircraft commanders, to train on a day when there was a swell out in the Atlantic. We'd carry the [boilerplate] spacecraft out and dump it where there was some pretty good wave action so that the aircraft commander got a good feel for just what he was getting into, because we were [usually] training [just] off the beach, but in the open ocean you almost always have some swell. So we had to actually work pretty hard to find sea conditions off the beach where we trained to be rough enough that we felt we were getting good practice for the open-sea retrievals.

Anyway, as you were maneuvering the helicopter into position, then the co-pilot had the option to either [lie] in the hatch and just reach out with [his] arms or to stand braced in the hatch with a gunner's belt around [his] waist and the tag line secured back to the port side of the helicopter. Most of the co-pilots opted to do it that way. I did. When I was a co-pilot, I preferred that, because it gave me a lot longer reach, and I really felt like I was in a good position to be able to maneuver that hook and snag it into the loop.

Then as soon as you got it [engaged], the pole was designed to [slip off] the hook. Then the co-pilot, at that point, would immediately start giving verbal direction to the pilot, because as soon as you moved up over the spacecraft to begin lifting, the pilot had no visual reference at all of where the spacecraft was. But he had [an] advantage at that point. He could raise his head and go back to normal reference as far as horizon and perspective. So it was a lot easier to fly as soon as you could raise your head. But at that point, the co-pilot turned his microphone on, and then he verbally directed the pilot.

The disorienting things that happened then were that, first of all, the wind waves that would be coming at you—you would have a natural tendency to want to back up so that you match the speed of the wind waves, and you had to counter that. There were some other tendencies that we encountered. One was a tendency to try to move toward the spacecraft and get out of attitude at that time. So the training was very valid.

Anyway, the co-pilot then verbally gave the pilot direction. He'd tell him when the sling was just about to come taut. Then, of course, you'd feel it. It would always happen when the spacecraft was going down on a wave that the sling would snap taut and give you a real good yank. So you were thoroughly aware that you had it then. You were starting to lift.

Then the co-pilot gave direction, and we had to simplify the verbal direction, because there was so much noise and confusion at that time. Of course, the engine was running very close to max [maximum] power and making the maximum amount of noise, so we had to simplify the verbal direction that he gave. Eventually, we came up with just four commands: "move forward," "move back," "move right," "move left," and that's all we ever said. You didn't need anything other than that. [For example], if the pilot was moving to the left and didn't realize it and you wanted him to straighten up, you'd just say, "Move right." You don't say, "You're moving left. You need to correct that." You'd just say, "Move right," and that took care of it.

Then you'd pick the thing out of the water and head back to the ship. [When you reached the ship], the co-pilot would go down below again to help the pilot get the spacecraft on the ship and positioned [correctly].

Complicating factors that came up—there were three major complications that developed. First, at some point along the line, the guys at NASA said, "We've decided we're going to put a high-frequency antenna on this thing. It's going to [be] a 40-foot piece of very light copper wire with a helium balloon to lift it out of the top of the spacecraft." Well, 40 feet of wire, we said, "We don't want that in the rotor system."

We first said, "Are you sure you have to do that?" [So], for a period of time, it was seriously the plan that we were going to have that balloon to contend with. So we [had to decide how] to dispose of the balloon—we tried with some test balloons, to just hover and see if they wouldn't break in the rotor blast, and we concluded they wouldn't, because sometimes they'd start swirling around, and it was not a very healthy situation. It didn't look like anything we wanted to get wrapped around the tail rotor.

So we decided we'd just give the co-pilot a shotgun and let him have at it with the shotgun. So we literally set up a test for this, and we were training co-pilots. It turned out to be a complicated training exercise. We'd put a boilerplate spacecraft out in the river there close to our station where we flew from. We got some shotguns from Special Services, and they provided the ammunition. Some of the co-pilots had never fired anything but their rifle on the range, which was part of their—you know, every Marine rifleman had done that, but they weren't familiar with shotgunning. So we had to arrange some of them to get some little practice with a shotgun.

Then the people over at the weather station had some weather balloons that had gone out of date, and they weren't going to use them to launch their little test packages, or instrument packages. So we got some balloons and a bottle of helium, and we started training co-pilots to shoot balloons. This went on for a while. We were having a good time with it. But about the time we got pretty good at [shooting the balloons] and everything, then [NASA] said, "We've replaced that helium balloon. That's not going to work." What they found out, if there was very much wind blowing, the thing would just stream out straight from the spacecraft, and it didn't have enough vertical height to do any good as an antenna.

So they abandoned that, and they put a telescoping whip antenna that was, I think, about 20 feet long in the spacecraft, very light aluminum. It had a little explosive charge in it and was telescoping like a car antenna, but it started out about a little over an inch in diameter, and the telescoping sections, it got down to where it was a quarter-inch at the top or something like that, all very lightweight. When the squib went off, or the little charge went off, the thing just instantaneously shot up 20 feet in the air. This was scheduled to happen about two minutes, or two minutes and twenty seconds, after the landing.

So now we were confronted with this 20-foot piece of aluminum that we had to deal with. That was an interesting thing. The first thing we tried were tree pruners. We were working with the NASA guys. We were at Langley when we were working on this. We tried the tree pruners, and we found out it was relatively difficult with the spacecraft whipping around in the water and the helicopter, and we had enough to do anyway, but to try to get the tree pruner hooked around that thing and then for the co-pilot to get a hold of the rope on the pruner and pull hard enough to shear off this aluminum turned out to be a little bit too much to expect.

Somebody said, "Let's put an explosive device in that." So the next thing we had was a tree pruner where you got it hooked around, and then the co-pilot had to feel up on his handle and flip a switch to blow a little charge, which flipped the knife around and cut the antenna off, and that worked all right.

As we went further with this, though, we had two things. One was, there was no redundancy there. If he flipped his switch and happened to miss, if the spacecraft came out of the hook at the wrong time, then the antenna wouldn't get cut and he would have popped his squib and not have any way of getting rid of the antenna.

So we went to a different configuration in which we had an open fork at the end of the pole, and we had two knives on there, one here and one there [demonstrates]. Then we set it up so that we armed it. There were some microswitches at the apex of the Y so that the co-pilot could arm it. He'd just reach out and literally just stab it at the antenna, and the instant it made contact, both the knives would come around. So we had redundancy. If one of them failed, the other one would get the job done. And that worked out very well. That was the configuration, then, that we used for the rest of the missions.

Another major challenge that we were presented, all at about the same time, was when they discovered that [if] the spacecraft hit too hard, particularly if it landed on land, like in a beach abort (if it landed on the sand instead of the water), it was not going to be a survivable impact for the astronaut.

So they put a deployable landing bag, which several other people I know have described, in there. The deal was that you [separated] the heat shield at the bottom. The spherical heat shield at the bottom was [separated] or detached, and it dropped down on a four-foot cylindrical bag, and then if the spacecraft landed on the beach, why, this four-foot bag full of air acted as a cushion. Then they had vent holes in there that were sized so that it would just go "whoof," and not bounce. We didn't really want the thing to relaunch itself in a big bounce, so it was vented, the bag was vented.

I remember Pete [Peter J.] Armitage called me and said, "We've got a real problem. We may have to give up using helicopters to do this, because the spacecraft is going to weigh over 12,000 pounds." That's about what the helicopter weighed, and, of course, 2,000 or 2,200 was about the limit of what we could handle. So he explained that we were going to have this bag full of water down there.

I remember asking, "How are you going to pick it up with a ship? You'll pull the loop right off the top of the spacecraft."

"They're still working on that."

So what we developed there was that as it was originally configured, those holes, which were about that big [demonstrates], about five or six inches in diameter, were at the top of the bag up next to the spacecraft. We said, "Just turn the bag upside down and put the holes at the bottom, and then [we] can drain the water out as [we] lift it." Now we're back in the situation where it's actually better to use the helicopter to pick it up, because if a ship—for instance, if a destroyer is lying in the trough and rolling, which is usually the way they wound up—when they get alongside, they pretty much wound up lying in the trough, lying parallel to the waves, or the swell—the line that they were using would come taut suddenly, and you stood a good chance you were just going to yank the top off the spacecraft, you were going to overstress the [loop] because of all this water trapped in there.

The helicopter had the advantage, in that it could put a fair amount of lift on, or tension on, the line, and then if the spacecraft needed to go down, it'd just pull the helicopter down with it, so the two, in a swell, would go up and down together. So that was what we worked out.

It turned out that it complicated the retrieval for the helicopters, of course, quite a bit, because [we] had to [hover] there, oh, for over two minutes at a high power setting, hovering, while the water drained out to where it was light enough that you could actually lift it and go ahead and pull it. It also complicated things because now you had this extra four-foot bag hanging on there, which made the drag higher and increased your fuel consumption and had the net effect of reducing the range we could go to make the retrieval.

Then throughout all this time we had been planning that the astronaut would just stay inside the spacecraft. We had gone to Langley one day to—and I probably don't have these things in sequence at all. I think I'm out of sequence about a year now on this, date wise. We had gone up to Langley to support some egress training. They had sort of a semi kind of a fancy boilerplate spacecraft that had been configured to allow—it had sort of a couch in it, and they used it to train the astronauts on how to get out of the spacecraft.

To start the day's work, we picked up the spacecraft and carried it over to what was called the back river at Langley, which was generally north of the area of the Air Force base. It was actually the mouth of the river and was close to the Chesapeake [Bay] there. As we were making a circuit around the airfield to head over to drop it in there, to place it in the water, all of a sudden I realized the hook had opened. I was flying aircraft commander by this time. The co-pilot said, "We just dropped it."

Fortunately, it landed on the ramp over on the west side of the air base. There were some experimental aircraft over there, which it would have been a really bad day if the thing had hit one of those. But it seriously messed up the spacecraft when it landed on this ramp, and that caused us, then, to start a whole evaluation of how in the world did that hook open.

Of course, I felt then like Gus [Virgil I.] Grissom felt later; everybody blamed me because I was the guy at the controls. Everybody figured that I had done something to [cause the problem]. I'll take a minute to describe the hook that we used. It was called a hook. It literally wasn't. Hanging on a bridle of four cables beneath the spacecraft was this electromechanical thing which could be opened electrically or mechanically. It was closed manually by the crew chief. When you picked up a [typical] external load, the crew chief or somebody [on] the ground was on top of that load, and he put the loop of the load sling through the jaw or load beam of this hook and slammed it shut [while the helicopter hovered above the load]. That's how we got engaged to the load. We held a hover while they got it snapped on. Then this guy jumped off the load, and we picked the load up and left.

What had happened, as it turned out, we impounded that hook that had opened and dropped the egress trainer, and in the investigation, we took it—or sent it—to Eastern Rotorcraft, which was the company that made that accessory for the helicopters. That was a company up somewhere just north of Philadelphia [Pennsylvania], in the Philadelphia suburbs. They did some serious analysis of how could this have happened, and they discovered that it was possible to have a tolerance buildup—right from their shop drawings—it was possible to have a tolerance buildup so that the release mechanism was riding on dead center. Therefore, it could go either way. It could go tighter into a lock position, or it could unlock, and it unlocked.

Now, this was not a really rare occurrence. Every once in a while, a helicopter would drop an external load. But normally, that was something like a Jeep or a pallet load of beans or whatever, and nobody got real excited about it. They said, "We're going to have to go back and get another one."

But this analysis by Eastern Rotorcraft, I think, kind of shocked them, to find out that they were turning out a product that was literally unreliable. It certainly was a wake-up call for us, because we were about to start hauling people around on something that was unreliable. So this caused a flurry of activity and eventually became an aircraft service change for the HUS. HUS was the helicopter we were flying.

The service change involved putting an internal locking mechanism in the hook. It was just a little roller on a lever, but it held the mechanism locked. In order to unlock it, the pilot's control stick had a lever on it, added a little bit below all the other things that were on the top of the stick. In order to disengage or release a load, you had to first get a hold of that and pull it—it was just a little lever—and pull it, and then you could disengage either electrically or with a mechanical backup system, which involved picking up your right leg and stomping on [a plunger] with your heel.

It was just a plunger sticking out of the floor of the cockpit, which is the way most of us opted to fly. We disengaged the electrical disconnect and went pure mechanical, because that way we didn't have to worry about static discharge or any of the other things that might cause the electrical system or an electrical pulse to malfunction and cause the hook to open. So that became—I think it was called Aircraft Service Change 180, and it was eventually installed in twenty-some helicopters in Marine Air Group Twenty-six.

Then at about that point, everybody began to conclude—you know, "Yeah, you fixed it, but I'm not sure carrying that spacecraft around with the guy still inside it is a very good idea." So we began to work on a procedure where we would, as we eventually did for the manned mission, where we would engage the spacecraft and get the helicopter in a hover above it and start draining the water from the landing bag. But then at that point we'd sort of hesitate.

When we're talking to the astronaut on the radio, the [astronaut] then would open the hatch and slide partway out, sit on the sill of the hatch on the spacecraft, and we'd send the horse-collar sling down to him. He would get that around his shoulders, and we'd [hoist] him up and get him in the helicopter. Then we'd go ahead and complete the lift, get the water drained out of the bag and take the spacecraft back to the ship. And that's basically the way we did the [Alan B.] Shepard flight.

There were two flights, though, prior to the Shepard flight that I think are worthy to get recorded. There was a flight that had a primate aboard, and it was out into the open ocean, several hundred miles out, and the helicopters were deployed aboard the USS Fort Mandan or [USS] Donner. I can't remember which ship it was. The flight had an anomaly in which the launch abort system didn't disengage properly, and it added additional impulse, or velocity, to the spacecraft, and the spacecraft wound up—I don't know, 80 or 100 miles downrange from where it was supposed to be.

It turned out to be quite an eventful day. We left. The lead pilot for that retrieval was First Lieutenant John [A.] Hellriegel. Once [the ship] got within range and got our fuel load adjusted, John took off first and headed toward the spacecraft. I was flying number two, and I don't remember who John's co-pilot was, and I don't remember who my co-pilot was that day. Anyway, I took off ten minutes later and headed out toward the spacecraft. Then the number three plane—and I can't remember who was flying number three at all—number three was behind us.

John called when he got the spacecraft in sight and said, "Okay, we've got it in sight. We're going to go ahead and pick it up." Well, it turned out, as other people have noted, that the—I think Bob [Robert F.] Thompson particularly noted—the spacecraft had been damaged by the heat shield, which was deployed on the bag, and the heat shield had skipped on the water and come up and knocked a hole in the pressure vessel close to the primate couch, or made a hole in the pressure vessel, anyway. So when John got there, the spacecraft was on its side and obviously taking on water and laying pretty low in the water.

So they went down and got it, got hooked up to it, and the next thing that I heard from John was, he says, "We've got it, but, boy, is this thing heavy." Of course, he could tell from the way it was flying that it was real heavy. The sea conditions were like a state-three sea where he picked it up.

Of course, I was there. Within a couple of minutes, I had reached the site and joined up [in] a kind of a loose formation to follow him back to the ship. And we picked up the number three aircraft then a little bit later.

As we headed back towards the ship—of course, we were a goodly distance from the LSD—we were approaching a destroyer, one of the destroyers that had been positioned downrange. In fact, I had flown over that destroyer on the way out. As we came back, the destroyer came up on our primary UHF [Ultra High] Frequency and said, "We want you to put that spacecraft down on the fantail of the destroyer."

As it turned out, the destroyer was in an area where there was a much rougher sea. They were 20 miles or more from where the spacecraft had landed. They were taking a pretty good ride. It was probably a state-five sea where they were. So we had a number of factors involved.

First, the destroyer was in a really rough area, and the waves were breaking over the fantail. You could see the water, green water, running over the back of the ship. That was inducing the destroyer to pitch a lot. From the air, you could see the thing pitching up and down.

Another major factor was [that] we had never, ever contemplated setting that thing down on a destroyer. Another factor was that there was no preparation made. It was just a bare deck. There [were] no pads or anything there to handle the thing. They, of course, had the lifting rig. If they were going to pick it up from the water, they had that equipment on board, and I think they had some people on board who were trained to handle the spacecraft, but it looked to me like a very unsafe thing to attempt. [We also had never analyzed the clearances to see if it was possible to set the spacecraft down on the fantail without hitting obstacles on the ship, such as antennas.]

So John Hellriegel answered that first call, and he said, "I don't think that's a very good idea. I'm not sure we want to do that."

The next voice we heard on the radio—you could tell by the com sign; communication sign—was the commodore himself speaking on the radio. He said, "Hunt Club," whatever the side number was, "this is—," call sign, whatever it was, "I want you to put that thing down on the deck right now. That's an order."

So I took my career in my two little hands. I was senior to John and was technically the flight commander, or flight leader, even though I was flying number two. And I gave the commodore an answer and said, "We're unable to do that. Safety of flight, and we're heading on back to the [LSD]," or something to that effect, which probably infuriated the commodore to the point he didn't have anything more to say. We didn't hear any more from him, anyway.

As it turned out, there were more things going on. As I mentioned earlier, the LSD frequently would ballast down, it was called. They would flood voids in the ship to lay it low in the water so that the boat deck would flood to let boats in and out. So they were used to carrying seawater in some of their void tanks, or fuel alternately. As they were getting cranked up to make max speed coming to follow us so we had the minimum range to get back to them, they decided their tanks were about empty, and they switched tanks.

Now, [the fuel] was bunker oil, and for some reason—I never did understand this—they were feeding both boilers out of one tank. When they switched tanks, they were still feeding both boilers out of the tank they switched to, which turned out [to be] full of seawater. [The water] doused the fire in both boilers, and it just stopped the ship. The ship lost everything. It lost communications; it lost ventilation; it lost way through the water. They couldn't even turn the rudder. They were absolutely dead in the water with no power.

They had a good amount of seawater that they'd sprayed into their fire boxes, so things were pretty cold in there. They have an emergency generator on board that at least will run the radios so that they can communicate. They fired up the emergency generator, and it ran just a few seconds and it quit. So they were literally dead in the water. I mean, they were literally dead. They couldn't do anything.

We didn't know that. We were assuming the ship was at point so-and-so [and coming toward us]. John is reporting that he's using a lot of fuel carrying this thing, because, as it turned out, it had a lot of water in it. It was much heavier than anybody ever expected it would be, and the ship wasn't moving. So as we approached the point where we should be able to see the ship, which is normally [a range of ] about eight miles, there was no ship in view.

At that point, all we could do was keep going. Finally, the first communication we got was from one of our Marine detachment on board, because part of our packup included a field radio that would net up with the tactical radios we had on the helicopters. So that was the first word we got, and they reported that the ship was dead in the water and they were trying to get power back and etc., etc.

So we reported that we had a very heavy spacecraft in a very low fuel state and said, "We [need] a little adjustment to procedure here." They had made a skid padded with mattresses. "As soon as that thing's on [the skid], you've got to haul it forward quickly and let the helicopter land directly." Normally, you would set it down and then fly off it and give them time to clear the deck so you could land. So we made it known that "If this all works, we're going to set that thing down, and you need to move that spacecraft forward quickly so that the helicopter [can] land directly."

About this point, I think we were maybe five miles from the ship, and John reported he'd gone to a red-light state on his fuel, which meant he was down to 200 pounds and had roughly 20 minutes of flight time left. You get really nervous when that red light comes on.

It all worked out. John told me he set the thing down and he said he dropped the sling, opened the hook and dropped the sling, and he said, "The next thing I knew, there was that spacecraft right out in front of me." He said, "Those guys really moved it in a hurry." So that all worked out. We got that mission done.

The unpleasant part of it was the post-mission conference, where I had to confront the commodore. I was still a first lieutenant, [and] we had a short but vigorous discussion of what had happened.


Wright: I think you were about to tell us about your first open-ocean retrieval.

Koons: Yes. That was the first Mercury-Atlas flight. That particular one did not have a landing bag on it. It landed somewhere way out east of Puerto Rico. That one also went long, and I don't know why it went long, but it was not anywhere close to the ship. It was 40 miles or so from the ship. In that case, it was located by the search aircraft, which were, I think, P2Vs.

We had some difficulty communicating with them. We had tested our procedure of being vectored by the search aircraft to the spacecraft, but we had never encountered this kind of difficulty, and for whatever reason, we had real difficulty communicating with them. We had been given the latitude and longitude, so we went to the spacecraft by dead reckoning. Eventually, we were actually pretty close to it when we finally got communication with the P2Vs.

My co-pilot for that was Captain Al [Allen K.] Daniel. There was a pretty severe wind and sea state when we got to that one. It was like a state-four sea. The spacecraft was really going up and down. We did not have to contend with the antennas. The whip antenna was not installed on that one.

Al got the thing snagged, and we got it out of the water and took it back to the ship. Aside from the fact that the water was really rough and it was difficult to handle from that standpoint, it was not particularly eventful, and the fact that we had to go 40 miles—I think it was about 40 miles—was not a big deal after having gone after that primate, where we went 80-some miles.

The navigation that we did probably is worth describing. When you operate off an LSD, at that time they didn't have a TACAN [Tactical Air Control and Navigation] base, which was our primary way of [navigating]. When we were at sea, we normally operated off carriers, and they had a TACAN station on the carrier, so you had a good way, of anywhere up to a couple of hundred miles out, of being able to navigate using the carrier as your reference. The LSD didn't have that, so we were without that.

The thing that we trained all the co-pilots to do was to navigate with the plot board, which was a thing about 14 inches square that had a transparent wheel inside it. You could use a grease pencil, but a lead pencil worked just fine. They all called it the "Ouija board." It was derivative of the thing we had been taught in flight school, in that you could calculate ship speed and velocity and aircraft speed and velocity, and then the critical thing was to get the right amount of wind blown in so that you made the right heading in order to get the correct ground course. All the co-pilots had to learn to do that and do it well, and we held classes right along with all the other stuff. We had ground school on how to run the plot board.

There were a number of deployments, a number of times that we went to sea, that the launch didn't get off, so we got lots of experience riding around on LSDs. For one mission, the spacecraft was going over close to the Canary Islands, and they sent an LSD with a three-helicopter detachment on it over there. Fortunately, the squadron commander decided I was needed more back on the beach, so I didn't have to take that [trip. That] was a long ride for those guys. They were gone almost a month, and they did not get to do the retrievals. It was very frustrating for the guys who had to make that trip.

Wright: Could you share with us a few details about the deployments, either that one or another one, when you would go? How long would they be gone? How long would they be on the LSD?

Koons: Gosh, that varies all over the place. Typically, when we deployed we took the three helicopters, which required six pilots to fly those. We took a spare pilot, so we had seven officers in the detachment. Then we took ten enlisted men, the crew chiefs for the three helicopters and then specialists. We had an NCO [Noncommissioned Officer] line chief kind of guy who was in charge of the enlisted people, and then we had an avionics guy and a hydraulics guy and an engine mechanic and so forth.

We carried a specialized pack of spares. As I mentioned, the automatic stabilization equipment was critical. We couldn't do the mission without it. So we carried—they were called CG&A boxes [Control Gyro and Amplifier Boxes]. It was kind of like a mechanical hydraulic fluid amplifier contraption, and it had a lot of vacuum tubes in it. All of our avionics then were vacuum tubes, so we had the normal run of relatively low reliability compared to today's avionics. Vacuum tubes just don't work like solid-state equipment. And those CG&A boxes were really rare birds. If you had one that worked on the shelf, it was rare, because they failed regularly. So we actually caused quite a problem for our squadron logistics people, because we took all the high-use spares and we'd be gone with them for a long time when we did these deployments.

The squadron was twenty-four to thirty [helicopters], so they were trying to keep all the other [helicopters] flying with the high-use spares off with us on an LSD. So it was a real hardship on those people to keep the rest of the squadron operational. Anyway, that was the size of our deployment.

Very often the LSD would be in Norfolk [Virginia], which was a couple-hour hop from [Marine Corps Air Facility] New River [North Carolina], which was our base. We'd fly there and go aboard the day before the ship sailed, and ride. We had a standard operating practice that required that we fly at least every third day, and that was a very real requirement. [In] the engines on the helicopter, the oil would tend to drain down, and if you tried to [fly] after three days without running the [engines], the requirement was that you had to pre-oil them. You had to hook up this big ground cart and pump oil through the engine and recirculate the oil, because it would be drained down to a point that you would damage the engine if you started it without pre-oiling it. We didn't have a pre-oiler to take along, so we had to fly them every third day, minimum.

But that was probably also good because it gave the ship's crew practice in handling the helicopters, which was a real challenge for them, because it was something they didn't do very often, to move those things on the boat deck back into position under the cranes and bring them up through the well and get enough sailors with enough lines [to stabilize helicopters on a rolling ship].

The LSDs were great for rolling. They were a flat-bottomed thing, and they spent a lot of time lying on one side, then lying on the other side. So the ship's crew had to get very good with all the [belaying] lines to keep from damaging the helicopters as they handled them. So it was good practice for them. It was good practice for us, because we could run a good long mission out to sea. Just to train ourselves, we'd go off in some lateral direction. Instead of going right down the course the ship was going to, we'd go off in a lateral direction, then turn and calculate an intercept. So we'd see if our co-pilots were running the plot board right.

That was kind of the typical deal. Then we'd be gone, usually, at least two weeks, depending on where we were going. Many of these trips, the flight would be aborted or not launched or whatever, so we'd just turn around and plod our way back to Norfolk.

The LSD, the one we went on most often, was one called the LSD Fort Mandan. The Fort Mandan was not fast. She did 16.8 knots flat out. That's all they could get out of that ship. So we spent lots and lots of time running at 16.8 knots, which made the destroyers look like speedboats when they'd go by.

Wright: Would you talk to us also about the crew? How did people become part of your Marine Air Group? Was this something that they could volunteer for, or were they highly selected? What were some of the traits that these men needed to [have], to be part of this group that was part of the recovery and retrieval?

Koons: The Marine Air Group Twenty-six was a standard helicopter air group. We had two squadrons of medium helicopters, which was what I was flying, one squadron of heavies, and then an observation—I think it was called an observation squadron. They had some light helicopters, and they also had some lightweight fixed-wing airplanes that were used for artillery and forward air-control spotting. A Marine air group of that size, we had about 100 helicopters, therefore about 250 officer pilots.

This was just a normal assignment. When I came out of flight school, it was just routine. I got assigned to Marine Air Group Twenty-six. People that I came out of flight school with got assigned to other air groups. The Marine Corps at that time had three Marine air groups that that's what they did; they flew helicopters. Their mission was to go aboard ship, typically for amphibious assault work. At that time it was called vertical envelopment, and we would take, initially, the Pathfinders. If you're going to assault a beach, we'd take the Pathfinders in sometime prior to the assault, and then maybe a battalion-size unit would go in by air and be dropped somewhere inland so that it was part of an envelopment operation. You were, therefore, behind the enemy's beach defense, and you could cause all kinds of problems with a battalion-size force behind their lines, basically, is what the idea was, a very general idea. So, no, it was a routine assignment for people to be assigned to it.

Now, the selection of the people who flew the Mercury missions was a little bit different brand of cat. It was very unusual within the Fleet Marine Force to have that kind of a mission assigned. It was unique. There was no other time that I ever heard of in Marine aviation, at least with helicopters, that anything like that was done.

Basically, the people who did it were volunteers. They were interested, and they came and said, "I want to do that. Can I get on the list to train for that mission?" Generally, they were the younger guys who were—well, in the case of the co-pilots, they were all younger, because everybody moved to aircraft commander, with few exceptions. That was just the normal thing. You came out of flight school and you flew as a co-pilot for a year or so, and [when] you finished your training, you were ready to check as an aircraft commander.

The aircraft commanders, the ones who really completed the training and said, "This doesn't bother me too much. I'm fine with doing this," tended to be younger guys. We had, as I can remember, we had a couple of majors at that time, people who were probably in their early- to mid-thirties, who said, "I think I'd like to try that." Both of them said, "I don't want to fly that anymore," after they'd done three or four training missions. I guess they just realized that it was enough different and required enough mental and physical adaptation that it was so different from what they were used to doing, and they didn't feel they were comfortable with it. So they said, "We'll let you other guys take care of that." I think that everybody who did it volunteered, came, and said, "I want to do that. Would you put me in the training cycle so I can do that?"

Wright: Part of what they were told, from what we understand through research, is that the safety of the helicopter and the crew was secondary to the spacecraft and the astronauts.

Koons: Yes.

Wright: Were there any times that you recall that that issue came up, as far as someone had to make that judgment of putting their own crew in jeopardy to save the spacecraft?

Koons: I made the judgment that if people were going to do that, if we were going to do this mission, that the crews had to accept, and fully accept, the idea that the helicopter and its crew came second to the spacecraft, not just the spacecraft, particularly a spacecraft with a man on board. Even though we had come to the point that the normal procedure was to extract the man and bring him back inside the helicopter—and under those conditions, of course, if you had an emergency like an engine failure, control failure, or something, you're just going to pickle the spacecraft off and concentrate on survival. But it was also possible that the crewman, the astronaut, might be disabled, [or] the hatch might not work. There are a few things you can think of that you might wind up carrying the thing back with the guy still inside it.

So I made the judgment that the crew had to accept that if we're doing it that way, if the guy's still in the spacecraft, he gets all the priority you can give him as far as leaving that spacecraft afloat. The typical thing you think of is an engine failure, because that was the most usual thing that would bring you down, was an engine failure. So I made that judgment, and I wrote it into the operations manual, and the squadron commander signed it, and that was the end of the discussion.

There were some pretty spirited discussions when John [H.] Glenn found out that that's the way it was written. He took me on head-on about that, and he basically said, "Lieutenant, if you're carrying me around there," he said, "I want you to drop me and just take care of yourself."

My response was, "Colonel, I can get killed any day of the week, and I won't get written up anywhere but the hometown newspaper. If I kill you, we're not going to hear the end of it for a year. So it's not reasonable to say that I would give myself the priority over you. That's just not the way it works." He didn't like that, but he quit arguing with me.

Wright: Tell us about your progression. You first started out, as you mentioned, I guess as a lieutenant when you first began the operations?

Koons: Yes.

Wright: And then how your role evolved.

Koons: The most interesting turning point was that in addition to doing the Mercury missions, my squadron was tasked with providing, I think it was ten helicopters and about thirty pilots and the enlisted people to do all the support for the Mediterranean missions. The sequence there, the typical sequence was, they were transported over in an LSD, then they flew off the LSD to a carrier, and they were on a carrier or the LSD or both in the Mediterranean area for a period of six months, and then they came back home.

The basic force that was deployed was called the Med Battalion, and the Second Marine Division provided a reinforced battalion in the Mediterranean area. This is now in the late fifties, early sixties. That was part of their standard deployed posture, was that they had a ready-to-fight battalion in the Mediterranean at all times. That's quite a load on a squadron. We had at that time really about a dozen pilots set aside as Mercury pilots, and it was basically everybody else in the squadron [who] had to go to make up that Mediterranean battalion, and then we'd get replenished when the unit came back.

The squadron commander called Larry Flanagan and I out in the hall one day, and he said, "One of you two guys has to go [on] deployment. Do one of you want to volunteer?"

Larry and I just looked at each other, said, "No, sir." [Laughs]

So he promptly hauled a quarter out of his pocket and flipped it, and Larry went [on deployment]. That was a turning point. If the thing had come down tails, I'd have gone [on deployment] and Larry would have been the Mercury Project Officer, and who knows how it would have all worked out.

As I told you, I made aircraft commander, and I was the Mercury Project Officer virtually [full-time] then. I don't know when Larry got [transferred]. I can't remember when that was. I had been his co-pilot for two of the tests that were flown out of Wallops Island. Then I got rated as an aircraft commander and got trained in the Mercury work and continued, then, to do that until after the Shepard flight. [After that I was] transferred to Group Headquarters, and I was no longer actively involved.

Throughout that entire time, I was a first lieutenant. I was selected to captain right close to the end of that time. When I left the squadron, when I left active duty, I went to work for the Space Task Group. I was employee number 87. I'll never forget that. I was the 87th employee to sign on with the Space Task Group.

At the same time, I went to a jet attack squadron, a reserve squadron, in Norfolk, and I got my promotion to captain there. I flew with that squadron while we were still in Langley Air Force Base, which was several months. Then when we moved to Houston, it worked out that my work was keeping me busy enough that I didn't really have time to put in the time to stay current in a jet aircraft. That was the available unit here, was you went to Dallas [Texas] and flew with the squadron in Dallas. I just didn't have the time to drive back and forth, or fly back and forth. My experience had always been, if I laid off of flying for a month, I didn't feel really comfortable. It took a couple of flights before I really got back in the groove. I thought going up there once a month was a bad idea.

So I went into what was called a volunteer training unit [in Houston], and eventually I got two more promotions. I wound up a lieutenant colonel. I was the CO [commanding officer] of that volunteer training unit for a few months. Then somebody more senior joined, and [he] became the CO. So that was my military progression.

We haven't talked about the Shepard flight.

Wright: Yes, I was going to ask you that. Before we do that, do you have any idea just how many training missions that you went on before you picked up Shepard?

Koons: No, I don't. And it's not reflected in my logbook, either. I looked. I could probably tell you how many deployments I went on, and that would be a dozen or so, but I can't tell you how many times I picked up spacecraft.

Wright: Let's talk about the Shepard flight.

Koons: As the time for the Shepard flight approached, the squadron commander called me in. Of course, we had a lot of pilots who were qualified to do it. They were Mercury pilots who were senior to me. The squadron commander called me in and told me that it had been decided that I should have the lead for that mission. He asked me if I had a particular choice in co-pilot, and I said, "I sure do," because at that point I had been working for several months regularly with a co-pilot named George [F.] Cox. George and I just really got along well. We were kind of like twins. You know, we didn't have to say everything that we communicated. We thought alike and we worked well together. We were comfortable with each other. And George was really eager to do it, enjoyed working the mission. So that was the basic setup.

We didn't find out until late that we were going to be on a carrier instead of on an LSD. [This would be only the second time] to work off a carrier. Of course, we were all carrier-qualified, but the whole thing of handling the spacecraft and putting it on the carrier and so forth was not something that we had done any [significant] planning [or training] for.

So when it turned out we were going aboard a carrier, I'm not sure how, [but] we got a boilerplate [spacecraft] there. Whether we took it out to the carrier or whether somebody had put it on the carrier before [we] embarked, I don't know.

When we did some training on the carrier, there were several things that went on there that really caught me by surprise. Number one was the intensity of the press coverage. There was a press pool a