Apollo 7 ARIA support


Apollo 7, as a ten day Earth-orbital mission, required extensive support from the Apollo Range Instrumented Aircraft.


Stan Anderson, Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge of ARIA Control, remembers –

ARIA Control

Stan Anderson stands at the front of the control room at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida.

Seated, left to right: Capt Joe Hill, Major Doc Weaver, Capt Peter Goubert; Lt Col Dave Woodard and Col Oakley Baron.

Scan: Doc Weaver. Names: Stan Anderson.


I have a few memories of the Apollo 7 mission:

The first was that during the Apollo 7 mission, the Aircraft Operations Control Center (ARIA Control) was being upgraded to support the follow-on lunar missions. This required that we move to an alternate location. NASA opened up the Project Mercury Control Center (MCC) at Cape Canaveral for us to use. Every time I entered the old MCC bunker I could physically sense the history that had been made in that place. It was almost like walking on holy ground.  

The second was the lift off of Apollo 7. The MCC was only 2-1/2 miles from the Launch Complex 34, the last launch from that complex. With the emergency rescue crews pulled back three miles for the liftoff, we were the closest human beings, next to the astronauts, to the launch pad.  We were told that we could not go outside during liftoff and when the rocket was lit, I don’t think I will ever forget the deafening noise making talking, even shouting, impossible and the incredible vibration that went right through to the very core of our bodies. 

The third memory has two parts.

Part I took place in ARIA Control: Apollo VII, the first manned Apollo mission was an orbital mission. We had ARIA deployed around the globe, including two ARIA flying out of Perth.  As the aircrew was bringing up the #4 engine on one of the ARIA (ARIA 7, I seem to remember) to support Revs 134 & 135 over the Indian Ocean, the drive shaft on its generator sheared - a “mission abort” situation. They promptly reported it to ARIA Control and Doc Weaver the Chief ARIA Controller told me, wearing my “Status” hat, to send a message to Houston reporting that the ARIA was “Red - cannot support. The #4 generator drive shaft has sheared.”  It sounded pretty clear to me but when Houston received the message, the Network Controller, Major John Monkvic, called Doc and asked him what the message meant. Doc’s reply, “His motor’s broke, John.”, “Oh, okay.” came the Houston response. Less than two hours later, we got a message from the ARIA aircraft saying that the generator drive shaft had been replaced, that they were now “Green - Can Support” and were departing Perth to cover their Rev 135 TSP (Test Support Point).    

Part II took place on the ground in Perth. When the maintenance crew went to repair the generator shaft they encountered a problem. After loosening the “pop” screws to lower the engine nacelle door, the faulty generator was exposed. The yoke holding the generator in place was secured by three spring pins which, when retracted, would allow the generator to be swiveled out so that the drive shaft could be removed. Unfortunately, one of the spring pins was corroded closed so the decision was made to have the maintenance guys attempt to fix the problem by an alternate means which would not have complied with existing safety standards or practices. The strategy worked and as soon as the engine was buttoned up again, the ARIA was ready to go, albeit, one Rev late. After the day's flying activity had calmed down I called the Maintenance shop down at Patrick and described what had happened and asked “How long would it have taken to do that at Patrick?” I was told “three men, five hours.” To which I replied, “Well, you just had two people do it in an hour-and-a-half.” There was a story in those days that when a baseball player joined with the New York Yankees they automatically became 10% better. But the Yankees didn’t have anything on the people that worked with the ARIA. 

The fourth memory involves a problem that occasionally reared its head with the ARIA. I don’t know whether the problem occurred on multiple aircraft or the same aircraft multiple times. When the pin holding the nose antenna in the “Stow” position was withdrawn prior to tracking, the antenna was initially positioned using wheels on the Antenna Operator’s console. Once the signal was acquired from the spacecraft, the antenna would be placed in “Autotrack” and gyroscopes would spin up keeping the antenna pointed at the spacecraft for the remainder of the pass. The problem occurred when the retaining pin was withdrawn and the fuse powering the console control wheels would “blow” leaving the control wheels unable to position the antenna to acquire the signal from the spacecraft.

During one of the orbital revolutions an ARIA flying over the southeast Pacific (ARIA 6, I think, out of Nandi or Darwin, I’m not sure which) called in “RED-Cannot Support” because they could not control their antenna in manual mode. The situation was reported to NASA and the ARIA was released from support to return to their staging base. The Mission Controller on the aircraft was Major Jim Aiken. A day or two later, I was working the overnight shift at ARIA Control when the ARIA was transiting from its original staging base through Guam to Hawaii for later mission support. It was the policy to have reduced staffing in the AOCC when the ARIA were repositioning during an Apollo mission. Major Aiken called in asking if we had an aircraft standing by at Guam to “pony express” their data tapes to Houston.  I responded “But sir, you called in Red-Cannot Support” to which he replied that he was able to get about eight minutes of tracking data.  

After the mission was over and the ARIA had returned to Patrick he was asked how he was able to get eight minutes of data with an antenna his crew was unable to control. He explained that with the VHF acquisition antennas mounted on the dish in the nose having a 40 degree beam width, he figured that by having the ARIA, with its dish antenna in “Stow” position, fly its normal approach to the ground track at a 30 degree bank rather than straight and level and he could acquire the signal from the Apollo VII spacecraft at 20 degrees above the horizon. When the signal was received, the antenna operator withdrew the antenna retaining pin and immediately punched the antenna directly into Autotrack, whereupon the antenna centered itself on the spacecraft. He then had the pilot return the aircraft to straight and level and fly a normal flight profile the remainder of the data pass tracking the spacecraft all the way to the horizon. Was the maneuver unorthodox?  Yes, but such was the nature of many solutions to “real time” problems that occasionally arose at critical times on a mission. 

A fifth memory was a story reported by one of the Perth based aircrews that indicates the support for Project Apollo by the average Australian citizen. It seems that one of the Perth residents complained to airport officials about the noise created by the ARIA taking off in the early morning hours. When told that the aircraft were taking off to support the Apollo 7 spacecraft his response was “Oh okay.”                   

Stan Anderson.

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