The (In)famous “Q” Incident at RAF Bentwaters
Hello all, Drac here,
The “Q” incident is one of those things in life that if you weren’t there you would swear someone had to make it up. But happen it did. Now owing to the age of my “gray cells” and the age of the incident, I hope I neither leave anything out nor embellish the facts. I also hope that anyone who was there will remember more details and can help make the recollection complete and accurate. I probably wouldn’t remember half as much of the Q or the incident if I wasn’t in the center of the activity. Well not to delay any longer here goes…
Sometime in the fall of ’78, I was working on mid-shift and on the assessment post, (I can’t remember the call sign), near the “Q” ECP point. The post served as the “eyes” for the MSFCO (tower operator) because the back of the ECP and the fenceline up from it was a blind spot for him.
For those of you who were stationed at BW after the F-4’s took flight and the A-10’s arrived, (1979-1980), the “Q” was where the nuclear uploaded F-4’s stood on alert. The Q’s actual name was QRA or “Quick Reaction Area”. Basically, the crews and planes had a timed response to get the planes in the air against our enemy (Russia). Please refer to the crude drawing of the Q to follow along. Click here for drawing
From outside to interior, the Q consisted of:
- A 50’ clear zone outside the outer fence-line
- The outer fence-line with FDS sensors
- An inner fence-line
- A Maid-Miles balanced pressure system in between the two fences.
- Eight structures for housing the alert F-4’s
- Eight sentry positions, one for each bird
- A single entry control point for vehicles/planes
- A 60 foot surveillance tower
- A VADO to house crews
- Two assessment posts for blind spots
The ECP is self-explanatory, but basically it was where personnel exchanged their badges for restricted area access. The ECP normally consisted of an entry controller and an alternate entry controller, (M-60 gunner). An important point to remember is the back door of the ECP is where security entered/exited each shift in order to do a check on the FDS and Maid-Miles systems. It was the only access to the inner fence-line. This is important later.
MSFCO (Master Surveillance and Facility Control Operator). I might be a bit off with the acronym and definition, but you get the idea. The tower had a 60-foot vertical viewing advantage but still had a somewhat limited view over the entire Q, hence the two assessment posts. A single individual, usually an NCO (buck sergeant) worked the tower. He had the job of (1) monitoring the annunciator panel, which sounded whenever there was an alarm from the FDS (Fence Disturbance Sensor), and the Maid-Miles balance pressure system between the fence-line. * (2) To actually watch over the Q since he had a strategic vantage point. (3) He made announcements to the occupants of the Q regarding activity within the area such as visitors, maintenance or flight crew activity. He did this by radio or landline.
The MSCFO’s annunciator panel was linked with a similar panel in CSC. I believe when an alarm activated, the Q or WSA MSFCO had 7 or 8 seconds to acknowledge the alarm and dispatch either an ART or sentry to investigate the sector. If he failed to acknowledge the alarm in a timely manner, a Helping Hand was initiated.
* The FDS sensors were extremely sensitive; wind would often set them off. The BPS system was equally as sensitive; rabbits could set them off.
VADO (Victor Alert Duty Office) the flight crews were housed here. This included the flight crew and their alert maintenance personnel. This building also included a chow hall for both crews and cops. I’m not sure of crew’s rotation shifts or days.
Alert Positions As I recall, there were 8 aircraft positions and these were designated as “No-Lone Zones”. Also the “Two-Man concept was in effect in these areas. Not even the aircraft commander could enter the area if he were by himself. I outlined these areas in red on the drawing. Each aircraft position had its own sentry. I designated the sentry positions with blue squares. An interesting question; if the two-man policy was in effect around the birds, how is it that a single sentry was able to guard the aircraft and not be in violation? The answer was each sentry not only guarded his own aircraft but also was also vigilant of the other sentry directly across from him. This in essence provided two-person monitoring. Add in the fact the tower operator also monitored the area and you have a three-man concept. This was at least how management explained and got away with this. Pretty cheesy huh?
The 50 foot clear zone is self-explanatory. Suffice it to say besides the inch high grass, nothing was allowed to be in this area. And with the super-bright quartz halogen lights directed from both inside and outside the area, there was no way an individual or vehicle could escape detection, (if we were all awake that is).
So, hopefully that kind explains the Q and its contents. Now this is the way I remember that night. I was in my gateshack on the landline with the tower operator. His last name was Griff; his first name might have been Dave. Anyway, Griff was also a Jersey boy and like most cops who get a kick out of scaring each other, we started talking about ghosts. Griff recounted the famous Flight 401 incident where a 747 crashed into the Florida Everglades because a 5-cent landing gear light bulb stopped working. Anyway, somewhere during our conversation, Griff gets an alarm. I’ll try my best to reconstruct the conversation and activity.
Audible alarm in the background: Griff: “Hey Don, I just got an FDS alarm on sector 7, you see anything?”
I step out of my gateshack. “No, nothing there. Not even any wind.”
Griff silences the alarm, and we start talking again. A few minutes later the alarm goes off again. Same routine. It’s as if someone was grabbing and shaking the outer fence. This repeats for a third time, and then Griff talks about calling CSC to get a maintenance team to troubleshoot the problem.
After an undetermined amount of time, Griff calls me on the radio for another check on sector 7. Not unusual, that’s the way he normally contacts the sentries, but we had been on the phone for a couple of hours previously and for him to now contact me on the radio was more formal. To me this meant something was going on. My suspicions were confirmed when I reported back with a negative sighting. He then told me to stand by for a landline. When he called me he was almost pleading. “Your sure there’s nothing out there?” I reassured him there wasn’t and in fact told him to hold on while I checked the area again. Still nothing. I went back into the gateshack and gave him the report – NVR (no visible reason) for the alarm.
Soon after, maybe 10 minutes, the ART comes barreling down the taxiway and screeches in not far from my gateshack. I want to say Harris was the ART leader but I can’t be sure. Anyway, the ART member deployed out and started methodically checking the fence-line in my area. The leader stood outside the truck and had his M-16 drawn and the truck mike in his hand.
By now I’m outside my gateshack wondering what the hell is going on. When the member is satisfied there was nothing there, he comes over to use my landline. I remember telling him that sector had been going off all night. He just said a loud “this is BS!” and proceeded to use the phone. Griff then told them to go back to patrolling the Q. When he stepped out of the gateshack, he said something like “he made us come all the way down here from post 8, and you’re right here!” Of course I can’t remember the real post numbers, but what I’m calling post “8” was one the posts at the far end of the Q. Then they were off.
Not too long after, SSgt Jackson (Jack) came out to see me. I don’t know if anyone remembers Jack, but he was cool. He was the Q Area Supervisor for almost as long as I remember, and if he caught you sleeping, he wouldn’t write you up or report you, he just made you walk the rest of the night. And you know how cold those nights can get. So Jack comes out, I challenge him and report my post and he asks me what the hell is going on as a way of greeting. We only got to talk for a couple of minutes when he gets an urgent summons to report to the ECP over the radio. By this time the ART is back at my 10-9 and Jack has actually started running to the ECP!
Within the span of 5 minutes, the 15 and 5 is being processed through the ECP, the roving patrol (B-3?) outside the Q is doing fence checks and over the radio I hear CSC responding to a query from Yankee 2. Now I know there’s something seriously wrong when they woke Yankee 2 (Major Drury)! Soon CSC is broadcasting a Helping Hand to the areas and accentuating the fact that “This is not an exercise. This is an actual, I repeat, this is an actual situation! Don all helmets and flak vests!”
Pretty soon I could see the busses with the 30 and 30 back up forces arriving to CSC, and I thought we were about to go to war. After drawing their weapons, I think most of them were placed as perimeter security around the Q and the WSA. Even the LE patrols were in sight outside the area.
The whole shift was on pins and needles and it was at least a couple of hours before CSC finally announced a stand-down. When I saw the 15/5 and 30/30 leave I finally breathed a sigh of relief. I tried calling Griff, but as I remember he had been relieved by somebody from another flight and was at CSC. Soon daylight came and I was never so glad to see the half-obscured sun as I was that morning. When we were relieved by our flights, who were already there because of the incident, everybody was talking, but nobody had any answers for the night’s events. Yankee-2 was still at CSC and the night CSC staff was still there briefing him.
When we got on the bus, it was quiet. Probably for the first time, we had been up all night and the situation had been tense. It wasn’t until I got back to the dorm and our D flight armorer (Werner) and Griff came by my room and explained the situation. I know Griff had been getting FDS alarms all night, but what I didn’t know is that he started getting random Maid-Miles alarms as well. But what was the kicker is when he deployed the ART to my location and the Helping Hand went out he had received an FDS and Maid-Miles alarm in succession. Maybe this can be explained as a technical coincidence, but the following could not. Seconds after Griff got the two successive alarms, both the entry controller and assistant reported to CSC that someone was banging on the back of the ECP door. They immediately tried to ascertain the whereabouts of the Flight Chief, FSO, and Area Supervisor. The answer was both the FSO and Flight Chief were sitting in CSC, and SSgt Jackson was doing a post check within the area at the opposite end of the Q. Since no one else could enter the area without their knowing about it, this made the matter grave.
This was not the end of it. After the banging on the back ECP door, Griff got two more successive alarms, this time, you guessed it; a Maid-Miles then an FDS. This whole affair appeared to have an individual jumping the fence, (even with the height and concertina wire), running to the back of the ECP, trying to gain entry through the back door, and in failing to do so ran back to his entry point in the fence-line and hopped back over. In security terms, a perpetrator had breached the perimeter and interior fences, had access or had instituted a means to either damage or destroy Priority “A” resources and had managed to escape.
For me, being in the midst of it all was really unnerving. But at the same time it was exciting. And even though the incident was steeped in supernatural-like mystery, it wasn’t a singular encounter. Indeed, several people were witness to and participants in it. I must have stared at that small strip of fenceline and the back door of the ECP for hours trying to imagine if anyone could have possibly snuck in or managed to conceal themselves from me. I knew it wasn’t possible but it beat the almost obvious explanation.
Do I believe in ghosts? Maybe, maybe not. But one thing I do know is in this world there are far too many coincidental or incidental happenings to just wave away. False alarms and flawed systems are one thing, an invisible person banging on a door is quite another. No rational explanation can account for that! And believe or not, even in England they don’t make rabbits big enough to stand up and demand admission into restricted areas.
I know this isn’t as exciting as the Rendelsham incident, but unfortunately I had already PCS’d by then. For me and those on flight then, this was our Rendelsham, and thinking about it now is just as creepy as it was then.
Take care all