There I was bored and trolling that vast TV waste land and came across a program (CNN I think) that was reviewing the Cold War era. A largely forgotten time that was way beyond dangerous and very few people really knew just how bad it was.
If you were born after 1962 on planet Earth, you were almost not born. Everything you see around you today, including yourself, came within a click of being destroyed or never happening. No buildings, no roads or automobiles, no TV’s, no twitter or social media, no games on phones ( oh the horror) no people , animals or plants. The Earth was on the brink of becoming a dead planet.
The colors, that day, were striking. We had taken off from Athens, before dawn, and after some time flew into a most spectacular sunrise. The sea below, the Aegean, a rich cobalt blue stretched to the west towards Greece and north to the eastern run of the Grecian coastline. A short distance beyond that coastline was the continually shadowed Bulgaria where the MIGS stalked that day, in a watchful orbit messaging “don’t come here”. The blue to the south was also perfect, all the way to the Mediterranean then on. Looking east, the shadows on that horizon were Turkish with a gap that placed the opening of the Dardanelles and the entrance/exit of the Black Sea.
The air was smooth with no bumps to match the flat, almost waveless water below. A calm bright day.
Looking out, the airplane seemed to be suspended and inert hanging under more beautiful blue accompanied by the forever drone of the engines.
NATO intelligence had word that the Soviets had built and launched a new destroyer warship, probably out of Mykolaiv near the Ukraine coast. Of course they wanted to get pictures of it and it would be much easier, and less expensive, to get those images as it left the communist controlled Black Sea than trying to locate it in the future while it did it’s sea trials in the open waters of the Atlantic. There is only one way out of the Black Sea: West through The Bosporus, across the Sea of Marmara then the Dardanelles into the Aegean and don’t let the door slam behind you. A narrow channel or waterway that runs through Turkey with water deep and constant enough to carry a warship.
So here we were, orbiting west of the opening of the Dardanelle Straights over international waters boring holes in the sky and waiting. On this flight I was running the ECM gear sitting beside the radar operator. He had given me a nudge and pointed to the blips on the radar screen and as we watched, we could see the growing pack of Bulgarian wolves to the north just within range of our radar.
Then, over the intercom, I heard the pilot ask the radio operator “did you get that” and the radio man responds “affirmative”. Something in his voice made me turn and look aft toward the radio compartment. As I looked he turned to me with eyes wide and open mouth and signaled me to go to “select” on my intercom control. When I had him dial selected I said” What”? He continued looking at me across the wing beam and said ” We just got a verbal call greeting us by our tail number and reciting our entire crew by name and rank. It must have come from one of the MIGS”. I doubted the MIGs would have that info. They wouldn’t know, they wouldn’t care as long as they could get their missile sights aligned. But somebody “over there” knew. Spooky, very spooky.
Now all of this was during the height of the Cold War, a few months before the Cuban Missile Crisis when the massive destruction of us and all was imminent. Both the US and the Soviets were nose to nose 24/7 and intelligence gathering was rampant on both sides to say the least. But this was new. This was a biggie. How did the commies know who was on board this aircraft at this moment. They not only knew the crew, but they also IDed the NATO photographer who was unknown, even to us, until that morning during the morning darkness preflight.
The new destroyer never came out but we continued to fly the grid in large patterns for a few hours just in case, burning gas until the fuel burn became an issue. I’ve often wondered who made that call.