Douglas C-47

Swedish Tp-79

In the early 1950's a single Tp-79 Dakota was operated in the SIGINT role by Sweden. On 13 Jun 52 the aircraft disappeared whilst on a SIGINT sortie over the Baltic with 8 crew on board. Although the Swedish government initially claimed that the Dakota had crashed near to the Swedish island of Gotska Sandon, the crash actually occurred well into international waters, about 100 km from the Russian border and some 35-55 km from the Swedish islands of Gotska Sandon and Gotland. No wreckage of the DC-3 was ever found, apart from one liferaft, and rumours persisted that the crew of the aircraft survived, were taken prisoner and quickly jailed for life in the Gulag. Some are even of the opinion that some crew members were even alive into the 1990's and that one of them may have been an American intelligence officer - the mystery remains unresolved. A few days after the Dakota was shot down, a Swedish Convair Tp-47 Catalina, sent on a SAR sortie to investigate the disappearance, was shot also down by Soviet MiG-15’s to the north-west of the Soviet Island of Huumand. However, on this occasion the crew were rescued by a German merchant ship and returned to Sweden.

Sonar scan of the Tp-79 on the seabed of the Baltic

In 1991, in the spirit of Glasnost and the hope of better relations with Sweden, the Russian authorities produced original documents about the shootdown, including a map of the incident. The wreck of the Tp-79 was found by a search expedition in the summer of 2003 and the bullet holes made by the MiG-15s are still clearly visible. A sonar scan showed that the aircraft's fuselage was still largely intact, with the aircraft settled into the seabed on its belly, although the port wing had detached and the nose area was badly crushed. A closer examination of the wreckage discovered that the plane was in much worse condition than first realised. The attack did particular damage to the left wing, which was separated from the aircraft and the aircraft hit the sea very hard. The plane is now 400ft down in the Baltic and has been sinking into the mud for last 53 years, so much so that the inside of the fuselage is almost completely filled with mud.

Thanks to DNA, the only human bones found so far in the wreckage have been confirmed as the remains of the pilot Alvar Almeberg. In 1983 the son of Alvar Almeberg, Roger Almeberg, published a book about his struggle to discover the truth behind the loss of the plane and the disappearance of his father, so at least he knows that his father must have died in either the attack or the subsequent crash. The fate of the remaining 7 crew members remains unknown.

The Swedish Navy attempted to raise the wreck and bring it to a military port in Sweden during the autumn of 03. However, with the fragile condition of the airframe and increasingly poor weather, the risk of the fuselage breaking up whilst it was being recovered was very high, so the recovery operation has been postponed for the winter and will re-commence in March 04.

Swedish National Television (SvT) have contracted Lars Olof Lampers to make a documentary about the incident and I hope that eventually the film will find its way onto British television.

Finnish ELINT DC-3

From mid-1973 Finland operated two DC-3 aircraft, known as 'Leena' and 'Ursula', which undertook ESM / ELINT duties under the direction of the Air Force Electronic Support Measures Group. The two aircraft were equipped with a variety of sensors which were presumably targeted at the Soviet forces over the adjacent border.

Rear cabin of Finnish ELINT DC-3

Very little detail has ever been released about these two aircraft and only two photographs exists of one of the aircraft and the other of its interior. The aircraft obviously performed well as they remained in service until 1984 when they were retired and their role was transferred to a single Fokker F-27 which still remains in service.




EC-47

During the war in Vietnam the USAF used a variety of EC-47 aircraft, known as 'Electric Goons' to gather SIGINT - around 50 aircraft were converted into this role. These aircraft were equipped with a variety of signals interception and emitter location equipment to enable them to identify and locate enemy radio transmissions. A number of aircraft were also equipped to gather ELINT. The EC-47s were eventually phased out of service in the 1970s.

C-47TP

A single C-47TP is operated by 35 Sqn of the South African Air Force from their base at Cape Town. The C-47TP can be identified by numerous ELINT and COMINT antennas on the upper and lower fuselage, which provide Direction Finding (DF) capability in various frequency bands. Grintek System Technologies modified the aircraft for ELINT and COMINT duties. This aircraft played a significant part in monitoring the military situation in Angola and continues to operate monitoring other nations along South Africa’s border.


Columbian Turbo C-47

In their continuing war against the various drug cartels, the Colombian Air Force operates at least one Turbo Dakota, fitted with an infra-red tracker mounted in a turret under the nose.