US Navy VC-6

US Navy squadron VC-6

  When I arrived at VC-6 in 1965 it was still called VU6, which was a Utility Squadron. The name changed to VC6; a Composite squadron. Interestingly the bombers that dropped the Atomic bombs on Japan in 1945 were from an Air Force Composite squadron. The Japanese were estimating to lose 20 million defending Japan. Instead they lost 120,000. However the US Navy's Composite squadrons were involved in drones. Some of the drones I saw while stationed at VC6 were the:

Northrop MQM36A an aerial drone that had a 72 horse 70 pound 4 cyl air cooled combustion engine. The drone was 14 foot long and had a wing span of about 12 feet.
Ryan Aeronautical Firefish, an 18 foot long fiberglass boat with a 120 horse 4 cyl Chevy II engine with a Mercruiser Inboard/Outboard outdrive. The drone was built on a Winner hull. The boat was steered by spinning a magnetic cartridge so that the boat could maintain the set compass heading. There was a big servo mounted on the transom that was connected via a servo arm to the outdrive unit. The speed was controlled with a servo on the carbuerator that had a cam controlled limit switch which could be adjusted to limit the max speed. The control box was connected to the same coder and transmiiter (ARW-55) that ran the then current MQM-36 drone aircraft. The video shows a control panel on the bow that wasn't on the production models. The Navy bought 50 of these and gave half to the Atlantic and half to the Pacific. They were placed on various ships, what a joke. No one knew the basics of drones and how to maintain, operate, and control them. On the east coast they wound up transferring all twentyfive to VC-6. One was still brand new, one had been used as a painting platform that hung over the side of the ship, and looked like it.
Shortly before my discharge we heard that they wanted a larger (25') drone boat. Paul Noll and I considered bidding on that. Myself I was afraid of all the hassles one could get involved in; bidding a government contract!. I also didn't think a bigger boat was desirable. It was my opinion that what was more needed was ships outfitted with better lifting rigs. Ever launch the 18 footer off a sea going tug? There was a huge davit sticking up 4 or 5 foot right in the arc of the crane. We had to manually lift the boat over the davit! I also thought a better antenna mast was needed. We cut them down to about 6 foot tall, put a big red bravo flag on it and rigged paracord to the bow to make up for the flag. And we didn't use the radar reflector. Paul and I talked about using a pole vault stick for the antenna mast.

I also remember that the 12v batteries were always junk. I should have thrown them over the side before heading back.

We had two 16 foot Boston Whalers that were built at VC6 in 1965 for the A6 aircraft development program. This was steered with a C-130 flap actuator, and was more reliable than the Ryan Firefish. This boat was only used on freshwater which maybe wasn't a fair comparison.
We also developed locally drone personnel cariers from scrap Army APCs.
We had two 1957 Chevy Belairs that were also outfitted as drones.
We also assisted Base civilian personnel by testing a long series of drone Army mobile guns (called the QM-56) that we tested and drove in the grass between the runways at NAS Norfolk Va.

VC-6 was responsible for the training of Naval personnel who operated the Gryodyne QH-50 DASH a drone helicopter that was capable of dropping two torpedoes on submarines. The DASH was able to fly out to about the horizon. The training facility was at the Dam Neck base south of Virginia Beach, VA on the beach side of the road to NAS OceanView.

Also at Dam Neck was a Detachment that flew MQM36As (off the "Mound") for the 5" Gun Mount school on that base.

VC-6 also during some of those years had 2 63' AVR's which were outfitted by VC-6 personnel to be either a drone or a controlling ship. These boats were operated from a detachment at the Coast Guard base at Elizabeth City, NC. WOW, the Coast Guard sure ate good, Friday lunch: choice of steak or lobster, a variety of cakes and pies!! The AVRs were originally air sea rescue boats from the Air Force.
In the 1990s VC-6 had a DLR-3 a 100 foot vessel. There was also a similar QST-35 in the 1990s. I mention the new equipment because it looks like the 63' AVRs were the beginnings of an idea.
We experimented with a drone airboat after an engine overheated on one of the Boston Whalers in the lily pads of Lake George in Florida. Picture putting an airboat into a turn from a mile away. The steering is too sensitive unless you're in the boat. So that didn't work out. So we just learned to adapt to a new engine. A75HP Johnson was purchased on a chit in Orlando Florida.

Most of the locally built drones were operated at a detachment in Warren Grove ( My memory is of Pine Grove and the Piney Barrens) NJ.

Personnel that I remember from my years of service at VC6 in 1965-1967

CDR H, J, SYLVIA, USN July 1965 to 16 June 1966
CDR Charles K. O'MEARA, USN 16 June 1966 to 20 July 1967
CDR Charles R. JASPER, USN, from 20 July 1967 to my Discharge

From Det C

LTJG Helwig
ATN2 Gephardt, who taught me the craft.
me, ATN2 John Duda from Pittsburgh PA now at Ingomar PA, near Pittsburgh PA
ATN2 Beeson from Tyler TX
ATN3 Glover
airman Mills

From other Detachments at VC6

ATN2 Paul Noll, from Fleetwood PA
ATN2 Mike Daly from FL
ATN2 Josh Randall
ATN3 Ralph Biondi (from
ATN3 McGilvery on the transmitter (ARW55) bench
ATN2 Bitner, fom TN worked the locked up area where the parts, test e quipment, and the safe was hidden. Also was a member of one of the detachments. Which one?? Discharged late summer of 1965. Snuck out of the Vietnam extension, unlike the rest of the "Dirty Dozen".
At the Avionics shop:
ATN1 Sully
Joe Barsotti who was TAD to the base newspaper.
There was a screen room in the shop with a tweet and a tech rep from Northrop.

The top image shows the drone as I remember it. We didn't fly with the nacelles which wrap arround the engine. Just extra weight. We also didn't fly with the bulbous attachments on the wing tips. Those are radar reflectors. When we flew the drones the ships Air Search radar the Navy used then interferred with the radio transmissions that controlled the drone. So if you shut off the radar, what good are radar reflectors? The top picture also shows, not too well, the JATO bottle on the planes extreme rear. The JATO bottle, a rocket bottle, propelled the drone from 0-120MPH in .7 seconds. I kind of remember that laucher, but we welded it to the deck of the ship. One time we were on a ship with Aluminum decks, which they couldn't, or wouldn't, weld to. So they drilled holes and bolted it down. Well below the holes was sick bay. When we were flying or cleaning up there was always a water hose running. So, of course down below they got wet. Lotsa wet. Today they refer to the JATO bottles as RATO

On the second image you can see that the prop is wooden. It was laminated wood We always recovered the drone by parachuting into the water. So out of fear of the water loosening up the glue between lamination layers we only used each prop for one flight. I wonder where all those used props went? I know they were a hot item. Most of the props had missing tips which was the result of dragging it back aboard ship out of the water.

Below is an image of the DASH drone I mentioned above. I;m guessing this was taken aboard the USS Fletcher DD992. from the number on the Flight Deck If it were DD892 it wouldn't have been fitted for DASH drones which was the reason for the flight deck. Later, I think thats wrong info?????

My first reason for writing this page was that I occasionally remember someones name. As you can see above I haven't done too well in the memory department. But now I have somewhere to save them to when I remember a name; which I occasinally do. I apologize to those of you not included, and for any misspelling. If you can remember anyones names from those days, or any corrections contact me at

VC-6 was deactivated on August 8,2008. I guess that UAV's were no longer pertinent to the US Navy?

If you would like to link to this page I would appreciate the exposure, you have my permission.

For Reference VC-6 1967 report
For an Operational Report for a year you served at VC-6 go here and click the year s you served.

I see in the 1967 Operational Report the following:

"This transmitter" (AN/ARW-80)"is vastly superior to the AN/ARW-55 transmitter which had been a major source of trouble in drone control operations."
From my recollection it was common practice to use transmitters that were tuned to put out peak power, up to 55 watts, on the frequency that was assigned for the current cruise. However I used the same transmitters for a year or a year and a half; because I picked out a pair that had a flat power output over the entire bandwidth. The rated power output was 35 watts whcih I felt was plenty; but only if proper consideration was made for the antenna placement. Before we pulled out to sea I climbed up on the ECM deck and taped the pole to the railing up there. I had no problems with the ARW-55 except that I found that after bouncing over dirt roads at Lake George FL neither transmitter worked. However I pulled the case off and when I tweaked the tuner near the output both transmitters began working again. So there was no loss of their use from that problem. I also replaced a transmitter after I was told that the transmiiter chest had fallen off the back of the stake truck. Not a transmitter problem. But it's my opinion that 5 watts would have been enough power if the antenna mast were maybe 5 foot higher to clear more of the ECM junk up there. We only flew out to about, what, 3 miles, or 6000 yards. We flew entirely visual out to where the second man on binoculars lost the plane, so how could we fly farther.

I did see the new AN/ARW80 transmitter shortly before being discharged and thought it was nicer. It was transistorized, so much smaller. Would have been nicer if it was 115 Volt with a 28vdc output for the coder.

Maybe I made too big a thing out of this. After 50 years I found we had a problem that I never heard of; or heard a discussion about. I was senior avionics tech and POIC of DET C for a good while. Why didn't I know what our problems were?

Try VC-6 at

Last edited: 11/07/2016, 10/03/2017