A 18 inch model of an E-6 Mercury.
The TACAMO mission began in 1961 as a test program to determine if an airborne Very Low Frequency (VLF) communications system was feasible. Weapons Systems Test Division conducted this program, using a U.S. Marine Corps KC-130 aircraft as a test vehicle. The overwhelming success of the test program prompted funding for the first production aircraft. The project was designated TACAMO, which stands for “Take Charge and Move Out.”
In order to avoid long lead-time delays, four U. S. Air Force C-130 aircraft were taken from the production line in early 1963. After extensive modification, the aircraft was designated a C-130G. The first of these aircraft, BUNO 151890, was delivered on 26 December 1963. At that time, the communications equipment consisted of removable vans that could be installed in a matter of hours. Plans were formulated in 1966 to expand the TACAMO Program. The expansion included permanently installing the communications suites in eight aircraft and their redesignation as EC-130Qs. On 1 July 1968, VQ-4 was established at NAS Patuxent River, MD as a permanent operational squadron.
In 1974, the next major aircraft modification incorporated a new power amplifier, a dual trailing wire antenna system and a high-speed reel system for deploying and retracting of the trailing wire antennas. Additional improvements included satellite communications and an enhanced VLF capability.
In the 1980s, it was recognized that the C-130s, in some cases the oldest in the fleet, were in need of replacement. The hunt was on for the successor to “The Mighty Herc.” Eventually, the B707-320 airframe was chosen, modified extensively and redesignated the E-6A. The Navy E-6s were the last 16 aircraft to roll off of Boeing’s venerable 707 line after 30 years of production.
On 25 January 1991, VQ-4 took delivery of its first E-6A Mercury aircraft and in November 1992, changed homeport to Tinker AFB, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. On 20 September 1999, VQ-4 took delivery of its first E-6B. The E-6B contains upgraded systems that enable it to perform the USSTRATCOM Airborne Command Post (ABNCP) “Looking Glass” mission. Upgrades include: a Battlestaff module to provide enhanced command, control and communications for the Nation’s nuclear arsenal; the Airborne Launch Control System to permit airborne launch and control of ICBMs; UHF C3 Radio Subsystem; Digital Airborne Intercommunications Switching System; MILSTAR Airborne Terminal System (Satellite communications) and a High Power Transmit Set for enhanced communications.
From October 2006 to April 2009 Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron Four (VQ-4) supported the Global War on Terrorism as a vital component of Task Force 124’s Forward Deployed Detachment assigned to Al Udeid AB, Qatar. Displaying the incredible versatility of the aircraft and crew, the Shadows of VQ-4 ensured timely relay of urgent information such as improvised explosive device detonations and medical evacuation requests from convoys that were out of radio contact with headquarters. During two and half years on station, TF-124 Airborne Communication Crews handled 16,813 tactical support calls in direct support of troops on the ground.
Since its commissioning, VQ-4 evolved into a Squadron of approximately 400 Officers and Sailors making it one of the largest operational aviation squadrons in today’s Navy. A reflection of their extraordinary dedication to safety and operational excellence, the Shadows surpassed 38 years and 352,500 flight hours of Class A mishap-free operations.