Bob Beach’s Speech:
Good morning. I am greatly humbled to share my reflections with you today.
I would like to start by providing a brief background on the ARIA Mission, the focus for why we are gathered here on this momentous day.
ARIA first stood for Apollo Range Instrumentation Aircraft. Its mission was to record and relay voice and telemetry data for the Apollo Program, which put the first man on the moon. In the days before dedicated satellites, the ARIA fleet provided signal coverage over broad ocean areas which land sites were not able to support (due to curvature of the earth). One small, but major point of great pride for the ARIA family is that the very first signals relayed to NASA-Houston from the epic Apollo 13’s re-entry into earth’s atmosphere were received and re-transmitted by an ARIA. We have ARIA Alumni here today who were part of that historic event.
Near the end of the Apollo Program, ARIA was renamed the Advanced Range Instrumentation Aircraft. The ARIA were then assigned the mission to provide critical telemetry coverage for almost every space and missile launch that the United States conducted. As a point of absolute pride, the ARIA provided 100% coverage of each and every Mandatory assignment it supported, for decades. In happy summary, the ARIA provided a vital and consistent contribution to every NASA and military space launch during the cold war.
The ARIA’s performance record was no small feat. Our team pride, training, and mission focus were legendary. The standards expected, and achieved, by our Flight Crews, Aircraft Maintenance Teams, Prime Mission Electronic Equipment Specialists (or PMEEs), and Mission Commanders were second to none. The challenges of our world-wide deployments were never ending (and were usually quite adventuresome), and we grew into a tight-knit crew….. and family.
ARIA achieved, and maintained, this high level of training and proficiency by flying regular training missions. We called them Flight Simulations, or ‘flight Sims’ for short. These 5 to 6 hour Flight Sims included re-creations of every type of system failure that might be encountered during an actual mission. They served to hone the skills of every crew member, and (perhaps—once or twice) to humble the over-confident student to appreciate the complexity of the mission they had yet to master.
On May 6, 1981, a Flight Sim was the mission of ARIA 328, call sign AGAR 23. This was no simple airplane ride. It was designed to hone the crew skills for future space and missile launch support. The crew on board would be making every minute count, according to pre-planned training scenarios. The two wives on board that fateful flight were there to witness (first hand), and gain a better grasp of the mission, and the contributions of their husbands, and our entire ARIA family, to that mission.
I mention the term ‘ARIA Family’ with true pride. As in any family, we were made up of individual components. There were Flight Crews, Maintenance Teams, PMEE Technicians, and the Mission Commanders, who were Flight Test Engineers — which I was privileged to lead for over a decade. And there were many other elements of our 4950th Test Wing that provided vital support to our mission.
When we lost AGAR 23 on that fateful day, now 37 years ago this very hour, our ARIA Family instantly grew to include a significant new group—the family members of every one of the 21 ‘Souls On Board’. We are privileged to have many of those surviving family members here today!
I would ask them now, to PLEASE STAND and be recognized.
During the summer of 1981, an ARIA 328 Memorial was built and dedicated in the memorial garden of the National Museum of the United States Air Force; at our “then home base”, Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. Each and every year since the loss of ARIA 328, we have gathered at that Memorial on May 6th to lay a wreath in memory of those we lost.
As the years passed, a small group of ARIA Alumni kept returning to the idea of creating a memorial near the crash site, right here in Walkersville, Maryland. Just over a year ago, on April 14th, I was visiting the Memorial at the Museum, and the area was in full spring blossom. In the midst of my silent reflections, I suddenly and clearly heard ‘loud voices’ yelling at me: “Bob! Do something…” And I listened. A few weeks later on May 6th, the voices became real. They were from the ARIA Alumni and Surviving Family Members. All were saying; “What can I do to help?”
And then, our Family exploded in size to include this Community of Walkersville. Up until that time, we from ARIA had no idea of the memories and hurt that your folks shared with us – nor how receptive and excited you would be regarding the design and construction of this Memorial.
This past year has been a most rewarding experience. At one point last fall, I had to laugh at the realization that although I was (in name) the Team Leader for this most worthy project, It had taken on a life of its own. “ The train was out of the station, under a full head of steam.” And I needed to run to catch up!! The reception of the Walkersville City Commission, especially Mr. Don Schildt; the Walkersville Fire Department, Chief Zimmerman; and the entire Community has been heartfelt, uplifting, and completely overwhelming.
Today culminates a weekend celebrating the memories of our brothers and sisters lost on ARIA 328, in gatherings with the surviving ARIA 328 family members, ARIA Alumni, and now the Community of Walkersville. This has been one bonding experience!
I am overwhelmed by your presence and sincerity, as we collectively dedicate this AGAR 23 Memorial. There is both closure in this solemn recognition of the crash site, and a perpetual commitment that the memory of the 21 Souls lost on that fateful day will never be forgotten as they are embraced by this loving Community.
On behalf of the entire, and now extended ARIA Family, I THANK all of YOU who are gathered here today… for your fellowship, your support, and your collaboration which makes this dedication possible.
AGAR 23 Godspeed. We are Mission Complete.