Lest We Forget: Ernest E. Evans, VX-8

By Lieutenant Commander Thomas J. Cutler, U.S. Navy (Retired), and Lieutenant Commander Rick Burgess, U.S. Navy (Retired)

Confused by the Americans’ audacious actions, the Japanese force eventually turned back, but not before sinking several of the dauntless destroyers. Johnston was among those ships lost. Evans and 185 others perished, as well. But as an enemy ship passed close by the spot where Johnston had gone down, survivors in the water saw, to their dismay, a Japanese officer standing at attention on one of the bridge wings . . . saluting.

—Lieutenant Commander Thomas J. Cutler, U.S. Navy (Retired)


Oceanographic Development Squadron Eight (VXN-8) was established as Air Development Squadron Eight (VX-8) on 1 July 1967 at Naval Air Training Center Patuxent River, Maryland. Equipped with NC-121J/K long-range research aircraft, the squadron was assigned roles related to oceanographic survey.

VX-8 traced its origins to the Atlantic Fleet’s Airborne Early Warning Training Unit, which was in 1951 assigned an ongoing airborne magnetic survey program—Project Magnet—to map the earth’s magnetic variation. A P2V Neptune, succeeded by an R5D Skymaster, carried out the role until 1958, when a WV-2 (EC-121K) was acquired for the role. The WV-2 was painted in the distinctive white-with-red-trim scheme—and cartoon character—that made the project aircraft recognizable worldwide as it carried out its missions.

Two additional ongoing projects were assigned to the unit beginning in 1962. Project Birdseye mapped polar ice for the Naval Oceanographic Office using EC-121K/P aircraft. Project Outpost Seascan, also using an EC-121K (later
NC-121K), sampled hydrographic conditions worldwide for the antisubmarine warfare environmental prediction database, designed to support the Navy’s Cold War antisubmarine surveillance.

The three oceanographic projects were consolidated in the Oceanographic Airborne Survey Unit on 1 July 1965, the year the unit was assigned an unrelated role, Project Jenny, to provide airborne transmission platforms for radio and television broadcasts using C-121J (later NC-121J) “Blue Eagle” aircraft. The three Blue Eagle aircraft deployed to the Dominican Republic during the 1965 crisis and then to South Vietnam—where all three suffered combat damage—until 1970.     

On I January 1969, VX-8 was redesignated VXN-8. During 1972-73, the C-121 aircraft were replaced by two RP-3A Orions for projects Birdseye and Outpost Seascan and an RP-3D for Project Magnet. During the 1980s, the squadron added P-3A, UP-3A,
RP-3A, P-3B, and RP-3D aircraft as replacements or to take on additional projects.

VXN-8 was disestablished on 1 October 1993. Its main projects and two of its RP-3Ds were transferred to the Naval Research Laboratory’s Flight Support Detachment, which carries on numerous research roles today as Scientific Development Squadron One (VXS-1).

—Lieutenant Commander Rick Burgess, U.S. Navy (Retired)

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