We were aboard the U.S.S. Boston CAG-1, a heavy cruiser in the Pacific ocean about 10 days out from Panama enroute to Hawaii and then ultimately Viet Nam. I was an E5 fire control technician in charge of the 5" gun radar which was a Mk 25 mod 3. It had a range of 100,000 yds. with a plus or minus 10' accuracy. I had been in Viet Nam in both 1967 and 1968 and was the radar operator and range spotter. I had experience tracking all targets both surface and air.
It was after work hours and a group of fire control techs were up on the 07 deck lounging around when I noticed a light off to our port side, south, and assumed it was a passenger plane going to Hawaii. My assumption was such because of the light that I figured could only be from the windows of a plane. Since there were not many targets out in the middle of the ocean I wanted to track it to check the radars function ability.
Myself and two others climbed into the director and the rest of the men departed below decks. It took three men to work the director. A pointer, a trainer, and a radar operator. I was the radar operator, which was my usual station.
We trained left and visually picked up the contact and and when it was locked into the radar, I ordered it to be kicked in to automatic track. The director did just that and I was then observing it through the range finder as well as on the radar screen.
Due to my experience I could tell that the plane or object had a very high rate of speed. It was at a range of 20 to 30 thousand yard out, I forget just exactly, and so I called down to the plotting room below decks and asked the technicians there to put it on the computer and give me a speed. The technicians there were playing cards at the time. I asked for the speed several times and there was no response at first. I was then asked what I had up there. I responded that we were tracking a plane that seemed very fast and when I again asked for the speed he informed me that the speed indication was pegged, or at maximum. That would have indicated a speed over 2800 miles an hour.
I went back to a visual fix through the range finder and the object went from a horizontal to a vertical aspect without any arc what so ever. It then accelerated with such ferocity that the motor drives of the director actually screamed or roared to keep up. It was such a noise that I actually lifted the deck plate I was standing on to see if they were all right. The optics of the range finder had gone 90° so fast that I could not view them any longer so I just watched the radar screen as the target went to 100,000 yards straight up over the ship. It maintained an auto lock through the entire time and then just went out of our range. The time from the abrupt directional change until it was out of range was a fraction of a second.
I made a subsequent call to CIC, Combat Information Center, to see if there were any ship carriers in the vicinity and was informed that we were alone. I did this because anything with great speed would not have the range to be out here. The fellow I talked to had no contacts, either surface or air, and so we shut down the director and called it a night.