The department of defense was conducting an all service briefing and posed this question:
"What would you do if you found a scorpion in your tent?"
A sailor said, "I would step on it."
A soldier said, "I would squash it with my boot."
A marine said, "I would catch it, break off its stinger, and eat it."
An airman said, "I would call room service and find out why there's a tent in my room."
|A tradition has evolved over a century of Naval Aviation "Happy Hour" story telling, - that is that Naval Aviation Stories DO NOT start with "Once upon a time". Naval Aviation Happy Hour Stories start with "This Is No Sh_t", or "TINS" for short. If you have a "TINS story to tell, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
So in the finest tradition of the Sea Aviation Service, join us now for absolutely true TINS TALES. But be aware, could be some salty dialogue ahead.
Had a Scooter come back one day with oil pouring out of the aft hell hole. Distracted the “pilot”, and pointed him the direction of the line shack before he also had a WTF moment. Opened the hell hole door and about got a bath and it was also coming out of everywhere else it could. Checked the oil to see how much we’d lost and discovered the source of the problem… no oil cap. Found the p/c and told him the thing in his back pocket better be a snuff can, but no it was the oil cap (same guy that changed both brakes & tires once and didn’t put the rear bearings back in). Took the Scooter to the wash rack and hosed out the innards with detergent and the high pressure wand, rinsed it out with hot water and figured it would dry out in the heat. Pulled the aforesaid strainers, no metal, put them back in, filled it up with oil and turned it up, wound the engine up a few times, no unusual noises, all was within limits and decided we didn’t need to PO the Maintenance Chief. Told the p/c to tell the next pilot he was going to get a fire warning light on take-off from the moisture inside the engine bay and not to worry about it unless it stayed on for awhile. Wz.
08 DEC 2012:
In 1970-72' I was an Instructor in VT-23 flying TA-4's at NAS Kingsville,TX. Coors beer had just become available in north Texas and was a premium commodity in south Texas. Since the TA-4 had no radar installed, the hinged, upward opening radome was empty.The space inside would accommodate about six cases of beer. Shepard AFB,in Wichita Falls,TX, a source location of the coveted Coors, became a favorite destination for out- and- back student instrument cross countries. So,in search of this nectar, I took a student up to Shepard in the back seat, under the hood. After parking on the transient line, I requested transportation to the O Club. When asked my reason for going there,I replied,"for Coors,of course." Transportation was denied by order of the base commander, so I asked "will you take us there for lunch?" and it was done. At the club, we had lunch, went into the liquor store, bought two cases each and called a base taxi. When the taxi arrived, the driver saw the beer and refused to transport us. We carried our beer about a mile back to the transient line. The explanation was this: a couple of months before our visit, a TA-4 loaded with beer commenced takeoff at Shepard. At about eighty knots,t he nose cone came unlatched and flew open,obscuring the pilot's vision. He promptly aborted takeoff, commenced heavy braking and spewed six cases of Coors onto the only runway, fouling it and closing the field for about two hours. Base flight training was secured and several studs had to be diverted to other bases - which is a BIG deal to the USAF Training Command! About three years ago, I spent a night at Shepard and met the Commanding Officer, a BG, at Happy Hour. He got a real kick out of this story.
When a "Captain" is not a "Captain"
We were a flight of 3 T-2s out of NAS Chase Field on a local Formation flight. 3 Navy ensigns and two Navy 1st Lieutenants and me a Marine Captain. The weather at Chase dropped below our minimums and we had to divert to Lackland AFB. As the six of us climbed out our or Navy Jet Trainers in grimy flight suits I walked over to one of the Air force enlisted guys that parked us and inquired about transportation up to Randolf AFB, it was Friday night and the O'club at Lackland was always a dud, whereas Randolf was great fun at the JO Bar. The Air Force guy looked at me and said that I had to call their Staff Sargent to get transportation, but "you will be lucky to get a ride to the BOQ much less Randolf " that was way out of the question for our sorry group. He smirked and walked away.
I then got my student, the Navy Ensign to come over and I had a little chat with him. I told him we needed transportation, and I didn't think we as lowly Ensigns and 1st Lt. had much of a chance unless..... I told him to go and call the Staff Sargent in charge of transportation, be very polite and introduce yourself as Ensign so and so. Then ask the Staff Sargent if he knew what rank a Navy Captain was, don't elaborate, just ask the simple question. Once you get the affirmative on that, you then tell the Sargent that you are with 5 Navel Officers and Captain Schoff (me) and that Captain Schoff requests immediate transportation to Randolf AFB ASAP. Well, I guess the Staff Sargent , for some unknown reason, just assumed that, I,Captain Schoff, who was just a newly promoted Marine Captain, was somehow a Navy Captain, because our "No chance in hell would we ever get transportation " went to "We had transportation" and in less 10min and we were off to Randolf AFB and the Auger Inn.
Semper Fi Ron Schoff
I heard this tale third hand and can only relate what I was told. I believe it to be as true any TINS story can be….taking place sometime before 1976.
I was flying the TA-4J as an advanced jet instructor Sept.1975-78 at Kingsville - VT-22.
Once through the IUT (Instructor under training) I was determined to head home on a cross country to Hill AFB (HIF) Utah. I had a deal with the ops folks at Hill, where I kept an old family car (Buick) out in the lot and spare A4 parts, wheels, starter dog, CSD link, fuses etc in my own locker in base ops. Al’s Dad, one of the HIF Ops guys, also had a key and he could loan out the A4 tire to distressed XCtry A4;s- as long as they replaced tire.
I had my XCtry (cross country) Student plan and file a DD175 to Hill AFB with a fuel stop enroute at Williams AFB (CHD ). Hill and Williams didn’t have PPR (Prior Permission Required) restrictions and I was very familiar with their ops, having flown in and out recently in a gun squadron A-4M. So I submitted the X-Ctry request to Wing and prepared to spend the weekend home at HILL, skiing – playing hockey etc. Surprise surprise, the X-Ctry request came back disapproved! I followed up by going across the street to TRAWing II and the LTCDR who disapproved the request. I asked why, as Williams wasn’t PPR and all he could say was that since he had arrived at NQI (Kingsville) Williams had been on the ‘no go’ list. I wanted to see the No Go list in writing, as a order, something, but he couldn’t find anything written. So I had my student re-file NQI – LUF – HIF (Kingsville-Luke-Hill) and went to Williams any way (Luke was always PPR- and you had to have 3 stars to get a PPR number out of ‘em).
The trip out to Williams was boringly uneventful until we got to the Williams transit line.
Remember those old retired guys that always ran the AFB transit line in their white coveralls? Well when we taxied up in our white and yellow VT-22 TA-4J to the transit line they ALL came out of the line shack with big shiteating grins and stood around while we got pinned and shut down. They couldn’t wait: “Hey Navy, it’s been a long time no see”. “Welcome back”, “You guys aren’t going to do any more exciting air shows are you” ? “should we call the fire trucks”??? and I replied, “No, and what do mean fire trucks” ? The following is the story they told me. And every time I went into CHD, which was often, I heard this story all over again.
The student in question is long gone but his solo cross county to join a weapons det in Yuma AZ, with a fuel stop at Willy (CHD) AFB lives on. It seems the squadron’s effort to make their pilot quota led to some marginal students to continue flying.
Our Student starts the weekend with a Friday night solo bounce in the pattern where he so scared the RDO (runway duty officer) (remember the RDO log book with all the zany entries?) that he ordered him to land. The RDO calls the Squadron SDO and says he’s going to give the student a down. The intrepid SDO must have been an ops weenie, as he was more concerned about the pilot completion rate than the fact this Student couldn’t fly. The SDO talks the RDO out of giving the Student a down and to wait until he can talk to the Ops Officer tomorrow.
Unknown to these two instructors, the intrepid Student was on the next days schedule with an early early go on his RI syllabus solo Cross country to Yuma to join a weapons det. The syllabus solo cross county required a stop over and his was Williams AFB.
Before he leaves, Maintience Control loads a center line tank-blivit with parts for the weapons det., and a mechanic to install the parts.
Refreshing your memory of Williams AFB way back in the 70’s; it was a training command base, 3 long runways and a million white T-37 and T-38 swanning about. Three long runways, 30L for the T-37 aircraft, 30C for transit and IFR aircraft and
30R for T-38 pattern. Everything at Williams is flat as a pancake-baked hard hot sand.
The student lets down on approach control and is passed off for a GCA to runway 30C.
He’ slow to make corrections and follow GCA guidance, as he starts off high and well to the left of course. GCA gives constant calls, “B204 you are well left of course turn further right to 315, well above glide slope”. This goes on all the way down the chute with the student making ineffective corrections. GCA calls “Bravo 204 you are cleared to land on 30C, if runway not in sight go around.” Our SNA is still lined up on runway 30L and as soon as GCA un-keys his mike, the student asks GCA “if he can land on 30L?” GCA replies, “no, you are cleared to land on 30C”…... making a last ditch, huge, correction to land 30C he touches down briefly on 30C going north. Skidding off 30C all the way over to 30R leaving a huge pall of dust and sand behind him. On 30R (he still hasn’t brought the power back) our student tromps in full left rudder, where upon the TA-4J skids back over to 30C and off on the other side toward 30L. The dust ball is getting bigger and now he’s remembered to pull the power off, and with full right rudder he swerves back on to 30C and stops at the end of the center runway, turning left and holding short of 30L. He didn’t hit a thing and the tires stayed on the aircraft. Meanwhile, the tower has hit the crash alarm, the trucks roll and they all lose sight of the A4 in the dust ball. The T-38s and T-37 are all bingoed out of the pattern. Amid the confusion, our student asks Twr for clearance to cross 30L, and a distracted tower operator, still looking for the crash site in the dust ball and not realizing who is who: clears him to cross and switch up ground and not to call GND, just follow the “follow me truck”.
B-204 crosses 30L and follows the truck to the transit line. As they are taxing,
The tower and the fire trucks finally spot their quarry, and are in hot pursuit, along with several blue sedans with the flashing red cherry on top. One of which is the wing / base commander. Taxing to a halt in the transit line under the guidance of a couple of smirking white jump-suited transit line guys. The parade is big now with 5 fire trucks and half dozen blue sedans following the TA4. Transit line guys put the gear pins in and hook up the ladders as our student shuts down the engine and raises the canopy all the way. Where upon the wing/base commander (O-6) storms up the ladder addressing the pilot in the front seat with a rant, “What kind of XXWXWY!!! Idiot are you, etc etc.” and our SNA replies, cowed by the furiously angry colonel: “sir I’m just a student”. The colonel angrily switches target to the flight suit in back seat: who is quick to respond:, Sir I’m just a mechanic and this is my first ride in a plane.” This revelation, stuns the colonel for a few seconds, and makes him even madder, when he goes off in a rant about XXWXY!!!! Navy pilots and their incompetent students. And who the hell let this clown out unsupervised??? Because he sure as hell ain’t flying it out here. He storms off and the transit guys are killing themselves laughing. The colonel calls up CNATRA (Admiral ___?) relates the incident and forbids any navy CNATRA aircraft ever again landing at his base.
This was the reason why our white TA-4J were banned from Williams AFB. The Colonel apparently was gone, transferred, as I used CHD all the time as a fuel stop on my training command cross-countries to HIF and no one ever complained. I just had to listen to this story every time I used CHD transit line.
Attack Pilot's Creed
Seen at VA-55 (72-73) by Denny Sapp.
I am an Attack Pilot.
I will do my utmost to impress those around me that single-handedly I almost destroyed the Than Hoa bridge.
When amongst other pilots, I promise to use such terms as Rockeye, Shrike, Walleye, and if ladies are present, shall occasionally in a solemn, but nonetheless casual manner, say "Nuke".
I shall always approach the bar whenever crowded and loudly state that although I may never be able to win a hassle, no one will ever get a shot at me.
I shall never give succor or carry on long conversations with civilians, old ladies, or fighter pilots.
When a fighter pilot approaches my table, I promise to chug my drink, eat my glass, and while his back is turned, tell my date that he has VD.
I promise never to let other pilots forget that off the Cat I must descend to cruising altitude, that I can attack Russia undetected and that I have more Air Medals than I care to mention.
Whenever in the presence of fighter pilots I shall scoff at night carrier landings and fuel conservation.
After every bombing mission I promise to confirm my wingman's secondaries and to swear that a span was dropped. If SAM's were fired I shall debrief that it was not necessary for the fighters to break because the missiles were obviously unguided. Upon return to the ship I will make every effort to enter the break ahead of a section of fighters, and dump fuel all the way to the 180.
While taxiing clear of the gear I promise to casually place my right arm on the canopy railing and frequently use my left to wave at pilots walking to the island.
With these objectives in mind I shall terrorize the bars of WESTPAC and one day, just for the hell of it, I'll split from 50,000 feet and go supersonic.
The Cubi "Cat"
The Legend of the Cubi Cat submitted by a former "Mud Marine" who tried to ride the Cat and failed.
Retired Cmdr. John L. Sullivan, presents the Cubi Point Catapult story to National Museum of Naval Aviation Director retired Capt. R.L. Rasmussen.
A Cat Story:
If you're old enough to have served in the Navy or Marine Corps during the Vietnam War and particularly if you were an aviator, chances are you've heard of the infamous Cubi Point Catapult. Cubi Point Naval Air Station and the adjoining Subic Bay Naval Base in the Philippines was a place where war-weary Navy and Marine Corps aviators, Marines and Sailors, could let off a little steam after flying combat missions over Vietnam or spending weeks on the gunline aboard ships on Yankee Station.
The managers of the Cubi Point Officers' Club, as well as their counterparts at the other officer and enlisted clubs, were forever tasked with devising new and challenging ways of keeping the warriors entertained. Enter Cmdr. John L. Sullivan and the now famous Cubi Point Officers' Club catapult. The catapult at the Cubi Point Officers' Club came into existence 1969 and immediately created a division within naval air among those who had ridden the cat and caught the wire, and those who had ridden the cat and missed the wire and gotten soaked.
The escapades of Navy and Marine pilots at the Cubi Point Officers' Club, according to Sullivan, is the stuff of legend. "These tale will be handed down and embellished as long as we have aircraft carriers in that part of the world," Sullivan said in an article he wrote for Wings of Gold magazine. One of these escapades, according to the retired commander who now lives in St. Mary's County, involved catapulting a squadron mate down a half dozen stairs in a chair from the bar upstairs onto the dance floor below. "The fact the chair had castors helped little on the stairs. Rarely did a pilot make it down the stairs and onto the dance floor in an upright posture. Most arrived on the dance floor in a crumpled mess. The practice often ended with disastrous results," Sullivan said. "There were broken bones, severe strains, small concussions and numerous other injuries that grounded crack combat pilots," former Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, Adm. Maurice 'Mickey' Weisner, said in a recent phone interview. Weisner said that he and Vice Adm. Ralph Cousins, commander, Task Force-77, suggested to Capt. 'Red Horse' Meyers, NAS Cubi Point, that the chair catapulting be eliminated because of the injuries. At the time, Sullivan was the Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Department (AIMD) officer. "I was called to the skipper's office and asked to come up with a solution," Sullivan recalls. "After a great deal of consultation with my maintenance officers we realized we had an excellent window of opportunity. A new lower club extension to replace an old bamboo bar was in progress. From that point on we let our imaginations run wild." Heading off to the surplus yard, Sullivan and his band of AIMD scavengers liberated a banged up refueling tank which was quickly converted by the metalsmiths into something resembling an A-7 Corsair II. The 'aircraft,' Sullivan recalls, was 6-feet long had shoulder straps and a safety belt and was equipped with a stick that, when pulled back sharply, released a hook in the rear of the vehicle to allow arrestment. Propulsion was provided by pressurized nitrogen tanks hooked up to a manifold. "This arrangement provided enough power to propel the vehicle to 15 mph in the first two feet," said Sullivan. "Acceleration of zero to 15 mph in two feet is the equivalent of the G force of World War II hydraulic catapults. "Beyond the exit from the club was a pool of water 3-1/2 feet deep. Each pilot had 6 inches to play with if he was to make a successful arrestment. "We named the vehicle 'Red Horse One' in honor of our skipper, Capt. Meyers. Successful pilots, according to the commander, were held in high esteem by their peers and their names were inscribed in gold letters on the club's Wall of Fame.
"Reaction time was short because the wire was some 14 feet from the nose of the vehicle. The downward curvature of the track had to be precise. The rollers would bind if the curvature were too sharp. "Since the pool water was the force that stopped the vehicle, we had to get the vehicle as deeply and as quickly into the pool as possible. Engineers from the Strategic Aircraft Repair Team used their 'slip sticks' to solve the problem. The vehicle was retrieved from the water by a mechanical wench and cable connected to an eye welded to the back of the A-7. Sullivan said that Rear Adm. Roy Isaman, (Naval Air Test Center commander, 1971-74), had a bronze plaque made in Hong Kong which was bolted to the wall next to the catapult with the inscription, 'Red Horse Cat-House.' "The first night the catapult was in operation it attracted a huge crowd. Rear Adm. Isaman was the first to ride the vehicle after it was declared safe by the BIS (Board of Inspection and Survey). No problem since I had recently arrived from the test center at Patuxent River and was declared the BIS representative," Sullivan recalls. "Rear Adm. Isaman manned the cockpit, saluted and was launched. He dropped the hook early and we awaited the hook skip but it didn't happen. Instead the hook caught the rubber we had attached to the steel bumper short of the wire. The hook tore the rubber from the bumper and caught the wire. To the howl of the disappointed junior officers, there was no wet admiral this time. Isaman became the first pilot to trap in the vehicle. "After being presented with a bottle of champagne, Isaman's name was enshrined on the 'Wall of Fame.' Some 40 pilots rode the Cat that night before another successfully trapped," Sullivan laughed. Word of the Cat quickly spread throughout Southeast Asia and even attracted Air Force F-4 pilots from Clark AB. "They would come swaggering in loudly claiming they were equal to the task. Each and every one of them failed to catch the wire, much to the delight of the Navy onlookers. "Enlisted men from AIMD operated and maintained the catapult during their off time. They were compensated for their work from funds we took in for the operation of the Cat. It cost nothing to ride the Cat," Sullivan emphasized, "providing they caught the wire. However, it cost $5 if the rider required rescue from the pool." Sullivan said that of the many dignitaries, who attempted to ride the cat, his favorite was Under Secretary of the Navy John Warner (now a U.S. Senator from Virginia). "After flying in from Japan the secretary was taken to the club for lunch by Rear Adm. Isaman and Capt. Meyers. The secretary had heard of the Cubi CAT and unhesitatingly requested to ride it. Capt. Meyers looked at me; I nodded and immediately took steps to get a crew ready. Word spread rapidly that Under Secretary of the Navy John Warner would try his luck. The club was soon packed with onlookers. "Before launch we outfitted the secretary in a set of white linen coveralls with 'Red Horse Cat House' embossed in bright red letters on the back. Amid the cheers of the onlookers, the secretary bravely launched and promptly landed in the pool. We catapulted him five times after that and each time he got wet. The skipper kicked the bumper plate back about an inch each time hoping he would catch the wire. While the official never noticed this, we all did. He told the skipper after his fifth trip into the pool, 'it can't be done.' "By this time the bumper was back some 12 inches from the wire and was an easy arrest for a pilot who had a launch or two on the CAT under his belt. So 'Red Horse,' in his tropical whites, strapped in. Before launch one of the junior officers kicked the bumper forward to its original 6-inch position. Meyers launched and to the delight of the visiting official, settled ignominiously into the pool. Secretary Warner wouldn't take off the coveralls. He and the skipper, both wringing wet, set down to lunch with dry colleagues. "Several hours later, still wearing the coveralls, the secretary boarded his aircraft. "The tale of his Cat adventures would be told at the Pentagon, he informed us and the coveralls would be testimony to the validity of his tale."
Sullivan completed his tour at Cubi Point in 1971 and returned to Patuxent River. "I am happy to say there were no injuries from riding the Cat during that period, only wounded pride," Sullivan says. Sullivan returned to Cubi Point in 1979, then employed by Grumman Aerospace Corporation as the Project Manager for the C-2 COD. Much to his dismay the Cat was gone. "The tracks were covered and the pool was filled with cement." Introduced to the new club manager, he asked if I could assist him in putting in a new Cat. I felt like a dinosaur whose time had passed. I believed that as long as there was a Cubi Point there would be a fun place for naval aviators to unwind. In the midst of it all would be the "Cat" and the 'Wall of Fame.' Now both are gone. What remains is my fond memories of the officers and men of AIMD whose ingenuity and hard work made the "Cat" a reality in 1969. "Today it remains a 7th Fleet legend."
As related by Whizzer White, an A-4 Pilot who had the duty one afternoon at VA-125, NAS Lemoore, Ca.
NLC (Lemoore for all who live in Altoona) one Sunday just before the 'one stripe' fog season, I had SDO duty in 125. Part of my duty was to go and count all the airplanes on the line, compare it to the number assigned to Squadron (like so many aluminum trays assigned to the chow hall), minus the ones on cross countries, down at Crows Landing or Dets at Fallon or elsewhere.
I was standing in the open hangar doorway when an A-3 landed on one of the 13.5K runways. He kept rolling and rolling and rolling. I told the Line guys to get ready; we may have to do something with the Whale, probably coming to our line. He rolled to the end of the runway...a guy dropped out of the aircraft, walked in front of the airplane, took down his flight suit and CRAPPED on OUR runway. The line crew expressed the question in everyone's mind as only a group of young, dirty, hot kids can do: "Mr. White, did that SOB shit on our runway?"
The plane swallowed up the obviously 'ill-brought up' crewmember, turned around, taxied the 2+ miles to the other end of the runway, took off, waggled his wings and headed off, I'm sure, to another NAS to get some toilet paper to finish the job.
The Line Crew for the most part continued leaning on their swabs or making little circles with the deck brooms. "Did you see that...:?".
"What do we do, Mr. White?"
"Log it," said I.
That started the scramble for most original log entry for the occasion. It was agreed we probably shouldn't say "shit" in the logbook. As I recall the winning watered down version was; "1632, a/c landed, dumped aircrewman, aircrewman dumped, aircrewman re-embarked a/c, a/c departed pattern, resumed holiday routine"
Skyhawk Tight Fit!
Bill came to NAF China Lake in the early 60's and was the biggest pilot we ever tried to stuff into a Scooter. The LCDR was a big man, over 6' tall, 200 pounds or so, and once in looked like a size 46 tall stuffed in a size 42 regular suit as he couldn't straighten out his legs and had to duck a bit to close the canopy. Mr. Big & Tall refused to fly the Skyhawk until we towed it in the hangar, removed the canopy, disarmed the seat, strapped him into the seat with his flight gear and used the engine hoist to winch him & the seat out so he could see which of his body parts that he was fond of were going to stay behind if he had to eject. We (line crew) always made sure the seat was all the way down and the rudder pedals all the way out in any A-4 he was scheduled to fly. If not, he would get stuck halfway in which was a bit humorous unless you were standing next to him on the boarding ladder, as he would cuss a blue streak during which you needed to keep a straight face. You then needed to help get him unstuck and out of the cockpit and adjust the seat & peddles.
Well sure enough, Bill and A-4B 142787 had an interesting TAD (Temporary Additional Duty) at Dugway, Utah when a gust of wind caught the Skyhawk during a crosswind landing and turned the aircraft sideways on the runway. Big Bill couldn't straighten the Scooter out and ejected, which wasn't something he would have done unless it was his only option. When he ejected his feet apparently caught the emergency external stores jettison handles (bottom left & bottom right of the instrument panel) dumping the stores, one of which bounced off of the runway and hit the aft fuselage leaving a gash along one side. The wayward Scooter then straightened out and careened down the side of the runway knocking down the Welcome to Dugway sign, which bashed in the leading edge of the port wing and port gear door before it rolled to a stop at the end of the runway. Could have been worse as we went to Dugway to spray things that weren't safe to spray around China Lake, but as he was just arriving from China Lake the tanks were empty.
As I recall Pat Coleman was the TAD Plane Captain who retrieved Bill in one of the line support vehicles, and according to Pat all Bill said was - "If I had a gun I'd shoot the bleep, bleep, bleeping bleep - Skyhawk". Bill could out cuss any Blue Jacket I ever knew. After figuring that Bill didn't really have a gun, Pat drove Bill back to Ops, got the boarding ladder and drove to the end of the runway, shut the Scooter down and towed it back to the line.
We flew about a dozen NAF maintenance people to Dugway on the R-4D (aka C-117) who dismembered 787 and packed it up for a truck ride to O&R Alameda where it was repaired, repainted and returned to China Lake.
Every Military Veteran has a Seabee Story
Major Dennis West USMCR Ret.
Army, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard or Navy, if you spend 20 or more years in the service, you are going to run into a Seabee, Guaranteed. My story occurred in the summer of 1974 as a young 1st Lieutenant of Marines (USMC) flying a Brand New A-4M Skyhawk. As a young and relatively inexperienced aviator, I was not allowed out of the hanger with an aircraft on my own, unless closely supervised. And with good reason, young aviators with less than a 1,000 of flight time can be relied upon to do the wrong thing; Often breaking expensive jets. This was 1974, during the fuel crisis, when I was unexpectedly granted a weekend cross-county in a Brand New single seat jet fighter attack A-4M aircraft. Cross-Country, One of those jaunts to build flight hours and experience, at a minimal cost for gas. A trip whereby you are given an aircraft on Friday afternoon, and a credit card for gas, and the admonishment, to stay out of trouble and be back Sunday night with the jet. Thats it, no other rules, and in this case, no supervision, and the only rule: be back Sunday with the jet. With plenty of rope to hang oneself, I set off.
I played by the book, flew hard and with nearly 18 hours flight time logged, the weekend was drawing to a close, I had successfully jetted around the country Friday afternoon, all day Saturday, and Sunday, gaining valuable flight time and experience, and most importantly with out getting in trouble or breaking the jet. My last stop was Wright Patterson AFB near Dayton Ohio. A large AF base within range of my last leg home to Marine Corps Air Station MCAS Beaufort SC. It was late Sunday morning as I landed on Wright Pats 14,000 foot runway, and rolled to a stop. I was tired, but elated, one more leg and Im done! As I shut down the A/C and swing to the ground (youve got to be an acrobat to get in and out of a attack jet) I noticed a puddle of hydraulic fluid under the nose gear. Damn, now what? Upon closer inspection with the Air Force plane captain, an E2 with about the same military longevity as myself, we find a split hydraulic line on the nose landing gear. A small metal tube that conducts hydraulic fluid to the nose wheel steering mechanism. I wasnt going anywhere unless the leak was fixed.
Inquiring about repair with the Wright Patterson AF mechanics was a dead end. Buddy we dont have any A-4s and we dont fix broken Marine Aircraft. Just the ones with USAF painted on the side.
Great I thought, now what? So I call home, VMA 311 in Beaufort SC and get the duty corporal: Sir, there is no one here at the hangar, and the Gunny just called and asked if you were back yet. Great, I thought, no help there and Id better get back soon, the Gunnys looking for his new aircraft. My name might be painted on the side of the aircraft, but there wasnt any doubt in my mind who really owned the jet and I better not break it.
I look at the Air force Airman and he offers; There is a Navy Reserve Unit down in the Supply area; maybe they can help? I remembered that it was Sunday afternoon and the reserves work weekends. Well hey, the Navy has A4s: lets go check it out! So off we go in the line tractor, the young Air Force Airman with the young Marine Lieutenant in Green Nomex flight suit, brown Boots, shaved hair and a khaki cover. I always looked young for my age. Years later while a jet flight instructor, the folks asking questions about aviation would always direct the questions to my students, assuming they were the flight instructor - I simply did not look my age. As a young 1st Lt., I looked like some high school kid who had stolen a flight suit. We rolled down between all these storage warehouses in the supply area, I mean dozens of warehouses. Rolling to a stop in front of one, with a sign depicting a bee with a Thompson machine gun, which in my haste I did not see,
I hop off the tractor and open the door. Before me is a corner of the warehouse with a large table and maybe 8 to 10 big, old guys in green utilities playing cards. I instantly recognize them as Seabees. Old Reserve Seabees, with the junior one probably having over 25 years of service. Oh no, I thought to myself, these guys arent Navy, theyre Seabees, and what do Seabees know about aircraft? One of the green clad warriors at the poker table, the chief, I assumed he was a chief, you never know with Seabees, looked up at the teenage pilot; What can we do for you sonny.
Oh Well, in for a penny in for a pound - here goes; I explained my A4 had a broken hydraulic line and could you guys fix it?
..Well sonny, with the accent heavy on the Sonny, we can take a look at you re tinker toy and see what we can do. Choking down my indignation and flattened pride as a Marine Officer reduced to Sonny I follow 4 of the Seabees outside and wave-off the USAF Airman, I climb into the back seat of a battered gray USN truck and off we go to the flight line, listening to stories about the last time I had to fix a Marine aircraft was on Guadalcanal.
Arriving at the aircraft the Seabees pile out to look at the broken hyd. line, talking amongst themselves. Regulated to the back row, I couldnt see what they were doing. The chief turns around and says, Hal, you and Ed go get the tools: Dave, you and me and Sonny here will go get the part. Off Hal and Ed go in one truck and I get in the back seat of the other truck with the chief and Dave. Off we go through miles of warehouses, listening to stories of the Last time I had to fix a Marine Tank was on Okinawa, we pull up in front of a ubiquitous white warehouse, left over presumably from WWII and stop. Out they go, me following like the pet dog. The chief has a key that opens the warehouse door, a musty place unopened in the past 20+ years I think. Over they go to some wooden bins, and they are soon sorting though what appears to be piles of junk. Watching closely, I see the chief snatch up some scrape of tubing, probably left over from a WWII P47 Thunderbolt, looking it over, he puts one end of the tube to his mouth and blows, snorting some debris out the other end, while exclaiming, ah-ha, got it; Like hes found something. Im thinking, do these guys know what they doing? Since I am just along for the ride, I follow them back out to the truck and we roared back to my A4 meeting up with Hal, Ed and the tools back at the aircraft, l stand fidgeting in the background while the four Seabees work on the split Hydraulic line.
After a short bit of hammering and bending and cutting; the chief turns to me and says; Ok Sonny fire it up. Cripes Im thinking, these guys arent aircraft mechanics, I shouldnt let them work on my plane and here one of them is telling me to start her up. Well I thought, they seem to know what their doing. So I fire up the A4 assisted by the Air force flight line airman and apply Hydraulic Pressure to the line and: Hooray, no leak - the fix is in! The Seabees are all thumbs up and smiles. The air force guy is happy; he can get rid of me. I shut down the aircraft and climb down from the cockpit to catch the Seabees already leaving in their dented gray USN truck and thank them; Hey, Guys, thanks I call out as they drive off. no sweat sonny, Dave call out from the side window always glad to help the Marines, as they drive off back to their poker game. I look at the Air force airman, good guys those Seabees, they can fix anything. I start the A4 back up, and fly it back to MCAS Beaufort SC, park the jet and retire to the BOQ.
On Monday I asked the Maintenance Control Chief Gunny, hows aircraft 08 (the one Id flown) doing and if the hydraulic leak was still fixed? Oh, yeah sir, good job those air force mechanics did on her, just great. I was afraid to tell him that the Seabees had fixed the aircraft. Its been 30 years, do you suppose the statue of limitations for aircraft maintenance fraud is up?
Dennis West, One Time A4 pilot, Boca Raton FL
CHASING THE BOAT
It was a routine launch from the Bonnie Dick, with a dusk recovery.The only aircraft not on the schedule were the hangar queens. We were going back to Yankee Station and we needed to hone our flying after being in port at Subic Bay. The weather forecast was for increasing cloudiness in the area. There was some talk of cancelling the launch but the need to get some cockpit time won out. As recovery time approached, more and more flights were reporting instrument flight conditions with tops above angels 20 in some quadrants. CIC broadcast a message to all aircraft that one aircraft would be brought down on an instrument approach to see if a VFR pattern could be maintained below the overcast. If it couldnt, the time that would be required for all aircraft to make instrument approaches would put many aircraft below bingo and some at low state.
Attack aircraft wouldn't usually be first down the tube. That privilege went to the fighter types, ostensibly because their fuel states were lower and their aircraft more difficult to land. The rest of us knew that it was just to give them time to join their buddies who, immediately after the second seating, would glom onto all the seats behind the Commanders row for the wardroom movie. That night, however, a section of VA-93 Blue Blazers in their A-4 Foxtrots got the honor. I assumed that it was because they wanted the best pilots for the job but it may have been because we were closest to the marshal point.
We went on the gauges while descending to marshal, which must have been at 15,000 feet and 25 nm aft. I went into holding since we would have to fly the pattern once before the approach time. Arriving at marshal on time, I detached my wingman to continue holding and pushed over. This is a piece of cake, I thought. Starting this low and in close, I'll be aboard while my buddies are still boring holes in the clouds, waiting for their approach times to arrive. So I enjoyed the cozy atmosphere of the cockpit created by the glow of the red instrument lighting, which was the only light that I had seen for the last 10 minutes.
At 10 nm, I was in the dirty configuration. CATC had asked for a weather report nearly every thousand feet of my descent. The clouds were solid all the way. At 1200 feet I could still see nothing beyond my wing tip lights. I was still in the clouds approaching the glide slope on the 3 oclock AofA. The CATC final controller marked my interception of the glide slope and I popped the boards.
Still in the clouds.
Making lots of cross checks between the altimeter and the radar altimeter now.
Still in the clouds and pucker factor increasing linearly.
Still in the clouds, still on glide slope.
Where in h ___ is the bottom of this stuff?
Pucker factor increasing exponentially.
The controller asks if I'm VFR; I key the mike and give him a quick negative.
The controller keeps giving me instructions calmly, and I follow them but not calmly.
This is starting to get hairy.
The green card is supposed mean that you have too much sense to go to 200 feet.
I'm going to ---- Then I'm out of it.
It's like a curtain instantaneously raised and everything is clear and there's the . . . What the h_ _ _!!!?
The ship is turning starboard!
No time to think. The extended center-line is sweeping port and away from me at a horrendous rate.
Snap the left wing down . . . . . . jockey the throttle to try to keep the ball somewhere on the mirror. . . . . intercepting the center-line . . . . have to lead it . . . NOWsnap the right wing down, right rudder, power, lined up, level wings with the deck--touchdown--- throttle to the firewall---slammed forward in the harness-- GOT A WIRE!
The run out was a little right of center-line; not much, especially considering the ship was still in a turn. Release brakes, pulled back by the wire (#3, of course), hook up, brakes on, chocks in. And there I stayed until the ship was out of the turn, with the yellow shirts, the green shirts, the blue shirts, all lining up along the side of the island to see the guy who had just cheated death. I could have been parked nearly anywhere on the flight deck because the rest of the air wing had been bingoed to Cubi Point.
No one said much about the landing, except the LS0 who wasn't very coherent. No one ever bothered to tell me why the ship was in a turn when I broke out. No one commiserated with me that by now my buddies were lifting tall, cool ones at Cubi again. There was only one compensation for the fastest reactions that I ever had to make in an airplane. That night I sat in the row behind the Commanders for the wardroom movie
Climbing Mount Fujiyama
This occurred 40 years ago before the density of population and air traffic made such things impossible. This was a time when the Secretary of State carried a big stick rather than a big purse. It was a time when nuclear war was thinkable. It was a time when VA-125 at NAS Moffett Field turned out A-4 pilots trained to deliver just one bomb in a loft maneuver. If called upon, we would fly our mission alone, one pilot and one Skyhawk and one hellacious nuclear bomb.
In preparation, we often flew alone on navigation flights. So it was not unusual that, one February day after the squadron off-loaded for ten days at Yokota, I was at 15,000 feet over Fujiyama in a Dambuster A-4B. Fujiyama resembles Mount Shasta, which we saw on a few of our navigation routes out of Moffett. Both stand alone, dominating the landscape, but Shastas slopes are concave, leaving a steep angle toward the peak. I had flown over Fujiyama before, and the first time I did, I rolled up on a wing and looked directly down into the crater. The mountain was so symmetrical that it appeared to have no elevation. It seemed to be level with the floor of the Kofu Basin.
How gentle a slope, like a low angle climb on the one side and low angle descent on the other, I thought that day. As in a cartoon, the little light bulb went off over my head. Why the h_ _ _ not, I said to myself. There isn't a person anywhere on the mountain. It's cold out and the people are indoors. I can get a straight run-in line here without passing over any villages. OK. I know what it takes to get up to 500 knots on a loft-bombing run-in line, so I'll start my dive to the deck about there.
I had the 500 knots, as I knew I would. I had the mountain bore-sighted as I shot across the basin at 200 feet altitude. I knew just where I was going to start my pull-up. After all, this was just like another low-angle loft maneuver. This is IT ---- going up ---- paralleling the slope ---- about 100 feet above the mountainside ---- approaching the snowcap ---- there's the crater ---- a little nose up, a half roll ---- a glance into the crater ---- pull nose down, another half roll ---- just like an over-the-shoulder loft maneuver ---- keep the nose down ---- parallel the slope again ---- down the mountainside ---- easy pull-up here at the base. Really haulin the mail outta here. D_ _ _, that was fun. I'm goin do it again.
Several days later, having flown this invigorating maneuver several times, I became complacent. Yes, that bane of aviators -- complacency. What harangue of a safety officer is complete without this word? But I was just going to visit Fujiyama one last time. How prophetic that thought nearly was.
This time I started a little lower, a little closer, and a little heavier. As the base of the mountain approached, I realized that I only had 440 knots. Well, that should be enough, I thought, and up I went. With the snowcap still well ahead I saw the airspeed indicator rapidly bleeding down toward 200 knots. I suddenly realized I wasn't going to make it to the top, let alone over the top. There was only one way out. I banked starboard, tentatively, using about ten degrees angle of bank. With the airspeed bleeding off and the slats coming out, I went to half-flaps. The aircraft was starting to shudder a little. I was concentrating on keeping the ball centered in the turn-and-bank indicator. Having made it through 90 degrees of turn, aircraft still shuddering, it still looked like I was going to be a permanent blemish on the mountainside. I was trying to keep the nose up enough to keep from pranging and down enough to keep from stalling. (There was no angle-of-attack indicator in the Bravo).) I can't say how far above ground I was, (There was no radar altimeter either.) but I was glad there were no trees. After an eternity the airspeed started to increase. I had finally gotten the Skyhawk pointed downhill and completed the hairiest, strangest wingover imaginable.
This is the point where I should say "I Learned About Flying From That" and I never did that again. But I can't, because I went down that mountain, back across that basin, climbing to altitude, and then with a split-S got my airspeed. And for one last time, I flew the slopes of Fujiyama.
The Shortest Pre-flight
It was getting late in the day at China Lake when I got a call to retrieve a visiting A-4 from the crab side of hangar 3. Don't remember the unit or why it was at China Lake, but it had been sitting in the hangar for over a month whilst the crabs were working on it. Got myself a brake rider, headed for the hangar and towed the sad looking scooter to the transient line behind the line shacks and there was the pilot pacing back and forth. Before I had it chocked and put the ladder up so the brake rider could exit he wanted to know when it would be ready to go. Told him I didn't know anything about the plane other than the tires were about flat and assuming it had full fluid levels (i.e JP, oil, hydraulics, LOX etc.) it was going to take me about an hour to pre-flight it and air up the tires. Well that didn't go over very well as he said he was in a hurry and need to leave right away and he didn't get any happier when I told him I wasn't going to sign the Yellow Sheet without doing a thorough preflight. Said he was in a hurry and need to leave right away and I'm thinking I've got that part, you're the one that doesn't seem to be listening. He looked around the A-4 and noticed the tires were low and asked if I thought they would blow out if he flew it like that... I said no, I don't think they have enough air in them to blow out. He said something like good.
He reminded me that he was in a hurry and needed to leave right away and I said I'm not signing the Yellow Sheet, but if you want to fly it like this I'll get a huffer and an NC-5, look down the intakes, strap your butt in and you can check the oil pressure, fuel levels etc. and go. He said what about the Yellow Sheet and I'm thinking this is all risk and no reward, but told him once I heard that he had landed in one piece I'd sign a bleeping yellow sheet for the records. He said good and started climbing up the ladder... Got him started and thought he'd be happy, but no as he immediately gave me the pull chocks signal and I gave him the no way signal and made him cycle the controls, open the speed brakes, flaps etc. so I could make sure the flight controls hadn't been cross wired by the crabs and that we didn't have any major leaks. Well the reliable Scooter worked like a charm and off he went into the wild blue and we were left thinking that there has got to be red headed, double breasted mattress thrasher on the other end of this flight.
Gary Verver (China Lake Line)
Skyhawks or Hornets.
It's still exciting around the boat!
There I was .. "manned up", a hot seat for the 2030 night launch about 500 miles north of Hawaii. I was taxied off toward the carrier's island where I did a 180 degree turn to get spotted to be the first one off Catapult # 1. They lowered my launch bar and started the launch cycle. All systems were ' go' on the run-up. And after waiting the requisite 5 seconds to make sure my flight controls are good to go, I turned on my lights. As is my habit I shifted my eyes to the catwalk and watched the deck edge dude and as he started his routine of looking left, then right. I put my head back against the head rest.
The Hornet cat shot is pretty impressive. As the cat fires, I stage the afterburners and am along for the ride. Just prior to the end of the stroke... there's a huge flash... and a simultaneous B-O-O-M ! And my night world is in turmoil.
My little pink body is doing 145 knots or so and is 100 feet above the black Pacific. And there it stays -- except for the airspeed, which decreases to 140 knots. Some where in here I raised my gear. And the throttles aren't going any farther forward despite my Schwarzze-negerian efforts to make them do so.
From out of the ether I hear a voice say one word: "JETTISON!" Rogered that ! And a nano second later my two drops and single MER, about 4,500 pounds in all, are Black Pacific bound. The airplane leapt up a bit but not enough. I'm now about a mile in front of the boat at 160 feet and fluctuating from 135 to 140 knots. The next comment that comes out of the ether is another one-worder: "EJECT!" I'm still flying... so I respond . . "Not yet... I've still got it."
Finally, at 4 miles ahead of the boat, I take a peek at my engine instruments and notice my left engine . . doesn't match the right. ( Funny, how quick glimpses at instruments get burned into your brain.) The left rpm is at 48% even though I'm still doing the Ah-Nold thing. I bring it back out of afterburner to military power. About now I get another "EJECT!" call. "Nope... it's still flying."
At 5 1/2 miles I asked tower to please get the helo headed my way as I truly thought I was going to be 'shelling out'. At some point, I thought it would probably be a good idea to start dumping some gas. But as my hand reached down for the dump switch, I actually remembered that we had a NATOPS operation prohibition against dumping fuel while in afterburner. But after a second or two [contemplating the threat of the unnecessarily burden] I turned the fuel dump switches on. Immediately [I was told later] . . SIXTY FOOT ROMAN CANDLE . . BEGAN TRAILING BEHIND. At 7 miles I started a (very slight) climb to get a little breathing room. CATCC control chimes in giving me a downwind [landing pattern] heading . . and I'm like: "Ooh . . what a good idea" . . and I throw down my tail hook.
Eventually I get headed downwind to the carrier at 900 feet and ask for a Tech Rep [Manufacturer's Technical Representative]. While waiting, I shut down the left engine. But In short order, I hear Scott "Fuzz" McClure's voice. I tell him the following : "OK Fuzz, my gear's up . . my left motor's off. And I'm only able to stay level by using minimum afterburner. And every time I pull it back to military power, I start down at about a hundred feet per minute."
I just continue trucking downwind . . trying to stay level . . and keep dumping fuel. I think I must have been in afterburner for about fifteen minutes. At ten miles or so I'm down to 5000 pounds of gas and start a turn back toward the ship. I don't intend to land but I don't want to get too far away. Of course, as soon I as I stuck in that angle of bank . . I start dropping like a stone. So I end up doing a [shallow bank] 5 mile [radius] circle around the ship.
Fuzz is reading me the single engine rate of climb numbers from the "book" based on temperature, etc. And it doesn't take us long to figure out that things aren't adding up. One of the things I'd learned about the Hornet is that it is a perfectly good single engine aircraft . . flies great on one motor. So why do I now need blower [afterburner] to stay level?
By this time, I'm talking to the Deputy CAG (turning duty on the flight deck), and CAG who's on the bridge with the Captain. And we decide that the thing to do is climb to three thousand feet and "dirty up" [gear and flaps down] to see if I'm going to have the excess power needed to be able to shoot a night approach for a landing.
I get headed downwind . . go full burner on my remaining motor . . and eventually make it to 2000 feet before leveling out below a scattered layer of puffy clouds. And the "puffies" are silhouetted against a half a moon which was really, really cool. I start a turn back toward the ship and when I get pointed in the right direction I throw the gear down and pull the throttle out of after-burner.
Remember that flash/boom that started this little tale?
[Repeat it here]... Boom! I jam it back into afterburner, and after three or four huge compressor stalls [and accompanying deceleration] the right motor "comes back". I'm thinking my blood pressure was probably "up there" about now. And for the first time, I notice that my mouth has dried up.
This next part is great. You know those stories about guys who deadstick crippled airplanes away from the orphanages and puppy stores and stuff, and get all this great media attention? Well, at this point I'm looking at the picket ship in front of me, at about two miles, and I transmit to no one in particular. "You need to have the picket ship hang a left right now. I think I'm gonna be outta here in a second." I said it very calmly but with meaning. The picket immediately pitched out of the fight. Ha! I scored major points with the heavies afterwards for this. Anyway, it's funny how your mind works in these situations.
OK, so I'm dirty and I get it back level and pass a couple miles up the starboard side of the ship. I'm still in minimum blower and my fuel state is now about 2500 pounds. Hmmm. I hadn't really thought about running out of gas. I muster up the gonads to pull it out of blower again and sure enough...flash, BOOM! I'm thinking that I'm gonna end up punching out and tell Fuzz at this point. "Dude, I really don't want to try that again." Don't think everyone else got it . . but he chuckled.
Eventually I discover that even the tiniest throttle movements cause the ' flash/boom thing to happen, so I'm trying to be as smooth as I can. I'm downwind a couple miles when CAG comes up and says, "Oyster, we're going to rig the barricade."
Remember, CAG's up on the bridge watching me fly around doing blower donuts in the sky and he's also thinking I'm gonna run outta JP-5 fuel. By now I've told everyone who's listening that there a better than average chance that I'm going to be ejecting. (The helicopter bubbas . . God bless 'em . . have been following me around this entire time.)
I continue downwind and again, sounding calmer than I probably was, call the LSO. "Paddles, you up [listening] ?"
"Go ahead" replies "Max" Stout, one of our LSO's.
"Max, I probably know most of it ,but do you want to shoot me the barricade briefing?"
So, in about a minute he went from expecting me to "punch out" to have me asking for the barricade brief.
So he was hyper-ventilating! But he was awesome to hear on the radio though . . just the kind of voice you'd want to hear in this situation.
He gives me the barricade brief. And at nine miles I say, "If I turn now will "it" be up when I get there? Because I don't want to have to go around again."
"It's going up right now, Oyster. Go ahead and turn."
"Turning in, say the final bearing."
"Zero six three," replies the voice in CATCC.
"OK, I'm on a four degree glide slope and I'm at 800 feet. I will intercept glide slope at about a mile and three quarters then reduce power."
When I reduced power: Flash/boom ! [ Add power out of fear.] Going high! Pull power. Flash/boom! [Add power out of fear.] Going higher!
[Flashback to LSO school....
"Alright class, today's lecture will be on the single engine barricade approach. Remember, the one place you really,really don't want to be is high. O.K.? You can go play golf now."
I start to set up a higher than desired sink rate the LSO hits the " Eat At Joe's" wave-off night lights. Very timely too. I stroke the AB and cross the flight deck with my right hand on the stick and my left thinking about the little yellow and black ejection handle between my legs.
No worries. I cleared that sucker by at least ten feet. By the way my fuel state at the ball call was [now low] at 1.1. As I slowly climb out I punched the radio button saying again to no one in particular: "I can do this." I'm in blower still and CAG says, "Turn downwind." After I get turned around he says, "Oyster, this is gonna be your last look [at the boat in the dark below] so you can turn in again as soon as you're comfortable."
I flew the DAY pattern and I lost about 200 feet in the turn and like a total dumbs -- I look out of the cockpit as I get on centerline and that " night thing about feeling that I'm too high" grabbed me . . and [in error] I pushed down further to 400 feet.
I got kinda irked at myself then as I realized I would now be intercepting the four degree glide slope in the middle .. with a flash/boom every several seconds all the way down. Last look at my gas was 600-and-some pounds [100 gallons] at a mile and a half.
"Where am I on the glide slope,Max ?" I ask. And I and hear a calm "Roger Ball." I know I'm low because the ILS is waaay up there.
I can't remember what the response was but by now the ball's shooting up from the depths. I start flying it but before I get a chance to spot the deck I hear : "Cut, cut, CUT!"
I'm really glad I was a paddles for so long because my mind said to me "Do what he says Oyster!" and I pulled it back to idle.
My hook hit 11 paces from the ramp. The rest is pretty tame. I hit the deck . . skipped the one, the two and snagged the three wire and rolled into the barricade about a foot right of centerline.
Once stopped, my vocal cords involuntarily shouted, "VICTORY!" The deck lights came on bright and off to my right there must have been a ga-zillion cranials and eyes watching.
You could hear a huge cheer across the flight deck. After I open the canopy the first guy I see is our huge Flight Deck Chief named Richards. And he gives me the coolest personal look . . and then two thumbs up. I will remember all of that forever.
P.S. You're probably wondering what gave my motors problems. When they taxied that last Hornet over the catapult they forgot to remove a section or two of the rubber cat seal. When the catapult shuttle came back to hook me up, it removed the cat rubber seal which was then inhaled by both motors during my catapult stroke. Left engine basically quit even though the motor is in pretty good shape. But it was producing no thrust and during the wave-off one of the LSO's saw "about thirty feet" of black rubber hanging off the left side of the airplane.
The right motor .. the one that kept running .. had 340 major hits to all engine stages. The compressor section is trashed . . and best of all . . it had two pieces of the cat seal [one 2 feet and the other about 4 feet long] sticking out of the first stage and into the air intake. God Bless General Electric! By the way, maintenance data showed that I was fat on fuel -- I had 380 pounds (61 gallons) of gas when I shut down.
Again, remember this particular number as in ten years [of story telling] when it will surely be... "FUMES MAN... FUMES... I TELL YOU!"
Working the Deck
I think the Oriskany was the first carrier we went out on. I remember the Bennington, the Kearsarge and the Yorktown also. They were exciting times for a nineteen-year-old kid. Remember boarding the Kearsarge on Ford Island and there was a big sign on the side saying "Canaveral To Kearsarge". They had just come in from picking up one of the first space shots.
I remember the carrier quals when we had to jump on the wing tips after the trap because of choppy weather and those stubby little wings would flip that A4 on the deck with a little cross wind. Nothing to hold onto (except vortex generators) as you taxied to the cat and tried to time your drop off so that you wouldn't get launched with the airplane. I remember Liguori walking into an F8 exhaust and blowing down the deck. Burnt off his eyebrows.
One day, Almanderez and I were taking a break next to the island when an A-4 from VMA-214 came skidding on its belly right at us. He had hit the round down, sheared off his gear, but caught the last wire. Stopped right in front of us. Al and I got the pilot out and I remember him being kind of shaky. Knees couldn't hold him up. Probably needed a skive change too.
Also remember the tradition of painting our squadron decals on the squid airplanes. One of their S-2F's looked like it had chicken pox when the jarheads left the boat.
Feb. 2, 2004 VMA-212 (Devil Cat) Plane Captain Norm Spillith.
Semper Fidelis, "Speed Brakes"
The Bent Probe!
Something that happened while I was flying A-4s in VA-72 still intrigues and puzzles me many years later. It happened over the Gulf of Tonkin in 1966 during a dogfight with my good friend Dave Griggs. VA-72, commanded by Cdr. Harry B. Southworth, was based aboard USS Franklin D. Roosevelt at the time.
The idea in a dogfight, of course, is to fly to where youve got the other guy in your gunsight while the other guy is attempting to do likewise to you. Its not only useful to be able to do this well; its also just about the most fun you can have in an airplane. As we all know, todays Navy maintains a fleet adversary squadron and holds competitions with awards for the fastest kills, but things were different back in the 60s when most of our leaders viewed dogfights as dangerous and undisciplined behavior.
Not only wasnt dogfighting part of the attack mission back then, it didnt seem to be part of the fighter mission either. F-4s were supposed to be the Navys fighters in those days, but you could roll in on them and most times you couldnt make them fight. So a sizeable minority of the A-4 community fought each other whenever we could. In those days we had the stick-and-rudder skills and the irrational exuberance dogfighting required. Furthermore, our tough, agile, spin-proof Skyhawks were perfectly suited to the task.
One late afternoon during the 66 WestPac cruise, Dave Griggs and I launched from the FDR as a flight of two. Dave was a 62 "boat school" graduate, a good friend and an aggressive pilot. He loved a dogfight and, like the rest of us, hated to lose. The sun had just set by the time we were through with our briefed mission and back over the ship, but there was some twilight remaining and we had a few minutes to spare before our recovery time. So we split, flew on opposite headings for about thirty seconds, and reversed to engage head-on.
We spotted each other at about the same moment and the fight was on. As I remember, neither of us had an advantage at first, but after a minute I began to close on him. (While airplanes may look the same, there are usually small performance differences between them, and on that day I had the better one.) We got into a climbing low-speed scissors during which I was able to roll into position at Daves six. To rub it in, I keyed my mike and transmitted a few rounds of UHF "gunfire". Dave was not a happy man. Just then the ship called to give me my approach clearance. We immediately abandoned the fight.
As I was copying my clearance, Dave decided to relieve his frustrations by flying beneath my aircraft and abruptly pulling up in front of it. Even if done carefully this is a bad idea, and Dave misjudged it. I was reading back my clearance and paying no attention to him when, approaching from behind and beneath me, his aircraft suddenly appeared nose-up directly in front of me. The metallic bang and violent jolt led me to believe wed collided. I lost sight of him for a moment and feared the worst.
I called him: "Dave, are you OK?" After what seemed like a long pause I was relieved to hear him say, "I think so," but I could tell from the way he said it that, like me, he believed our aircraft had made contact. He joined on me. We swapped the lead back and forth, examining each others aircraft. His aircraft appeared undamaged, but my refueling probe was bent sharply nose-up. We separated and flew to our marshal points for individual approaches to the ship.
Back on deck, Dave and I, our plane captains and our flight-deck-based maintenance troops thoroughly examined each of our aircraft by flashlight. I had no doubt that some part of his plane, most likely his vertical stabilizer, had hit my refueling probe. But, to my surprise, there wasnt a scratch on his plane, not even the slightest blemish on its paint. Furthermore, there wasnt a scratch on mine. There was absolutely nothing damaged, broken, scratched or leaking on either aircraft except that my refueling probe was pointing up at a 40-degree angle.
Engineers will say: "you give me the data and Ill give you the theory." Well, in this case Ive yet to hear a plausible theory. How does a refueling probe thats strong enough to stand on get bent 40 degrees without being touched? Could airloads have done that, or was the probe whiplashed into that shape by the motion of my aircraft as it encountered the wake of Daves during our near miss? In either case, how could my probe get pranged while the rest of my aircraft remained unscathed, and how could Daves A-4, having damaged mine, remain undamaged? You tell me.
I walked below to the ready room to tell the skipper what had happened. The room was dark. Harry Southworth was watching a movie with some of the pilots. I crouched beside his chair and said: "Skipper, Dave and I were, uh, you know, dogfighting and we had, well . . . sort of a midair and the refueling probe on my aircraft is bent." Such news would have sent most commanding officers straight through the overhead, but Cdr. Southworth, in the middle of his second combat cruise in two years, had obviously heard worse. Without taking his eyes off the screen, he quietly replied, "See me after the movie."
The bent probe was removed and replaced that night. Both aircraft flew the next morning. I was never again scheduled to fly with Dave. He went on to become a test pilot, an astronaut, and a Rear Admiral. We saw each other a few times in later years and we kidded each other about the bent probe. He claimed the way he bent it was evidence of his superior airmanship. He invited me to Cape Canaveral to watch his April 12, 1985 launch in shuttle Discovery, but I couldnt make it. His life was tragically cut short when he touched a wing to the ground the morning of June 17, 1989 while slow-rolling a 1940s-vintage T-6 near Earle, Arkansas. Hes buried at Arlington. Rest in peace, Dave.
Skyhawk Low Flight
Arthur Padios (2002)
Oh! Ive flown through ack ack flak,
And danced with SAMS a few feet from my bird.
Ive flown my Skyhawk fast enough
To send their missiles back.
Ive jousted with the thirty sevens, fifty sevens,
And twenty threes, and fifties too,
Frolicked in the bush,
That only Jarheads knew,
Chased the frightened VC guys along,
Straffing them in the elephant grass like popcorn in the pot,
And done a thousand things
That Ive bragged about.
Ive dropped my snake eyes on the bad guys
Napalm, and the rest,
Ive ingested bomb debris down the intakes,
And hoped for no compressor stall.
Ive streaked through darkest night
Just my Skyhawk and me,
And spent the flight in terror of
Things I couldnt see.
Ive turned my eyes to heaven,
As I sweated through the flight,
Put out my hand and touched
The Fire Warning Light.
Gary Verver (2002)
Well.... it was a typical night at NAF China Lake, still in the 100's, the line was secure with nothing scheduled. So nothing to do except decide if I could stand 4 more hours of Roller Derby on the TV, or if I was going to climb up on the line shack roof and cut the antenna to preserve what was left of my sanity. However the Roller Derby fans got a reprieve when flight ops called and told me to get a "DRUT" ready to roll. Seems there was an A4 driver stranded in Vegas with a busted Scooter and the squadron called us to see if we would ferry the needed part over to Nellis.
OPS told me that Dave was my pilot and he'd be down as soon as Maint. had the part ready to go. After looking around it seemed as if I was the only one of the crew that was "trained" on the old TF-10, which meant I knew how to get the securing gear off, and most importantly that it burned 115/145 AvGas (I also was 'trained' on the USAF XB-70, but that's a different TINS tale). So I trekked out to the DRUT (think we took the one with the Scooter nose), pulled the intake & exhaust covers, removed the wing braces and other securing gear, checked the fuel, oil, hydraulic, LOX etc. and did a quick walk around to look for leaks etc. No obvious problems, so went back to the Line Shack to find the Yellowsheet so Dave could see if anything serious had been logged. About that time Dave showed up and I gave him the Yellowsheet book and told him the DRUT was ready to roll, i.e. there was air in the tires.
After looking through the Yellowsheet book Dave asked who was going with him, and we said we didn't have anyone in the duty section that was a qualified flight crew member. Dave said okay, how about you coming along as I need someone to work the radio (the DRUT was configured like the A-6, side by side and the pilot had the flight controls and the right side had the radar, radio etc.). Told him I didn't have a helmet or oxygen mask, but that didn't deter Dave. He said look around and see if you can find a helmet and a mask that fits. Well I found a helmet and a mask that sort of fit and figured I also might as well borrow someone's flight suit and with a little luck the guys at Nellis would take me for a pilot and I wouldn't have to refuel it in Nellis. All I would need to say was "AvGas", and the way you usually found out it was full when you fueled it at night was when you got a face full.
Off we went. A pretty uneventful flight and a gorgeous approach to Nellis as we came in right over the Las Vegas strip, and then a not so normal landing as the nose wheel damper malfunctioned and the instrument panel started shaking like a cheap Belly Dancer at the Go-Go club. So bad you couldn't read any of the gauges. Putting on the brakes made things worse, but eventually we got it slowed down enough to exit the runway and taxi to the Visitor Line.
Dave went to Ops with the part and I stood 'guard' so nobody gave us a fatal dose of JP when they refueled us, and gave the nose gear a close look. Dave came back from Ops and asked how the nose wheel looked and I told him it was still on the plane, still had tread, nothing was cracked; but that I couldn't fix a bad snubber and it was probably going to do the same thing when we took off. Dave said okay lets go home and we climbed up top, lowered ourselves through the top hatch, fired it up and called the tower for clearance. Dave told them that we had a slight nose wheel problem and he wanted the runway with the arresting gear just in case. Me, I'm revisiting the emergency exit procedures as I'm not too excited about the possibility of the nose gear failing and the DRUT sliding down the runway making sparks while were sitting on top of several hundred gallons of 115/145.
Anyway, the tower told us which runway had the gear rigged, gave us taxi clearance and off we went looking for the runway. Dave asked if I saw the runway and I told him I didn't. After milling about smartly for awhile, Dave said look out the top hatch and see if you see a runway. So I unhooked and stood up and poked my head out of the hatch and told Dave all I saw was a bunch of lights. Some were white, some were blue, and no discernable pattern to any of them (I wear glasses these days, but still have depth perception problems at night). Eventually we "found" a runway and Dave lined up and asked for takeoff clearance. The tower said it was okay with them, but if we wanted the arresting gear option we were on the wrong end of the runway. Dave said it was okay, that we had changed our mind. I'm thinking, "stick your head out the hatch for 30 seconds and missed that meeting".
Away we went and sure enough the plane started shaking like crazy again and you couldn't read any of the instruments because they were just one big blur. Dave seemed unconcerned and applied a little back pressure on the stick. Once the nose rotated he could read the instruments and we got airborne and had an uneventful flight back to China Lake. However, Dave must have been a mind-reader as he told the China Lake tower we had nose wheel trouble and declared an emergency. We landed, same results, and led a parade of crash trucks and rescue squad vehicles back to the line. Dave downed the plane, which I thought was a good idea. About one flight late, but still a good idea.
I didn't fly much after that as the only multi-seat jets that we had were an A-3D, which had the same clever escape hatch as the DRUT, but with 3 people trying to get out of it instead of two. The other was a Phantom that spent most of its time in the hangar as it had a habit of doing uncommanded rudder rolls at low altitude when power was reduced.
Dave left China Lake and went out on the Intrepid where he died September 23rd, 1968 when his A-4E Skyhawk (152091) lost electrical power and went off the port side of the USS Intrepid during recovery. All went well until the last few seconds before touchdown when he started to bank to the left, the nose dropped and he crashed into the LSO's platform before plunging into the sea. LCDR Dave Callahan is on panel 43W, line 068 of the Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington D.C.
Gary Verver (2002)
I was enjoying my umpteenth cup of coffee and smoking a camel when I heard what sounded like a 55 gallon drum full of scrap metal being rolled down the taxiway. I looked out the line shack door and saw one of my A-4's about 1/2 mile away and headed for the line. As I was the A-4 line P.O. I figured I better put out my smoke, find my Mickey Mouse ears and get my butt out there. I got to the far end of the line where the source of the noise had parked, just in time to see the Plane Captain disappear down the port intake, and greeted the pilot who was standing at the bottom of the ladder observing that the "engine seemed noisier than usual". I'm thinking that's an understatement and that this is headed south in a hurry, and sure enough the P/C wiggled his butt back out of the intake and handed the pilot a 3/8" drive ratchet with a 6" extension and a socket still attached to each other; and said something like "bleep - you're lucky you ain't dead.... Sir." Well the same thought had already occurred to the wide-eyed pilot who began to hotfoot it in the direction of the Maintenance Officer with his newfound tool set in hand. Didn't take "Carnac" to predict that we had better get this figured out in a hurry as the Line Chief was going to materialize any second.
I initiated the "fact finding" by asking the P/C if he had pre-flighted the plane, he said "Of course." Did he look down the intakes, said he did. When did he pre-flight the plane, several hours before it took off. Was the plane parked in the same spot all of that time, said it was. Did he see anyone by the plane during that time, said he didn't, but wasn't in the vicinity the whole time.
About that time the Line Chief materialized and commenced asking the same questions even before he skidded to a halt. He got the same answers and finished with "just how in the bleep, bleep, bleep did all those tools get in the intake?" Told him it beat the "bleep" out of me, but looking down the intakes also was part of the pilots pre-flight and I was guessing that he didn't see any tools or he wouldn't have climbed in and took off. Well the Chief looked as if he had just gotten a 'get out of jail free' card and beat feet for the Maintenance Office where the 'bleep" had already hit the proverbial fan.
By the time he arrived the "whos who" in Maintenance were milling smartly about the Maintenance Office and the place was in pandemonium. Amongst all of the pontificating, peeing and moaning it became clear that the tools weren't ours, and in fact were from 3 different tool boxes that belonged to the Power Plant and Twidget shops. The Line Chief rolled his eyes heavenward as gravity immediately took over and the "bleep" began rolling downhill at a high rate of speed headed for the guilty and non-guilty shops alike. Chiefs and PO1's were yelled at, tool-boxes were inventoried and; as you would expect if you were at China Lake, none of them were missing any tools and none of them had any tools that didn't belong in them either. This all further confounded the Maintenance Officer and the Chief.
Epilogue: The "bleep" eventually rolled to a stop.
The shop guys all went to remedial tool management school.
The pilots gave the intakes more than a cursory look on pre-flight.
The Scooter got a new J-65 as there wasn't one salvageable compressor blade in the one that ate the socket set.
Where did the tools come from? I never found out, which was very unusual as the Bluejacket level usually had the scuttlebutt on things like that. But in this case, none of the Bluejackets knew, or talked.
TINS - Glider
DEADSTICKING THE A4:
Flew the A-4B/C from 09/65 to 12/66 - about 370 hours, 160 traps while attached to VA-95, NAS Lemoore and USS Intrepid, one tour to 'Nam (May to Oct '66) - 105 missions, 60 off Dixie Station, the rest off Yankee. I previously flew A1's - 1100 hrs, 300 traps, 2 Med cruises with VA-36 off Saratoga. Finally, flight instructed (RAG) the A7.
The most excitement in the A4, ironically enough, was never directly related to combat ops, but rather routine ops, which sometimes went very awry.
Many numbers remain hazy, others clear
(gimme a break
this happened about forty years ago!!) Since I didn't keep detailed log book notes, I believe this event occurred after our combat cruise, prior to my PCS orders to the A7 RAG, probably late 1966. I recall being very comfortable in the aircraft. It was routine briefing for a routine flight, a HI-LO-HI navigation flight out of Navy Lemoore, (NLC), with some pre-charted low level navigation around the western States with a full fuel load (two drop tanks).
Bill Iams was the section leader, a great guy, officer, and pilot, with whom I'd been flying for years through two aircraft types. Wx was 6000' overcast, "clear as a bell" beneath and startup, takeoff, join-up, and initial climb-out were uneventful.
Tucked in tight on Bill, climbing through 17,000', somewhat NE of FAT (Fresno), heading NE, we slowly broke out of the clouds. The sensation of speed was terrific, as the top of the cloud deck whipped by - what a kick!
Then, just above the cloud layer, Bill appears to rapidly accelerate. I run the throttle up, and call "Bill, gimme a percent". He continues to open, I've got the throttle "fire walled" - he's running away from me - time to look inside.
Airspeed's dropping, EGT is "red-lined", no fire warning, don't recall RPM or fuel flow.
?!? - Again.
I ease the nose over a bit, back into solid IFR. OK, I'm STILL flying, throttle's back, EGT is below red-line, no indication of an imminent explosion. Start an easy left turn, made a fast decision to fly (or rather, glide) at 220 KIAS (best glide speed; L/D Max?). Squawk 7700 on the transponder, and call Oakland Center (our controlling agency) to tell'em what's happening. I demand clearance "DIRECT NLC, and clear the way, notify NLC of the situation, and giv'em an ETA," etc.
The reply from ATC Oakland really tee'd me off. They wanted to know if I could maintain altitude. I always thought those dudes knew what type aircraft they were controlling!
After rapidly making it abundantly clear as to what my situation was, and demands were, they quickly acceded. Now the entire sky was mine!
So here we are - solid IFR, headed SW toward NLC at 6000' overcast, clear as a bell underneath, descending at about 1000 fpm, got 220 KIAS nailed (max lift/drag?), got plenty of decision-making time, Ram Air Turbine is deployed, dumping fuel, O2 mask in my lap, furiously puffin' on a Benson & Hedges, calculating times/distances/altitudes/number of cigarettes left, reviewing controlled ejection procedures, etc. The jet is flying (or more accurately, gliding) beautifully - except when I push the throttle up, my EGT redlines, and my little J-52 (?) absolutely refuses to give me any thrust.
Shoot, this is just what I had asked for! Transitioning to the A-4 from the A-1 was a blessing to me. I was fascinated with the apparent ease with which one could abandon the jet if it turned on you.
After several (mis)adventures in the old Spad (uncontrolled flight following a deck launch into severe turbulence; emergency pull forward on the boat (CVA-60) as I approached/landed in one threatening to come apart; controlled crash landing in a blizzard in North Africa, etc.), I had relished the thought of a controlled ejection vice a bailout from a crippled Spad. Would even remember to hang on to the rip cord handle, have that sucker "bronzed", and hang it over the fireplace!
Now, I was forced to quietly explain to "the Man upstairs", that I had changed my mind. I found the cockpit to be a wonderful place - warm, and snug, and quiet (yeah, love that part - quiet!), and comfortable. The unspoken, but deeply felt reply, was: "Forget it, son - you wanted it, and now you got it!"
Well, what to do - plenty of open farmland around Lemoore. I can be sure to do no damage if I "punch out" when I'm closer in, and VFR - we'll see.
Broke out into the clear, as expected, at 6000', heading roughly SW and directly in front of me, the two long (12,000'+ parallel runways 13/31?)
Bend the jet around to starboard a bit, hit a very modified 180 degree position for the left runway (13?) just where I wanted - maybe three or four thousand feet - lot's of altitude, think I - start a left turn towards a close ninety degree position, and "dirty up". I got gear, and flaps, landing checklist complete, Approach Control & Tower have been excellent, crash gear is in place, I own the entire airport. What could be easier?
The jet, however, now in the landing configuration, assumes the flight characteristics of a brick. Wants to drop like a rock. I fly the angle of attack, and eyeball the end of the runway going to be a very close call. One hand on the stick, one hand on the alternate ejection handle. I'm gonna make it!
NO I'M NOT!
YES, I AM
I think the AOA indicator was at about two o'clock - rate of descent probably around 1000' FPM, and landed the jet about two feet up the left one! Rolled out, and shut down. Home safely - saved the Navy an airplane.
Squadron tractor met me on the runway, hooked up to tow me to the ramp. Now I'm in mild shock. What the hell had just happened?!? Unstrapped, opened the canopy during tow-in - stood up in the cockpit, looked back, down the right side shoulder intake nothing. Then the left one.
The "greenhouse" assembly was right there at the front of the engine - could see nothing but dirty primer yellow painted aluminum in the intake - airflow completely blocked.
At the ramp, with several maintenance folks around, checked out the tailpipe - several streaks of molten aluminum in evidence.
Couple of days later, maintenance gave me two 8" X 10" black & white "glossies" of the engine hanging on a stand at AMD (Aviation Maintenance Depot). The entire engine spool was smooth, no compressor blades, no turbine blades!
I was then informed by maintenance that USN had lost five A4's prior to my experience, all with the same basic engine indications - red-lined EGT, zero thrust. Mine was the sixth event of this type. Thankfully, all pilots ejected safely. Because mine was available for inspection, the following was discovered. Hardware (nuts/bolts) securing the "greenhouse" assembly at the front of the engine had loosened, dropped out, and passed through the engine, totally destroying it - then allowing the "greenhouse" to fall, blocking airflow. At that time, the Maintenance Manual allowed re-use of elastic stop nuts following "greenhouse" removal for routine maintenance. Manuals were changed to require new hardware (nuts/bolts) to secure the "greenhouse" after each removal. Similar incidents never happened again, so far as I know!
But, WHAT A RIDE!! Ron "Banty" Marron.
Armed Forces Day (1963)
By Anthony L. Tambini II Commander, USN - Ret.
(Webmasters note: Aircraft involved was BuNo 149969)
Air Shows never fail to bring out the crowds. In the high desert of China Lake, 150 miles north of Los Angeles, people would come from every direction to see the airplanes. Armed Forces Day was a cause for celebration. Almost any reason could be a cause for celebration in this place where quarter movies and the bowling alley were the major attractions, although the bars at the clubs would most likely be first on the list of things to do for a good percentage of the population.
It was a typically beautiful day in May, a perfect day for families to get together and stroll among the static displays of all of the different kinds of airplanes that we flew from the naval air facility. There would be displays, demonstrations, and a flyover of every major type of airplane in our inventory. In addition to the Projects Department, where various newly designed and developing weapons and weapon systems were in various stages of testing, other important support functions of the naval air facility were to be featured.
Our "Redbirds" would be first in the order of appearance. These were F9F-6 Cougars that had been converted to "drones" or NOLO (No Live Operator) targets for the air-to-air missiles and surface-to-air missiles being developed or undergoing testing at the Naval Ordnance Test Station. Accompanied by their T-28 Trojan controller aircraft and a pair of FJ-3 Fury chase planes, this colorful group always pleased the crowds. After the drones, our collection of Projects birds was scheduled for individual flybys. Later, our skydiving club would make a series of jumps for the crowd.
Sitting on the flight line was a shiny, new A4D-5, the first of a new breed of Skyhawks with a more powerful J-52 engine mounted behind modified intakes high on the fuselage. This airplane would later be renamed the A-4E in conformance with the Secretary Of Defense's decree that the Air Force and Navy adapt the same nomenclature systemthe Air Force's. Fresh from the factory, it would be the last of the Projects Department airplanes to participate in our Armed Forces Day show.
Less than a week old, we had put just four flights on the new bird before scheduling it for modification to carry instrumentation and experimental systems. The new J-52 engine was causing some concern with both the manufacturer and the Navy. Burner cans, the main combustion chambers in the engine, were burning through and causing engine fires. One effort to fix the problem was to modify the fuel control, which by now had already gone through twenty-nine changes.
The airplane itself handled like no other Skyhawk I'd flown. Peppy and responsive, it was fun to fly. There were other concerns about this airplane, but none we considered serious. The Attack Weapons Projects Officer and I had both found that the airplane flamed out (the engine quit) every time that we put the airplane into a spin. Restarting the engine proved to be easy and fast, but still, it was a concern. Spinning was not a maneuver purposely performed in the fleet, but it was a necessary part of structural flight-testing external stores (weapons) and aircraft performance/recovery under conditions involving new configurations. This airplane had been sent to the naval air facility in support of Shrike missile system development, and it would become another in the growing stable of aircraft assigned to Attack Systems.
Saturday, the day of the show, dawned bright and beautiful, as our days always did in the Mojave Desert. There was a bit of a kicker though: the wind was blowing at close to the limits set for safe flight operations. When the wind was above forty knots, the chance of a safe landing was minimal, as was the chance of a safe ejection, if that became necessary. A pilot would probably be dragged in his parachute and badly injured or killed on the rocks and rough terrain before he could release himself from his harness and get free of his parachute.
The combination of sun and wind made the air above the desert floor rough and bumpy; not the kind of ride that is comfortable at five hundred knots. If the wind got any stronger, we would have to cancel flight operations. We were even more concerned about our Skydiving Club. They were scheduled to finish the aerial part of the show with individual and team jumps over the facility.
The first events in our program got airborne and confirmed the weather folk's assessment: we were right on the edge. The operations officer gave the go ahead so as not to disappoint the crowd, but he cautioned that, if conditions worsened, the show would have to be suspended. The FJs, Cougars, Crusaders, and a lone Phantom all found the air to be turbulent and jolting. And all slowed down dramatically; the bumpy ride was making it uncomfortable to go at the higher speeds planned.
While orbiting north of the field and waiting my turn, the air seemed to be smoothing out a bit. The Skyhawk was taking the rough air in stride, and conditions improved vastly as I began a slow descent toward the airfield. This was going to be fun after all. I saw the airspeed pass 550 knots with the airplane still accelerating. Dropping to eyeball level, I passed the end of the north-south runway and saw, for the first time, the crowd lining the ramp and adjacent taxiway. They were a blur as I flashed past.
At midfield, I pulled up into a vertical climb and initiated a series of "Victory Rolls" for the crowd. On about the third rotation, the cockpit lit up like a pinball machine with the fire warning light flashing, "Tilt!" Smoke filled the cockpit, and when I looked in the rear view mirrors, I could see flames erupting through the side of the fuselage. Back around the horn came the throttle, and out went the ram-air turbine. I called the tower, dropped the landing gear and flaps, and executed a wingover maneuver to land on the same runway that I had just flown down. Speed and altitude bled off fast. I touched down on the end of the runway, and fire trucks chased behind as I rolled out and stopped the airplane. It's amazing how quickly the airplane decelerated with the engine stopped. It was frozennot the slightest rotationa very different sensation from the flameout approaches that we used to practice to simulate a landing with a failed engine.
I brought the airplane to a halt at midfieldright in front of the spectators who thought it was all part of the show. As I unstrapped and dove over the side, there in the front row, cheering and waving wildly, were my wife and sons.
The A-4F as a Glider @ 1984
Disclaimer; the names of the guilty participants are changed for obvious reasons.
IT is mid-winter of 1984 as a Marine Reserve pilot flying an oldie but goodie, the A-4F Superfox Skyhawk. With the turtle back humps empty and stripped down, the Superfox was a hotrod. VMA-142 (Gators) (NZC) were on a ACM Det over to Eglin AFB to work with the F-15 school to allow the Eagle Instructors to practice DACM (Dissimilar Air Combat) on the air combat maneuvering range, (ACMR) out over the Gulf of Mexico. The deal was the USAF would provide the gas for free if the Marine would bring their A-4’s. It was a wonderful det; the jets were mostly up, the wx, North Florida; winter, cool, clear with two ACM flights a day against the F-15 instructors, challenging flying: it was sweet!
My “Glider” event started off innocently enough: since I was a PMCF pilot, post Maintience Check Flight, I was stuck with running a broken A-4F back to Cecil Field FL and swapping it for another. OK - can do easy, at least I had an afternoon ACM flight if I got back on time with the replacement aircraft. Ordinarily this wouldn’t have been much of a problem; it isn’t far from Eglin AFB to Cecil in Jacksonville FL. But as of late the Florida ‘Gators’ were getting beat up in the air by the F-15s. The Air Force had finally started to use the F-15 to it’s full advantage although at this time they still liked to slow down and fur ball knife fight. Don’t get me wrong, the A-4F Superfox was a hot rod and the “Gators” were all high time reservists but we were not used to hearing the ACMR range controller say; ‘Red Two you’re dead” (the F15’s were Blue)….we were used to winning. So one of our nameless flight leads came up with a ‘PLAN to WIN.”
The strategy worked like this; We would brief with the Air Force a 2V2; and show up with 3 A-4s. (or, brief a 2V1 and bring 4), we did this more than once. Dave and Bill briefed an early 2V2 with the F15 Instructors, while I took off with the ‘broken’ A4 to Cecil on a DD-175 with a delay enroute. I took off and hung around off the end of the runway and watched as the two F-15 climbed out into the range. Next came the A-4s and I joined up with Dave and Bill as they climbed out. The Air Force didn’t know it yet but we now had a 2V3 going. Hey, anything goes as long as you win - right?
The A4 flight splits to combat spread and I stayed tucked in close on lead so the Eagles couldn’t break us out on radar: their radar would ‘see’ only two A4s. The ‘Plan’ worked like a charm. On the engaging pass, the Eagles went over us about 6k high and saw that there were 3 of us instead of the briefed two A4s.. As the red flight A4’s flight pitched back into the engagement, I, rolled on my back and split S’ed out of the fight reaching mach 1. + (clean ship) in the dive as I bugged out on the water to the northeast and Cecil field. The F15’s in the nose high pitch back didn’t see me leave. Later Dave told me it was pretty funny, the F15s never would commit, since they had SEEN the third A4 and just Knew the trailer A-4 was on their six. So the A-4s chased the F-15s all over the range - never quite able to corner the Eagles, until the F-15s ran out of gas and ‘bingoed’. During the Debrief the Blue flight was crushed to hear the 3rd A4 had left in the engaging turn. This was a new twist, the bonus A4 leaving. We had been briefing 2V2 and showing up with 3 or 4 and the Eagle guys had gotten wise to that program. The extra A4 leaving was a new twist.
Once clear of the ACMR range I activated my DD175 and was cruising east at FL 250 on a glorious Sunday morning. Early February, Cold and Clear, the air was absolutely dead still: it was right after a cold front had swept through north Florida. It was like skating on clear ice. Smoooooth. At FL cruise about 80 miles out; JAX Center says: “MikeBravo 12, you are cleared to descend and switch to Cecil Tower. Wow, I thought, must not be any traffic, as I pulled power to about 76-78% and pointed the nose at Cecil with about 1800# remaining, just enough to land with +1100#. In a decent like this, I was in the habit of pulling power back, not all the way to idle, just so far so as the air density increased in the decent, the engine would wind back up to about 95% and with a good bit of speed, and I wouldn’t have to touch the throttle until the break. It is Sunday morning, early, before 8 am. Cecil Tower hadn’t talked to anyone since late Friday afternoon when the cross country flock had left. A single A4 inbound asking for a carrier break wasn’t too exciting, the Sunday Paper sports section not yet finished. I was smoking; (680 + comes to mind) (the numbers get crowded up that end of the dial) a clean, empty A4 right at Mach, as I approached the break, a little low, but who’s checking?
As the outboard runway number 36R came into sight, I was just thinking about pulling the throttle to idle when the engine started to unwind: It unwound All the way to Zero:
1. It is amazing how quiet it is in the cockpit when the engine isn’t running.
Except for the crying and screaming.
2. With those big intakes just behind you’re shoulders it is amazing how fast the A4 decelerates with the engine not running.
“Cripes” I thought hanging in the straps , as MB 12 decelerated, “what’s wrong with this XZDXW thing?” as I flew, with a low G pull, up and out to the left traffic landing pattern. “Damn”, as I watched the rpm run down to about 10%. I can’t believe what I’m seeing; “Flame out”. As the engine ran down below 42% the electrical generator drops off the main bus. I extend the RAT (ram air turbine) and up comes the emergency power. I gingerly pull the throttle back to idle and to cutoff. Shift the Fuel control from auto to manual and hit the igniters and come around the horn to idle. It is so quiet I hear the igniters popping and the low whumph as the engine lights off and starts to spin up. I breathe a sigh of relief as the engine spins up through 42% and the main generator comes on line automatically as the RAT drops off line.
Then the engine audibly winds down and flames out again. “XWZSX, what’s wrong with this thing.?” The tower asks: “MB12 are you in the break?”. I reply: “mayday mayday, MB12 Flame out.” Later, I can imagined the tower folks with the Sunday paper flying, coffee cups upset as they hit the crash alarm. Talk about a Sunday morning wake up call.
Again, as the engine wound down below 42% the generator dropped off and the rat takes over electrical power. I pull the throttle to cut off and think. “Below 5000’ and below 250 kts eject”. Well, looking at the sea of pine trees around Cecil - bugger that idea. Besides I was well over 250, I was now about 380+ kts or so, right around optimum engine relight numbers at 1,200 feet. I try again. Idle cutoff, FC is manual, Hit igniters and around the horn. I watch the fuel flow, jumps up to 800 # which is about right for the PW J52-P408 at start, so I know I don’t have an engine driven fuel pump failure. Whummph, she fires up again, winds up and the rat drops off as the main generator comes online. “Thank God,” I think, just as it flames out yet again.
“What the XWZWX Hell is wrong with this thing?”; “It wants to run”.
As the electrical power cycles through yet another flame out. Now I’m at the 180 position, a little high, still doing over 250 kts. Cripes, looking at those trees; I chicken out, I do NOT want to eject into those trees. So I start making excuses. I can make the runway. The airplane won’t get torn up too bad. They can salvage parts off the airframe. Visions of the green tablecloth and court-martial fill my mind. I’m still above 250 so I can try a third or is it the fourth? relight. Anything to avoid stepping out, I was afraid to eject.
Try again; throttle cutoff, throttle up around the horn hitting the igniters, whumph as the engine fires up, fuel flow up about 800# as the power cycles as the main generator comes on line. Then; Wheeeee, as the engine flames out for the last time.
“WXZX Shit” I’m rolling out in the grove for 36L as the speed drops thru 200 kts. Gear down, (engine wind milling at 8+% gives enough hyd power), as the mains lock down, I’m pulling the nose up; running out of airspeed and altitude and ideas as I cross the threshold. The mains touch down, the nose gear locks in place as the nose wheel hits the runway. As I approach the wire, I slap the hook handle down engage the wire and stop.
It is dead silent with the engine not running. Phew.
I pop the hood, unstrap, and safe the seat, swinging down from the refueling probe. I walk over to the yellow runway gear arrow sign and sit down. My legs getting weak on me as I watch the fire trunk roar up. Glider training over, I ride the fire truck back to Maintience control. I write up a/c 12, engine flamed out on landing. I then signed out a/c MB 08 and hustled back to Eglin to get back to the ACM flight.
Post Script; What happened?
Complacency. When I nosed over to Cecil I had just gotten, or had, a stuck “fuselage tank float valve”. I just didn’t know it. Within the A-4 wet wing, a pneumatic driven fuel pump constantly transfers fuel to the smaller fuselage tank which feeds the engine. Through a Fuselage tank float valve……which on a rare occasion, sticks closed with sand or grit. To unstick this fuselage tank float valve you shake the plane about a bit. The still air and smooth maneuvers I used approaching the runway would not unstick the valve. With 1800# pounds of fuel aboard, I had enough fuel plus some to get home. But not with a stuck float valve. When I nosed over I probably already had the stuck float valve. I had 1,000 #pounds in the wing and 800# pounds in the fuselage tank.
In the A-4 it is normal with lower fuel states when in a nose low attitude to get the yellow caution “fuel Xfer” light on. This warning light comes on as the bleed air fuel transfer pump in the back of the wet wing is uncovered by wing fuel.
I never looked at the Fuel gage again during this approach. The single seat A-4 fuel gage system totalizes fuel, adding up wing and fuselage tank fuel. This fuel gage doesn’t shift to indicate “only” fuselage fuel until the fuselage fuel tank drops below 600 pounds. Had I looked at the fuel gage anytime during the flameout - the fuel gage would have indicated only fuselage fuel: in this case; Zero. I only looked at fuel flow: which with what was sloshing around in the bottom of the tank, it came out to the required 800 #pph. Sure I had 1000#+ in the wing. But the engine runs off the fuselage tank, which as I approached the runway, ran out of fuel. Had I once looked at the fuel gage, I would have been forced to eject. Of course the P&W J52 wanted to run; it just wouldn’t run with out fuel. The crash site would have burned as the A4 still had over 1000# in the wing.
Working the gripe; Maintience control put some fuel in the fuselage tank and she ran fine. The thump on the runway had dislodged the stuck float valve. “A/C ground checks ok”, returned to flight status….
Another Postscript; As I was going through my relight procedures and glider training at Cecil, over at Pensacola, the Paint and Return facility (PAR) or SDLM folks were taking a A-4F out on an ‘acceptance flight’. The A/C didn’t make it back. The J52 P408 engine stopped for some reason, and the acceptance pilot tried to eject and the seat didn’t work and the results were fatal. The wrecked A4 was shallow enough that it was salvaged. They found the pilot still in the seat with the canopy gone. Seems the SS steel tube that runs from the seat initiator to the rocket motor wasn’t a hollow tube. The middle section was blocked, not drilled out. So for this test pilot, the canopy fired but the seat didn’t. Ouch.
NavAirSysCom checked the rest of the A-4 fleet and found 5 more A-4’s with the blocked seat rocket initiator tubes. Yep, you guessed it. MB 12 was one. Had I once looked at the fuel gage and saw zero, I would have ejected. The canopy would have come off and the seat would have stayed in the Aircraft. I wouldn’t have made the end of the runway and the wreckage would have burned.
MORAL; Complacency kills and I’d rather be lucky than good.
LESSON; Speed is Life, or you can’t have too much speed in the break.
One time A4 pilot
Boca Raton FL.
A REAL War Story from Yugoslavia
Well, I'm finally back in England after being TDY since the end of January, at least for two weeks anyway. Got sent direct to Cervia AB, Italy, from Operation Northern Watch in Turkey after being at the Incirlik AB for over 7 weeks ("Luv the 'Lik" no 'mo ! ). My house and yard is a total mess! There doesn't seem to be an end in sight in the Kosovo situation, but the war is over for me for a while.
Some of you probably already heard through the grapevine about what happened to "Boomer" and me. Here's the proverbial "Rest of the Story" . . .
Boomer and I were tasked as Bosnia-Herzgovinia DCA on 26 Mar, vul time from 1500Z to 1900Z. We were established on Eagle CAP over Tuzla for about an hour after initial refueling.
At 1602Z, while eastbound approaching the Bosnia/Yugoslavia border, I got a radar contact 37 nm to the east, 6k', beaming south at over 600kts. Of course AWACS had no clue and did not have any inkling of someone flying on the other side of border although he was real good at calling out every single friendly WEST of us!).
I called out the contact and Boomer was locked same. Without an ID and not tactically sound to cross the border at the time, I elected to pump our formation in a right hand turn through south and called "PUSH IT UP, BURNER, TAPES ON!" (we were initially flying .85M, 28K') and rolled out heading west/southwest.
At that time I didn't think anything much would happen. I figured the contact would probably continue south or turn east and remain well on the east side of the border. Nevertheless, I called the flight lead of the south CAP over Sarajevo and gave him a craniums up on the posit of contact, altitude, and the heading.
This entire time AWACS still had no radar contact, even after I called it out on the radio. Man, running away with the contact at our six o'clock with AWACS not having any clue was NOT comfortable!
Boomer and I continued west for a total of 60 sec (about 10 nm) before I directed the formation to turn back hot, again turning through south in an attempt to get some cut-off. Boomer was on the northside of the formation (left side as we rolled out heading east). We both got contact BRAA 070 for 37 nm, 23k', target now heading west (hot towards us).
AWACS finally woke up and starting seeing the same thing.
Now, I'm starting to think - SHIT IS GONNA HAPPEN - (evident with the increase of about two octaves in my voice!). It was fairly obvious this guy's originated from FRY, and there were no OCA missions at the time.
Checked AAI for friendly squawk: nobody home! We still needed to get clearance from AWACS to engage, so I requested (codeword) and got no reply from the controller (pretty sure he had no 'freakin clue what that codeword meant!).
About this time both Boomer and I got good ID on the target in our own cockpit and with threat hot towards us inside 30 nm decided to blow off the AWACS/clearance to engage restriction and go for it! Target was now inside 30 nm and I directed Boomer to target the single group.
I broke lock and went back to search in 40 nm scope and 120 sweep. The target check turned towards north west (about 14L aspect) and descended to high teens. Boomer and I checked about 30 deg left to northeast for cutoff. This check turn slung me aft in the formation so I stroke it up to full AB to get more line abreast.
I called "COMBAT 1, ARM HOT" and saw Boomer's wing tanks come off with bright flames under the wing. Pretty impressive! I was well over the Mach when I punched my tanks off and the jet jumped up abruptly (you can see it in the HUD). Took a quick look back to check and see if mystabs were still intact . . .
I rolled my elevation coverage looking from about 5K' to 21K' and no kidding stay in search for at least one full frame (believe me, I wanted to go back to single target track SO DAMN BAD !!!) AWACS started calling out two contacts, lead trail. Sure enough, I was starting to see the break out on my scope! At about 20nm, Boomer called "FOX 3, 18K' !". I saw the cons/smoke came from his jet and thought: SONOFABITCH!!!! I gotta get me some!!!
I commanded miniraster on the leader and as soon as the radar lock (about 17nm), immediately thumb forward to HDTWS. My first shot came off inside 16 nm from the leader. When I pressed the pickle button, it seemed like an ETERNITY before the missile actually launched, but when it did...WOW!!!! I have never shot an AMRAAM or AIM-7 before at WSEP (and I don't think I have a chance in hell of shooting more missiles at WSEP after this!). The missile came off with such a loud roar/whoosh, I not only heard it clearly in the cockpit above the wind noise, radio comm, ear plug, and helmet, I actually FELT the rocketmotor roar! In the HUD, you can see the flames shooting out from the tail end of the missile, and the smoke and cons following it!
Stepped immediately to the trailer in HDTWS and press and held the pickle button for at least 3 seconds. Again, thinking: COME ON, DAMN IT! LAUNCH!!! The second missile came off just as impressive as the first after the same painful delay. I yelled "Dirk 1, Fox 6, lead trail!" ("Cricket" Renner later critiqued my comm as incorrect 3-1 terminology... EAT ME!!!) Since Boomer was the primary shooter, I assumed he was locked to the leader, so I kept the trailer as the PDT. Didn't want to screw with a good thing, I stayed in HDTWS inside 10nm ("Dozer" Shower, our WIC dude, promptly critiqued me for NOT going STT inside 10nm upon reviewing my VSD tape, thus I still have to pass my IPUG Tac Intx ride!). Both targets started a check turn to the southwest (14L to H to 16R aspect) and continued to descent to low teens. Approaching 10nm, checking RWR to make sure we weren't targeted:
"Dirk 1 naked !"
"Dirk 2 naked !"
"Dirk, let's go pure!"
From 30K', both of us rolled our jets inverted and pointed nose low directly at the TD box on the HUD, and pulled throttle to idle. I think my heart rate at this time was reaching my aerobic limit for my age (you know, that formula: 220 minus age...)! Against a broken cloud background, I saw a tiny dot in the TD box about 7 to 8 nm out.
"Dirk 1, tally ho nose 7 nm, low !"
Realizing I saw the trailer, I was praying Boomer would soon follow up with a tally call on the leader. Approaching 5 nm, I'm scanning in front of the trailer for the leader but no joy. Shit! The trailer continued his left turn to southwest and I was looking at approx 14R aspect. Inside of 5 nm, thumb aft to AIM-9 and tried twice to uncage but the tone was not there. Just then, between the HUD and the canopy bow (about right 12:30 to 1 o'clock position), I saw the leader explode! The best visual description I can think of is if you held a torch from one of those Hawaiian Luau party, and swing it through the air. The flame with a extended tail trailing the torch is exactly what I saw!
Turning my attention back to the trailer, the trailer exploded into a streaking flame seconds later just as I tried to uncage the missile the third time! Never mind!
"DIRK 1, SPASH TWO MIG-29s, B/E 360/35!!!" Heater, I'm ashamed . . .
I was screaming like a woman! Didn't really bothered to keep an eye on the fireballs, so I didn't see any chutes. Later report confirmed both pilots ejected safely. Not that neither Boomer nor I would've felt bad if they morted. Anyway, I called for Boomer and I to reference 080 heading and short range radar. Thumbed aft to AUTOGUNS and plug in full AB and accelerated to 460 kts at 20K'. My cranium was on a swivel and breathing like I just ran a full sprint!
"Dirk 2, blind!"
I looked north and it took me a few seconds to find Boomer (about 3.5nm left and stacked high). Tried to talk his eyes back to me, but Boomer called out to west in a right turn. I waited a few seconds to sanitize and turned west as well. During the turn, I immediately pulled into double beeper due to airspeed and Gs (looking back, I should've over G'd so the mission would've been more impressive...
:-) Rolling out, I was 3 nm in trail of Boomer, so I had him shackled to the south to pick up line abreast. The fun wasn't over yet. Boomer got an AUTOGUN snap lock less than 10 nm south of us, low altitude with no ID. I told him to press for VID while I followed him 3 nm in trail.
We were diving back down to the low teens and I saw ABSOLUTELY NOTHING on my radar! Boomer all of a sudden pulls up and yells "Dirk 2, unable ID!" That's BAD!!! I just about shit in my pants! I saw nothing and after a few seconds I asked Boomer if he saw ANYTHING at all. Boomer said he didn't see anything, so we just stroke it up and separate to the northwest for a while, then came back for a second look. Nobody home! Boomer thought it may have been a bad radar lock. I sure hope so!
The rest of the sortie was one excitement after another. While on the boom, AWACS controller started calling out every single ground traffic as possible contact crossing the border into Bosnia. For a while it sounded like a mass attack on Tuzla! By now it was night time, and Boomer (in an offset 3~5 nm trail) and I were still running around with our hair on fire! One time AWACS called out contacts very low alt moving towards Tuzla westbound. I didn't see squat on my tube, neither did Boomer. As the position of group started getting closer to Tuzla, I expected to see a burst of explosion from the airfield underneath! Boomer and I were gonna go from "heros to zeros" real soon!
Finally I turned the GMTR setting on my trusty APG-70 to low and immediately saw the targets. Locked them up and show 80 kts ground speed! I wanted to reach through the mic and strangle the shit out the controller!
AWACS later called out Mig CAPs just 15 nm northeast of the border! Boomer and I were ready to "Pop a cap in their ass" across the border as soon as we got contact and ID! Again, nothing on the radar. We even did two iterations of grinder with a two ship of Vipers and no one got a solid radar hit. That night we committed and armed hot THREE MORE TIMES AFTER the Mig kills based on ridiculous AWACS calls!
No kidding, by the time our replacement showed up (4 hours of vul time later), I was totally exhausted and drained! The flight across Adriatic was uneventful, and Boomer and I finally had a moment to think about what happened.
After I landed and pulled into dearm, I saw a freak in flight suit and wearing a reflective belt, jumping up and down. Sure enough, it was "Freak" O'Laughlin welcoming us back! Taxi back to the chocks was like having a bunch of kids following an ice cream truck! Everyone came running out and waited at the parking spot for Boomer and I. Boomer taxied in front of me as I pulled into my spot. Losing all professionalism and radio discipline (yada yada...), I called out on Ops freq:
"Boomer, YOU're the SHIT!!!"
Getting out of the jet and greeting all the bros and maintainers was THE GREATEST MOMENT OF MY CAREER!!! Our Ops Grp commander "Wilbur" Eddy was first to shake my hand, followed by the mob! We were laughing, shouting, hooting, high fiving, and hugging! It was awesome! Couldn't wait to review the tapes, we all piled into the "Turtle" and watched my HUD tapes. Thank God it recorded everything clearly, including the fireball from the trailer. "Homer" Samuel and "Bull" Mitchum almost knocked me over when they came storming into the Turtle! We were all screaming and jumping so hard in the Turtle I though it was going to tip over! Too bad Boomer's VSD tape did not run, and his HUD tape was washed out due to high aperature setting.
Boomer and I were laughing and high fiving entire car ride home! We weren't even suppose to fly that day!
It no kidding took over a day for this to finally sink in. It felt almost surreal that day/night. "Fish" Bonita, our MX officer, said it best when he saw me hours after I shut down engines: "So, Claw, have you landed yet?" Only one word can describe this event:
FUCKING_UNBELIEVABLY_LUCKY!!! Not the fact we shot them down, but that they were airborne during our watch. Any Eagle driver could've easily done what Boomer and I did, but as "Heater" Griffin said: "You guys won the lottery!" The sequence of events happened in our favor like the planets lining up. The jets, the missiles, the radar (well, at least mine) performed marvelously! Our MX dudes deserve the bulk of the credit. We had no spares that day. The crew chiefs and the Pro Super, Jim Snyder, absolutely BUSTED THEIR ASS working red balls and launched us on time! Boomer, my wingman, what can I say?
Regardless of whose missile hit which Mig, WE shot down two Fulcrums that afternoon. We succeed as a team, and fail as a team (good thing it was the former)! Boomer did an OUTSTANDING job of finding the group, working the ID matrix, and target according to plan. If I didn't have faith in him, I would not have broke lock and break out the lead trail formation. Of course I'm proud of what we did, but there's one thing I'll really stick out my chest for:
To everyone who taught me and influenced me on my tactical flying and gave me long debriefs (though painful at times), especially "Razor" Johnson, "Elwood" Amidon, "Heater" Griffin (even though he's a meat gazer...), "Homer" Samuel, "Dozer" Shower, "Nuts" Destasio,and "Bear" Gibbs, I DID NOT LET YOU GUYS DOWN!!! It doesn't get much better than this guys! Well, maybe two more kills would be pretty cool...
That's all I have to say about that!
Claw, aka Po
Launch the Spare!
Whizzer sez TINS!
It was fun, wasn't it? Here are memories from the flight deck and night ops.
Do you remember the yellow shirts yellow wand coming up to your airplane at night - a black arse night with a slippery deck, ten sea state giving you the "whittling" signal to breakdown the chains holding you securely to a wobbling, slippery deck? Lightening going off every 5 seconds or so. Watching a Phanthumb go into burner . . . burner goes off . . . phanthumb pushed off the cat and parked off to the side. You are standing the SDO (Squadron Duty Officer) watch in the Ready Room with one eye on the PLAT video of the flight deck and the other watching the progress of the acey-duecy game with the RRDPO (Ready Room Duty Petty Officer). "LAUNCH THE SPARE . . .!"
AAAAARRRGGGH! Its a scene out of a Keystone Cop film. Cutting to the flight deck from the Ready Room - - - this after turning the SDO over to the RRDPO, because Ensign Pulver couldnt be found. It was early in the Vietnam War (October 1964) and everybody was scratching for missions. Besides, the a/c was a spare and wouldn't go anyway.
The trip to the 'roof' was an adventure in itself but thats for another day. Knee bleeding through my flight suit (part of the Ready Room to the flight deck story), I stuck my head above the non skid deck and looked into the bowels of a F4 just starting to turn up. Skidded under it hoping the pilot wouldn't drop his 'boxcar' of a tailhook during startup I caught the full force of the wind and rain rolling down the deck. Not wind from the ship's speed but wind from the weather.
Squinting into horizontal rain that sounded like a class of unruly kids bouncing tinfoil balls against your hard-hat, I saw a shape that resembled an A-4 in the darkness enveloping the flight deck. There was a boarding ladder stuck in the hole beside the cockpit --- it must be my bird? By now soaked to the skin and remembering the sailor's line "any port in a storm" I climbed inside and started hooking up.
"Bang, bang bang" outside the canopy a yellow shirt was trying to get my attention with his glowing wand and banging on the fuselage with his fist. "What!!!?", I hollered. Fair, trusty and faithful yellow shirt made a side to side 'wagging finger' sign and repeatedly pointed to another A-4 two planes down the line. Through the darkness I was barely able to make out the fading orange VA-94 Shrike painted on her fuselage, I nodded, gathered up my 'stuff' and climbed out of the dry warmth and metal bound security of a 4 point tie-down and into the rainy gale. The Air Boss announced over the bullhorn: "LAUNCH THE SPARE!"
Squishing my way to the right Skyhawk the Plane Captain greeted me with a, "Isn't this exciting . . ."
Yeah, sure, right, you bet. Feeling was coming back from the cut on my shin and it hurt like sin. The rain had let up a bit but the lightening was still hopping around the water near the Boat. I thought it would be funny if it hit the Ruesky trawler that had been sniffing our backside all day long.
Hooked up and starting, the canopy was cracked and I noticed a change in the wind. The Boat has started turning into the wind; 8% rpm - around the horn - a soft reassuring "WHUMP" as the engine lit off and a disconnect from the huffer. I settled back in my office. "ATTENTION ON THE DECK . . .
HEEL TO PORT"
I had an incredible seat for the late night matinee unfolding outside. Like a combination of cheerleaders and matadors the plane directors alternated between gentle encouragement for the pilot to move their aircraft to impatient jerks of the wand to emphasize a move out smartly . . . NOW!
Side stepping wings and sucking engine intakes the yellow shirts twirled aside to pass each a/c to the next yellow shirt then back to the next a/c to get them 'in line'.
"G" forces and a little vertigo from the turn made the signal to take the chains off the aircraft a tad surreal. Clamping down on the rudder pedal brakes to the point of legs cramping it felt like the airplane was sliding toward the edge of the flight deck. The Plane Captain gave me the 'thumbs up' -- easy to do when youre not in the aircraft and you dont have to launch. The yellow shirt started moving the wands from side to together and I started taxing toward the pointy end of the boat. Still in the turn and by now with a healthy case of vertigo made it feel like the director and I were in a 45 degree left wing down and he was turning me for a long uphill run to the cat.
WHOOOSHHH . . . . . was the sound of launching a/c and THRUMPPP was the feeling throughout the whole ship when the shuttle hit the water brake.
By now adrenaline had taken over and the wind, rain, lightening and other unidentifiable sounds and sensations were concerns for a lesser man. Up and over the shuttle, the pain in my leg had gone and my heartbeat matched the rpm of the Cat Officer's twirling wands.
Stable and tugging at the hold-back, lights on just as a huge bolt of lightening hit the water off the port side. The pause of eternity before the big "push" and off . . . Airborne . . . Wingman Teach somewhere off to my right . . . We're off to make the world safe for Democracy.
At a thousand feet, scratching for altitude, using the lightening flashes to find a path between the towering clouds between the ship and feet dry the ship comes up on guard: "THIS IS A DRILL - THIS IS A DRILL"
"No high speed targets approaching us"
"Repeat - - - THIS IS A DRILL - - - Contact Showboat on button 19 for Charlie."
Well, 'grunt' I thought passing 5000'. Nothing to do but unhook the mask, take out a cigarette, light up and look for Matechak. My leg started hurting again.
Cat and Duck Instrument Flying
Lawrence of Meridian (1968)
Basic Instruments: Place a live cat on the cockpit floor. Because a cat always remains upright, it can be used instead of the artificial horizon. Simply watch which way the cat leans to determine if a wing is low, and if so, which one
The duck is used for the instrument approach. Because any sensible duck will refuse to fly under instrument conditions, it is only necessary to hurl your duck out of the aircraft and follow it to the ground.
Limitation to Cat and Duck Method: Get a wide-awake cat. Most cats don't want to stand up at all. It may be necessary to carry a large dog in the cockpit to make the cat pay attention. Make sure your cat is clean. Dirty cats spend all their time washing. Trying to follow a washing cat usually results in a snap roll followed by an inverted spin. Use an old cat. Young cats still have many of their nine lives left, but an old cat has just as much to lose as you do and will be more dependable.
Avoid cowardly ducks. If the duck discovers you are using the cat to keep the wings level, it may refuse to leave without the cat. Ducks are no better at IMC than you are. Make sure your duck has good eyesight. Nearsighted ducks may fail to realize they are on the gauges and go flailing off into the nearest mountain. Very nearsighted ducks may not realize they have been thrown from the aircraft and will descend to the ground in a sitting position. This is very difficult to follow in an airplane. Use land-loving ducks. It is very discouraging to break out and find yourself on final to a rice paddy, especially if there are duck hunters around. Duck hunters suffer from temporary insanity after sitting in freezing blinds and will shoot at anything that flies.
Finally, choose your duck carefully. It's easy to confuse ducks with geese because many waterfowl look alike. Geese are competent instrument fliers, but they seldom go where you want them to. If your duck sets off for Canada or New Zealand, you can sure you've been given the goose.
Jeffro and Otto
You say you see the holdback cable fastened to something on the catapult. The other end of the holdback is fastened to the underside of the aircraft? Are there fuses at both attachements? In video clips you’ve seen of A-4 launches, the holdback cable stays fastened to the attachment on the deck and the cable and attachment seem to stay with the aircraft and follow the aircraft as it is launched. Does the holdback cable stay on the deck? Also, how does the holdback cable separate from the aircraft?
Well I can understand how you might be confused by various descriptions offered about the catapult. Being there helps, and years stomping around the pointy end of the boat shooting planes off amidst loud noises and other stuff helps learn and does concentrate one's attention . . . so, here is the straight poop.
First off, perhaps nomenclature may be clogging up the situation somewhat. There are basically three parts to the A-4 holdback system: the 'holdback fitting' on the aircraft (often called the holdback box), a 'tension bar', and the 'holdback cable' which is hooked into a cleat track in the deck at the aft end of the cat.
There is no "fuse" . . . a connotation of something explosive going on . . . (altho' occasionally it may seem that way).
The so-called fuse is the tension bar ( and years still further back it was a 'tension ring" ) . The holdback bar, or tension bar, is a machined steel bar about 5+ inches long for the A-4. I'm sitting here looking at a chromeplated A-4 holdback bar given me by my cat crew . . . With the trusty ruler the bar measures exactly 5 7/16"; that's 13.9 centimeters. Weighs about 2 pounds and looks sort of like a dumbell, except that in the middle of the slender portion is a precisely machined semicircular annular groove. (There is a similar bar, different weight, strength and dimension, for every type aircraft, ie, A-4, F-4, A-6, ....etc.)
The system works simply, but very effectively and safely. Prior to launch, as the aircraft is being readied, a tension bar is placed in the holdback box on the plane's underside, where it just rides along with one end in the box and the other end hanging out a couple inches. So far, so good. As the aircraft taxis into position on the cat, a cat crew member attaches the holdback cable to the free end of the tension bar ... by means of a holdback box/fitting exactly the same as on the aircraft, but with an extending cable and cleat. The cable is then hooked into the holdback track.
As this is taking place, the bridle is being attached to the two hooks on the underside of the wings, and is held in place by hand .... so the bridle doesn't drop off ...until the aircraft is 'tensioned' . The pilot is signaled to release his brakes - gently - as the catapult shuttle with the launching bridle attached is moved forward slowly. When the plane & shuttle can move forward no further, because of the restraining holdback, the catapult and aircraft are said to be "tensioned up"
The holdback bar is machined such that the bar is designed to fail (break at the annular groove) under an exact, pre-determined amount of tension. There is sufficient strength in the bar to hold the plane against the tension of the shuttle, as well as the static tension from the aircraft engine, even at full power, when the pilot applies full throttle prior to launch. But when the steam cat is fired, the holdback bar breaks at an exact designed pressure, and KABLOOM!! ..... a couple seconds and 130 knots later, "WHEEE.... we're flying!"
The spent half of the tension bar still attached to the plane gets a free ride until after landing, when it's removed and given a heave overboard. The rear half was already removed from the holdback, which dropped to the deck upon launch, and tossed overboard.
I mentioned that the pilot is signaled to release his breaks gently. This is so that the aircraft is eased against the holdback - and is not brought to a hard stop by the holdback .... which if done, may cause the tension bar to be prematurely weakened or even cracked. Such could result in a 'cold cat' shot that, when occurring, can spoil your whole afternoon! So to prevent such, the plane has to be pushed back, the bridle dropped, a new tension bar inserted and the whole operation done over! 'Push backs' have the affect of causing great consternation among the cat crew, and giving rise to unseemly aspersions being cast upon the pilot's legitimacy, etc. They also occasion great beating of breasts by the Air Boss, the CAG, and the Captain! (Who occasionally try not to show their angst. But the dentist can tell .... all their rear molars have been ground down to gum end before cruise end!
Jeffro pointed out that things have changed just a bit from the "old" days (sorry, guys, but bridle launches are NOT the norm anymore!). The bottom line is this -- we now use "throw-away" bridles. Reason for this is that the CV's no longer have the extension at the end of the cat to keep the bridle from slapping the front of the CV. The throw-away bridles have a rope "lanyard" as part of their make-up to keep them from hitting the main mounts on the acft as it goes flying off the front end of the CV. That's the "slack" cable you see hanging down. The holdback assembly remains the same as always.
Since the A-4 is about the last to still use a 'bridal' to attach the plane to the catapult shuttle, and since carriers no longer have a 'bridal arresting' system, the A-4 bridals are throw-aways.... ending up well ahead of the ship with a nice splash on each launch. Bridle arresters were made unnecessary with the advent of the 'nose tow' used by all current operational carrier aircraft. This system accomplishes the tension/holdback evolution with an integrated nosewheel tow/shuttle hook-up arrangement which eliminates launch bridals and hold back systems (except for the older aircraft such as the A-4) (The long 'horns', seen in photos of carriers of a few years back, extending forward of the catapult tracks on the axial & angle decks, were part of a system designed to arrest the bridals, which were then retrieved to be used again.)
Fly Less - Enjoy More!
VigiHawk sez TINS!
We all get so hung up with the joys of flying it almost seems heretical to admit there were times you were glad you did not fly. In answer to the question, "Was there ever a time when you were supposed to fly, but were happy you did not?" I'll lead off with my two.
1. Intrepid kept an A-4 from each of the 3 squadrons on alert at night in the Tonkin Gulf. Because the others had Charlies with radar, they were the attackers while us VSF'ers would be the alert tanker. Section integrity from two squadrons? Hey, c'mon, it was all an exercise... never happen.
Sure 'nuff, one dark and rainy night, the word came down during the movie to launch the alert against some surface contacts. YHS manned up in driving rain. At least I got the right airplane and didn't bang my knee. I'm much more graceful than Whiz. I'd be started if the others launched.
Bang, bang. Off went the poor bastards, one each from VA-15 and VA-34. I start ye J-65 and complete pre-launch checks. I have never rooted so hard for another pilot to get aboard on the first pass as I did for those two guys. They did too.
2. As VA-125 was the biggest squadron in the Navy, CVRW-12 had the biggest airwing. He ruled all the carrier RAGs on the West Coast (less the Stoofs) an they were all numbered 12X (sigh, the old days) and consisted of F-4, A-7, A-3, F-8, three squadrons of A-4/TA-4, A-6, and EA-6's. For the change of command, each squadron was to provide a four plane division for a mass fly-by. On Friday, I was in the formation from Lemoore to Miramar. The practice was weathered out, Happy Hour was not. No big deal, sayeth hisself, practice, schmaktice, launch 'em anyway. VA-125 was to be in the dead center of the gaggle. The weather stayed lousy and with a sigh of relief, the formation pilots watched from the rear in flight suits.
Col. Donald Conroy, USMC
This eulogy was delivered by the son of Col. Donald Conroy USMC ("The Great Santini") at his father's funeral.
"The children of attack/fighter pilots tell different stories than other kids do. None of our fathers can write a will or sell a life insurance policy or fill out a prescription or administer a flue shot or explain what a poet meant. We tell of fathers who land on aircraft carriers in pitch-black nights with the wind howling out of the China Sea. Our fathers wiped out anti-aircraft batteries in the Philippines and set Japanese soldiers on fire when they made the mistake of trying to overwhelm our troops on the ground. Your Dads ran the barber shops and worked at the post office and delivered the packages on time and sold the cars, while our Dads were blowing up fuel depots near Seoul, were providing extraordinarily courageous close air support to the beleaguered Marines at the Chosin Reservoir, and who once turned the Naktong River red with blood of a retreating North Korean battalion. We tell of men who made widows of the wives of our nations' enemies and who made orphans out of all their children. You don't like war or violence? Or napalm? Or rockets? Or cannons or death rained down from the sky? Then let's talk about your fathers, not ours.
When we talk about the Aviators who raised us and the Marines who loved us, we can look you in the eye and say "you would not like to have been America's enemies when our fathers passed overhead". We were raised by the men who made the United States of America the safest country on earth in the bloodiest century in all recorded history. Our fathers made sacred those strange, singing names of battlefields across the Pacific: Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, the Chosin Reservoir, Khe Sanh and a thousand more. We grew up attending the funerals of Marines slain in these battles. Your fathers made communities like Beaufort decent and prosperous and functional; our fathers made the world safe for democracy.
We have gathered here today to celebrate the amazing and storied life of Col. Donald Conroy, who modestly called himself by his nomdeguerre, The Great Santini. There should be no sorrow at this funeral because The Great Santini lived life at full throttle, moved always in the fast lanes, gunned every engine, teetered on every edge, seized every moment and shook it like a terrier shaking a rat. He did not know what moderation was or where you'd go to look for it.
Donald Conroy is the only person I have ever known whose self-esteem was absolutely unassailable. There was not one thing about himself that my father did not like, nor was there one thing about himself that he would change. He simply adored the man he was and walked with perfect confidence through every encounter in his life. Dad wished everyone could be just like him. His stubbornness was an art form. The Great Santini did what he did, when he wanted to do it, and woe to the man who got in his way.
Once I introduced my father before he gave a speech to an Atlanta audience. I said at the end of the introduction, "My father decided to go into the Marine Corps on the day he discovered his IQ was the temperature of this room". My father rose to the podium, stared down at the audience, and said without skipping a beat, "My God, it's hot in here! It must be at least 180 degrees".
Here is how my father appeared to me as a boy. He came from a race of giants and demi-gods from a mythical land known as Chicago. He married the most beautiful girl ever to come out of the poor and lowborn south, and there were times when I thought we were being raised by Zeus and Athena. After Happy Hour my father would drive his car home at a hundred miles an hour to see his wife and seven children. He would get out of his car, a strapping flight jacketed matinee idol, and walk toward his house, his knuckles dragging along the ground, his shoes stepping on and killing small animals in his slouching amble toward the home place. My sister, Carol, stationed at the door, would call out, "Godzilla's home!" and we seven children would scamper toward the door to watch his entry. The door would be flung open and the strongest Marine aviator on earth would shout, "Stand by for a fighter pilot!" He would then line his seven kids up against the wall and say, "Who's the greatest of them all?" "You are, O Great Santini, you are." "Who knows all, sees all, and hears all?" "You do, O Great Santini, you do." We were not in the middle of a normal childhood, yet none of us were sure since it was the only childhood we would ever have. For all we knew other men were coming home and shouting to their families, "Stand by for a pharmacist," or "Stand by for a chiropractor".
In the bewildered world of children we knew we were in the presence of a fabulous, overwhelming personality; but had no idea we were being raised by a genius of his own myth-making. My mother always told me that my father had reminded her of Rhett Butler on the day they met, and everyone who ever knew our mother conjured up the lovely, coquettish image of Scarlet O'Hara.
Let me give you my father the warrior in full battle array. The Great Santini is catapulted off the deck of the aircraft carrier, Sicily. His Black Sheep squadron is the first to reach the Korean Theater and American ground troops had been getting torn up by North Korean regulars. Let me do it in his voice: "We didn't even have a map of Korea. Not zip. We just headed toward the sound of artillery firing along the Naktong River. They told us to keep the North Koreans on their side of the Naktong. Air power hadn't been a factor until we got there that day. I radioed to Bill Lundin, I was his wingman. 'There they are. Let's go get'em.' So we did."
I was interviewing Dad so I asked, "how do you know you got them?" "Easy," The Great Santini said. "They were running - it's a good sign when you see the enemy running. There was another good sign." "What was that, Dad?" "They were on fire." This is the world in which my father lived deeply. I had no knowledge of it as a child. When I was writing the book The Great Santini, they told me at Marine Headquarters that Don Conroy was at one time one of the most decorated Aviators in the Marine Corps. I did not know he had won a single medal. When his children gathered together to write his obituary, not one of us knew of any medal he had won, but he had won a slew of them. When he flew back toward the carrier that day, he received a call from an Army Colonel on the ground who had witnessed the route of the North Koreans across the river. "Could you go pass over the troops fifty miles south of here? They've been catching hell for a week or more. It'd do them good to know you flyboys are around."
He flew those fifty miles and came over a mountain and saw a thousand troops lumbered down in foxholes. He and Bill Lundin went in low so these troops could read the insignias and know the American aviators had entered the fray.
My father said, "Thousands of guys came screaming out of their foxholes, son. It sounded like a world series game. I got goose pimples in the cockpit. Get goose pimples telling it forty-eight years later. I dipped my wings, waved to the guys. The roar they let out. I hear it now. I hear it now."
During the Cuban Missile Crisis, my mother took me out to the air station where we watched Dad's squadron scramble on the runway on their bases at Roosevelt Road and Guantanamo. In the car as we watched the A-4's take off, my mother began to say the rosary. "You praying for Dad and his men, Mom?"
I asked her. "No, son. I'm praying for the repose of the souls of the Cuban pilots they're going to kill." Later I would ask my father what his squadron's mission was during the Missile Crisis. "To clear the air of MIGS over Cuba," he said. "You think you could've done it?" The Great Santini answered, "There wouldn't have been a bluebird flying over that island, son."
Now let us turn to the literary of The Great Santini. Some of you may have heard that I had some serious reservations about my father's child-rearing practices. When The Great Santini came out, the book roared through my family like a nuclear device. My father hated it; my grandparents hated it; my aunts and uncles hated it; my cousins who adore my father thought I was a psychopath for writing it; and rumor has it that my mother gave it to the judge in her divorce case and said, "It's all there. Everything you need to know." What changed my father's mind was when Hollywood entered the picture and wanted to make a movie of it. This is when my father said, "What a shame John Wayne is dead. Now there was a man. Only he could've gotten my incredible virility across to the American people." Orion Pictures did me a favor and sent my father a telegram; "Dear Col. Conroy: We have selected the actor to play you in the coming film. He wants to come to Atlanta to interview you. His name is Truman Capote."
But my father took well to Hollywood and its Byzantine, unspeakable ways. When his movie came out, he began reading Variety on a daily basis. He called the movie a classic the first month of its existence. He claimed that he had a place in the history of film. In February of the following year, he burst into my apartment in Atlanta, as excited as I have ever seen him, and screamed, "Son, you and I were nominated for Academy Awards last night. Your mother didn't get squat".
Ladies and gentlemen - You are attending the funeral of the most famous Marine that ever lived. Dad's life had grandeur, majesty and sweep. We were all caught in the middle of living lives much paler and less daring than The Great Santini's. His was a high stepping, damn-the torpedoes kind of life, and the stick was always set at high throttle. There is not another Marine alive who has not heard of The Great Santini. There's not a fighter pilot alive who does not lift his glass whenever Don Conroy's name is mentioned and give the fighter pilot toast: "Hurrah for the next man to die".
One day last summer, my father asked me to drive him over to Beaufort National Cemetery. He wanted to make sure there were no administrative foul-ups about his plot. I could think of more pleasurable ways to spend the afternoon, but Dad brought new eloquence to the word stubborn. We went into the office and a pretty black woman said that everything was squared away. My father said, "It'll be the second time I've been buried in this cemetery." The woman and I both looked strangely at Dad. Then he explained, "You ever catch the flick "The Great Santini? That was me they planted at the end of the movie."
All of you will be part of a very special event today. You will be witnessing the actual burial that has already been filmed in fictional setting. This has never happened in world history. You will be present in a scene that was acted out in film in 1979. You will be in the same town and the same cemetery. Only The Great Santini himself will be different. In his last weeks my father told me, "I was always your best subject, son. Your career took a nose dive after The Great Santini came out". He had become so media savvy that during his last illness he told me not to schedule his funeral on the same day as the Seinfeld Farewell. The Colonel thought it would hold down the crowd. The Colonel's death was front-page news across the country. CNN announced his passing on the evening news all around the world.
Don Conroy was a simple man and an American hero. His wit was remarkable; his intelligence frightening; and his sophistication next to none. He was a man's man and I would bet he hadn't spend a thousand dollars in his whole life on his wardrobe. He lived out his whole retirement in a two-room efficiency in the Darlington Apartment in Atlanta. He claimed he never spent over a dollar on any piece of furniture he owned. You would believe him if you saw the furniture. Dad bought a season ticket for himself to Six Flags Over Georgia and would often go there alone to enjoy the rides and hear the children squeal with pleasure. He was a beer drinker who thought wine was for Frenchmen or effete social climbers like his children.
Ah! His children. Here is how God gets a Marine Corps fighter pilot. He sends him seven squirrelly, mealy-mouth children who march in peace demonstrations, wear Birkenstocks, flirt with vegetarianism, invite cross-dressers to dinner and vote for candidates that Dad would line up and shoot. If my father knew how many tears his children had shed since his death, he would be mortally ashamed of us all and begin yelling that he should've been tougher on us all, knocked us into better shape - that he certainly didn't mean to raise a passel of kids so weak and tacky they would cry at his death. Don Conroy was the best uncle I ever saw, the best brother, the best grandfather, the best friend - and my God, what a father. After my mother divorced him and The Great Santini was published, Don Conroy had the best second act I ever saw. He never was simply a father. This was The Great Santini.
It is time to leave you, Dad. From Carol and Mike and Kathy and Jim and Tim and especially from Tom. Your kids wanted to especially thank Katy and Bobby and Willie Harvey who cared for you heroically. Let us leave you and say goodbye, Dad, with the passwords that bind all Marines and their wives and their children forever. The Corps was always the most important thing.
Semper Fi, Dad
Semper Fi, O Great Santini.
Student Naval Aviator CQ
This occurred sometime in the mid to late 1980's; I can still see the event as clear as day, just as it happened yesterday. It started as just another CQ det (Carrier Qualification detachment) at Naval Air Station Key West, Florida. All three TRAWINGs pooled their aircraft and shared them with the student pilots as fast as the carrier could take them. Things started to go downhill from the start. TW-3 and VT-7 pilots brought back Scooters from the boat requiring two engine changes and a serious overstress inspection - all to our TW-2 aircraft! Sadly, one VT-7 pilot disappeared and I think his body was never recovered. I vaguely recall a truck delivering a small piece of wreckage to the hangar that some fisherman had snagged.
Toward the end of the first days second CQ cycle, we overheard an emergency call to the Det Ops folks on the radio. A VT-7 SNA (Student Naval Aviator) had made an EXTREMELY hard landing on a touch-and-go at the ship and broke a retaining gear at the top of the starboard main landing gear strut allowing the strut to hang almost a foot lower than normal. With the extra length of strut exposed, he was unable to raise the gear. Rumor Control had it that the SNA was told to bail out by the powers-that-be aboard the ship, but he had flown back to the Naval Air Station with the gear down. We all lined the edge of the ramp as he made a pass for Ops to look him over while burning off any gas left in the drop tanks. Everyone gasped at the sight. The starboard wheel was about 16 inches lower and cocked 90 degrees to the runway! After circling for a time, the fuel state was apparently within limits and the crash crew ready. Everyone who wasn't otherwise occupied lined the ramp to watch the crash that was sure to come.
I don't know exactly what kind of precautionary approach was used, but we watched intensely as he settled toward the runway. As soon as the starboard wheel touched the pavement, it snapped off, cartwheeling end over end down the runway underneath the tail of the Skyhawk. Our intrepid aviator punched the throttle and resumed flying without touching another wheel to the ground. Free of the extra long strut, he was able to raise all of the landing gear and made a few circles while the errant strut and wheel were recovered from the runway where they had tumbled and bounced for a couple hundred feet. Once again, he made his approach, this time wheels-up.
I have heard stories of the Skyhawk Ski Club, but now we got a chance to watch it gain a new member. The engine was shut down just before touchdown and the Skyhawk slid along on the drop tanks showering the runway with sparks. After enough of the aluminum had disappeared from the bottom of the tanks, gravity took over and they collapsed slightly within a second of each other and a small explosion as the last few ounces of fuel ignited. The flames disappeared quickly and the Skyhawk slid to a stop with only a skinned nose, a couple of BCM 300 gallon drop tanks, and a starboard main landing gear to repair.
Epilogue: I heard the SNA was canned after the incident. Best airmanship I ever saw, though, in saving the plane after he snapped the strut off. A crane had to be brought in from Truman Annex in Key West to move the jet from the runway. You can imagine the problems they had getting through the mid-day traffic in the narrow Key West streets. It was several hours before they arrived to put the jet on a flatbed and move it onto some jacks we had set up near VAQ-33's flightline. Because the repairs and engine changes needed to refly the Skyhawk, four of us were left behind when the rest of the Squadron personnel returned home to Texas. We spent almost another week putting the plane back together - - - another week in KEY WEST!
I remember being at the 'tail end' of nuggetry in VA-125 and all that was left was night carquals off of Catalina somewheres.
I was parked athwartship (?) right behind the 'Island'. I must have had at least 8 chain tie downs on the plane because it was really rocking and a rolling out that night. This is the truth so help me --- TINS......
Looking up and out just above the canopy cross bar, all I could see was water....in a few moments looking at the same spot all I could see were stars. I told meself.....this is bullshit. If I get in the air I'm heading straight for Lemoore cause I ain't even gonna begin to make a pass at this baby.
I finally got the start sign and the sweep of the hands to undo the chains and the 'come ahead'. I could not release the brakes. After much begging and chewing and the plane was pointed 'downhill' I let'em go and out we came. The tiller guy falls down but in doing so he cocked the nose wheel in the direction I needed and I then got the 'Stop' signal. About now the "Boss" came up and said cancel night ops.
I don't recall ever being so scared. Maybe because it was so new and foreign to me. I've got stories of shut 'em down taxiing up the Bow at night etc but this particular time I did not really care for those 'Golden Leg Spreaders.'
A Day In The Life Of A Carrier Pilot
0400 - Awakened to sound of power buffers banging against your stateroom bulkhead.
0515 - Awakened again to the 1-MC, for "Sweepers, sweepers, man your brooms. Sweep down all passageways and ladderways. Give the ship a clean sweep both fore and aft. Now sweepers, away."
0600 - Alarm clock goes off. Reset alarm for 0900.
0730 - Sleep through breakfast. Most aviators don't even know that the ship serves breakfast.
0800 - Reset alarm when alarm accidentally goes off prior to 0900.
0900 - Begin hitting snooze every 7 minutes until roommates complain.
0930 - Stagger into shower. Forget soap. Go back and get it. Realize you left your key in your flight suit again. Pound on door until sleepy roommates wake up to let you in. Return to shower. Forget Shampoo. Use soap to wash your hair instead.
1000 - Walk to the squadron ready room to see if anybody wants to go to lunch. Receive annoyed looks by Lieutenant Commanders who have been there since 0730.
1030 - Lunch.
1045 - Lunch is over. The day officially begins.
1100 - Back to stateroom for a quick nap.
1300 - Get up and walk to the ready room for a meeting. Drink coffee with the other junior officers until the skipper shows up.
1345 - Squadron Duty Officer calls skipper to remind him that the meeting was supposed to start at 1300.
1346 - Skipper walks in. 1300 meeting begins.
1346-1530 - Some Lieutenant Commander or other drones on and on about some project of his. Amuse yourself trying to tie a noose out of your shoelace.
1525 - The Lieutenant Commander is finally cut off so that the flight crews can use the ready room to brief for the first mission.
1526 - Begin flight planning. Realize you do not have time to be thorough. Decide that your key phrase in the brief will be to "remain flexible."
1530 - Brief your crew/flight on what is expected of them. Remind them repeatedly that in today's rapidly changing environment, it is important to "remain flexible." Act like you know what you are doing.
1600 - Finish brief. Walk down to the mission planning office to find out all the information you should have just briefed your crew on.
1615 - Go to Maintenance Control to read the Aircraft Discrepancy Book to find out what other pilots have found wrong with your plane.
1630 - Preflight and start aircraft. Listen to the Air Boss scream on tower frequency at some other pilot whose fly-by was a little too aggressive.
1715-Begin taxiing to catapault. Realize you should have used the head after drinking all that coffee in the meeting.
1730 - Catapult shot. Pressurized steam accelerates you from 0 to 135 mph in 0.8 seconds. The coolest feeling in the entire world. It requires the same force needed to launch a VW Beetle straight up 6 miles.
1730-1830 - Perform a one-hour mission flawlessly. Bombs on target. CAP in position. Everybody has plenty of fuel. Life for one hour travels at the speed of sound.
1830 - Get set up in the "Marshall Stack" to await your turn at a night landing on a pitching carrier deck. Fly a "rails pass" for an OK 3-wire. Mission is over. Just in time to get some dinner before the evening movie.
1845 - Debrief with the Landing Signals Officer on the outstanding pass you just flew. Use both hands to simulate your approach. Lots of back-slapping all-around, and it's off to dinner.
1900 - Dinner complete, stop by the mini-mart for a bag of microwave popcorn. Proceed to the back of the ready-room, where 12 others aviators are already in line with their own bags.
1915 - The skipper arrives, and the 1900 movie begins. The whole wardroom knows all the lines, because it is one you've all seen at least a dozen times so far this cruise. Every two minutes the sound is blanked out by the crashing sound of landing gear hitting the deck seven feet over your head.
2115 - The movie is over. Sign three training forms with yesterday's date. Put them in the bottom of a Lieutenant Commander's inbox so it looks like he ignored it until it was overdue.
2130 - The junior officers debate the merits of sleeping or waiting until the chowhall opens again for midrats. Hunger wins out over fatigue, and you wait up another hour playing Duke-Nukem in the ready room.
2230 - Everybody still awake goes to midrats for a slider (a greasy hockey-puck-like hamburger) . Washing it down with a bowl of "auto-dog" (soft-serve ice cream) you head to the rack for some much-needed sleep.
2300 - Fail asleep to the sound of your roommate yet again telling you all about the trials and tribulations he is having with his girlfriend back home. You stopped caring three months ago.
2300-0400 - Dream about your next port of call.
Repeat cycle 180 times until end of cruise.
First Epistle to the WWII Carrier Pilot
From the Haze of History
1. Verily I say unto all ye who wouldst fain operate the great bent wing bird from the tilting airdrome: for it requireth technique which cometh to no man naturally and is acquired only by great diligence and perseverance and great faith in the Father Almighty.
2. Harken ye unto the Centurian for he speaketh from vast wisdom and great knowledge. He hath experienced many catapult shots and arrested landings and hence is a sadder and wiser man than thou.
3. Heedeth ye not he who speaketh of the romance and glamour of the high seas, be ye not swayed when he extolleth the sting of the salt spray upon thy lips and the roll of a stout deck beneath thy feet and the exotic peoples of foreign lands.
4. For the salt spray windeth up in thy joe and the roll of the stout deck sendeth thee to the fantail with a retching in thy belly.
5. He wouldst fain take thee from thy loved ones and cast thee amongst the riff-raff of all nations who will approach thee with an extended palm.
6. Turneth thee a deaf ear to all these things for he speaketh as a man with a head full of missing buttons and quoteth from recruiting pamphlets.
7. Beware of the sadist at Fly One and regard him with exceeding wariness. For while he bringeth thee up to the spot and smileth confidently at thee, he concealeth a serpent in his breast and plotteth all manner of evil against thee.
8. He smileth not for thee but smirketh at thy youth and helplessness and gloateth greatly at his power over thee.
9. Heed ye his signals promptly and surely else he windeth thee up mightly and sendeth thee off whilst thou art still checking the mags or whilst the number one elevator goeth down. For he is a man of great imagination and enjoyeth a jest mightly.
10. Know ye the officer called "landing signal" and trust him not for he is a doltish oaf and is poorly coordinated.
11. He hast eyes with which to see but they are weak and he distinguishesh day from night with exceeding difficulty.
12. Yea, he waveth off Angel Donald, saying, "Landeth ye not on a pass which is so long in the groove."
13. Make him thy friend. When thou engagest in a game of chance, calleth thou not his two little pair with thy full house for he prizeth a winning hand above all things and he will love thee.
14. Angereth him not else he bringeth thee in low and slow and spinneth thee into the potato locker.
15. Cursed be he who lingereth in the arresting gear for he causeth his wingman to be waved off on a roger pass and the next man to become long in the groove.
16. He fouleth up the pattern mightily and giveth the Air Boss all manner of gastric disorders.
17. He is thrice damned and all people even unto the APs shall revile him and use strong language in his behalf for he is indeed a plumber and plague upon the Air Group.
18. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's. As the Two-finger turn-up is the signal to fly, so is the Cut the signal to land.
19. Therefore I say unto you "Holdeth ye not off after the cut for whosoever floateth into the barriers soweth great anguish in the breast of the Maintenance Officer and causeth a blue cloud to form at the bridge".
20. The wise pilot engageth an early wire smartly, but the fool shall dwell in his quarters forever.
21. Hell hath no fury like a Catapault Officer scorned. Therefore treat him with great kindness and speak ye unto him in soft and tender tones . . .
22. For whosoever arouseth the wrath of the Catapult Officer receiveth a cold shot and the next of kin knoweth great anguish.
23. Harken ye unto his teachings and heedeth his signals with great care for he is a man of great cunning.
24. He windeth thee up mightily and faileth to fire the gear when thou art ready; then shooteth thee off when thou art not.
25. Beware of the Old Man and regardeth ye him highly for he is all powerful. When he approacheth, lingereth ye not in Flight Deck Control for he falleth like a whirlwind upon the idle and luncheth upon the junior grade lieutenant without compassion.
26. He regardeth the newly made major with raised eyebrow.
27. Keep thou out of his sight and let him not know thee by name for whosoever arouseth the ire of the Old Man shall go many times to the Chaplain.
28. Heed ye all these things. For as they are the bitter fruits of those who preceed thee, so shall your words benefit those who follow thee, and the Carrier Pilot shall live forever and ever.
THE RULES OF SMOKE
Lots of people played smoke, but few remember the rules. I wrote these rules while I was a CQ Instructor at VT-4 in 1968. This was how we played it then. I'm sure that there are/could be variations in the rules. The most important thing is what-ever the variations, they must be agreed upon by all participants before play is started.
PLAY: The dealer (distributor) hands out 5 cards (tickets) to each participant, one ticket at a time. No one may touch (fondle) or pick up their tickets until all 5 tickets are distributed. Somewhere in the midst of distributing the tickets, the distributor will flip over a ticket and that suit (brand) will determine "Smoke".
After each participant "gathers" in their tickets, and looks at them, the distributor will start on his left and ask each participant how many tickets they would like to draw in place of their discards. You may also throw in all five tickets and gather a new "mitt." If you take cards, you are a player. This is the point in which a participant decides whether to play or sit out. Keep in mind that you are allowed only two "sits" in a row and then you must play (a Mustie). Obviously, if a player has "smoke" ( trump) in his hand he won't sit out.
Now play is ready to begin. The first player to the left of the dealer who stayed, (under the gun) throws out his highest "smoke" card. This is mandatory. If this first person doesn't have any "smoke", he says so and it moves to the next player. Each player that stayed then follows in turn by throwing out a card of the same suit. YOU MUST FOLLOW SUIT. Except after the first round you may trump at any time instead of following suit. If you are out of a suit, you may sluff off instead of playing "smoke." The important things to remember are:
A. You must follow suit on the first round.
B. You may play "smoke" at any time.
C. If out of a suit you may sluff off and not play "smoke"
In each round there are five (5) tricks available. Each player that stayed must take at least one trick or he goes up five points. Kind of obvious that if you have 6 or 7 players and they all stay someone isn't gonna take a trick. Any reneges, play out of turn, misplays, miss calls of cards etc, exposed tickets, etc., etc., etc., results in an automatic 5 point pickup in that persons score. NO EXCEPTIONS. However, table talk is encouraged.
One more thing, at any time the players can vote thumbs up or down whether to raise a persons score if it is marginal what the infraction was.
SCORING: Each person starts out with 10 points against them. He then tries to reduce this down to zero by the number of tricks he takes. One trick being worth one point. When a person gets down to two points they become "in the box." They must then play every hand and they can not sit out. They do this until they either win or go back above two points. Also, you can only "sit " twice and then you must play.
The Score Keeper: He is determined by who takes the first trick. At the end of each hand, he must read out loud in a loud, clear voice the scores (tally). It will go like this, "attention to tally". Then in a clockwise manner he reads each player's name, his tally, and his trend, (going up or coming down), the number of sits and whether a person is "must play' (mustie), or "in the box" (two or less). Scoring is a tough. Jim- 6 coming down, going up or steady (his trend), Bud- One sit, Whiz- 9 had two sets, is a mustie, Tom- 2 in the box, Puresome- 14, never, never lan, and so forth. Remember to give the trend so each player can tell how they are doing. All players try to team up against the person or persons with the low scores while looking out for themselves. Table talk is highly encouraged, but the jargon better be correct. You can lie about laying off a trick to a player and then taking the trick etc. Which brings me to the most important part.
JARGON: You must not use any term that refers to cards, suites, or things in conjunction with the playing of cards. All substituted words must be fully understood by all the players. Again, no exceptions. So it would behoove you to familiarize yourself with the jargon as any mistake will cost you 5 points.
Hearts = Bleeders or thumpers
Spades = Diggers
Clubs = Puppyfeet
Diamonds = Sparklers
Ace - Pin, Boss, Big One
Two - Wee one
Three - Trey, one above the Wee one
Four - Little Jo
Five - Nickel, Fever, one above Little Joe
Six - Bottom Loop, Lower Bubble
Seven - Buggy Top, Whip
Eight - Double Bubble, double nuts, double asshole
Nine - Upper Loop, upper bubble
Ten - Tracks
Jack - Hook
Queen - Tits, old lady, whore
King - Kack, big boy
Cards - Tickets, papes, paper
Card Table - Mesa, felt, slab, board
Score - tally
Dealer - Distributor
Players - Participants
Hand - Mitt, glove
Trump - Smoke