Leut Phillip James Thompson

Leut Phillip James Thompson

I first saw a US carrier (maybe USS Coral Sea) as a young teenager civilian, when she visited Sydney (going home - early Vietnam perhaps?) about 1964-5. I recall some of the aircraft were cocooned on deck (F4 Phantoms) and I remember the size. Geez Louise. It was alongside at our Naval Base Garden Island. The larger carriers stayed in the Harbor itself whenever they visited. I joined the Navy in 1966 and started to fly - beginning of 1968 - with the Royal Australian Air Force as the Fleet Air Arm did not have a Basic Flying Training capacity. So by the beginning of 1969 I was back at NAS Nowra south of Sydney to rejoin the Fleet Air Arm as a jet pilot. We had just received the A-4G the year before (when flying operations with them began) and the pace for old pilots to convert and then to deck qualify - once HMAS Melbourne became available in 1969 - was hectic. I had to wait for conversion to the A-4G until the beginning of 1971.

In the meantime I flew the Navy version of the Vampire dual seat (side-by-side) RAAF jet trainer and the Sea Venom (a larger Naval jet fighter) that was obsolete and no longer carrier enabled. The Venom was a larger version of the Vampire while it had a radar that when operated by the Obsever in the right hand seat allowed interceptions at night particularly.

I was lucky enough to do a ground course (non flying) as a Photo Interpreter (prelude to the A-4G getting a mini pan recon capability) at the USAF school in Denver and then a month at NAS Miramar with VFP-63 from about November 1972 to Feb 73. Everyone offered to let me fly their squadron aircraft but I was strictly forbidden as I had no "insurance" (government to government indemnity) against any USN aircraft loss. So I had to let the Tomcat stay on the ramp. Could not even go up as a passenger.

My point is that the hospitality shown to me by the USN was outstanding, even better than the excellent "care" of the USAF ground schools. I think the USAF really didn't know what to make of me. I always wore a beard (cut short for the oxygen mask) but let it grow longer when I was in ground school in US. So they had no idea who or what I was. It was fun to be in Denver over Xmas in the snow and blizzards - quite a change from usual Australian weather. San Diego was more to my liking.

We disembarked in Hawaii during my cruise at end of 1971 [Oct/Nov]. The photo shows me in front of a repair hangar with 2 junior A-4 pilots from VC-1. At our back on the right (of photo) is an A-4G having the undercarriage repaired. Another pilot (not me) had "lowered" the undercarriage at the end of a practice bomb run at Kahoolawe range (probably by bumping the faulty handle which allowed the gear to lower with catastrophic results). He did an empty drop tank arrested landing back at Barbers Point on a foamed runway. The A-4G was repaired within a week or two and flown back aboard before we departed for home after/during a RIMPAC exercise.

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