James R. (Jim) Andrews
Captain, United States Navy (Retired)

The events herein are true, exactly as I remember them. I have left out some incidents I wish had not happened.

After discouragement in my pursuit to be a second shift "pin setter in a hand grenade factory"(1), I enrolled in Millikin University link in Decatur, Illinois in the fall of 1958. My 'major' was pre-med but my heart was not into it and my academic performance showed that. My career in the United States Navy began by flunking out of Millikin. The Navy gave me direction, stability and channeled my energy. With a cousin, brother-in-law and an uncle in the Navy, I never considered any other service. Navy pilot training: Feb 7th 1962 until July 1963. In July 1963 Dad pinned on my Navy Wings at Chase Field in Beeville, Texas. As I reflect back on this, I was untrained, unsuited and uninterested in doing anything else. I owe the Navy a lot and am very proud to have been a member.

I've used superlatives in many cases with my Navy friends. I knew these folks personally and worked closely with them on a daily basis. We shared good times and bad. I saw first hand the quality of their character and knew their skills as aviators. The tags are fair and appropriately placed.

From day one, Naval aviation training had a common format, to wit: we were briefed on 'how to ...' and the first attempt was graded. There were no practice tries first, with graded runs to follow. This paid off ten thousand fold when the stakes got higher in the Fleet. The burden was always on the individual to deliver as required. Everything in the Blue Suit Navy is done by competitive boards. You are always standing against your peers for all selections, assignments and promotions. To support this, each officer is formally graded (fitness report) with peer ranking on an average of twice each year. Although not perfect, it's a very good, very tough system.

I started at the bottom: E-1 (Naval Aviation Cadet) in the U. S. Naval School of Preflight, NAS Pensacola. The early part of our training focused on military history, protocol, marching and physical fitness. Of particular note was the saluting protocol. We were ever attentive for occasions to render a right snappy salute. At this point in our careers, failure to salute was a 'capital crime.' We'd salute anything with a gold stripe: telephone poles, fire plugs, and parked cars. After the 4 month preflight phase, we moved just north of Pensacola to NAAS Saufley Field for Basic Training and our first flight.

One morning at Saufley Field, I was walking across the area of the US Flag and noted a car approaching. The gold ban was clearly visible on the driver's cover (hat). At just the right instant, I snapped my very best military salute: to the civilian Saufley Fire Chief! He just returned the salute with a soft smile. What a guy!

Saufley had ground school, Morse code (we had to send and receive 5 words per minute). Morse code was still used in the Fleet during radio communication failures and for verifying navigation station identifiers) and a few other things before we flew. Flying was in the T-34 prop link. It was very easy. After a dozen flights we let the instructor out and did 'touch and goes' at an outlying field.

There was nothing but basic stuff at Saufley then on to the jet pipeline at NAS Meridian, Mississippi. The other two pipelines were helos and multi-engine. The Navy's plan for placement in the various pipelines was the model of simplicity: based on flight grades, you got your choice unless the Navy wanted you somewhere else. I chose jets and was promoted to E-2 (Naval Aviation Cadet).

Training at NAS Meridian was routine. I received 2 'downs' in VT-9 flying T-2Js link: one for getting lost trying to lead a flight of 4 back to the field (guilty) and one for pulling up too early in the departure pattern at an outlying field (a cheap shot). These 'smarted' considerably but were supremely valuable lessons: I never got lost again.

We were losing folks both dropping out and being forced out. We started Preflight at NAS Pensacola with 33 and 18 completed to receive Navy Wings. Only 3 made the military a career but a few died trying.

From NAS Meridian it was back to NAS Pensacola (VT-4) for air-to-air gunnery (T-2Js with 50 cal gun pods) and carrier qualifications link, link and video link. I've studied the T2 crash and am completely mystified how this could happen.

 Gunnery was a 'squirrel cage' pattern of four shooters against a towed banner target: a major grin. This is an exercise in maneuvering the aircraft, not shooting down anything. The squirrel cage pattern has a 'tractor airplane' towing a target banner with four aircraft making individual runs to shoot. The pattern starts at position #1, the 'perch' high and abeam the banner, the first shooter rolls in toward the reversal to #2 position to track and fire, to #3 abeam the tractor and start climbing back to #4 the reversal headed back for the perch. The 'squirrel' tag coming from the fact that four aircraft are chasing each other through this sequence while the entire 5 aircraft pattern moves down range at about 200 kts. Here's where the ability to walk and chew gun simultaneously comes in handy. I never had been bothered by motion sickness but returning flights frequently had to slow down for some student 'talking to Raaallllllph.'

For carrier quals, we got a few (maybe 4-6) day landings (traps) and an equal number of catapult shots link. With carrier quals completed in USS Lexington link I was promoted to E-3 (Naval Aviation Cadet). It was off for Advanced Training at NAS Chase Field in Beeville, Texas. This was the 'big time' for a student Naval Aviator.

The first of two aircraft at Chase was the Grumman F-9F8 Cougar, starting with the two seat version link. The Cougar link and link was the swept wing version of the F-9F Panther here and here of the 1954 'Bridges at Toko Ri' link and link fame. The ship used in this movie was the straight deck USS Oriskany link. I was embarked in USS Oriskany in 1966 after she had an angle deck link. The Cougar had some minimal improvements over the Panther but kept the same basic underpowered engine. This was our first swept wing aircraft and the flight characteristics were considerably different from straight wing types, particularly at low speed. The pace of training picked up considerably and the performance expectations grew accordingly. Here's a short video on flight ops in the Cougar in USS Hancock link.

The F-9 syllabus included fam, instruments, navigation, some weapons and carrier quals again in USS Lexington. Along the way there were more folks plucked one way or the other. One was a student in the touch and go pattern who got too slow at the 180. He stalled, rolled upside down and dug a big hole in south Texas real estate.

I was in VT-24 and a future VF-162 Squadron mate, LT Chuck Tinker, was my instructor. This was Chuck's first shore duty assignment. He was a superb stick, great guy and wonderful instructor. Chuck and I took a two-seat F-9 on a cross country eventually ending up at Chanute Field link in Rantoul, Illinois. On the leg coming into Chanute, Chuck was in the front seat and we buzzed his family farm in southern Illinois. As we passed the barnyard, we were looking up at the barn doors. Chuck taught me a lot. He was a barrel of fun.

After the F-9 syllabus we walked across the mat area to VT-26 and the Grumman F-11s. Note the photo at the right - click to expand. This is one of the VT-26 F-11s - with Blue Angle #5 behind it. The Blue Angels were flying the F-11s video link and video link at the time link. Now we're in very tall cotton. For us, the F-11 was a big step: the first airplane with nose gear steering, first with an after burner, and the first without a 2-seat version. You were on your own from the start. The F-11 had 15 fuel tanks to stuff every drop of gas possible but it was still very short legged. Flight duration was generally about an hour but less for the air-to-air gunnery stuff due to lots of after burner time.

The F-11 had the after burner version of the J-65 jet engine. The burner was used for takeoff and climb above 20,000 feet. It also was used during air-to-air gunnery and air combat maneuvering (aka dogfighting). You had to maintain speed in burner or the turbine blades would melt and the engine would seize. During my time in the Training Command many (the number 22 sticks in my memory) F-11s were lost, most to engine seizures in a hammer head stall. One landed in a Beeville funeral home the week before I arrived.

We got a 'taxi hop' before our first flight to check out the nose gear steering and the after burner. NAS Chase had the normal duty runway and a shorter one for adverse winds. This was the off duty. Two students took their F-11s to opposite ends of the off duty, facing each other on opposite sides of the runway. Each revved up the engine, lit the after burner and let go. After an appropriate speed they pulled power to idle and braked to a stop. They should have called it quits but did not. Each turned around for a second shot. They revved, rolled and braked to a stop but this time their brake pucks were cherry red and smoking. Then they did a third. At the end of their third stop both F-11s were engulfed in flames in both wheel wells and 2 airplanes were destroyed.

During gunnery with the same 'squirrel cage' pattern used before except everything was higher and faster. It was common to see a student pull too hard off the perch into an accelerated stall and lose control. They last time the flight would see him in the air, he was headed for the sea going straight down. It was unlikely he could rejoin the flight before landing.

We had tactics (aka dogfighting) in the F-11 syllabus. During one hop, I got to lead a 2-v-2 section against a USAF exchange pilot and a student. As soon as we broke off, I took my section very low in full burner to get a whole bunch of speed. The lead of the other section apparently lost sight of us. When they finally saw us, we had already made a low side gun run and were turning for our second. I always thought this flight clinched my assignment to F-8s in the Fleet.

In July 1963 at NAS Chase Field I received my Navy Wings and commission: Ensign USNR. Dad pinned on the wings and I had orders to F-8s at NAS Miramar with VF-154 as the intended Fleet squadron.


The morning I went to the Recruiting Office at the Post Office in Decatur, there was an Navy advertising poster with a F-8 Crusader in a high 'g' turn. "Join the Navy, See the World." I did and I did. It was December 1961 and the F-8 was the new front line Fleet fighter. Now in July 1963, I was about to jump in one for real.

VF-124 F-8 link, link and video link Crusader Fleet Replacement Training (RAG) Squadron is top-to-bottom training covering everything the aircraft was designed to do. It starts with ground school for aircraft systems, emergency procedures, field course rules, instrument procedures, then progresses to fam, more instruments and night work, navigation, in-flight refueling (our first), lots of weapons including air-air gunnery, tactics and carrier quals. The Navy built a 2-seat F-8 link but it was not used for Fleet training. When you strapped on a F-8 for the first time you were on your own. Compared to anything we'd flow up to this point, the F-8 had lots of power.

This photo thumbnail is the instrument panel in the cockpit of the F-8E Crusader carrier-based fighter. If you click and expand the photo, you can notice something very special about this specific airplane: you can see lower legs and flight boots on the rudder pedals, all ready to go. Most of the time, however, you needed to bring your own. The F-8 cockpit was just exactly right in size: very comfortable as tactical aircraft cockpits go.

There were several F-8 instructor pilot 'Icons' (eg Foster S. 'Tooter' Teague link Bearcat 1) in VF-124 and I flew with most of them. But my squadron mates LT Jim Ginn (VF-154) and LCDR John Hellman (VF-162), taken all around, were better combat pilots and I preferred to fly with them. Jim and John were both exceptionally 'smart' pilots, very aggressive at exactly the right time and knew when to back off.

I was through the fam and nav stuff and into the tactics phase. This is air combat maneuvering. It starts with 1-v-1 and progresses to 2-v-2. I had about 25 hours in type with about 350 hours total. My first 1-v-1 was with Lt. Ken Baldry and we proceeded out to sea off the coast of San Diego. Things went well initially with Ken demonstrating tactics. We split and engaged several times with Ken showing me some error I'd made. Ken was a prince and a great instructor. He saved my bacon that day, 7th November 1963.

During the last break up and re-engage when I put on lots of 'g' the aircraft (F-8C 145547) had an uncommanded roll. I mentioned it and tried again with the same results. We discussed the situation and decided to make a precautionary approach back at NAS Miramar. Per procedure I led with Ken on my wing to observe. A precautionary is a high straight-in approach versus the normal pattern entry with a 'break.'

The straight-in started OK but when I dirtied up for landing, the stick froze and the aircraft rolled without any ability to stop the roll. Ken radioed to eject and later said when I left the aircraft it had rolled about 120 degrees (almost inverted) and about 30-40 degrees nose down. The problem for the pilot in this situation is the ejection seat is shooting you toward the dirt plus you have established a horrendous sink rate. The location was Atlas Canyon just east of NAS Miramar. By the time I left the aircraft, it was very low. I was in the chute just a few seconds. The ejection sequence is totally automatic but very violent. I lost my helmet and got a big cut on the back of my head from the drogue slug (part of the chute opening apparatus). This one counted as 'close.' An accident investigation found a control actuator rod had disconnected in flight, jamming the flight controls during reconfiguration for landing.

The F-8 is not difficult to fly but it is unforgiving. It's definitely no place for amateurs. The fuselage was 54+ feet long and the vertical can be blanked out under high 'g' conditions such as dogfighting. If you're pulling too much 'g' the nose will 'wander', particularly in the F-8A and -B without ventral fins. The pilot gets 1 or 2 oscillations of warning before the aircraft tries to swap ends. The ride is really wild. I had one 'flight divergence' in VF-124 over the Salton Sea in Southern California. It was a good learning exercise and most pilots got the point the first time. [Ed: the F8U-3 link took care of the divergence problem ... but never advanced into production.]

Operations around the boat always required very close attention, particularly coming aboard link and video link. Neither of these approaches should ever have gone that far. Even daytime steady deck with good wind you needed to stay alert. When things turned to a bucket of mud with bad weather, pitching or fouled decks, aircraft problems and low fuel, it could get very tight. The aircraft was speed sensitive: 1-2 kts fast made you 'flat' and you'd miss the wire altogether; 1-2 kts slow and you'd be cocked up and run the risk of an in-flight engagement. This would likely collapse the nose gear, crush the intake duct and wreck the engine. Here's the result from my squadron (VF-154 in Coral Sea) - I watched this one from vulture's row link.  Anyone could be trained but those that had trouble coming aboard really had trouble, particularly at night on a moving deck on the smaller carriers. This is what a daytime, steady deck looks like for USS Shangri La (click the photo to expand it), same size as USS Oriskany. Here's the way it should be done video link.


After completing VF-124 I walked across the hangar to join VF-154, the Black Knights, flying the Chance-Vought F-8D aircraft link (shown here on Coral Sea's #1 cat). This was my first Fleet squadron. I was an Ensign USNR and the junior pilot in the Squadron. VF-154 was in CVW-15 embarked in USS Coral Sea CV-43 link.

The Navy had a steep learning curve when they introduced swept wing jets to carriers. In the early days, the F-8 got the tag of 'Ensign Killer' and 'Widow Maker.' It was well-earned tag and the F-8 dusted a bunch of pilots, particularly embarked. On the first F-8 deployment on the west coast with VF-154 embarked in USS Hancock Class 27-C (before I joined the squadron), F-8s were offloaded to NAS Atsugi Japan because of the carrier accident rate and difficulties coming aboard.

Every Navy pilot had a nickname. It was not uncommon to know nicknames when proper names were unknown, particularly to the wives. LT Error 'the Saladman' Reilly link got his tag in La Jolla, California at the Court Room Restaurant. Each Thursday and Sunday evening the Court Room had specials for ridiculously low prices: Thursday was spaghetti for 19 cents and Sunday was Mexican for 25 cents. It was the area body exchange and Miramar pilots filled the place. Errol saw his chance to approach a table filled with lovelies and moseyed over. As he bent down to make his opening, he put his hand in the salad bowl of the lady nearest him. Errol was soooo much fun!! He was a great stick and wonderful to fly with. The 'Saladman' was stupendous at Happy Hour!

Fleet carrier life involves either being at sea or getting ready to go to sea. It's really tough on families and marriages but it's part of the Naval Aviator's life. I joined VF-154 in early 1964 shortly after the squadron had returned from a peacetime deployment. After a brief stand down the squadron began 'work ups' for the next deployment. They start all over again with everything the aircraft was designed to do with a focus on weapons, tactics and carrier operations. For the balance of 1964, VF-154 completed build ups and sailed in USS Coral Sea on Dec 7th 1964 for Viet Nam operations.

Viet Nam 'War' link. This was a national tragedy of the first order and should never have happened. It was a disgrace to this wonderful Country's history and heritage. The military deserves no blame for this debacle: it all falls on the politicians and their buddies. I have a 'special place' in mind for 'Hanoi' Jane and this guy!

The F-8 westpac missions included fleet defense, strike group and recce escort, flak suppression and, occasionally, weather recce. The North Viet Nam anti-air order of battle included AAA flak (37, 57 and 85mm), SA-2 SAMs, MIG-17 link  and MIG-21 link aircraft. The MIGs increased their presence after 1965.

USS Constellation opened the Navy operations against the North Viet Namese in the fall of 1964. It was during this period that LTjg Ed Alvarez was shot down and captured. He was the first one held at the 'Hilton.'

USS Coral Sea opened combat operations on Feb 7th 1965 with a raid against Vit Thu Lu army barracks near Dong Hoi, midway up the coast. VF-154 had a four plane sortie with strafing and rockets plus air-to-air missiles for fighter cover. One of my proudest moments as a Naval Aviator was being chosen as #2 in Coral Sea's first strike. LCDR Ken Stafford led the flight of 4 with LT Dave Kardell #3 and LT Jack Terhune #4. I flew Ken's wing. Squadrons of three air wings (Coral Sea, Ranger and Hancock) made up the sortie and the total number was a genuine gaggle. We launched from about 400 miles out and gas was pretty tight coming back.  Dave would hit the ground on a subsequent daytime sortie link strafing a truck on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and Jack would take hits and not quite make it back to the ship. Jack ejected and was recovered without significant injuries. Dave was not recovered link. Here is some jnfo and letters from USS Coral Sea [Ed: Captain George Cassell] 1965 Deployment link and a Cdr Pete Mongilardi summary link of the DONG HOI strike on Feb 7, 1965.

On Feb 11th 1965 Coral Sea launched our second strike. LCDR Bob Shumaker link was on that strike. He was bagged and spent 8 years in North Viet Nam prisons including the 'Hilton.' Bob was a superb stick, great guy and brilliant by any standard. He was the first pilot to log 1000 hours in the F-8 in VF-32, an east coast squadron. He and I had several great flights including one low level nav hop while Coral Sea was being repaired at Pearl Harbor. Bob let me lead and I took us directly over the Molokai Airport link at 'near the speed of light' about 100 feet or so. Bob handled the flight violation and I never heard much about it. It always irritated me that someone would put an airport right in the middle of where I was going to flat-hat.

LT Jim Ginn and I generally flew together as Puma Flight. Jim was a superb combat stick and wonderful guy. We had tons of fun in the air and on the ground. Flying with Puma was always a pleasure and you knew exactly what he'd do in any given situation. Jim never put either of us in a situation difficult to handle. Whatever the sortie was, he made it easy. That was not the case with all pilots.

USS Coral Sea and CVW-15 completed 3 'Yankee Station' line periods of combat of about 40 days each and proceeded to Yokosuka, Japan link where we thought we'd head for home. Wrong. I, along with much of the air wing and most of the VF-154 pilots, was at the Yokosuka O' Club. An announcement over the loud speaker said all Coral Sea folks must report back to the ship ASAP. We pulled anchor and sailed early the following morning. Orders: "return to Buckner Bay (Okinawa) and rearm." We did and we did. Order: "proceed to Yankee Station and resume combat operations." We did and we did. Carrier life is really tough on families.

LCDR Ken Hume link and I ended up as room mates. Ken was a terrific guy. On one strike, he was hit and ended up with a complete flight control hydraulic failure. In the F-8, you cannot control the airplane without this and the UHT (unit horizontal tail) goes full nose down from airloads. Ken was unable to eject and crashed somewhere in the northern Tonkin Gulf. There was no recovery.

Somewhere during one line period I came back to the Coral Sea with a utility hydraulic failure. This is the system which operates the landing gear, brakes and raises the wing (equivalent of extending the flaps) for landing. It's an emergency situation but manageable. The F-8 had pneumatic backups to 'blow' the gear and raise the wing but there were precautions. You were still left without brakes. The gear 'blew' without problems but the wing leading edge did not drop as designed. This is a big deal since without the leading edge dropping, the rest of the wing emergency extension could not be attempted. We were far outside bingo range and the situation left me the choice of coming aboard 'wing down' or ejecting. A 'wing down' carrier landing had never been attempted. Nobody knew what would happen.

Fortunately it was daytime and the deck was steady. The best part was VF-154 Squadron mate LCDR Nels Tanner link was on the platform as LSO (Landing Signals Officer). Nels and I talked about it and he gave me the advice and confidence I needed. With the wing down, the approach speed was much higher than normal and the nose high attitude created problems with visibility but Nels talked me through the approach. I landed on the first pass without damage to the airplane. The embarked Flag, RADM Eddie C. Outlaw link, came out to the airplane to say hello. He'd been Commander of the Naval Aviation Safety Center.  Eddie Outlaw: "The tail of safety will never wag this operational dog."

Some Naval Academy graduates (ring knockers) went through flight training. Nothing about Academy training per se caused them to stand out either as officers or pilots. The quality of the officer or aviator came from the character of the person and their dedication to the task at hand. The standard joke, perfected to an art form by 'the Saladman,' was: "Ahhhhh, I see you're an Academy grad ... Yes, yes Ole man ... I am. How did you know? Well ... I saw yur' ring when you were pickin' yur' nose." VF-154 had several Academy grads.

Sometime in 1965 the Red River Fighter Pilot's Association was formed. This was a exclusive organization, strictly for fighter pilots with combat time in North Viet Nam. Membership was rigorously limited to combat fighter pilots, those who knew fighter pilots, those who did not, those who could spell fighter pilot, those who could not, and those who had $5.00 for the lapel pin and wallet card.

I was promoted to LTjg USNR about this time and applied for the Regular Navy. I was accepted and augmented as LTjg USN (the 'Regular' Navy).

VF-154 lost several aircraft and four pilots: CDR Bill Donnelly (enemy fire: rescued after nearly two days at sea), LCDR Ken Hume (enemy fire: lost at sea), LCDR Bob Shumaker (enemy fire: captured and held for eight years), LT Buck Wangman (enemy fire: rescued at sea), LT Dave Kardell (flew into the ground on a strafing run and not recovered) and LT Jack Terhune (enemy fire: ejected link and recovered at sea). One pilot who should never have gotten through the flight program threw in his wings (quit). With combat losses, normal rotational losses with late replacements and one quitter, we ended up for a few weeks with 8 or 9 pilots instead of the normal 18. It was very busy.

The Box Score: During 1965, USS Coral Sea and embarked Air Wing 15 spent a total of 6 line periods off the North Viet Nam coast, started a huge scrap metal and cordite industry for their subsequent economy, lost many of our good people, killed many of their good people, spent tons of money, lost a lot of aircraft, rearranged much of their real estate, put a permanent black mark on This Wonderful Country's Honor and accomplished diddley squadt. This deployment was 330 days.

For the shore turn around, VF-154 was slated to change to the F-4 Phantom link and training in VF-121 F-4 RAG started soon after we returned to CONUS. I checked out in the F-4 be decided I wanted to stay with the F-8 and get back to Viet Nam operations. I made enough noise to receive orders to VF-162 link flying F-8Es in USS Oriskany link. Oriskany was a much smaller deck than Coral Sea. Workups started immediately and we got ready to go back.


The F-8E is an upgrade of the F-8D with major changes in the fire control and the ability to drop bombs from hard points on the wings link. The APQ-94 fire control radar was considerably better than the APQ-83 on the F-8D and the F-8E had a semi-active air-to-air radar guided missile (AIM-9C) not available in the F-8D. The F-8E mission spread was much bigger but the flying qualities were the same.

VF-162 had normal work-ups with some exceptions. Some pencil pusher in the Pentagon thought that the Viet Nam 'war' was too much a west coast war so the east-west pilot swap was invented. VF-162 received 4 east coast F-8 pilots: LT 'Black Jack' MacDonald, LT Jack Kilpatrick, LT Dick Wyman, and LT Lee Prose (on the left in this link). Lee became my wingman and later, since he was senior, became the flight lead as 'Puma 1.' After I left the squadron, Lee died strafing the towed target spar behind USS Oriskany in plain view of the ship's company. There was no recovery.

CDR Richard M. Bellinger (aka Belly 1 link - check the name on Belly's F-8 here) was the VF-162 CO and CDR Charles Albert Lindbergh (CAL) Swanson link was the XO. Belly was notorious ... and a whole bunch of fun. During the last week or so before we deployed in USS Oriskany, VF-162 racked up a few flight violations (one of which was mine) and Belly had some. From personal observation, Bellinger was accurately tagged as 'wild."

NAS Glenview and the fan tuck under break (the Blue Angel version link): LTjg Dick Ferg (great guy and superb pilot) and I link got permission to take 2 F-8'S on a cross country. Dick had folks in the Philadelphia area and I had relatives near Chicago. We had practiced the fan tuck under break at moderate altitudes and were almost ready to 'do it.' The normal VFR field pattern entry is a right echelon with a left break to slow down and enter the downwind. The fan tuck under break: we stacked left with Dick in the lead. Just before the runway numbers, Dick started an imperceptible nose up then a roll to the right with me in a formation roll 270 degrees and entry to the downwind. The Base Reserve CO came down to Operations and made some delicate inquires about our Commanding Officer and Squadron. He put us 'on report' link with Belly but it did not hit the mark or even come close. Belly's only comment I remember was "did you look good?" Of course we did! I believe my Sister, Sally, has a movie clip showing two F-8s in formation, inverted over the runway numbers. Now I don't want to criticize the Blues but our tuck under break was flatter, lower and with a more acute, tighter echelon position, higher airspeed and higher roll rate: better!

Here's a shot from that cross country with Matt Neely, my Nephew and future United States Marine. Matt is the son of my Sister, Sally. It's winter 1966, probably March. If you click, the photo expands. The pilot step is at the bottom of the '6' and the tear drop black marks are paint coverings for the 20mm guns, two on each side. Part of the ejection seat is right behind my head bone. The protrusion just in front of the wind screen is an infra-red detector.

Regarding my VF-162 flight violation: it was the Saturday before the Tuesday sailing date. I had a maintenance test flight. These are always fun since the test profile always left a bunch of gas. Coming back into NAS Miramar I called the squadron duty office to line the maintenance folks up on the flight line and I'd show them the results of their superb efforts. Then I called the tower to ask for a 'high speed low altitude pass.' I was cleared for 1000' at 300 kts, the normal entry. I ignored this and made a very low, very high speed pass right down the duty runway. I started my pullup abeam the tower and hit burner for a steep climb: it was B.E.A.U.T.I.F.U.L. and the maintenance folks were thrilled. But as I started the pullup I noticed folks walking out the Operations Building with solid gold on their sleeves: a group of 6 or 7 Admirals. It's hard to count at that speed. I got back to the ready room as the duty officer was rolling on the floor laughing and he said unto me "you're in deep do-do ... call the CO."

"YOU'RE IN HACK!!" These were Belly's exact words and he slammed down the phone. 'Hack' is a Navy term for self-imposed jail or restriction. I was supposed to go to my BOQ room and stay there until Oriskany sailed the following Tuesday. This seemed a bit harsh just for giving the maintenance folks a pep up so I decided what he meant was go to my BOQ room, take a shower and hit the beach for the weekend. It worked out so much better, don't you think?

Oriskany Viet Nam Operations were mostly more of the same with some exceptions. The rules of engagement had taken hits and had gone from bad to really stupid. For engaging MIGs we could only engage MIGs after being engaged and shot at, then only at the MIG which had done the deed. For anti-aircraft sites, ditto. Putting it into perspective: a police office going into a hostile situation cannot engage anyone or anything until after having been fired at. Absurd! I don't recall paying much attention to these rules.

"The Thanh Ha Bridge link, spanning the Song Ma river, is situated 3 miles (4.8 km) north east of Thanh Ha, the capital of Thanh Hoa Province in Viet Nam. The Viet Namese gave it the nickname Ham Rong (Dragon's jaw). Between 1965 and 1972, during the Viet Nam war, it was the objective of many unsuccessful attacks by US Air Force and US Navy aircraft. Eventually, in 1972, it was destroyed by A-7 Corsair bombers using laser-guided bombs and conventional bombs."

The Command Brass was obsessed with destroying this bridge and we flew numerous strikes (maybe 28 or so) against it. It was very heavily defended with lots of anti-aircraft stuff. Once we had a span dropped but the clever Viet Namese just built across the top. The F-8 mission was 'flak suppression' and I flew several sorties in this misadventure. For flak suppression we had 5" Zuni rockets and 20 mm guns. The guns were useless and the Zunis one step below. The fuses we had for the Zunis were armor piercing since all the contact and proximity fuses were gone. Armor piercing fuses against soft targets are not very good. If you actually made a direct hit on a gun it was OK but most of the rounds just hit mud. If you looked carefully you could see a very small 'poof.' We did not suppress the flak but we did dilute it by creating more targets for their gunners. With the practice we gave them, their gunners were pretty good and they seemed to have no budget problems for buying more ammo. I always thought we should just purchase the bridge for a huge price and scrap it.

Belly got the first MIG-21 ... here he is coming back to Oriskany video. [Ed: video is out of sequence but shows pre-launch, launch, post-recovery and McNamara deplaning]  LTjg Ron ("Slug") Thurman greets Belly and shakes his hand, congratulating Belly for the MIG kill. Visiting firemen are part of carrier life. Soon after our port call in Hong Kong Sec Def Robert S. McNamara came on board to pin a Silver Star on Belly for the MIG kill.

That night, McNamara wanted to see carrier operations. The weather west of Green Island was really, really crappy and the sea states high with storms all around. With no moon under a very heavy overcast, it was black: really black. But McNamara insisted on seeing night operations. Since we were far from Viet Nam, we had no mission. I was in the ready room when the call came and took one of the sorties. CDR Swanson took the other. Apart from really black and weather-wise very crappy the launch was uneventful. Coming back to the ship was a different matter. All ships have 'heave' with sea state and they also can have roll and pitch depending on wave actions and hull contour. All three motions can couple and the ship moves all over the place. USS Oriskany is a round bottom boat and true to form. It moved a lot with sea state including a figure '8' motion at the fantail (back end of the ship).

Cal came down the approach first and boltered (missed the wire). He went around for his second try. The weather was super crappy and we were operating outside bingo range: it was the boat or the ocean. I came down determined to trap on my first pass. I did so but between me and the ship's motion I put my hook point on the round down. I went to the ready room in plenty of time to see Cal bolter 2 or 3 more times, have an emergency A-4 tanker launched to tank him and see him finally recover well over an hour later.

This operation had ZERO operational necessity ... it was just to show McNamara night ops. Cal was a seasoned, highly experienced pilot. His bolters were simply due to ship motion. My trap was "blind luck." Had I been 2-3 feet lower as I crossed the ramp, the main mounts would likely have been removed on impact ... and the "party would have been completely and permanently over!" McNamara got to see his night operations.

Somewhere early in the war and shortly after I left VF-162, Col Robin Olds, USAF, Commander of the F-4 equipped 8th Tactical Fighter Wing at Ubon Thailand, developed a strategy to lure MIG-21s up to engage in combat. It was titled Operation Bolo link (aka MIG Sweep). The idea was a very good one and Olds bagged some MIGs. Attaboy Olds.

Looking closer at his operational requirements vis-a-vis carrier-borne aircraft, Olds had a short flight to 'Indian Country.' His airpatch did not move around and would always be in the same spot he left it at takeoff. Neither did it pitch and roll. The USAF F-4s had a bundle of tankers so gas was seldom a problem and he could afford a lot of mission burner time. His airpatch had lots of room for tech reps to augment the USAF techs so Old's F-4 weapon systems were tweaked to the top. He also did not have to escort bomber groups and could concentrate on air-to-air with the MIGs. But the big kicker: the North Viet Nam airspace was always cleared of friendlies when Olds did his sweeps. This eliminated the identification problem so Olds could fire at any target and be sure it was enemy.  For all the noise Olds made and all the press he got, I think he should have bagged more MIGs.

MIG Master: Navy F-8s embarked from carriers in the Tonkin Gulf, with none of the benefits mentioned above, got 19 MIG kills in Viet Nam. "The Crusader would be credited with the best kill ratio of any American type in the Vietnam War, 19:3 link. Of the 19 aircraft shot down during aerial combat, 16 were MiG-17s and 3 were MiG-21s." VF-211, embarked in USS Hancock, got eight to lead the Navy F-8s. The Navy MIG kill box score is here link.

Here's a great example: LTjg Phil Vanpatella, VF-211 embarked in USS Hancock, engaged a MIG and took several gun hits on his horizontal tail. He turned toward the Tonkin Gulf to disengage - and the MIG turned back toward home plate. Seeing this, Phil, with limited turning capability from his hits, managed to turn back too and put a Sidewinder Infra Red missile right up the MIGs tail pipe. Phil received the Navy Cross link for this.

The F-8 fuselage was densely packed with systems, linkages and various electrical and hydraulic lines. The only places the aircraft could take a hit without too much big hurt was in the outer wing panels, parts of the vertical tail, and most of the horizontal tail. Hits elsewhere were a major problem, mostly of an immediate nature. The Navy and Marine Corps lost 166 (all causes) F-8s during the Viet Nam conflict: only 3 to MIGs. Many, including some from VF-162,  were lost due to ground fire.

The flying was the greatest, particularly in combat and carrier ops. Night carrier work was far more challenging than day operations. Except for the Oriskany fire I would have been the first F-8 pilot with 100 night carrier landings. LCDR John Hellman (next to the left and slightly behind Lee Prose in this link) was also closing on 100 and he and I flew several night flights together. John was a stellar combat pilot and a supremely good guy. John always knew when and how to push it and when to back off.

The Box Score: During 1966, USS Oriskany and embarked Air Wing 16 operated off the North Viet Nam coast, added greatly to the scrap metal and cordite industry for their subsequent economy, lost many more of our good people, killed many more of their good people, spent more tons of money, lost a whole lot of aircraft (the Air Wing was investigated by Washington for so many loses), rearranged even more of their real estate, and accomplished less than diddley squadt.

Oriskany Fire link: On 26 October 1966 Oriskany had a very bad fire at sea. It started in a flare locker on the hangar deck and rapidly spread throughout the bow area, including many aircrew rooms. 43 were killed during the fire and 1 died a few days later. VF-162 lost 2 (Flight Surgeon LT Lloyd Hyde link and Air Intelligence Officer ENS Charlie Boggs) and the Air Wing lost a big bunch, mostly air crew. The Oriskany link shows Lloyd Hyde as an Air Wing Officer but he hung his hat with VF-162. Here is a 1966 Oriskany west pac deployment web site link.

Oriskany's fire put the ship out of combat operations and headed her back home for repairs. I was coming due for my first shore assignment: NWC (Naval Weapons Center) China Lake. I was promoted to LT USN.

For tactical aviation, the sad fact of life is ... link.


On arrival at China Lake link I was the only fleet or combat experienced F-8 pilot. LCDR Ernie Mares, A-4 link attack pilot and old friend from the 1965 Coral Sea days, was there too. There were some older pilots from WW II and Korea but only Ernie and I were from the new and improved war. China Lake had a bundle of F-8s and 1 (my private) F-4B Phantom 151435 link and I slid right into the cockpits. It was as close to Heaven as anything on earth. LT 'the Saladman' Reilly from VF-154 days soon joined and China Lake was never the same. Other Viet Nam types soon joined until all the novelty wore off.

My job was the best: Fighter Weapons and Systems Project Officer with no significant duties except flying F-8s and the F-4 in countless weapon and 'study' tests. I had an airplane anytime I wanted one. The Scheduling Officer, Jim Heflin, was of the really, really old Navy and we hit it off immediately. Jim was great.

The Projects Office boss was CDR Jake Robke. Jake had been a Blue Angel in their early 1950 days link (Jake 2nd from right). Jake's iron-clad, hard-fisted, no-nonsense policy about the project officers was the hallmark of simplicity: whatever they want they got. Jake was superb to work with and for.

Due to pilot shortages, we could check out in several aircraft types and mine included F-8, F-4, T-28, and co-pilot in C-131 and C-117. I also flew DF-8 drone control aircraft to control 2 aircraft simultaneously: mine and the target F-9. Flying the DF-8 in formation with and controlling the target F-9 via radio link was interesting and a moderate challenge. It was not beginner's work.

LCDR Al Brown USNR entered the Navy during the Revolutionary War or possibly earlier. Older guys were frequently known as 'salts.' Al was the entire salt mine. He flew the transports: C-131 link and C-117 link. Al no longer aspired for rank. When I arrived he would tell us that 1967 ear marked his 14th time for being passed over for promotion. Al was superb to fly with. He shared the left seat and 1st pilot time on an equal basis. Al was a great guy and very, very funny. I remember his hallmark joke: "... the 9 iron in the troat (sic)."

Gary Castor (EHS-58) was a civilian weapons engineer at China Lake while I was there. He had some ballistic tests for the Mk-80 series bombs and I flew them in the F-4. One was a range tower 'on command' salvo drop. It as from high altitude (35,000 or so) at high subsonic speeds with a bunch of Mk-83 1000# bombs. Piece of cake! I was tracking to the ground commands and dropped on their call but either they had me off center line or the winds were very high. The bombs impacted abeam and very near the Base swimming pool. Regretfully, on a subsequent tour at PMTC Point Mugu, I went back to China Lake to attend Gary's funeral.

China Lake is in the valley just east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It's beautiful and offers unbounded opportunities for high speed tail chases through the mountain valleys and passes. During one of these down the south fork of the Kern River, we encountered a building in what was to become known to us as Kennedy Meadows. The building was Grumpy Bears Retreat restaurant and bar, owned and operated by a retired LA fire fighter and his wife. It became a frequent event to say 'hello' to Grumpy Bears: the first pass was low and fast to let them know we were around. The next pass was low, slow and dirty because Molly was always standing on the front porch waving a big red checkered table cloth.

The 6:00 a.m. wake up call: The area Mountain Rescue Group was having their camping retreat in the desert not far from the field. I was asked if I could provide the wake up call with a F-8 at exactly 6:00 a.m. No sweat! I cleared it with the CO and asked Jim Heflin to add the flight.

Finding them in the desert was no trouble. I came over very low at 'warp 1' (very fast). At precisely 6:00 a.m. I was abeam their camp and hit the afterburner for a steep climb. As told unto me later, one of their members came out of the porta-potty with the door in his hands. The wake up was a huge success and recounted with key embellishments for a long time. By the time I left China Lake I hardly recognized the story.

LT Gary L. Gottschalk, US Navy, arrived at China Lake during my tour. He was coming to shore duty from carrier combat operations flying the A-1 'Spad' link. The Spad (Skyraider) was a carrier-based prop attack aircraft with many weapon stations and piloted by some super guys with an extra huge amount of courage. Gary had plenty but his presentation was reserved and very quiet: he was a genuine 'sleeper.' His sense of humor was extremely wry ... Gary was a perfect 'fit.' Prop aircraft have magnetos to power the spark plugs and we tagged Gary as 'Melvin N. Magneto.' The 'N' stood for 'no middle name.' In the Navy of that day, if you really had no middle name, the Navy assigned you one: NMN.

China Lake had one 4-seat A-1 (AD-5W) used in the Fleet as electronic warfare platforms but at China Lake it was a suitable weapon platform. I used to kid Gary about being a prop jockey. After getting settled in Gary invited me to go along in the right seat (no controls) and see what low and slow was all about. I don't remember any 'mission' but just burning taxpayers' gas. Gary demonstrated the A-1 attack profile: nearly vertical with the speed brakes extended and getting really, really, really close to the ground before pulling out. Fortunately I was a quick learner and one flight taught me all I needed to know about hanging in the straps at very low altitude with the windscreen totally full of ground. On his pull out, Gary was able to casually point out small botanical details of the sage brush on the desert floor. I celebrated with a new flight suit. Gary was a magnificent stick and a great guy.

FOCUS (Fixed Optical Contrast Universal Spectrum) was an AIM-9B air-to-air guided missile modified for air-to-ground work against infra-red targets (e.g., lights on trucks). The idea was to provide cheap weaponry for night operations against truck targets on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in North Viet Nam. This was one of my projects and needed testing before sending some to the Fleet (USS Oriskany and VF-111).

Night air-to-ground weapons work is a little tricky and target fixation can be a problem. During testing one night I flew five sorties firing several FOCUS missiles against ground targets on Baker Range. I was under Baker control with Witt Reeves using the Nike-Ajax high resolution fire control radar. Witt was the absolute best. The setup was a range-controlled profile with me coming down a specific glide slope and firing on Witt's call. It was late and I was getting very tired. On the next to last run I missed Witt's call to fire and continued down to a very late and very low pull up. I climbed back and came down again to complete the tests. Later Witt told me that his plotting board showed a 'merged plot' with my F-8 and the target as one. Flying is not particularly dangerous but can be unforgiving. This counted as very 'close.' Had I 'pronged' that night, it would have been my fault. Witt's calls were advisory.

After the FOCUS tests, I escorted a NWC's Dr. Mickey Benton to brief the PAC Fleet "Heavies" then proceed to Oriskany. The following morning aboard Oriskany we pulled up the wake of USS Forrestal link and video link to assist with her fire. Oriskany's fire was bad. Forrestal's fire was 10X horrible with loss of life. A fire at sea aboard any combatant is an major emergency. The fire fighting crews who handle them are incredibly brave and heroic young folks. They deserve an enormous amount of credit for their work and for their unquestioned bravery.

Each year China Lake put on an air show for folks in the area. There were always fly bys and displays of various weapons, both static and live fire. I flew a F-8 in the 1967 show but thought that show lacked a 'something.' I was asked to help with the script for 1968. Bingo!

We needed a target for live air-to-ground weapons and China Lake had a bunch of B-29s used to test warheads on aircraft structures. They towed a B-29 out to the target area, several thousand feet from the viewing stands, and packed it with mucho, mucho 'expended' ordinance and put a few thousand gallons of contaminated jet fuel in barrels under the wings. It was going to be very big. The ordinance folks rigged wires to detonators and ran the cables over a mile to a safe place for use the next day.

The game plan was simple: VX-5, a tenant command for testing Fleet weapons, supplied 4 pilots for air-to-ground stuff including rockets and small bombs. After all the fly bys, VX-5 was to make their runs and the remote detonators were to set off the B-29. Unfortunately critters had destroyed the remote cables and there was no way to set the explosives off remotely. The first VX-5 run missed the whole thing, ditto #2, #3 and #4. Four tactical attack pilots could not hit a B-29 - 141+ foot wing span!

China Lake's LT Pete Ferrintino, a carrier veteran in the A-1, was to make the last run. He was carrying four 1000# bombs. Pete rolled in on a very steep run and put all four bombs exactly bullseye, slam dunk, dead center in the middle of the B-29. The explosion was stunning: absolutely stunning. In addition to Pete's stuff there was the jet fuel and expended ordinance. The shock wave came over the desert and rolled across the bleachers. You could see the large tower windows flex under the loads. The fireball was visible for many miles and the smoke plume looked just like a small nuke. Stunning: absolutely stunning. Here's a few shots of the results link.

Toward the end of my China Lake tour I had an opportunity to test an air-to-air AIM-9D missile development against a drone F-9 target aircraft link. The purpose of the test was to support low altitude engagements against MIGs in Viet Nam. We were pretty low. The test setup had the F-9 go into a hard turn with me in a F-8E to cut low inside and come up to fire with a high angle off. The test came off perfectly and the missile took off one wing. I was very happy with the results.

The CO was Captain Rod Schall. He had told us that before we conducted any more unauthorized air shows there needed to be a 'technology break through.' Rod was a great guy and tolerant of our shenanigans. To me this AIM-9 shot qualified as just the 'technology break through' he mentioned. When I came back to the field the folks watching the shoot got a show. Years later I had lunch with retired Captain Schall when I was at CNAL. He laughed about that incident and remembered it with perfect accuracy. Rod was a very fine gentleman.

In addition to Grumpy Bear's, many place names and events from the China Lake tour hold a fond place in my memory: Harvey at Walker Pass Lodge, Stovepipe Wells, Nine Mile Canyon, Furnace Creek, Death Valley, Scotty's Castle, Ubhebee Crater, Coso Hot Springs, Owens Valley and Lake Owens, Mt. Whitney, Olancha Peak, early Friday lunches at Sherms, 'Pop' Lofinck* Desert Ramblings, Trona moonscapes and the Bishop Banker's airplane on Baker Range (the Bishop banker's plane story is, by itself, worth 2 beers). We put our stamp on all these and many more.

One might be temped to think all we did was fool around. Not true. We handled countless test parameters accurately to get the test results the engineers needed for weapons development. The work was challenging and highly satisfying but clearly not for the faint-hearted or rookies. We were very good at what we did and we enjoyed it. If we were not having fun we'd be in the wrong business. China Lake was wonderful flying.


The Naval Postgraduate School is housed in the Old Del Monte Hotel link in Monterey, California. The campus is beautiful and students wore civilian attire. We had zero military duties. I wangled into the Lockheed TV-2, the Navy version of the T-33. After flying the high roller types, aircraft the TV-2 was not much to shout about. The TV-2 link is a tandem two seat, straight wing aircraft. It's as simple and safe as they come: (borrowing from Northrop test pilot Max Stanley) "You can just barely get killed" in the TV-2.

TACAN is a radio instrument navigation aid. The controls can be in either seat. Whatever TACAN station is selected by the controlling seat, the display shows in both cockpits. In the Monterey area, the Monterey Airport TACAN and the Big Sur TACAN are separated by just a few numbers (e.g., channels 16 and 19) and the geographic separation is about 25-30 miles. The cautions for this were well posted and briefed. During a night approach in the clag (bad weather), a Monterey TV-2 managed to have the wrong TACAN set for their approach and flew into the mountains just south of Monterey. Their point of impact showed they were exactly on course for the Monterey Airport with the wrong TACAN selected. Flying is not dangerous but it's unforgiving.

I received my BSES with orders to NAS Albany to fly the RA-5C Vigilante tactical reconnaissance aircraft. I was promoted to LCDR about this time.


The RA-5C Vigilante link is a two seat carrier-based reconnaissance aircraft: in back was RAN (radar attack navigator) and the front was the pilot. The starting point for the Vig was RVAH-3 link, the A-5 RAG. After a ground school for aircraft systems, nav and photo stuff, it was in the cockpit. LT Ev Till was with me for my first flight. Ev was a great RAN and tons of fun to boot.

The Vig was a 'Cadillac,' a pure dream to fly with superb legs and all the speed at low altitude you could ask for. Nothing, absolutely nothing, could touch the Vig on the deck. Wave drag killed it at high altitude, high Mach.

The Vig mission was reconnaissance for photo, infra-red and electronic. The EW mission required very little of the crew: just fly a given flight path and turn on the switches. The photo and IR missions were far more demanding. Each photo target had specific altitudes (spot size), headings, time over target requirements (dictated speeds), and serial frame specs for image placement in three sequential frames. These flights required good planning and careful execution. Every image and every flight was graded in detail.

While I was a student in RVAH-3, I proposed an electrical redesign of the speed brake system to permit speed brake deployment immediately on touchdown for field landings. This improved field braking actions, a problem with the airplane. My proposal was sent through the review sequence and approved by CNAL and test pilots came from Patuxent Test Pilot School to check it out. The mod worked fine but before it could be incorporated into any other aircraft LCDR Barney Watts ejected from the prototype aircraft and the effort died. The change had zero to do with Barney's problem and was never thought to have been.

My usual RAN was LCDR Al Frank, the best RAN all time ever. Al finished slightly ahead of me in RVAH-3 and went on to RVAH-11. When I finished, I flew a RA-5C across the Pacific to a squadron afloat, RVAH-7, then joined RVAH-11 embarked in USS Constellation video link. This was toward the end of their combat deployment and I flew a few sorties from Constellation. The 'Checkertail' RA-5 was my squadron.

During this period my eyes were doing whatever eyes do and carrier work was not in the future. I applied for and was selected as an Aeronautical Engineering Duty Officer (AEDO). I received orders to USNPGS Monterey for graduate work.


My brain had decayed over the years and I thought academic pursuit was going to be tough. It was. Grade wise the School had a pass-fail scoring system: Pass, Fail and Honors. The Pass meant you performed at the graduate level, Fail meant you did not, and Honors meant you did very well. I have mostly Pass and a few Honors.

My thesis advisor was Dave Netzer. He was a superb guy - very tough professor - but a really great guy. Years after leaving Monterey I tried reading my thesis. It was "chloroform in print"(2) and should have had warning labels. It attempted to verify the combustion math models of solid propellants at very high pressures. With the data I presented, it was a supreme leap of imagination to connect the data with the conclusions. But it got the job done and I received the MSAE and stayed on for the AeE Engineer's degree. Dave, like all the professors, had to 'publish or perish.' He took my thesis and repackaged it into a chapter of some technical book.

The course was structured for several quarters of classes, one quarter for an 'experience' tour, then one more quarter to finish up with the thesis. The experience tour was to be arranged by the student and could be most anything. After I got into the swing of academics, I took major overloads and completed both the course work and thesis ahead of the pack. I took my experience tour at China Lake and left early on orders.

I was promoted to CDR about this time and headed to Point Mugu in Southern California.


My first assignment at PMTC (Pacific Missile Test Center) was the AIM-7 Sparrow Weapon Systems Manager. The AIM-7 was an air-to-air semi-active radar guided weapon produced by Raytheon. The Fleet was using the AIM-7C at the time and its performance in Viet Nam combat was below lousy. I don't recall the squadrons involved (not true) but 2 F-4 Phantom embarked squadrons launched a total of 8 F-4s against a gaggle of MIGs coming up from Hainan Island in the Northern Tonkin Gulf. The F-4s sprayed several AIM-7s, had others welded to the rails by corrosion which would not launch, and scored a whopping zero kills.

The AIM-7 job was mostly bureaucratic paper pushing: definitely not my style. After a year of pushing paper, I was aware of an opening slot and made my pitch. The job was Airborne Weapons Officer and covered all airborne weapon projects under development and test along with some in-production aspects. This was far more what I had in mind and I got the job. The boss was CAPT John Weaver and I'd work for him twice more before I retired.

I got a seat in the A-3 Skywarrior link and link aircraft. These were Fleet aircraft which had been heavily modified for test purposes and now were one-of-a-kind. I also flew the A-4: what a tiny cockpit. The Tomahawk cruise missile was just a conceptual development program at this time and I spent much A-4 time chasing a BQM-34 link with a TERCOM (terrain matching digital maps) guidance unit for concept validation. GPS was under development and we used a F-4 Phantom to 'command release' bombs at MCAS Yuma from fixed GPS towers as proof of concept. Harpoon was a developmental program as were many others.

The United Kingdom had a contingent at Pt Mugu testing their XJ-521 Skyflash. This was their version of Pulse Doppler Sparrow. The UK guys were maximum fun and superb folks.

I did no permanent damage to Pt Mugu and received orders to my first major staff, CNAL at Norfolk.


I arrived at Norfolk during July of the hottest and driest summer in several thousand years. CNAL stands for Commander, Naval Air Force, U. S. Atlantic Fleet. This is a 'Type' commander staff, responsible for everything aviation wise in the Atlantic Fleet, including units operating with NATO, the Mediterranean Sea and elsewhere. My assignment was Avionics and Weapons Officer (CNAL-526) reporting to the Aircraft Engineering Officer. After two more tours that would be my job.

Staff assignments ashore teach the art of shoveling bureaucratic poop against the tide. I was grateful for a staff assignment afloat with CTF-70/77/CarGru-5, home ported at NAS Cubi Point Philippines but mostly at sea.


CTF-70/77/CarGru-5 is the Commander Battle Force and Commander Carrier Strike Force U. S. Seventh Fleet. This is where the action is. CarGru-5 is an administrative title reporting to CNAP (CNAL's counterpart in the Pacific). The boss was RADM Bob Kirksey link. He was the first Admiral not to be an Academy graduate. Bob was a Naval Aviation Cadet just as I was. The Chief of Staff was Captain Joe Donnell link, a superb fellow and extra fine Chief of Staff. This was Joe's 'don't step in it' tour and he was subsequently promoted to Flag Rank.

My job was Assistant Chief of Staff for Material Readiness. CTF-70/77 generally had 2 or 3 battle groups operating in concert but during turn over operations the number could go briefly to 5 or 6. The operating area at that time was the Northern Arabian Sea. I joined the Staff embarked in USS Nimitz CVN-68. This was the time frame of Carter's bungled Iranian hostage rescue attempt link.

For a few weeks before I arrived, the Force had been preparing for the Iranian 'Hostage Rescue' mission. The hostages were being kept in Tehran in the northern portion of the Country. It was a very long way from salt water to Tehran. A day or so after I relieved the job we got the word that the mission was 'on.' CTF-70/77's and Nimitz's portion of the task was to launch 8 RH-53D very special and very expensive helos at a specific time. They would rendezvous in the desert refueling point and the mission proceed north. The mission was manned by 'scary' special forces folks who came on board a day or two before the launch. All 8 RH-53s link launched on time.

We moved from Nimitz to join Midway at Yokosuka, Japan. During transit of the Palawan Passage at night, a merchantman (Cactus) on an opposite course turned into Midway photo and photo.  Her bow impacted Midway on the port side killing two machinists mates and injuring other ship's company. The kingposts raked along the port angle and clipped off the tails of some F-4 Phantoms, manned and turning, waiting for launch. I was in the Staff wardroom when the collision alarm sounded, then the ship-to-ship raking and jostling. It was an eerie feeling. In those waters, you are lunch for the myriad sea critters. The ship's damage control parties took care of things with no major damage to the ship. These damage control crews were spectacular!

During this embarkation in Midway we crossed the equator and I shed my 'Pollywog' status to become a true Navy 'Shellback' link. As Navy traditions go, this certainly was one. I was very nearly 'whelmed.'

I received a note from the Navy asking if I'd like to be the F/A-18 Program Manager Rep at Northrop Aircraft, the major subcontractor on that program. The assignment was in Los Angeles with travel all over the Country. OK.


Northrop's YF-17 link was a competitor to General Dynamics F-16 for the joint services fighter of that period. The USAF picked the F-16 but the YF-17 was a winner too. The Navy picked it up with McDonnell-Douglas as the prime and Northrop as a major subcontractor. The F/A-18 is the YF-17 totally redesigned for carrier operations. Northrop built the center and aft fuselage and the verticals and shipped that assembly to St. Louis. McDonnell built the forward fuselage, wings, horizontals, mated the assembly, did all the stuffing and completed systems integration. The weapon acquisition was managed by PMA-265 at the Naval Air Systems Command (Nav Air). Capt (later RADM) John Weaver was the boss.

I was the first PMA-265 Rep with industry. I knew less than diddley zippo about building airplanes. The Northrop folks were wonderful. If I had a 'product' it was building communications between the Navy and F/A-18 contractors.

After 2 years I received orders back to CNAL as the Aircraft Engineering Officer.


Commander Naval Air Force U. S. Atlantic Fleet Aircraft Engineering Officer CNAL-52. I hit CNAL as a 'frocked' Captain (I had the Captain's job and headaches but not the pay.) The Staff had not changed much during the few years I was away and the civilians were all familiar to me. We had about 1650 airplanes to worry about across all types and models along with their engines and weapons. Problems in the Fleet were my problems and shoveling poop against the tide was still popular. The boss was RADM John Weaver.

After 2 years I departed for PMTC (Pacific Missile Test Center) Pt Mugu as the Weapons Evaluation Officer.


PMTC-1000, Weapons Evaluation Directorate, was one of several directorates at that time. SES (Senior Executive Service) Bob Urban was the boss. I'd met Bob when he came to Northrop to check out the F/A-18 production. Bob was a great guy and exceedingly bright.


The Legion of Merit Medal link "is awarded for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements ... is one of only two United States military decorations to be issued as a neck order (the other being the Medal of Honor)." The LoM is a 'heavy' medal and the list of 'heavy' recipients is impressive. I do not rub elbows with these folks. The DD-214, kept by the Navy, is the official record of a member's service. The Navy shows three LoMs. That is incorrect: the number is two. There's an easy explanation but it takes two beers to warm up.

I never acquired an appetite for bureaucratic baloney and did not aspire for promotion. I decided to retire. The Navy was very good to me from the start. I repaid the debt: the account is squared. The end.

(1) "Pin setter in a hand grenade factory" is an original from Phil Andrews, my brother.
(2) "chloroform in print" was 'borrowed' from Mark Twain's 'Roughing It'

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