“DON’T WORRY ABOUT A COURT-MARTIAL”
[This is an excerpt from "Caribbean Caper"]
... our [P2V-7] departure was on a designated airway that crossed approximately 25 miles of Haiti, and then 60 miles of Dominican real estate before hitting the coastline. Almost exactly at the coastline, an F-51 made a pass at us and returned to fly wing on our port side. With a closed fist, the pilot signaled a series of vertical circles with his right hand. The message was well understood, "lower your landing gear and follow me to a landing." I briefed my excited crew about what was going on, and told them that we were not going to comply with this order.
Firing up our two jets, I advanced all four engines to take off power settings; and started a descent from 5,000 to 200 feet over the water. The F-51 pilot's response was to pickle off several hundred 50-caliber rounds from his tight wing position. I came up on Guard channel, and in Spanish asked him what was going on? There was no radio reply. I then told him and anyone else up on Guard that we were over international water and proceeding to Roosevelt Roads. I told the Co-Pilot to call San Juan flight control on HF and report our position and to tell them that a Dominican fighter aircraft was harassing us. The F-51 pealed off and the moment of truth was at hand.
I told the crew to buckle in tightly, as I was going to be taking evasive action. As we all know, the P2V-7 is not configured for air-to-air combat, and the pilot cannot get a good view of his Six-O'clock position. We were not going to outrun an F-51, and now at 200 feet and well over 200 knots, it was a bumpy ride. I made frequent turns to check the !ll0st likely attack position, but the F-51 never appeared again.
However, before we could relax a pucker, a Vampire jet bounced us. No rounds were fired, and we watched him climb and head to the beach. That message was clear; it was a "gotcha" tag, a bloodless coup.
Less than two hours later we landed at Roosevelt Roads, where orders were waiting for me to proceed immediately to San Juan. As I was driving to San Juan in the Detachment's pickup, I realized that I had successfully run a risky bluff with a crew that had never been in combat. I had experienced two Korean cruises in VF-191, flying off the USS Princeton, and would have loved to have turned with the two fighter jocks that ruined our day. I imagine they were disappointed to have been called off the attack, or were frustrated, but disciplined, by rules of engagement with U.S. operational aircraft.
After the Chief of Staff told me that the issue was the Steel Band and goodwill in the Caribbean, I waited for the obvious question. "Why the hell did you place your crew at risk, and a possible incident that could have been avoided?" I only had one card to play; there was a very special piece of ASW equipment aboard my aircraft. We had the prototype of an advanced Julie-Jezebel acoustic search and echo-ranging gear, the only one on the East coast. I told the Captain that I felt obliged to protect that system even to the point of going down with it.
He eyed me carefully, and then played his trump card, "But you ignored the NOTAM that told you the airway you took was closed, and that any aircraft that violated Dominican airspace would be intercepted." I replied that no such NOTAM was available at NAS Roosevelt Roads when I filed for the flight to Port au Prince. He said that he had been assured that the classified NOTAM existed. I replied that I wish someone had done their job and shown it to me. The Captain asked again, "You were not shown the classified NOTAM?" I assured him that was the case. Without a smile he dismissed me with, "I’ll talk to the Admiral, but you don’t have to worry about a court martial.”
The Caribbean was beautiful and calm that day, but sometimes the sea state isn't the story, and people do what people do. On that day we all walked away with a special life experience to share. That's my story ...