My motivation to enter a flying career was instilled at an early age in that aviation, both general and military, ran in the family. Both my father and stepfather were aviators. Following graduation from high school and with an Army pre-induction physical draft notice in hand, I enlisted in the U. S. Navy's V-5 program as an Apprentice Seaman in December 1945. Perhaps fortunately for me, the Army Air Corps had temporarily suspended flight training at the time, otherwise I might very well have followed my stepfather into the Army and missed a grand opportunity to become a Naval Aviator!
The Navy ordered me to the NROTC Unit at the University of Southern California in March 1946 where I attended the first semester in uniform. Other FMAers at USC included AI Barr, Chuck O'Reilly, Bob Johnson, Bill Daniel, Bruce Campbell, Kent Hugus, and Bob Ward, among others. That summer our group was ordered to tarmac duty at NAS North Island where we got a chance to pre-flight, crank-up, and check out the engines on some of the airplanes (SNBs and F6Fs, etc.) on the line. Big thrill for a young kid!
At summer's end, we were ordered to the Naval Training Center, San Diego, where we were summarily discharged from the regular Navy and reassigned to inactive duty in the reserves as part of the Naval Aviation College Program. We returned to USC to finish our remaining three semesters as "civilians." Youngster that I was, I got swept up into fraternity life and girls and the fast life was almost my undoing as I came close to washing out of college even before learning to fly! I met one of my closest Navy buddies at USC, Jim McClure, and our careers followed each other through flight training and our first squadron.
In March 1948, we reported in NAS Pensacola for Pre-Flight, Class 7-48, and commissioning as an Aviation Midshipman. I initially roomed with Jim McClure, Jim Parker, Bob Michele, and Tom McGivern (never could teach him to swim). Fortunately, we encountered no delays in our early training and by April 1949 I had carrier qualified in the SNJ with six landings on the U.S.S. Cabot (CVL-28). Time for advanced training.
Though we had the chance to make our preferences for advanced training known (VF, VA, VP (land), in that order,) they were completely ignored and our group at that stage of training was ordered, as a group, to VP (sea). This was more to meet the needs of the Navy than to honor our requests. This was a low point for my buddies and me at that stage, but I was given some friendly advice and encouragement by my stepfather. He said that I had too much at stake to quit at that juncture and he reminded me that getting my wings was the most important goal. Other opportunities would present themselves in the future. Good advice!
Following completion of training in PBMs and "winging" as a Naval Aviator in August 1949, along with FMAer Roger Kirsch, a number of our group were ordered to VP-46 at NAS North Island. Fellow FMAers already in the squadron included Stan Pederson, Don Day, Dale Davis, Bill Wald, and Bill Rankin. Those who joined later included Jim McClure, George Gregory, Gil Summers, John Jenista, Len Czernicki, Jerry Driscoll, Howard Hofmeister, Jack Denning, Joe Gardner, and Dick Palmquist. At least the location of the assignment was choice. Or so we thought at the time. We no sooner deployed to the Philippines in June 1950 but what the Korean War broke out and our six month deployment became nine!
But I get a bit ahead of myself. The one good thing to come out of all of this was that I met my future wife while undergoing basic training at Pensacola. My good friend and roommate, Jim Parker, introduced some of us to his girl friend's college classmates at Gulf Park girl's school in Gulfport, MS. Kathleen Gillis attracted me from the start. We became engaged and planned our wedding just five days after I was commissioned Ensign in March 1950.
In our first deployment with VP-46, I was assigned to navigate for the squadron C.O., LCdr M. F. Weisner, (later Adm Weisner and VCNO). This was probably most fortunate because at the time I had to make a decision as to whether or not to request retention in the regular Navy. Again, I was ready to hang it up! I saw no future in naval aviation. "Mickey" Weisner easily sensed my frustration, convinced me to request retention (things could only get better), and gave me sound advice as to how to proceed with my career. Of course, timing is everything and the class of 1950 had no trouble being retained, what with the war and all.
After a second deployment with VP-46 to Japan and, following Mickey's advice, I requested and was ordered to flight instructor duty in Pensacola in 1952. After over 1,600 hours in the back seat of the SNJ (soloed 34 students through A, B, and C stage), I guess the Navy figured I really had learned to fly all over again and had earned a crack at carrier aviation! Before being ordered to jet transitional training in the advanced training command, I did manage to capture 6 more carrier landings in the SNJ onboard U.S.S. Monterey (CVL-26) in August 1954.
Following jet training in 1955, the Navy, in its infinite wisdom, decided the best course for me was to combine my previously acquired multi-engine experience and my newly acquired jet experience and order me to VC-6 (later VAH-6) at NAS North Island to fly the AJ-2 ("two turning and one burning"). Fellow FMAers in the Heavy Attack Squadron included Don Hubbard, Dick Sample, Jack Reilly, Bob Belter, Dave Wallace, and Jim Jenista. Two deployments to WestPac in AJ-2 detachments on U.S.S. Lexington (CVA-16) and U.S.S. Yorktown (CV-10) were followed with orders to the Heavy Attack Replacement Squadron (VAH-123) flying P2Vs, F3Ds, F9Fs, and a later transition to the A3Ds.
In summary, my career in the Navy and Naval Aviation from that point included serving in a variety of aviation squadron, staff, ship, and shore duty assignments in the United States and overseas, including a tour as squadron commanding officer. I completed eleven unaccompanied deployments to the Western Pacific--four on aircraft carriers Yorktown, Lexington, and Ticonderoga (CV-14). My last deployment was as Air Operations Officer on Ticonderoga at the time of the Tonkin Gulf debacle off the coast of North Vietnam in August 1964. The family incurred eighteen separate moves throughout my career to the four corners of the United States and to Japan. In 1974, I retired from the Navy and an assignment as an O-6 in the Office of Naval Operations at the Pentagon.
Thus, you have the story of how I got into Navy flight training and made the transition into carrier aviation. What is remarkable about this story is how close I came, not once or twice, but three times to foregoing what turned out to a most enjoyable and fulfilling naval career.
“THE AJ ‘SAVAGE’ REVISITED”
When everything was working, flying the AJ Savage ("Two turning and one burning") was like driving a Cadillac. It came aboard the carrier as if on rails. But when something went wrong, well, it always had the making of a good sea-story. And every former AJ jock has such a story to tell. The following is but one.
The date was 8 June 1956. Our crew (Aircraft Commander, Bombardier/Navigator, and Third Crewman) was one of three crews and two AJ-2 aircraft assigned to Composite Squadron SIX (VC-6), later designated Heavy Attack Squadron SIX (VAH-6), Detachment Hotel. Our detachment was a part of Air Task Group ONE aboard U.S.S. Lexington (CVA-16). Lexington, en route to WestPac, was delayed in Hawaiian waters to conduct an Operational Readiness Inspection.
The squadron's primary mission was the high altitude, long range delivery of the large atomic weapons of that day. We had a secondary mission to carry an In-Flight Refueling (lFR) package with JP-3 fuel in the bomb bay of the AJ for the purpose of refueling other aircraft in the Air Group. It seems that most of our flights from the carrier during deployment were involved with this secondary mission.
Our crew and AJ were assigned an in-flight refueling mission on the particular day of this incident. We were to rendezvous with a section of two F7U-3 Cutlass aircraft for practice refueling. (If memory serves, the F7U's were from VF-151 and it was the first and only Cutlass squadron to make a deployment to WestPac).
The rendezvous was effected at 10,000 feet altitude at about 0630 hours, twenty miles southwest of NAS Barber's Point, Oahu. The refueling operation commenced on a southeasterly heading shortly thereafter. We were to transfer about 4,000 pounds of fuel to each aircraft.
I digress here briefly to explain the in-flight refueling operation. The AJ deployed a hose with a drogue and cone at the end from the IFR package in the bomb bay. The desired length of the hose deployed was controlled by the Third Crewman. Wind pressure against the cone pulled the hose out while hydraulic pressure from within the package reeled it in. The receiving aircraft obviously was supposed to engage the drogue with his probe if he were to receive transferred fuel.
The mission started and the first F7U, after a few repeated attempts, engaged the drogue and received about 400 pounds of fuel before his probe slipped out. At this point, he turned to his wingman to attempt a successful transfer. All this time my Bombardier-Navigator (B/N) was observing this operation through the optical feature of his bomb-director equipment. The second Cutlass pilot was even less successful in engaging the drogue. After repeated attempts lunging at and hitting the drogue, the B/N noticed the cone, probably being out of round, spinning rapidly at the end of the hose. Shortly he observed the hose and drogue starting to oscillate and violently whip snakelike in the slipstream. Soon thereafter the cone broke free of the hose. With nothing to hold the hose in the streamed position, it statted retracting into the bomb bay of the AJ, much like a non-engaged window shade that when released spins rapidly onto its reel. All the while, the hose was spewing fuel.
Within seconds, there was a violent explosion in the bomb bay of the AJ. The blast was so huge that the pressure from the explosion blew against the pressurized access door between the cockpit and the bomb bay. A large fireball engulfed the cockpit.
It was later concluded that the residual fuel from the hose while spinning on the IFR package reel was perhaps ignited by the metal drogue adapter at the end of the hose striking something in the bomb bay.
Needless to say, we three crewmen were stunned and witless for a moment with the fire in the cockpit. It was apparent that we were in danger and so in short order I secured the jet engine in the tail of the aircraft to preclude feeding the fire with more fuel, radioed "Mayday, aircraft on fire," and ordered the crew to bailout.
Normally, the Third Crewman was the first to leave the aircraft through the entrance hatch on the starboard side of the plane. He was to be followed by the B/N and then the pilot. The Third Crewman had the presence of mind to secure the IFR package before starting to egress the plane. But he was distracted from leaving by the problem the B/N was having getting out of his seat with his parachute.
This particular B/N, in the past, had the habit of releasing his shoulder and parachute straps so that he could more easily bend over and operate his bomb-director equipment. In his agitated state to leave, he tried evacuating without his parachute. Both the Third Crewman and I observed this and immediately worked to get his attention back to donning his parachute. All of this took time and by the time he was ready to go, it became apparent that it was a Flash fire that had burned itself out, the smoke was clearing, and that we were still flying in good order on the two reciprocating engines.
I rescinded the order to bailout, cancelled the Mayday alert, and radioed that we were proceeding to NAS Barber's Point. Following an emergency landing and the securing of the aircraft, we inspected the charred bomb bay. It was obvious that the plane was a strike from the observed damage. What was truly frightening was to see the steel mesh wrapped jet fuel lines blistered to the point of bursting. Had they gone, what turned out to be a most uncomfortable incident might have ended up a total disaster. And, I might not now be here to write about it!
The date was 4 November 1963. I was assigned to the U.S.S. Ticonderoga (CVA-14) as Assistant Air Operations Officer. As such, my secondary responsibility was to control the scheduling of the carrier's assigned C-1A utility aircraft, BuNo ]46036. Naturally, 1 saw to it that 1 was one of the few aboard who was carrier qualified in this aircraft.
The carrier was home ported at NAS North Island and, at the time, we were between WestPac cruises. That early November "at sea" period was dedicated to working-up the ship in preparation for our next deployment. None of the Air Group aircraft were aboard that day. Captain John P. "Blackie" Weinel was the Commanding Officer.
With no flight operations or other scheduled activity that day, the Skipper came up with the brilliant idea of treating a number of the "colored shirts" on the flight deck to an experience that they would never have enjoyed otherwise. With a clear deck and unrestricted sea room to work with, it was decided to launch the C-1A. Knowing what was coming, I assured myself that I would be in the left seat as first pilot. My co-pilot was my boss, Commander Ted Farrell, the Air Operations Officer.
The plan was to load all nine seats with the "colored shirts," deck launch the C-IA, and immediately enter the pattern downwind for a carrier landing. After each trap, we were pulled back, unloaded our passengers, and loaded nine more. We would then deck launch, remain in the pattern, trap again, and repeat the process. Around and around we went...fourteen times, fourteen traps!
What a great experience having the whole carrier to yourself for two solid hours. What a thoughtful gesture on the Skipper's part to reward the hard working enlisted men of the flight deck crew with the experience of a carrier launch and trap. And how gratifying it really was to me to have these men later single me out and personally thank me for the experience!