“FOOLED ‘EM AGAIN” *
Our Squadron VF-72, based in Quonset Pt., RI, was deployed on the USS Bon Homme Richard (CV-31) to a station off the East Coast of Korea in the Sea of Japan. One of our missions was to strike targets of opportunity in North Korea such as trucks, trains, troops, etc. We made pre-dawn launches flying F9F-2 Panther Jets cruising at 250-300 knots at 500 to 1000 feet looking for enemy activity. The North Koreans moved most of their military at night, which is why we launched pre-dawn so as to catch stragglers.
One dark morning in June 1952 our four plane division led by CDR Bill Curtis was catapulted off the carrier carrying two 250 Ib bombs, two rockets and 20mm guns. Our target area was deep in the high mountains of North Korea. Nearing the end of our mission, we spotted a train high in the mountains headed for a tunnel.
We strafed the engine and it stopped about a hundred yards from the tunnel. Steam was pouring out of the engine. This was a really exciting target, but the sad thing was that we were low on fuel and the train was at high altitude ... probably 6-7000 feet. We didn't have the fuel to go to high altitude and do a standard bomb mission and we had never tried to bomb from low altitude, which may be why we hadn't hit the train with our bombs.
I was the only one in the division who had bombs left, so in desperation I went in low straight down the tracks and pickled off a 250 pounder. I pulled hard back on the stick and banked hard right. A few seconds later I heard what sounded like a firecracker exploding. Suddenly my cockpit filled with smoke and I immediately switched to 100 percent oxygen in order to breathe. The smoke cleared shortly and I saw that my instrument panel on the right side was raised six inches. My radio was out and there were two fist sized holes in my horizontal stabilizer near the elevator hinge.
I went back over the train and saw that I had hit the back car of the train. I had another bomb, but it wouldn't release. No electrical power there either. I joined up on the C.O., and since I had no radio, gave him the crash signal (forearm over face) to indicate I was in deep trouble. He thought I meant that HE was in trouble at first, but finally realized it was I.
When we got out to the Sea of Japan I put the hook down and it worked, so we headed back to the carrier. Our carrier was launching aircraft which meant we were going to be delayed for landing. I wanted to land immediately because my fuel gauge and all electrical was gone and I didn't know if my gear would work. Also, I might have a fuel leak.
Suddenly another fire broke out and I had to open the cockpit to breathe since I was out of 100 % oxygen. I had seen that the USS Princeton looked like it had an empty deck, so I peeled off and dove toward it. I flew by the bridge rocking my wings to indicate that I wanted to come aboard. On the downwind leg I put the gear handle down, and, thank God, I heard the normal thump ... the wheels were down and locked.
As I made a final turn to the carrier's fan-tail I was very happy to see an LSO giving me a "roger pass" for a landing. However, on landing my remaining bomb went scooting down the deck straight at the conning tower where it crashed. Fortunately, I hadn't armed it so it didn't explode. I climbed out of the plane and saw thousands of tiny holes an over the underside of the aircraft. I loved the helicopter ride back to my carrier.
As an old CO of mine used to say "Fooled ‘em Again.”
* The Aviation Midshipmen LOG, winter 2011.
“THE HANDBOOK OF FATE DEALT ME A GREEN CARD” *
In 1953 I reported to NAAS Kingsville, Texas for duty as a flight instructor in ATU-200, flying TV-2 aircraft at North Field. After that duty, which I thoroughly enjoyed, I was assigned to the Operations Department as Crash Crew Officer at Kingsville. While I was there, our Assistant Operations asked me if I would like to get a green card. "You bet," I said. Who wouldn't want a green card? I was thrilled to be asked, but wondered if I could qualify. I'd heard that it was very tough to pass the test. Well it turned out to be a gift! He tested me in an SNB-5, in which I hardly had any flight time. The check ride was a breeze. Now with the green card I could fly in any kind of weather.
After Kingsville, I was transferred to NAS Miramar VFP-61 Photo Squadron, flying F2H-2 Banshees. One day during Carrier Qualifications in Banshees off San Diego, I took off and immediately had smoke in the cockpit, so I aborted and downed the plane. A few days later I was assigned that same plane for a test flight back at NAS Miramar. As I strapped in and was just ready to tell the plane captain to remove the chocks for taxi, a sailor came running out to tell me to cut the engine. Since I had a green card, they wanted me to take a TV-2 instrument flight to NAS Alameda to pick up our CO, who was returning from an overseas trip. I got my buddy, Jay Renzel, to take my test hop. He was delayed taking off and when we returned to Miramar his plane was splattered all down the runway. The plane's entire tail section had come off as he pulled G's at the break over the runway at 800 feet. He didn't have a chance to get out.
A week later I was assigned another test flight in a Banshee. Again I was strapped in and ready to taxi and again I was needed for another instrument flight. This time I asked my Division Leader, LCDR Bruce Morris, to take my test flight. He took off and at about 200 feet the plane exploded into a ball of fire.
I'm alive to tell you this story because the Hand of Fate Dealt Me the Green Card! Footnote: If you have ever read the book "Fate is the Hunter" by Ernest K Gann, my experience is a good example. He writes of his flying experiences as a veteran airline pilot in the early days of flying.
* The Aviation Midshipman LOG, winter 2011.