Grand Canyon Airport    “Future Naval Aviator by side of Boeing F4B-4.”                May 1933

Gene Tissot and his parents, Ernie, and Beulah Tissot    Age 20    just before getting wings              December 1947

Gene Tissot (left) and LTjg Decker in Dallas on the way to San Diego                      December 20, 1947

“My” F8F-1    (“I only had my name on one side. My good friend [Flying Midshipman] George Rothrock, owned the other side.”)    NAS Alameda flight line    1949

Letter to Pat Francis

Thanks very much for the material you sent to me. We were in Hilo for three weeks over the holidays visiting our son and new grandson. When we returned last week your package was a highlight in our deluge of accumulated mail.

I’m going to make this an interim reply, as it will be awhile before I can get down to the business of more writing. So – on a disk I am enclosing:

2. Admiral Rickover – My Time with the Admiral (When you read this you will notice the extreme contrast between the Naval Nuclear Power Program and your Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant!)

9. Panther

10. Tomcat

11. Intruder

Bonus: Jerry Rice (my first cat!)

Dogs *

I have no objections at all to you sending “My Time in the Navy” to Ken Horn and Bob Zajichek. I also think an anecdotal glossary would be a big help – a good task for Lou.


My Time in the Navy
by Gene Tissot



As I was approaching graduation from North Hollywood High School in the summer of 1945, it was apparent that I would enter the military service. Although I had planned on an aeronautical engineering career – I had taken the twelve hour entrance examination at the California Institute of Technology and passed – I wanted to fly military airplanes. My country had been engaged in the second World War for more than three years and I had followed the extensive fighting on the many fronts via newspapers and the radio. I had seen my high school upperclassmen enter the armed forces, many into aviation. I had the vivid example of our high school being "buzzed" by Corsairs, Mustangs, Airacobras and Lightnings – flown by recent graduates who went through flight training in what seemed to be a very short period of time – in fact, several fighters crashed in the San Fernando valley during the period 1942-1945 after clipping treetops. With my father's background in aviation, my association with airplanes from a very early age, my intense interest in building model airplanes in addition to the times I lived in, it was natural that I would choose to enter the service so I could fly the finest, hottest airplanes in the world!

There was no question about which service I would choose – the Navy offered the most adventure by far. Flying off carriers was a challenge that I wanted very badly. I remembered when I was five years old and living at the Grand Canyon airport – at that time a dirt strip 20 miles from the south rim – that Navy fighters would fly in from San Diego and land at our field. I had my picture taken standing by the side of a Boeing F4B4 and sitting on the cowl of a Grumman F3F – little realizing how prophetic these pictures would be. Later, when we lived in San Diego, I remembered seeing the massive carriers Lexington and Saratoga tied up at North Island. So, along with several of my high school classmates, I went to the offices of the Director of Naval Officer Procurement in downtown Los Angeles, took the examinations required to become an officer candidate and was sworn into the Navy on 8 June 1945, at the age of seventeen and a half and two weeks before I graduated from high school.



There were six other North Hollywood High School classmates who entered the Navy under the V-5 (Naval Aviation Cadet) program. We were assigned to various colleges immediately after our graduation so we could attend summer school and get an early start on the two years of college that was required before flight training could commence. Several of my classmates went to out-of-state colleges, but two of us were sent to Occidental College – in Eagle Rock – only fifteen miles from home.

My group reported to Occidental on 2 July 1945 and my active duty commenced as I became an Apprentice Seaman, the lowest grade that existed. We were issued regulation sailor suits – ones with 13 buttons on the pants – made of heavy wool and tailored without bell bottoms. We were shepherded by enlisted men called "Specialist As" (A standing for athletics). These were our Navy bosses, although during the day we were college students attending classes in uniform. We lived in a large dormitory (Foley Hall) that housed all the Navy students – and we numbered over 100. We took a large number of units for summer school, and the academics kept us fairly busy. After two weeks we were allowed off campus from Saturday noon until Sunday evening (given "liberty," as the Navy calls it). I would hitchhike to North Hollywood on Saturday afternoon and my parents would drive me back to Occidental on Sunday evening. Not a bad setup!

The Navy unit at Occidental was closed down, and when the fall quarter started, our group was transferred to Cal Tech, in Pasadena, 20 miles from home. I was now at the school that I would have attended had I not gone into the service – it's a small world. We were still freshmen and there were many Navy students at Cal Tech in all the classes. Life was fairly relaxed there, and once again I would get home nearly every weekend. When the Cal Tech quarter was over, we had effectively completed one year of college, unit-wise, in about eight months.

Now the Navy unit at Cal Tech was closed down and many of us were sent to USC, in downtown Los Angeles 20 miles from home. Here we started our sophomore year and were under the guidance of the Marines. I very much remember our Marine Captain (Godell) who always carried his riding crop and had a German shepherd at his heel. After this semester I had completed one and one-half years of college in one calendar year.

Back to Occidental we went for our second stint of summer school – this time we were told to live at home and commute to school (I shared driving with a high school classmate) and attend in civilian clothes. When I finished my second stint of summer school at Occidental I had completed two years of college in fourteen calendar months and was ready to commence the flying part of my fledgling navy career! Attending that second summer school proved to be a great advantage. Many of our contemporaries who graduated from high school at the same time did not attend summer school in 1946 because none was available. This may have sounded like a good deal at the time, but it proved to be a great detriment later on. 



My group received orders to report to the Naval Air Station at Livermore, California. Here we would undergo "selective" flight training where those without the basic aptitude to become an aviator would be weeded out, thus saving the Navy the needless expense of Pre-Flight training. We would also become Naval Aviation Cadets, instead of mere Apprentice Seamen.

Just two years before, in 1944, Livermore was one of the many primary training command bases in the Navy's wartime aviation training program. In fact at that time there were thirteen such bases (Bunker Hill IN; Dallas TX; Glenview IL; Grosse Ile, Mich.; Hutchinson KS; Olathe KS; Livermore; Memphis TN; Minneapolis MN; New Orleans, LA; Norman OK; Ottumwa IA; and St. Louis MO.). But that huge organization had been scaled way down by the time I arrived at Livermore in July 1946.

Our group rode the train from Los Angeles to Tracy, and continued to Livermore by bus. We were issued khaki uniforms for the first time, with a real frame cap! But the time to learn to fly was not yet upon us. First we had two weeks of tarmac duty, where we helped the enlisted mechanics take care of the N2S Stearman "Kaydet" (but called by everyone the "Yellow Peril"). We ran errands, kept the planes clean, manned the inertial starting cranks and dreamed of flying these bright yellow biplanes ourselves. But before this could happen, two more weeks were spent in the galley as "mess cooks." Here we peeled potatoes, washed pots and pans, mopped the floor, and did other menial chores as our part of keeping the food service organization at Livermore going.

Finally the time came to learn to fly! We went to ground school and learned about our plane, then met our flight instructors. Mine was Lieutenant Masse, a likeable, easy going gentleman with those magic navy "wings of gold" on his shirt. In the Stearman, the instructor was always in the front cockpit and the student in the rear. Our communications were of the one-way variety – from instructor to student. This was accomplished using the "Gosport Tube," a simple device consisting of a mask the instructor wore over his mouth with two hollow rubber tubes, one going to each ear of the student's cloth helmet. The "Gosport" worked fine!

We had the usual "blindfold cockpit checkout," which was to be repeated many, many times in future years as I checked out in new planes until in my latter years when the Navy used cockpit simulators to familiarize the new pilot with the cockpit of the plane he was going to fly. To prepare for the blindfold cockpit checkout the student sat in the cockpit several times, studying all the controls, gages and switches and learning just where they were. Then he would close his eyes and learn to touch each one without hesitation. When the time came, my instructor put a blindfold over my eyes and I proved to him that I knew where everything was. This crude method was very effective in making the first flights in a new airplane, especially the very first one, less thrilling.

For me, learning to taxi the Stearman was harder than learning to fly it. This was also the case with some of the other students. For this learning experience a "taxi trainer" was used. This was an old non-flyable Stearman that had skids under each wing tip and a single wheel ahead of and under the propeller. In this way the student was prevented from damaging a good airplane while he learned to taxi. My problem was directional control. I would tend to press the wrong rudder when making a turn or correcting a swerve. I made several "ground loops" in the taxi trainer until I could condition myself to use the rudders properly. I attributed my problem to using self-built vehicles made from two-by-fours, apples boxes and skates. In these cases steering was done my pushing the front axle with the legs – pushing the right leg forward to turn left and vice versa. This obviously did not work in an airplane, where the airplane turns right when the right rudder is pushed forward! As is the case in all airplanes with a tailwheel, the pilot cannot see over the nose, so he must "S-turn" constantly while taxiing so he can be certain there are no obstacles ahead. The tail wheel was of the swivel kind that could be locked in place for takeoffs and landings and taxiing in a straight line, and unlocked for all turns. For a long time it was a thrilling experience to unlock the tailwheel and be susceptible to a rapid swinging of the nose and a possible ground loop. Yes, learning to taxi the Stearman was a real experience!

I learned to fly above the beautiful Livermore valley, sitting behind my instructor and mastering control of the biplane. Flying in this lovely area in an open cockpit plane was truly a wonderful experience. Every one of my eight training flights were exciting – my instructor had a favorite pair of lonely trees that grew close together on the top of a hill, and nearly every flight he would fly between these trees, with perhaps ten feet of clearance on each side, although it seemed like a lot less to me.

I remember I had difficulty on the last flight before my solo, and that LT Masse had some misgivings about my chances on the next flight. I don't remember the details, but am sure it was due to nervousness on my part. However he let me proceed and my solo flight was scheduled. He carefully briefed me on what I was to do – simply take off, fly around at altitude for a few minutes to get relaxed, then drop down and enter the landing pattern and make a few touch-and-go landings, then a final landing, taxi back to the flight line. The solo flight was uneventful and I was congratulated by LT Masse who then cut off my black tie – the sign of a successful solo. Today that tie hangs on the bookcase in my study!

Thus commenced my flying career. My first flight in the Stearman took place on 14 August 1946, and I soloed one week later on 21 August.

I had two weeks leave at home in North Hollywood before I had to report to Ottumwa, Iowa for Pre-Flight training. During this period I had a great time as a fledgling pilot. My Dad arranged for me to go up – in a Stearman he rented at Whitman airport in the San Fernando Valley – with George Johnsen, our good friend from Grand Canyon and Boulder City days and a veteran TWA pilot. I had a fine time showing George how well I could fly, and not until years later did I learn from George that Dad had wanted him to see if the Navy had really taught me how to fly OK. George told him they had!



In 1944 the navy had Pre-Flight schools at the Universities of North Carolina, Georgia and Iowa, at St. Mary's College near San Francisco and at the Del Monte Hotel in Monterey. Now there was but one, at Ottumwa, Iowa, which had formerly been a primary flight training base.

In September 1946 I traveled by train from my home in North Hollywood to Ottumwa Pre-Flight. Located about 15 miles north of the town of Ottumwa in southeastern Iowa, the Pre-Flight school appeared like an old junior college. Although the hangars, control tower and runways were still there, they were used only by the instructors to obtain four hours per month "proficiency flight time" in order to qualify for flight pay. We students were there not to fly, but to endure Pre-Flight!

I became a member of class 9-46, and started a six-month course that was heavy in ground school and physical conditioning. We had very little time for recreation, and it was just as well, because Ottumwa was a dreary, gray soot-stained factory town with little to offer on liberty. As part of the strenuous athletic program, I have a vivid memory of the one boxing match in my lifetime, a three round encounter with Bob Zajichek. Those nine minutes were really long, and we were both so tired at the end that we could hardly keep our gloves up. I started out fast – really surprising both of us – and won the first round handily, Bob probably edged me in the second, and he also had the best of the third. I was happy to settle for a draw, and so remain undefeated in my boxing career!

In December we were told that those of us who desired a career in the Navy must become Aviation Midshipmen. This gave us officer status (in name only) and a slight raise in basic pay, but a reduction in overall pay when we started flying again since midshipmen did not receive flight pay, which at that time was one-half of base pay. Those who resisted the program and remained Naval Aviation Cadets in the naval reserve would get flight pay. Most of us succumbed to the pressure, and on 14 December 1946 I became an Aviation Midshipman in what was called the Holloway Program. The few who resisted – Tex Birdwell stands out as the most vocal – were commissioned when they received their wings, and later became USN and were senior to those of us who agreed to serve two years as Aviation Midshipmen! Also, we received no longevity credit for those two years. All in all, a raw deal.

Our time there was broken by the 1946 Christmas leave period, and a group of us drove to California and back, enjoying a great two weeks at home over the holidays.

My group completed Pre-Flight training in February 1947 and received orders to Corpus Christi, Texas, to start primary flight training. This time flight training would continue uninterrupted for about 15 months to conclusion when we would receive our Navy wings, if all went well!

The six month Pre-Flight course was quite demanding, but not nearly as much as depicted in the motion picture "An Officer and a Gentleman" that was so popular thirty years later. Also, there were very few girls around Ottumwa, nothing like the movie portrays.

My group was now proceeding to primary flight training at the same time our contemporaries who did not attend summer school in 1946 were just arriving at Pre-Flight. The latter group had been delayed in selective flight training due to a slowing down of the pipeline and poor winter weather, and were now six months behind us by virtue of missing a six week summer school.



With Pre-Flight behind and the prospect of flight training ahead, the train ride from Ottumwa to Corpus Christi was a delight! This overnight trip on the Missouri & Southern Railroad was one continuous party – in retrospect not a very big one, but it seemed so at the time. It was during this trip that I was initiated into hard liquor – someone had obtained a bottle of Four Roses, and we drank it with Coca Cola. I remember that the single bottle lasted several of us the entire trip, so none of us had very many drinks.

We were settled into the NavCad barracks at Mainside, the main Naval Air Station at Corpus Christi. We were bussed daily to the field from which we were flying at the time, and the first was Rodd Field. Here we would again fly the Stearman N2S "Yellow Peril" biplane. But since this airplane was being phased out of Navy flight training, we would only fly "A" and "B" stage, and would transition to the North American SNJ "Texan" for "C" stage, instead of completing all three in the Stearman as was done in the past. "A" stage was just refamiliarization, where we would again solo the plane and practice basic air work. "B" stage would include more advanced maneuvers, such as upright spins, inverted spins (demonstrated by the instructor), S-turns to a circle, loops, chandelles, snap-rolls, slips, skids, split-S's and the like.

I started primary training on 11 March 1947, and my instructor was Lieutenant Moller. All students had a great time in this highly maneuverable airplane with the open cockpit, and felt that we could really fly when we per-formed our aerobatics. The beauty of the biplane – not appreciated then because we didn't know anything differently – was that it took so little time and required so little airspace to perform aerobatic maneuvers.

Rodd Field was of unique shape - designed for the N2S. It consisted of two circular mats, nearly touching, and looking like a large figure eight. One of the mats was designated for takeoffs and the other for landings. In this way the wind direction did not matter, and all takeoffs and landings could be made directly into the wind – which was indicated by several windsocks around the edge of the mats. The periphery of each mat was marked off by a painted line designating a taxi way about 50 feet wide. Flying from this field was exciting, and sometimes doubly so. Since the Stearman could take off and land in a much shorter distance that the diameter of the circles, several planes could takeoff or land abreast at the same time. Takeoffs were no problem, as long as everyone climbed straight ahead on course. Landings were something different, since several airplanes could land abreast with no problem as long as everyone landed directly into the wind. But at the end of the rollout a turn had to be made into the taxi way, which might be already occupied. I remember a lot of close encounters as several planes landed at the same time and converged on the same piece of taxi way, but no accidents. Evidently this seemingly very loose and unsafe set of traffic rules was OK for the Stearman biplane – it certainly would not have worked with higher performance airplanes. And sure enough, when the "Yellow Peril" was phased out of the syllabus, Rodd Field was closed except for emergency landing use.

I completed 29 flights in the Stearman – for a grand total of 38 flights and 40 flight hours in my flying career to date – and was ready to move on. I was next assigned to fly from NAS Cabiness Field. Cabiness was a few miles southwest of Rodd, and the home of the next plane I would fly, the SNJ "Texan." I and my classmates continued to live in the same barracks at "Mainside," we were just bussed to a different field during the day. Having graduated from the biplane, I was now ready to master a higher performance plane – a low-wing monoplane with a retractable landing gear! I was moving up in the aviation world.

I was assigned a formidable instructor, Lieutenant Commander "Red Horse" Myers. He was a huge (to me) man with a gruff exterior, but as it turned out his bark was worse than his bite. He was an authentic World War II naval hero, having earned the Navy Cross for his dive bombing exploits where he put a bomb directly down the stack of a Japanese cruiser, sinking it. All the students were in awe of "Red Horse," and I was no exception, especially when I learned that I was assigned as his student. He told me that none of his students had ever had a "down," and this did not help my self confidence at all. Every flight student wonders whether he can get through the syllabus and occasionally suffers from self doubts, and I was no exception.

I started flying the SNJ on 19 May 1947, with "Red Horse" as my instructor from the start. He was in the rear cockpit, because in the SNJ the student sat up front. As I later learned when I instructed in this airplane, the visibility from the rear cockpit is very poor – there is a lot of airplane ahead of you and if you are unsure of your student you can feel very uncomfortable. During the latter part of my initial flight in the SNJ I was making "touch-and-go" landings, where as soon as the plane is under control during landing rollout, power is added for a takeoff and the plane stays in the landing pattern and comes around for another landing. During my last "touch-and-go" I did not correct properly for the slight crosswind, let the plane swerve toward the edge of the runway, and nearly scraped a wing tip. In fact I really did, but because the wing tip was off the runway at the time I only picked up some grass stains – no scrape or dent – it was that close! Although "Red Horse" was upset and I was petrified, he did not give me a "down" – and I never let that happen again.

The remainder of my total of eight flights with "Red Horse" were uneventful, and I did well after that shaky start. I had several other instructors as I completed "C" stage, which included four night flights. After the first two with an instructor, I had two solo night flights, the first taking place on 29 July.

Next came "D" stage – instruments. My instructor was Marine Captain Crapo, a tough one. In this stage of training the student flew in the rear cockpit, and spent most of his time under the "hood," which consisted of a series of wire hoops covered with canvas that folded down behind the student when not in use and opened up when pulled forward and latched to the front of the cockpit. Of course the student could not see out when the "hood" was extended, and that was the idea.

Instrument flying is about the most demanding kind of flying there is, and the series of 16 flights (25 hours total) was extremely taxing to a young student. The demands of instrument flying are so many and so complex it is difficult to describe in writing. The student must learn to determine what his plane is doing – in three dimensional space – by use of his instruments. He must understand its wing position, nose position, speed and acceleration, vertical velocity and altitude as well as its velocity about the three axes, horizontal, longitudinal and vertical.

Up to now, the fledgling pilot used his visual, aural and "body" senses to determine these conditions and was flying by what is commonly called "the seat of the pants." Now he must learn to look at his instruments, interpret them correctly so he knows what his airplane is doing, decide what needs to be done and how to do it, perform the necessary control and power corrections and decide whether they are sufficient. If they are not, which is usually the case, he must go through the same iteration again. Instrument flying is really a continuous series of corrections. It is very seldom that the pilot can relax for even a second or two.

When the pilot is "under the hood" and does not have the benefit of his visual sense, he can experience vertigo, where his body tells him his airplane is in a different attitude or orientation than it really is. The student must force himself to correctly interpret and "trust" his instruments, even when his senses tell him other things. It is common for the airplane to be flying straight and level yet the pilot is certain that he is in a bank or turn because his senses tell him so.

To compound the problem, he cannot "trust" his instruments completely. On occasion some of his instruments can get out of order, either catastrophically or insidiously (the worst case), and he must be alert to not blindly trust these particular instruments, but to rely on those he can trust – more about this later. 

To describe the mechanics of instrument flying in a simple way, the student must learn to look at the proper instruments, decide what they are telling him about his airplane, make the necessary corrections and look at the proper instruments again to determine what has happened.

To achieve this he must develop a good instrument "scan." This means he must look the proper instruments in a pattern, and continue this pattern, or "scan," at a rapid rate. If he dwells on one or two particular instruments – which can easily happen if thing are going wrong – then he will get into more trouble in a big hurry.

The primary instruments he must interpret are (1) the attitude gyro, which tells him his nose and wing position relative to the horizon. This instrument used to be a little airplane silhouette – as viewed from the rear – in front of a movable horizon line which by means of a gyroscope stays parallel to the real horizon. Another (2) is the airspeed indicator, which tells him his indicated airspeed. Then there is (3) the altimeter which tells him his pressure altitude, and (4) the rate of climb indicator, which tells him his rate of climb or descent, albeit with a lot of lag time involved. There is (5) the turn and bank indicator, or needle ball as it is commonly called, which tells him if he is in balanced flight and if he is turning, which way he is turning and how fast he is turning - but the turning indications are only in a gross sense. He has (6) a directional gyro, which tells him what direction the airplane is heading, and (7) a "wet compass," which tells him his magnetic heading in a gross sense. If he is just interested in flying his airplane and making it do what he wants it to do – as opposed to using navigational instruments to go somewhere – then these are the instruments that must be included in his "scan."

Sounds difficult? It is for the neophyte, and can be for the experienced instrument pilot when things go wrong.

The way I used these instruments was as follows: Assume I just want to fly straight and level and maintain my airspeed and altitude, the simplest instrument flying there is. First I look at the attitude gyro and see if the nose and wing positions are just where I want them to be. If they are not – which is usually the case – I must make a correction with the control stick or to the lateral or longitudinal trim. In real life I may have to fly with one wing a little down to hold my course, and fly with the nose above or below the indicated horizon – the little airplane is adjustable up or down in front of the artificial horizon. Then I look at my airspeed indicator to determine if I am at the desired airspeed, or even more importantly to determine if I am accelerating or decelerating. I may have to make a throttle correction, or possibly a nose position correction, or perhaps I have let a wing drop and did not notice the attitude gyro indication and am first alerted by an increase in airspeed since my wings lost some lift due to the wing drop, causing the nose to drop ever so slightly and the airspeed to increase. 

Next I look at my altimeter to see if I am at the proper altitude. If I am not I must increase or decrease power to attain my desired altitude. If I can see the altimeter needle moving, then I am gaining or losing altitude rather rapidly, and I must make a substantial correction. If things look good I take a glance at my rate of climb indicator. This only gives a correct reading when things are stable, that is in level flight or in a constant climb or descent. As is usually the case, the calibration is a little off, and I must remember that say, a 100 foot per minute climb or descent is really level flight due to instrument error – the rate of climb indicator is not adjustable to zero. My main use of this instrument is to determine my rate of climb or descent when I want to do this, so it is not a necessary instrument when flying straight and level.

I look at the turn and bank indicator to answer two questions – do I have my plane in balanced flight (the ball in the center of a fluid filled concave tube tells me this), and am I turning, which is indicated by deflection of a needle from the vertical. In a single engine propeller driven airplane the flow aft of the propeller swirls around the fuselage and impinges on the vertical control surfaces. With each change of power or speed this impingement changes and the rudder must be trimmed to maintain balanced flight – a continuous effort.

I must look at the directional gyro to see if I have my airplane on the desired heading, and make corrections if it is not. Finally I have my "wet" compass, a magnetic compass similar to that used in Boy Scouting that tells the magnetic heading, as opposed to the gyro compass which (if set right) tells the true heading, which is more important.

So these are the instruments that must be included in the "scan." They are not all of equal importance, and depending on what is happening some are not "scanned" as often as others.

As if all this isn't enough for the student pilot to master in a few hours, he must also learn to fly "partial panel." This condition simulates a failure of all gyroscopic instruments and makes him rely on the instruments that are least likely to fail. It also makes instrument flying much more difficult. Here the gyro horizon and gyro compass are "caged," so they do not operate. The student now uses his altimeter, rate of climb indicator, airspeed indicator, turn and bank indicator and wet compass to determine what his plane is doing and what he must do to make it do what he wants it to do!

Straight and level flying is much more difficult when on "partial panel" – as opposed to "full panel," when all his instruments can be used. When flying "partial panel" the student must rely on his turn needle to tell him if his wings are level, and upon his wet compass to determine his heading. If all goes fairly well this is not terribly difficult. The difficulty comes when he is flying predetermined patterns which entail turns, climbs and descents, and airspeed changes.

The most difficult "partial panel" evolution for the young student is the instrument takeoff! This is really a thrilling maneuver, and the satisfaction when it is successfully completed is very great. As the airplane approaches the end of the takeoff runway the student is instructed to close the instrument hood. The instructor then taxies the airplane onto the runway, lines it up on the centerline, and tells the student he has the controls. All the student has to do is get the airplane airborne safely without relying on his gyro instruments. The first order of business is to keep the airplane going down the centerline of the runway until it becomes airborne. The student accomplishes this by looking at the needle on his needle-ball indicator. Any deviation of the needle tells him that his airplane has changed heading in that direction. He must compensate for any needle deviation by inducting an equal needle deviation in the opposite direction. So he must be ready for the inevitable needle deflection, calibrate its magnitude and duration, and compensate with his rudder controls until he thinks he is back on centerline. The engine torque that wants to turn the airplane as he adds takeoff power must be compensated for by the addition of right rudder. This right rudder must be relaxed as the airplane gains speed. In the perfect takeoff, the needle remains centered. Of course there is no such thing – even in the best takeoffs there is some amount of needle deflection. The student has "trimmed" the aircraft so that neutral longitudinal stick will allow the airplane to lift off at the proper airspeed. When this occurs he must additionally assure that he has the proper nose position to effect a safe climb with an increasing airspeed until his climbing airspeed is reached, then the nose is lowered slightly to maintain the proper climbing speed. All the time he must maintain his heading by keeping the needle centered "on the average." Since instrument flying is a continuous series of corrections, if the student has done a good job he is climbing out at the proper airspeed and on runway heading when the instructor takes back control of the airplane and tells the student to "pop the hood." With the hood stowed behind him, the student then looks behind the airplane to see how well he stayed on runway heading. In the worst case, the student has swerved so much during the initial takeoff roll that he came too close to the edge of the runway or was in danger of scraping a wing tip on the runway as he made very large corrections in his attempts to maintain his initial heading. In these cases the instructor takes control of the aircraft and the student suffers a severe case of non-accomplishment!

A successful partial panel instrument takeoff is a great confidence builder. It proves to the student that he has the ability to control his aircraft under the most demanding circumstances.

The instrument skills I learned during this most important phase of my primary flight training remained with me throughout my flying career, as night flying is instrument flying to a greater or lesser degree, and of course there is always quite a bit of flying in the weather to do.

I finished my flight training at Corpus Christi on 19 August 1947, and was ready to proceed to basic training at Pensacola. I had a total of 142 flight hours under my belt and the confidence that I was well on my way to becoming a naval aviator!

It is difficult to describe the elation that flight training brings to the student. He has embarked on an adventure with the greatest of rewards, those Navy "wings of gold." Yet he is never absolutely sure he will be successful. He could be "washed out" at any stage of his training, and he will see this happen to many of his friends. He could fail his physical at any time, and this also happened to a few students. So the absolute joy of learning to fly was always tempered by the thought that possibly the worst could happen, being "washed out." The thought of having an accident never entered my mind, and I doubt if many students worried about this possibility; it was always the nagging worry of "not measuring up".



I was next assigned to Saufley Field, one of the several outlying fields at Pensacola, and it was here that I started basic tactical training in the SNJ. This consisted of formation flying, night flying, a bit of scouting, aerial gunnery and finally the highlight of all – carrier qualifications.

Formation flying was a lot of fun. We started off in flights of two, then graduated to four – an instructor in the lead plane and three students in the others. We learned to fly smoothly and to fly very close to another plane. We also learned to rendezvous – to join up a formation of planes that had taken off singly. This taught the student to judge relative motion, and I learned a skill that has benefited me my entire lifetime. Before we flew at night we had a few instrument refresher flights – in fact, throughout flight training we had instrument flying flights interspersed throughout, as this was a basic skill that was required to be maintained at a high level. Night flying was an enjoyable experience, and the lights of Pensacola and its surroundings were very beautiful. I have always enjoyed flying at night and my introduction at Pensacola was most pleasurable.

Gunnery was simply great! Here the students flew SNJs equipped with a single 30 caliber machine gun mounted in the upper cowling just ahead of the cockpit. We fired at target sleeves towed by a student flying another SNJ. The sleeve was about two feet in diameter and 20 feet long. Each firing airplane had the tips of its bullets painted a different color, and as a bullet would pass through the sleeve it would leave some paint around the hole. In this way we could tell how many hits were made by each pilot.

We had previously done some skeet shooting, which was to teach the student about deflection shooting – be it a shotgun or a machine gun. We learned that when firing at an angle of 90 degrees to a moving target the gun must be aimed well ahead of the target, whereas when directly behind or in front of the direction of the target, the gun should be pointed directly at the target. The former was called "full deflection" and the latter "no deflection." At deflection angles between 90 and zero the student had to estimate the angle and provide the proper deflection – that is, if he wanted to get any hits on the banner! The target towplane would fly at a prescribed speed, course and altitude. The shooters would fly in an echelon on "the perch," at a parallel course, equal speed and slightly above the towplane. At prescribed intervals the shooters would roll off "the perch" and commence a diving turn toward the target, which was towed about a thousand feet behind the towplane. The shooter would time the reversal of his turn so that he could be in firing range – about a thousand feet from the target and a deflection angle of about 45 degrees. He would fire a short burst at the target, then roll his wings level and fly past the target, climbing up to a new "perch" on the opposite side of the towplane. Gunnery was exciting, and there was stiff competition to see who could get the highest percentage of hits each time. It was also fun to fly the towplane, as you got to make a high performance takeoff with a steep climb to get the tow off the ground as soon as possible.

If I have used the term "a lot of fun" many times, it is because all flight training was a joy to undergo – just think, we were being paid (albeit not very much) to fly airplanes, and we were learning how to be a Navy pilot! It was a time of intense enjoyment as we experienced new facets of the art of military flying.

For the final phase of SNJ training, we learned to fly carrier passes over land, touching down on a piece of runway that was painted to resemble a carrier deck. This would lead us to eventual qualification on the carrier! We spent many hours flying FCLP (field carrier landing practice) at outlying fields under the critical eye of a LSO (landing signal officer). Here we flew the SNJ at speeds about 10 percent above stall speed and at an altitude of 30 feet. This was a thrill to fly so low and so slow, making tight turns in the carrier landing pattern and responding to the signals that the LSO gave with his "paddles." It was here that the pilot and the plane really became one, and the student gained the confidence that he could really fly the airplane in the carrier landing environment.

The LSOs demanded near perfection, and had little patience when their commands were not promptly and properly responded. If the paddles were raised, that meant the plane was too high. If the paddles were lowered, that meant the plane was too low. If the paddles were straight out, the altitude was OK. If the right paddle only was lowered, it meant the plane was too fast, and if both paddles were placed together in front of the LSO it meant the plane was too low. Of course the low and slow signals were the most important. The LSOs all had their own techniques and slight variations on the basic signals. If the paddles were snapped together a couple of times, the plane was dangerously slow. If they were slowly moved together, then the plane was just a little bit slow. The same went for the high and low signals, the LSO would communicate the intensity of his signals by the degree with which he gave the signal. Both paddles crossed over his head meant waveoff, and the student had better respond in a hurry. If the LSO was satisfied the airplane was safe to make a landing, he gave the pilot a "cut" signal by lowering the left paddle as he moved the right paddle across his throat. Only then could the pilot chop his throttle to idle, let the nose drop slightly, then pull it up so that the plane stalled just as a three point (both main wheels and the tailwheel) touch-down on the runway (or carrier deck) was made. The LSO "ballet" was quite a thing to watch, and all students spent some of their time on the ground with the LSO to watch him "wave" other airplanes and to see how well they responded and what errors they made.

To respond properly to the LSO signals was not an easy thing to learn. If the plane was merely slow, the pilot had to add power while pushing his nose over so that he would not climb. Then when he had gained the desired airspeed he had to reduce the power and raise the nose slightly. Responding to every command took a series of corrections. In fact a good carrier pass, like instrument flying, is always a series of continuous corrections, the smaller the better.

Finally the time came to go out on the carrier! We boarded the USS Saipan, a CVE (WW II escort carrier) at Pensacola on 19 November 1947, steamed several miles out to sea, and commenced carrier qualifications. Under-standably nervous, we all waited in the Ready Room until one by one we were called to man a SNJ on the flight deck. We proceed to our assigned aircraft, checked it over to see that everything was OK, climbed up on the wing and got into the cockpit, with the plane captain helping us strap in. At the signal from the "Air Boss" we started engines, warmed them up, checked them out and gave the thumbs up that meant we were ready for takeoff. The Flight Deck Officer whirled his flag over his head and the student added power to as high a level as was possible without nosing up. He checked his instruments to ensure everything was OK and saluted the Flight Deck Officer. As he pointed his flag at the bow of the carrier the student released the brakes and added full power. In a few seconds he was airborne, filled with excitement after making his first carrier takeoff! Now he had to lower his hook, find the plane ahead of him, take the proper interval and turn downwind at the proper distance abeam the carrier. Shortly ahead of the LSO platform, the second 180 degree turn would be commenced leading to a five to ten second straightaway called the "groove." If all went well he would receive a "cut" from the LSO and land aboard. If not, he would receive a waveoff and have to try again.

My first carrier qualification flight was a vivid experience in many ways. The sky was a beautiful blue and the widely scattered clouds were fleecy white. The thrill of coming up on the flight deck from the Ready Room below was strong – and never left me throughout my twenty one years of carrier flying. I started my engine, prepared for takeoff and soon was flying out over the dark blue water near a carrier for the first of many, many times. I took the proper interval on the plane ahead and turned downwind with what I thought was the proper distance abeam. When I was just about abeam the stern of the carrier, I rolled into a steep left turn and started my first carrier approach. To my surprise I received a waveoff! As I flew by the carrier I looked down at the LSO and saw him pushing both paddles away from his body toward the downwind leg of the traffic pattern – the signal for being too close abeam. I tried again, and received a second waveoff! Again I received the signal that I was too close abeam. The third try was a charm, and I now knew what the proper pattern looked like and made six straight landings that were all pretty good. My problem had been this – all throughout our land based carrier landing practice, we were cautioned not to fly too wide a pattern. This is a sign of sloppiness and creates a "strung out pattern" and longer landing intervals. I had overcorrected in my zeal to fly a smart pattern and had two waveoffs to show for it. But, I had now carrier qualified – and was a bonafide carrier pilot! Carrier qualification is a prerequisite to becoming a Naval Aviator, and it what sets him apart from all other aviators.

So at the end of November 1947, with 213 hours of flying and six carrier landings under my belt, I was transferred from Saufley Field to "Mainside," as the parent base at NAS Pensacola was called, and learned to fly the venerable PBY-5 "Catalina." This was the indoctrination to "multi-engined sea" flying. The students flew in pairs, and my partner was Ken Horn. We would go up with an instructor in the left seat, one student in the right seat, the other student in the rear – looking out the side blisters – and a mechanic in the wing pylon. Halfway through the flight the students would trade positions. The Catalina was a big airplane, and handled exactly like a truck. When you turned the wheel to commence a bank, it seemed like it took several seconds before anything happened. It was the same way when stopping a roll – it took a lot of time for the controls to take effect. The required airspeeds were not difficult to remember – climb, cruise and descent all were the same – 95 knots indicated! Our landings were usually made "power on," where the airplane was flown on to the water at reduced power, but we also learned to perform full stall landings, where the throttles were chopped to idle and the plane was leveled off a few feet above the water, increasing the nose attitude as the airspeed bled off, and stalling and dropping into the water. The full stall landing was required when landing in rough water, as the power on method would be even harder on the plane as the tops of the waves were contacted at a much higher speed. But the full stall landings could be exciting, especially if the plane was leveled off too high and dropped from too great a height and making a big, big splash. Sometimes rivets in the bilge of the PBY would pop, and the student would stuff a pencil into the hole to reduce the leakage.

The mooring evolution was interesting. After landing, as the plane was taxiing to the mooring buoy, the student in the rear climbed up and got on the top of the wing, carefully walking out to the wing tip. This caused that wing to drop so that its underwing float was in the water and the other float was raised. In this way the buoy could be safely approached.

We had but one night flight in the syllabus. We flew out over Pensacola Bay and practiced landings, and we made a different type of landing than during the day. In this case a descent of 200 feet per minute was established and the plane literally was flown on instruments until touchdown. This resulted in a series of remarkably smooth landings, often barely discernible, since the sea was nearly calm. This type of landing took a lot of room, but then we had a lot of room in Pensacola Bay and relished the experience of that single night flight.

Christmas came and I almost didn't make it home. I had left a sextant "adrift" after a navigation ground school class (meaning I forgot to turn it in) and received "ten and four." This meant I had ten demerits and four hours of marching to do. Since my infraction was just prior to the Christmas break, I sought and obtained permission to march off my four hours in less time that normally allowed. So I was out on the drill field, alone with my rifle, for four hours of marching – completing it just in time to catch my ride to the west coast.

After returning from another enjoyable time at home, the PBY syllabus was completed. The highlight was the last two "solo" flights. Here Ken Horn and I took out the huge seaplane by ourselves (with one very nervous mechanic in the pylon). It was truly a wonderful feeling on the flight where Ken went out to the wing tip and I had the plane all to myself, taxiing it in to catch the line from the buoy – what a thrill!

We were among the very last students to fly the Catalina in flight training, as this part of the training program was deleted soon thereafter.

So I finished my one and only stint of seaplane flying with a total of 265 flight hours, and proceeded to another outlying field for my introduction to "multi-engined land" flying in the SNB "Bugsmasher." Whiting Field was about 45 minutes north of Pensacola by bus, which was our only mode of travel since none of us owned a car during flight training.

The SNB offered new challenges. It was very difficult to taxi when the tailwheel was unlocked, as was the case whenever turns were made. Engine differential power was used during tight turns, and this took a while to master, as it was easy to over control the power – and when the SNB started to turn it really wanted to keep turning. I flew this airplane for several more years, and always had to be very careful when taxiing. I was very impressed by one instructor, Marine First Lieutenant "Wild Bill" Beckett. The way he brought the SNB back to the chocks was truly impressive – he would taxi toward his spot at a higher than normal rate of speed, cut both engines at least 100 feet short of the chocks, make the ninety degree turn and come to a stop beautifully at the proper position. Of course none of us students would be able to do this, or would dare try! Our stay at Whiting was very short. I got my 29 hours of SNB time in 17 days, and only stayed at Whiting about one month.

It was here, at the end of basic, that the biggest milestone of flight training occurred. Each student, up to now, had flown an identical syllabus. But now we would fly a syllabus tailored to the type of airplane we would fly in advanced training. Students would now be selected for the fighter, attack, patrol (land or sea) pipelines. All of us were very nervous as selection time drew near. Rumors were rampant. Since selections were make to fulfill the needs of the various pipelines, the percentages going to each were never the same from one selection to the next. As the time came for my group to be assigned, the rumor was that very few students were going to fighters and attack, and most were going to seaplanes (the least desirable to the vast majority of students). Therefore to avoid seaplanes, it would be wise to ask for land patrol, since each student would be given his choice if openings existed. 

I wanted to go to fighters very badly, and would not compromise that chance, so I asked for fighters. When the lists were published I was one of the very few from my group that was selected for fighters! Ken Horn, who had also asked for fighters, was assigned to land patrol and went to Olathe, Kansas, to fly the PB4Y Privateer. So I left Pensacola in the very highest of spirits – I was going to be a fighter pilot!



I reported to NAS Jacksonville, Florida, and commenced advanced training as a veteran pilot with 303 flight hours! Throughout my flying career I always wanted to fly the hottest airplane I could, and this was the first time there were two different airplanes available – even though I had no say in the matter. Of course I wanted to fly the hotter F4U Corsair, but I was assigned to the F6F Hellcat.

Now I was in the big time! The Hellcat was our top carrier fighter in WW II, and sported a 2,800 cubic inch displacement twin-row radial engine of 14 cylinders. It had 2,000 horsepower, and that is a lot of horses. To me, it was one big, powerful airplane.

My group completed the obligatory ground school, four instrument refresher flights in the SNJ and were now ready for familiarization in the Hellcat. Just prior to this I made the mistake of laying in the sun too long at the swimming pool. It was my first taste of Florida sunshine after the winter, and the March sun was much, much stronger than I thought. The result was the worst sunburn I have ever had. By the time I was scheduled for my first flight in the Hellcat my back was one gigantic blister. But I was not about to turn myself into sickbay, as I should have done. Instead I went ahead and suffered with the sunburn as I sweated profusely in the airplane and had to endure the tight fitting parachute harness. I was truly in agony, have never been so uncomfortable and was actually a bit nauseous because of the reaction from the sunburn.

What an unforgettable experience it was to add full power and feel the dark-blue Hellcat jump ahead and thunder down the runway, leaping into the air quickly and climbing at an astounding rate (to me). This was the first time I had ever flown a new airplane the first time without an instructor present – the F6F was a single-seater – and this factor added to the thrill and sense of accomp-lishment. The first two flights were dedicated to performing air work, basic aerobatics and practicing landings. I found the Hellcat easy to fly in every respect, and realized that I was now flying the same plane that, less than three years ago, was tangling with Japanese Zeros in the Pacific. Perhaps the very plane I was flying had been in actual combat!

My third flight was not a charm. Nearly over my sunburn, I was feeling much better in this respect, and we were starting our formation flying syllabus. My flight consisted of seven students and one instructor who flew as a group of eight. Since I was alphabetically the last, I was assigned to be number eight for takeoff and had the most difficult job in the rendezvous, being "tail end charlie." As I took the runway I was most eager to get airborne and join my flight. In my eagerness I added too much power while holding my brakes prior to starting the takeoff roll. To my horror I felt the tail come off the ground and the propeller contacted the runway. What could I do? I called the control tower on the radio and told them I had nosed up, and the tower operator told me to clear the runway and cut my engine. I had the ignominy of being towed back to the flight line. I was surprised so little was made of my incident. Oh, I was chastised, but the ¼ inch that I ground off each of the three prop blades did not cause as much upset as I feared, and no entry of the incident was made in my record.

The F6F syllabus went by in a hurry. In less than two months we practiced formation flying, bombing and rocket firing, instruments, navigation and cross country. We dropped 25 pound lead practice bombs that had a shotgun shell-like charge that emitted a puff of white smoke upon impact. We fired 2½ inch diameter rockets and 50 caliber machine guns – much larger that the 30 caliber guns of the SNJ. We flew instruments by using a hood and having the instructor fly formation in another Hellcat. We even flew some "GCA" passes. GCA stands for Ground Controlled Approach, and was the best way of landing in poor weather. Here the pilot is given instructions by a ground controller watching his plane by radar, and is guided to a low altitude over the runway without looking outside. We navigated over water with a plotting board – all our navigation was "dead reckoning," where the wind is estimated by observing the whitecaps on the water. Our one "cross-country" flight had us fly from Jacksonville to Tampa, land and refuel, and fly back to Jacksonville.

At this time we returned to Pensacola for a brief period to become carrier qualified in the Hellcat. We flew six flights of carrier landing practice on the field, then steamed out from Pensacola on a sister ship of the USS Saipan – where I had made my SNJ landings six months earlier – the USS Wright. This time I knew the proper landing pattern, and I made six consecutive good approaches and landings in the Hellcat without incident.



Six days later in Jacksonville, having accumulated a grand total of 415 flight hours in five different types of airplanes and having made twelve carrier landings, I received my Navy "Wings of Gold" on 10 June 1948!

As one of the highlights of my life, the ceremony is etched in my heart forever. It was a bright sunny day, not too hot. We students were in our dress whites with our Aviation Midshipman insignia. Those who had relatives or friends present had mothers or girl friends pin on their wings. Those of us like myself, who had neither, received our wings from the station Commanding Officer, Captain Duckworth.

I was a Naval Aviator! I had measured up to the most demanding type of military flight training. I was a brand new member of that select fraternity that flies from carriers. I was in heaven!



Flying a high performance military airplane is an exciting experience! To be entrusted with a state-of-the-art, fabulously expensive machine that you and you alone command is very heady indeed. If the airplane is single-place, then the effect is enhanced, since you as the pilot have complete responsibility for everything that happens in your airplane.

I must qualify the words fabulously expensive. When I started out, airplanes were only relatively expensive. The Stearman biplane – the first airplane that I flew – probably cost $5,000 to $7,000, perhaps less. The Grumman F-6F Hellcat went at about $100,000 – a hefty sum in those days but lost in the noise when compared to the $40 million plus Grumman F-14 Tomcat.

Add to this fiscal responsibility and control the extra dimension of carrier flying and you have the epitome of military aviation experience. I say extra dimension because nowhere else in military aviation is as much discipline and skill required on a recurring basis as in flying from a carrier.

Precision flying it is, in every respect. Take the matter of timing. When the carrier flight schedule says the first launch will begin at 0800, you can bet your bottom dollar that the first plane will be catapulted at 0800 to the very second. When the flight leader is told "Charlie five," meaning he is to land aboard in five minutes, then he plans his letdown into the landing pattern and his carrier approach so that his plane touches down on the flight deck in five minutes to the second. It is a matter of great pride to be able to achieve this precision timing, and a requirement such as this sets the tone for all that is required from the carrier pilot. More difficult is the matter of landing the airplane on the carrier – that is, making an arrested carrier landing. Here the pilot must approach the carrier at the correct speed, rate of descent, altitude and lateral position. Any significant deviation spells trouble. He flies his plane at the prescribed angle of attack – an airspeed of about 110% of stall speed – which leaves him little margin for error on the slow side. He must adhere to the "glide slope," making power and attitude adjustments to remain on this prescribed descent while maintaining his approach airspeed. While doing all this he must keep his airplane "on the centerline" so he will touch down in the middle of the arresting cable.

Now what I was talking about in the preceding paragraph pertains to the "good old days" (meaning my time in the cockpit), before the advent of the APC, or Approach Power Compensator. The APC automatically controls the throttle to that the airplane maintains the proper angle of attack during the landing approach. This relieves the pilot of one of his most burdensome requirements and allows him to better concentrate on the other variables he must properly control. The APC was just coming to the fleet when I left active carrier flying in 1967.

The penalty for arriving at touchdown with any but the smallest errors in the aforementioned parameters can be severe. If his airspeed is too slow he runs the risk of losing control – additionally his nose is too high and he can damage the nose gear as the arresting cable slams his airplane to the deck. If his airspeed is too fast he can overstress the arresting gear in the carrier or in his airplane, causing structural damage. If his rate of descent is too high, he can damage his airplane. If he lands too far off the centerline, he can damage his airplane or the arresting gear.

Every pilot wants to be considered a good pilot – perhaps even the best pilot around! If he does not have that self confidence he is in the wrong business. But working against this notion is the intense scrutiny that every carrier landing undergoes.

Nowhere in flying does a pilot demonstrate his capabilities to his peers so often and so vividly as in the course of flying from a carrier.

Every carrier landing is critically graded by the LSO (Landing Signal Officer). He no longer stands on his tiny platform at the end of carrier flight deck and signals visually to the pilot by means of paddles – he now communicates by radio. But he still grades every carrier approach and landing, and he still comes to the Ready Room after the recovery is complete and debriefs each pilot. Every Ready Room has a display board where each landing grade is posted next to the pilot's name. Colors are used, with gold indicating the "perfect" landing, green a very good one, no color indicating an average one, orange indicating a poor one and red for a real bad one. A glance at the board indicates to all which pilots are doing well and which are not.

Television entered the picture about thirty years ago. Video cameras mounted flush with the flight deck look up the glide slope and each airplane is captured during its final approach. These pictures go live to each ready room, so a large number of very critical kibitzers observe every landing. I think every pilot who has flown a single place airplane has pulled one or more some dumb stunts that he is glad no one else saw. Not so on during the carrier landing approach – dumb stunts are seen in all their glory.

The unrelenting demand for excellence in the carrier landing phase has resulted in a lowering of the accident rate more than ten fold since I started out. It also has instilled the discipline that carries over to all other aspects of carrier aviation. The pilot who is the best around the carrier is usually the best in gunnery, bombing, tactics and airmanship.

The converse is also true. Although the majority of pilots welcome the challenge to excel, the pressure gets to some, and a pilot's performance will drop because he is trying so hard to measure up. Those who cannot cope with this pressure are removed from carrier flying, and this can be a traumatic experience.

A case in point in which I was involved happened in 1964 when I was Executive Officer of VA-192, flying the A4 Skyhawk. We were deployed in Bon Homme Richard and making a circuit of the Indian Ocean. A Lieutenant Commander in our sister squadron was having problems landing his Skyhawk at night. Not only was he taking quite a few passes to get aboard the ship, he was beginning to get more and more erratic. His Commanding Officer decided to convene an evaluation board on this pilot to see if he was fit to continue. Since he was a fairly senior officer and all board members had to be senior to him, there were a limited number of pilots in the air group available for the board. I was one of those selected.

We really agonized over our task. Here was a fine officer, experienced in flying, unable to do what the junior officers in his squadron and air group were able to do. He was not only embarrassed, he was shamed, as he was being held up for failure at the thing naval aviators are most proud – the ability to fly off the carrier. He felt his performance was not unsatisfactory and pleaded to be allowed another chance to prove his ability.

The board unanimously decided that he should not be allowed to continue. We felt that if he continued to fly he would press and press and could eventually kill himself. We in essence "took away his wings," although he would be allowed to continue wearing them. He took the decision very hard and was bitter. But we felt we had made the right decision for himself and for his family. He was sent to a non-flying assignment and retired a few years later.

Night carrier operations are the most difficult, and from this the most satisfying. Early in my career the vast majority of carrier flight operations were conducted in daylight and only a few pilots were trained to operate from the carrier at night. This was the case in World War II and the Korean conflict. But with the advent of the angled carrier deck in the 1950s, more and more squadrons conducted night carrier operations and for the last thirty or so years all pilots fly from the carrier at night. Although the landing phase is the most dangerous aspect of night carrier operations, I got the most thrill out of the night catapult takeoff. I also considered it to be just as dangerous.

Here you are, sitting in the dark cockpit of your jet with your engine at full power. You have checked all your engine instruments and turned your naviga-tion lights to bright, indicating to the catapult officer that you are ready. You know he has signaled to the catapult operator below deck to press the firing button. You have your head back against the headrest and you await the breathtaking acceleration as your airplane is catapulted into the inky blackness.

There is about a five second delay – which seems like a minute – from the time you signal you are ready until the catapult fires. During this time the catapult officer checks the flight deck to ensure everything is OK, then when he signals below the catapult operator also has to check all his indicators to ensure a safe shot. So you don't know exactly when you will start your ride. You are at the point of no return – you have the tiger by the tail and you can't let go.

Then it comes, the incredible acceleration that never fails to thrill. In two seconds your airplane has been flung from the safe environment of the flight deck and is now 75 feet above the unseen hostile sea. Lose that 75 feet of altitude and everything is over. So you fly by your instruments, making sure that your wings are level and your airplane is flying at proper angle-of-attack – for if your wings are level and you have the proper angle-of-attack and enough engine power your plane must climb. You can tell your engine power by sound, so you don't have to look at any engine instruments. You concentrate of the attitude gyro and the angle-of-attack indicator. Soon you notice your altimeter is moving clockwise – indicating a climb – and you take your first breath since the beginning of the catapult shot. You raise your landing gear, and flaps and slats – cleaning up your airplane. You are now ready to start your night mission, and you have survived and experienced the exquisite thrill of another night catapult takeoff.

I make the night catapult takeoff sound dangerous, and it is. But accidents in this evolution are extremely rare. This is because the pilot is fresh and very focused on a singular task – after that task is completed he can relax – until the time comes to land.

Carrier flying is a wonderful adventure – one that is exciting, thrilling, exacting and unforgiving. To become a good carrier pilot is the most rewarding experience in flying.

In the wonderful world of aviation, there is nothing else like it!



For a carrier pilot, the ultimate experience is to be the CAG – it’s as simple as that. CAG – the greatest appellation in the Navy! To be called “CAG” means you are the senior active pilot on your carrier and in charge of an entire Carrier Air Wing. What a thrill it is! And an even greater thrill is when your air wing has a combat tour, for combat is what every carrier aviator who is worth his salt desires.

From that bright day in January 1967 at NAS Miramar when I saluted and relieved Fred Palmer until an equally lovely day in February 1968 – on the same podium – when I was relieved by Ken Enney, I had the time of my life.

What transpired in my year as CAG was the great adventure of leading a magnificent air wing in combat in North Vietnam during the hottest time of the air war, the summer and fall of 1967.

A Carrier Air Wing is the most effective tactical air fighting force ever devised. By virtue of being based on a carrier, all the players – and this includes the ship’s company as well as the air wing – really get to know each other. The pilots and aircrewmen fly together every day, and they also live together under the same roof and go on liberty together. This close personal as well as professional contact leads to a degree of teamwork that can be achieved in no other way. I contrast this to Air Force tactical air where each wing is at a different base, responds to frag orders and only meet in the air.

I had the luxury of having eight squadrons in Carrier Air Wing 14, with no detachments. The twelve squadron commanders I had were superb (two of the twelve were relieved due to normal rotation and two were shot down and became POWs). Bob Dunn, Bob Holt, Bob Kirksey, Leo Profilet, Ed Bauer, Robin McGlohn, Doc Townsend, Billy Lawrence, Tom Replogle, Pat O'Gara, Jack Eckstine and Tom Stewart were a talented lot – four went on to achieve flag rank with three making three stars. We had two A4C squadrons, VA-146 and VA-55; two F4B squadrons, VF-142 and VF-143; and single A6A (VA-196), RA5C (RVAH-12), E2C (VAW-113) and KA3B (VAH-8) squadrons. Air Wing 14 was assigned to USS Constellation (CVA-64), commanded by Captain John Thomas. No carrier commander ever guided and supported his air wing better.

After a workup including a weapons deployment to MCAS Yuma, we embarked in Constellation. After the mandatory ORI in Hawaiian waters, I took two of my squadron skippers and flew ahead so we could visit the guys on the line in the Tonkin Gulf and learn from them how the air war was being fought at the time, since tactics were continually being refined. Even though I had been a squadron commander in 1965, flying over north and south Vietnam, I was well aware that tactics can change in a hurry, and just having been there before does not make one an expert. Air Wings that declined to send representatives ahead to learn from their peers did not initially fare nearly as well as those that did. Invariably these wings suffered higher losses until they learned what worked and what didn't.

So I chose Billy Lawrence as the F4 representative, Leo Profilet for the A6, and I had the A4 background. We visited Enterprise and Kitty Hawk on the line and each of us flew missions off each carrier. From Enterprise I flew with my good friend, Pete Sherman, CO of VA-56. Pete was shot down a short time later and did not survive. From Kitty Hawk I had the privilege of flying as "tail end charlie" in a routine raid on the Thanh Hua bridge in what CAG Hank Urban called a "Thanh Hua Thumper." Needless to say, the damage inflicted was not noteworthy.

Arriving in the Tonkin Gulf, Air Wing 14 flew its first combat missions on 28 May. On 8 November we flew our last, having made 121 Alfa strikes in North Vietnam, 106 of which were in the Northeast Sector.

Our combat took place during the most intense flying of the entire air war. Our pilots never flinched and performed in a uniformly fine manner. Although all of our attack and fighter pilots got their share of excitement, our Intruder pilots flew the most demanding missions. They would routinely fly up the river to Hanoi at 200 feet altitude at night and brave the incredible AAA and SAM barrages that would be thrown at them.

We had our losses. Six pilots and crewmen were killed in action and our ten missing all became POWs. Of our many planes shot down, even the out-standing SAR (Search and Rescue) network that was in place was able to recover but one aircrew. That's how tough it was to be on the ground in North Vietnam.

Training is always of major importance. When you are a CAG it is your job to ensure that the CAGs that follow you, the present squadron commanders and executive officers, are well trained. In my case it was easy – we had on the job training. For strike leaders I chose only squadron commanding officers or executive officers, and with our large number of Alfa strikes, each was able to lead several.

Our missions ran the gamut from routinely boring to very exciting. The weather we encountered was sometimes excellent, sometimes terrible, with everything in between. The opposition we faced ranged from none to intense flak and sometimes a few and sometimes a lot of SAMs. The missions we flew included armed reconnaissance, strikes against bridges and lines of communication, strikes on airfields and exciting raids into the highly defended Hanoi area. We were scheduled to fly the first Navy strike on Phuc Yen airfield in Hanoi, home of all their MiGs. This was the plum mission of the war, and even though we suited up and briefed for this strike twice, each time the weather forced a cancellation. We were very disappointed when our line period ended and CVW-15 got to make the strike.

Now came the perquisites of a CAG. For each major strike I selected the strike leaders and usually took the most challenging ones myself. I could fly either the Skyhawk or Phantom as I desired – the only pilot in the wing that flew more than one type of airplane. Since during my CAG training I had not had time to carrier qualify in the Intruder, I only flew it later on and in a more benign environment. I did not fly it at night, as I had not trained for this most demanding mission. On a deep strike or on armed reconnaissance I liked the Skyhawk, as it was the most effective bomber. This also was the airplane I was most at home in, having flown it as a squadron commander during a combat tour in 1965. When there was a chance of a MiG encounter I chose the Phantom, because like all fighter pilots, I dearly wanted to bag a MiG. I really enjoyed flying the F4, with its speed, power and weapons carrying capability. Two previous tours in fighter squadrons had given me a solid VF background.

We had little opposition from the air. The MiGs were afraid to face us, and considering the situation, I don't blame them. Our pilots shot down two MiG -21s and two MiG-17s. I outsmarted myself on the day the MiG -21s were bagged by taking another CAP station which I thought offered a better chance and ignoring the CAP station which actually had the encounter.

During the summer and fall of 1967 carrier air wings spent most of their effort flying Alfa strikes into North Vietnam. When the weather permitted we flew three a day, launching our strikes at 0800, 1200 and 1600. The opposition knew our schedule well and were usually well prepared for us. With all the early warning they had, the North Vietnamese would have been just as well prepared regardless of our schedule, so the routine timing of our strikes was not really a detriment.

We made several strikes on the Kep airfield, which was northeast of Haiphong. There were always a few MiGs based at the field, but there were so many revetments that it was difficult to spot the MiGs during the bombing runs, especially since the AAA defenses around the field were very heavy. I got the idea of using a poloroid camera to discover what revetments were occupied by MiGs. Each bomber had a photo of the air-field with the revetments numbered. I had my F-4 RIO (Radar Intercept Officer, in the rear seat) equipped with a hand held poloroid camera, and I would take a wingman and fly over the field five minutes ahead of the strike. We would retire out of AAA range and my RIO would develop the picture and call out the numbers of the occupied revetments.

This approach worked quite well the first time, but the second time I tried it my section of Phantoms came under heavy fire and my wingman was hit. I didn’t try that type of “hands on” reconnaissance again.

Another CAG perk allowed me to reach 1,000 carrier landings. As with most, I kept count of my traps. I had a very slow start in the carrier landing department, flying Bearcats and Corsairs during my first tour. Here two full cruises, including CQ (carrier qualification), netted but 143 arrested landings. Then later when I was flying Furies, because of engine problems my squadron was forced ashore for the best part of a full Med cruise and I garnered only 16 traps. From 1960 on, flying from the angled deck, I picked up a lot of landings like everybody else. When I could see the end of our tour in Constellation – and the end of my carrier flying – coming, I checked my logbook and found that I would most likely fall one or two traps short of that magic number. I mentioned this to Captain John Thomas and I can still remember his words – “I can fix that.” So when I was carqualing in the A-6, John let me go around the pattern a few extra times. I bagged my 1,000th trap, in a Phantom, during our last line period and ended up with 1,008 – thanks to John Thomas. I was proud of my achievement. I was the third USN aviator to reach this mark, and the first two had been in carrier suitability at Pax River. So I was first in the Navy to make every one of my thousand traps (save the 12 in flight training) in operational aircraft. And I didn’t have any accidents, either.

So when I ended my tour and went back to Washington D.C. for my first tour of duty in the Pentagon, I was satisfied. I had been a CAG.

Let me add a footnote: I didn’t feel that my tour was really complete until our POWs were returned from captivity. As it happened, I was present in the Tonkin Gulf when this took place. Now captain of Enterprise, with CVW-14 aboard, we participated in Operation Linebacker II and experienced indescrib-able joy as our ex-POWs were flown from Hanoi to the Philippines. All our CVW-14 POWs survived their captivity, including the A-6 pilot who was shot down by Chinese MiG-19s and held captive there.



A cardinal rule in aerial attack warfare is that “repeated runs” should never be made – even in lightly defended areas. Doing this allows the enemy to prepare for the second attack and be more effective with his ant-aircraft artillery (AAA) fire. Such was the case with me on the night of 18 November 1965. Flying my A4C Skyhawk from USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31), I was on a routine night mission that became anything but routine!

My aircraft was loaded with two Bullpup-A missiles and my wingman, “Pappy” Morton, was equipped with paraflares as we left the carrier for some night work over the port of Quang Khe, south of Vinh. At the target area, we spotted a storage supply pier in the Song Giang River, a mile or so inland from the Tonkin Gulf. I had “Pappy” drop a paraflare to the south of the target, while I made a 30-degree run from the north, firing a Bullpup in the reflected light of the paraflare which silhouetted the pier very well. Recovery from the attack run was made to seaward, so in the worst case if my plane was hit during the attack it would be quite easy for me to get out over the Tonkin Gulf and to relative safety.

I believe I hit the pier with the first Bullpup, but decided to make a second run just to make sure. Mistake. Coming in again, I was surprised by a burst of anti-aircraft fire, which was the first resistance we had encountered. There was a big pop and an explosion, which did a lot of damage to the nose of my A-4. The electrical wiring and radar were hit, and I lost all my external and internal lights, my altimeter, angle-of-attack indicator, airspeed indicator and practically all of the cockpit instruments. My fuel gauge was spinning, so I didn’t know how much fuel I had – or whether I had a fuel leak.

I immediately headed out to sea. Since my radio had also been knocked out, I was also unable to contact “Pappy,” who did not know what had happened. All I could do was head in the direction of the carrier and once in the general vicinity orbit in a left-hand triangular circuit, which was the proper distress pattern to indicate to other pilots that I was lost and had no radio communications.

A half hour or so later, at the time all the other planes were heading back to the ship for recovery, I was approached by an F-8 Crusader from a sister squadron. I joined on his wing and the F-8 pilot, not knowing I had any problem other than a radio failure, obligingly brought me down into the landing pattern.

So, there I was with few operable instruments, no lights and no radio. It was a clear, moonless night and I could see the ship all right, although I had a bit of trouble vectoring around the landing pattern. But I could see the ship from downwind and sensed they knew I had some sort of emergency condition and therefore were accommodating me in the pattern.

With no angle-of-attack or airspeed indicators, I soon found out how difficult it was to achieve the proper approach speed. All pilots develop a feel for what the proper airspeed is by virtue of all the previous carrier landings they have made in a particular airplane, and I had certainly flown the Skyhawk off and on a carrier enough to have this feel. But without any of the critical instruments, I soon found out just how difficult it was to get the speed right on the mark. As it turned out, I was about 15 or 20 knots too fast – and I wasn’t about to get too slow! Consequently I was close to the maximum speed allowed to engage the arresting gear.

On my first attempt at landing, I “boltered” (missed the arresting gear) and continued around for a another pass. I was high and fast and boltered the next time as well. As best I could tell, I was slowing the plane down on each successive pass, but on the third attempt I was waved off for still being too fast.

On the fourth pass, I knew I didn’t have much fuel remaining. My fuel gauge was still spinning, but I knew that if I had a fuel leak I would long ago have run out of fuel. So, knowing how long I had been airborne and what I’d been doing, I mentally calculated I had about 1,000 pounds of fuel, which is getting to be a low fuel state for the A-4. I came around again on what I thought was a pretty good pass, and again got the flashing red lights indicating a wave-off.

I later learned that this pass was good and I probably would have gotten aboard OK. However, it seems that someone in the large crowd of spectators that had assembled in ”Pri-Fly” (the Air Officer’s flight station in the island superstructure, from which all flight operations are controlled) to watch the show had inadvertently put his hand on the wave-off button as I was coming in on my final approach!

As I pulled up again, an A-4 tanker appeared, nicely positioned in front of me. I got the message and took advantage of this opportunity to refuel the airplane. I had trouble getting the landing gear up, but finally did it by pressing the override switch in the landing gear handle. That trouble was an electrical problem due to the damage sustained by the AAA fire.

Just as I was able to retract the gear and was almost certain my fuel state was so low that I’d “flame out” any second – just then – the nose cone of the airplane blew back. It was hinged at the top – which allowed maintenance personnel access to the radar – and it just flipped up 180 degrees and stayed right on top of the nose of the airplane, like a big airscoop. Of course, I couldn’t radio the tanker pilot about my difficulty and he couldn’t see me because he was ahead of me. Even using full power and much more of my precious fuel, I wouldn’t have been able to plug into him with all that extra drag on the nose.

All I could do was to lower my seat, add full power and put my plane in a shallow dive. I went whistling past the tanker and he had enough sense to keep me in sight. In my dive from about 5,000 feet – going about 400 knots – the radome blew off, leaving me with a blunt nose, but a lot less drag. After three or four attempts I was able to get plugged into the tanker’s refueling probe and breathed a great sigh of relief when fuel started transferring into my airplane.

The tanker pilot, Ole Olson from VA-195, our sister squadron, led me to our divert field at Da Nang, where I successfully concluded one of the longest, and certainly the most exciting and tiring flight I’d ever had.

After I had parked my Skyhawk on the parking apron I quickly got out of my airplane and was waiting as the crash truck drove up. I had placed my helmet on the ground in front of my plane and a front tire of the truck neatly rolled over my helmet, crushing it flat. I could always get another helmet – that part was no problem – but I had placed the 8 millimeter movie camera that I always carried inside my helmet! There went the camera. But I considered that incident a small price to pay for the night’s events.

The next morning I was flown back to the carrier in the ship’s twin-engine logistics aircraft and I told my story to my puzzled wingman, the Air Wing Commander and the Captain.

That night, with a new helmet and no camera, I flew a similar mission over Laos. But I made no repeated runs!



I had the wonderful experience of flying the venerable Grumman TBF/TBM Avenger shortly after I received my wings in June 1948.

I was still an Aviation Midshipman and was stationed at NAS North Island, awaiting assignment to a squadron. Essentially, I was in a pool. It happened that some pilots were needed to go to Litchfield Park – near Phoenix – and perform test flights on airplanes that were being taken out of mothballs and being readied for use in the training command. I jumped at the chance, as here was an opportunity to fly! For two weeks in September I flew SNJ Texans and TBM Avengers from Litchfield Park on test flights, gaining 25 hours in 16 flights during this short period.

Seven of the flights were in the Avenger – what fun! I studied the handbook, and had no trouble with my first familiarization flight in what was the largest single engine airplane I had flown at the time. All of our "test" flights were nearly one continuous dogfight, with anyone being fair game the moment his wheels left the ground. However, we usually paired up and climbed to several thousand feet altitude, then turned away from each other until we were at about the limit of visibility, turned back toward each other and as we met the fight was on! Our fights were simple then, we each tried to outturn the other, and since we had similar aircraft types, the pilot who could turn his plane tighter eventually ended up on his opponents tail, thus winning the engagement.

The Avenger was a WW II torpedo plane and carried a crew of three, although we flew it solo. It had room for a radioman behind the pilot and a ball turret gunner in the belly of the fuselage facing aft. This airplane did not go very fast, but it was very sturdy – as were all Grumman airplanes. It had a huge wing, with a chord that must have been three feet deep at the root and fixed slots in the leading edge. It had excellent slow-flight characteristics.

All this led to a unique experience. One day I was flying wing on Ensign "Sandy" Banks – to a Midshipman an Ensign was an impressive person – and Sandy really impressed me on this flight! We were flying at about 10,000 feet altitude near Litchfield Park when we were jumped by a pair of P51 Mustangs from nearby Luke Air Force Base. What should have been "no-contest" certainly turned out that way, but differently than would be expected.

Who would think that the ponderous Avenger would have a chance against the fast, sleek Mustang? And it should have had no chance if the P51 pilot had flown his airplane properly – only he did not. As the Mustangs made a run on our two Avengers, the two wingmen left their leaders and orbited to watch the show, and did we have a ringside seat!

The Mustang pilot made the mistake of slowing his airplane drastically and attempting to outturn the Avenger. Perhaps he thought that with his much higher power loading he could fly as slow as the Avenger. However, with its higher wing loading the Mustang had no chance when its speed advantage was gone. In seconds the huge Avenger was on the tail of the Mustang, where it easily remained – flying very well while the Mustang was experiencing wing drops as it was being flown on the verge of a stall in an attempt to turn as tight as possible.

The Avenger simply stayed behind the Mustang until the Air Force pilot rocked his wings, signifying defeat. The two pilots saluted and the Mustangs flew away – wiser than before. I was wiser too, as I learned that every plane has a weakness and must be flown to minimize this weakness and to exploit the opponent. Thus in witnessing my first dissimilar air combat, I learned a vivid lesson that I never forgot. Nor have I ever forgotten "Sandy" Banks and what he did to that Mustang!

After I finished at Litchfield Park I wangled an assignment with the ferry squadron so I could get some more flight time. Since I was checked out in the TBM I could be a "solo" pilot, and ferried one from Litchfield Park to Corpus Christi – the first time I had made an extended trip all by myself. Then later, after I had finished ferrying a F6F Hellcat from San Diego to Norfolk, I picked up another TBM at Weeksville, North Carolina, and was to take it to Corpus Christi. After stops at Greenville and Atlanta I encountered a severe oil leak, made an emergency landing at Jackson, Mississippi and had to leave the plane there awaiting a repair crew.

Thus ended my short but interesting experience in the Avenger, with a total of 15 flights and 26 hours from September to December 1948. Being able to fly this great airplane that accomplished so much in WW II was a real treat!



I was not able to acquire many flight hours in the Douglas F4D Skyray, but I relished every flight. Being able to fly this unusual airplane, especially off the carrier, was the frosting on the cake. By virtue of being on the CAG staff I wasp class= allowed to fly more than one type of airplane, whereas squadron members could fly but one.

The way I carrier qualified in this airplane was most unusual. I only flew this night fighter during the day (I actually made one night field landing) because of my limited experience in it and ended up with a total of 85 hours, including 39 day field landings, 33 field carrier landings, one carrier touch and go and 35 carrier arrested landings – all in the period from December 1960 to October 1961. The ratio of flight hours to carrier arrested landings is most unusual.

You could say I was an "occasional" Skyray pilot. I worked very hard to fly the plane as much as I did, doing a lot of my flying on weekends, and I had the support of CAG Jim Ferris to convince the squadron skipper that I was capable of safely flying his airplane off the carrier with so little experience in the Skyray. As it turned out I never had a problem – the plane handled very well and I quickly adapted to flying an airplane without a tail.

I went through the ground school at the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point, then came back to Oceana and had my first two flights in a VF-102 Skyray on 23 December 1960 while most everyone was on leave – Merry Christmas! I found the plane to be very honest and fairly stable, although the wing rock was significant. One feature that amazed me was the ability of the plane to fly in a skid. When the gear way lowered the main mounts came down a few seconds apart. This difference in drag would cause the plane to slip so much that for a few seconds the ball in the slip indicator would be completely to one side of the instrument. Normally in a jet the ball is never out of the center, since there is no engine torque as in a propeller driven airplane, but in the Skyray it would hit the stop on every lowering of the landing gear. I soon got used to the sensation, and just waited until the other gear came down and the ball would return to the center!

On 17 January 1961 I set my personal altitude record. I was flying my Skyray out of NAS Oceana on a weekend on a beautiful, very cold winter day – crystal clear. I thought this would be a good time to get up high, so I put the plane in afterburner and headed up. Soon I was past 50,000 feet, and I went all the way up to 54,000 feet – the highest I have ever been. I realized that I should not have been above 50,000 feet without a pressure suit – but I went anyway.

The exhaust gas temperature was about at the limit as I throttled back to idle and started down. When I was a little lower I decided to add a little power. This was a mistake. As I moved the throttle lever forward I heard – and really felt – a large bang that shook the airplane. I knew my J-57 turbojet engine had experienced a compressor stall. The exhaust gas temperature started rising at an alarming rate even though I had the throttle back to the idle stop. There was only one thing I could do – I brought the throttle inboard and into the idle cutoff position, thus intentionally shutting down my engine – the only time I ever did this in a single engine airplane.

Things got very quiet in a hurry and my cockpit pressurization was soon lost. But my rate of descent was fairly high, and I was directly over the field as I circled down to an altitude where I could try a restart. I had a plenty of time to think about the situation as I glided down to 20,000 feet, and decided I would try a few airstarts and then, if unsuccessful, make a dead-stick landing. But my engine started on the first try, and I completed a further uneventful flight of one hour and forty-five minutes and short while later. So much for high altitude flights – I never went above 50,000 feet again!

When we deployed in Forrestal I had accumulated but 25 hours in the Skyray. Nevertheless I felt ready – and more importantly, so did CAG Ferris and the skipper of VF-102, Emmet Cooke – to fly the Skyray from the carrier, one landing at a time! Thus I never did "carrier qualify" – in the usual sense of the term – in this airplane. This was the only time in my flying career that I was able to gain carrier experience in a new type aircraft in such an unusual manner.

I found the Skyray to be very solid in the carrier approach, especially in longitudinal control. Although the wings rocked a lot, the plane was very stable on the glide path, and the approach speed was easily controllable. All in all, it was a most enjoyable plane to fly in the carrier approach, and remember, each carrier landing I made was a real bonus! I was flying the A4 Skyhawk at the same time, and had no trouble mixing up my types – both were very easy airplanes to bring aboard the carrier.

During my flights from Forrestal I would fly fighter intercepts in my Skyray. I was able to get to Mach 1.3 in afterburner in a slight dive, my personal speed record at the time. We flew the airplane with two 300 gallon external tanks, and the drag of these added to the high drag of the basic airplane did not allow for a great deal of speed. I was also able to perform one practice AIM-9 Sidewinder infrared guided missile firing. My missile made a direct hit on the target, a parachute flare that had been dropped by a Skyraider. This feat took no pilot skill at all, you merely aimed your plane at the infrared source, the parachute flare, and when you heard the tone in your headset – a buzz like a sidewinder – it meant your missile was sensing the target radiation. You then pressed the missile pickle on the control stick and away went the missile, scoring a direct hit every time.

Although I never had a problem in the Skyray, the same was not true for a young pilot from VF-102 named Bruce McCandless. I had just landed my F4D one day and was forward on the flight deck, about to enter the catwalk and go down one level to the forward ready room, which belonged to VF-102. I heard a loud roar and turned to see a Skyray boltering with a huge – about six feet in diameter – cone of flame extending fifty feet behind the airplane. The plane proceeded to turn left in an erratic climb, and when it was about one mile from the ship and about 800 feet of altitude I saw the ejection take place. I followed the seat at it left the airplane and saw it plummet down into the water. I was sure that the pilot was still attached to the seat, as I had not taken my eyes off the seat and had not seen any parachute. I sadly made my way to the ready room, and when I arrived was quite surprised to see a group of very happy people.

At first I was perplexed, then I was told that Bruce had indeed ejected safely and had just been picked up by the rescue helicopter. It readily became obvious that I had missed seeing the pilot separate from the seat – I was most pleased that I had made that mistake! It seems that the tailhook and its entire A-frame attaching assembly had been pulled from the airframe of the Skyray as the tailhook engaged an arresting wire. This failure broke the large fuel lines that supply the afterburner and when Bruce selected the afterburner as he boltered, all the streaming fuel was ignited. It was certainly the largest torch I have ever seen. Bruce McCandless went on to become an astronaut, and later became the first man ever to take a spacewalk without a tether.

I had a great time flying my Skyray from Forrestal, and made my 300th carrier landing in an F4D on 29 April 1961. After I returned to Oceana at the end of the cruise in August 1961, I had but six more flights in the Skyray. Four of these comprised two round trips to NAS Cecil Field, in Florida, where I completed the F8U Crusader ground school, and then a week later checked out in the Crusader Maintenance and Operational Flight Trainer. Thus my last flights in the Skyray led me into flying my next new airplane, the Chance Vought F8U Crusader.



Another bonus I received by virtue of being assigned to the CAG Staff was getting the opportunity to fly the Chance Vought F8U2 Crusader. This was the airplane I first wished to concentrate on, but CAG Jim Ferris discouraged me from flying a day fighter, and that is how I got into the attack business. I’ll never forget his words when I told him I wanted to fly F8s: “I really think you ought to get into something more significant.” Nevertheless, I wanted to fly this beautiful machine and I got my chance between the two Forrestal cruises I made while assigned to CAG-8 at NAS Oceana.

I was able to get my ground training at NAS Cecil field, and when the time was right CAG Ferris approached the skipper of VF-103, Ed Iglesias, and he said I could fly his airplanes – off the beach. That was good enough for me, as I knew I could not build up the amount of hours that would allow me to carrier qualify in the Crusader. This airplane was more difficult to bring aboard the carrier than either the Skyhawk or Skyray, and it demanded more attention in the field landing pattern, too.

The Crusader took the best catapult shot of any jet going – the reason was its variable incidence wing. Chance Vought properly determined that in the carrier approach the angle of incidence of the long, thin fuselage would be much too high. The pilot would have trouble seeing over the nose, and more impor-tantly, the tail would drag upon touchdown. Something drastic needed to be done, and the engineers decided to pivot the leading edge of the wing up when the flaps were lowered. This looked strange, but it really worked. All the pilot had to do was move the incidence lever up, and the wing leading edge pivoted up as the flaps and slats were extended. And one fallout was the beautiful way the Crusader took a catapult shot.

My first flight in the Crusader was on 16 October 1961. I was not accom-panied by any other aircraft, and spent the one and one-half hours getting used to the airplane – performing turns, climbs, dives, rolls, and practicing flying the landing pattern at altitude. Since this was my first flight in a truly supersonic airplane, I just had to go faster than Mach One, and easily got up to Mach 1.2. I came down in the traffic pattern and made six touch and go landings – I thought the plane was very stable in the approach configuration in every way except speed control, here it was very sensitive.

My second flight started out with an afterburner takeoff – that Crusader really moved! And I got up to Mach 1.68, my personal speed record and about the highest speed of the Crusader in level flight. By my tenth flight I felt very comfortable in the airplane and started dogfighting with squadron pilots. I held my own quite well, even though I had much less experience in the plane than my opponents. What fun! The Crusader was really a high performance airplane and a fine dogfighter. It had enough power to do well in vertical maneuvers and could turn on a dime – that is, if sufficient airspeed was maintained.

Then, on my 13th flight in the Crusader, with all of 18 hours experience, I tangled with the Skipper. I really wanted to show him how good I was in one of his airplanes. We met in the classical head-on start and immediately started to see who could out-turn the other. We were both in afterburner in a series of high-G vertical turns and I was slightly outmaneuvering him. It wouldn't be long before I would be far enough behind him to let loose a simulated Sidewinder shot and announce "Fox Two," the call of victory – or so I thought.

The skipper was a better pilot that the ones I had previously faced, and I had to fly my plane right up to the edge of departure. I felt the Crusader resist my controls just a little bit. Other planes could be pushed this far to achieve maximum performance in a dogfight. But I soon learned that the Crusader had a much lower threshold for pushing – my plane departed in an instant. A departure – from balanced flight – means the airplane is completely out of control. My plane and I made about three very rapid snap rolls. The only thing the pilot can do at this time is to let go of the control stick and wait for the plane to start flying again – if he tries to apply controls during the departure he only makes things worse. When I recovered my senses – and control of my airplane – there was the Skipper, right on my tail. “Fox Two” – end of dogfight – lesson learned!

I look back on my 18 flights and 26 hours in the Crusader during the fall of 1961 with great fondness. It was a joy to be able to fly – if only a few hours over a short period of time – this magnificent airplane.

CAG-14 next to his Phantom     “By now, I had my name on both sides of the cockpit.”      “Constellation – 1967”


The most unique experience of my naval career was working for Admiral Rickover! He was the most unusual individual, and the legion of stories about him – although sometimes greatly embellished – are most likely based on the truth. My association with him lasted for five years and centered about my assignment as Captain of the nuclear powered aircraft carrier Enterprise. Admiral Rickover wore two hats, one as the naval officer running the Naval Reactors branch of the Naval Sea Systems Command, and the other one as a representative of the Atomic Energy Commission. In his latter role Admiral Rickover "owned" the nuclear material aboard every Navy nuclear powered ship. If he deemed that the crew of any ship was not capable of safely operating "his" nuclear propulsion plant, he recommended that the ship not be allowed underway until the deficient condition was remedied. The Navy always followed his recommendation, thus he in effect had control over all naval nuclear powered ships. The primary deficiency that would arise was "crew training." From my submarine counterparts I learned that he would not hesitate to recommend that a boat stay tied up at the pier for an entire week while the entire engineering complement remained onboard and studied their reactor plant operating procedures.

The first time most naval officers meet the Admiral is during their "interview," and my experience was no exception. In early 1969 I was assigned to the Pentagon, working for Commander Bob McKenzie, Captain Don Engen and Rear Admiral Gerry Miller in Navy Tactical Aviation Plans, OP-508. I had just been selected for Captain, but would still probably complete my three-year tour in OP-508, as I had served there only a year at the time. The Aviation Captain detailer in the Bureau of Naval Personnel was Captain Joe Tully, whom I had known several years earlier when I was on the staff of Carrier Group EIGHT in Forrestal and Joe was Forrestal's Executive Officer.

I later learned that Joe had received an order from Admiral Rickover's staff to produce some (I don't know how many) junior Captains for interviews, as nuclear powered carrier Commanding Officers were needed. Enterprise was the Navy's only such carrier at the time but Nimitz was under construction and would need a prospective (this was the term used) Commanding Officer who would go through two years of pre-commissioning duty and stay on for about one year after commissioning.

Joe pored over the service records of new aviation Captains to find those with a top academic background – one he found was mine. The records were sent to Admiral Rickover's staff, who screened them and picked a few for interviews. Joe called Gerry Miller and told him the Admiral wanted to interview me on a certain date. Gerry told Joe this was not possible as I was in his party that was flying to Dallas to visit Texas Instruments on that particular date. Joe evidently got in a lot of hot water, as Admiral Rickover expected the entire Navy to be at his beck and call and he was not used to anyone telling him no.

Nevertheless, I visited Texas Instruments on schedule and about two weeks later went across the river to D. C. to the old (ancient, World War One vintage) Navy buildings on Constitution Avenue, not far from the Lincoln Memorial. Way in the back of one of these shabby old buildings was Admiral Rickover's domain. I was introduced to Bill Wegner, who was to accompany me during my interview (I later learned that Admiral Rickover always had a third person present at each interview, and later on when I became that third person I also learned that the Admiral referred to the third person as the "interviewer"). Bill Wegner was an ex-Naval officer who had been with the Admiral since the inception of the naval nuclear power program and was now his senior deputy. Bill counseled me to answer all questions in a straight-forward manner – that was all he said.

I approached the interview with curiosity. I was not a volunteer, and as a newly selected Captain, not yet promoted and still wearing the Commander's uniform, I was not thinking at all about a carrier command, which only went to senior Captains.

Wegner and I entered a dilapidated, messy office and behind the desk was a little white-haired man dressed in a Navy khaki shirt and wearing the three stars of a Vice Admiral. I sat down in a plain wooden chair with Wegner in another chair behind and to one side of me. Contrary to folklore, my chair did not have the front legs shorter than the rear!

The first question fired at me was, "Why do you want to command a nuclear carrier?" I was taken aback by this question because it implied I was a volunteer for the interview, when in fact I was only responding to a request. I hesitated a second, then replied lamely "Because I think I can do a good job." Admiral Rickover exploded, shouting "Get out of here!" Bill Wegner led me out of the office and into another room where we waited to be called in again. Wegner offered no consolation or guidance during this period. I was not really upset because I had heard of Admiral Rickover's reputation during interviews. About fifteen minutes later I went in for the second time and lasted a little longer, but not much. When I was asked what was the purpose of a nuclear powered aircraft carrier I replied that it was a superior platform for flying combat aircraft – this led to the second expulsion. I went in for the third time and lasted for about three or four minutes. As I was thrown out this time, his words to me were "Get out of here, I wouldn't have you in my program!"

So I went back to my job in the Pentagon, not at all disappointed with the results of the interview, but considering it as an unusual experience and privilege – to have been interviewed by Admiral Rickover.

About a month later I learned from Joe Tully that I had been selected for the naval Nuclear Power Program. I never discovered whether I had been tapped all along, or that someone else had been selected ahead of me and had fallen out – but this did not matter to me at all. By this time I was ready to leave the Pentagon and looked forward to my forthcoming training. I met with Rear Admiral Jim Holloway, who had been the third Commanding Officer of Enter-prise, and he told me I was slated to be the first Captain of Nimitz. This was a very heady future for a not yet Captain – the message I received was that I had been pre-selected to command an aircraft carrier! Of course all this was contingent on successful completion of the program, but I never had any doubts about that.

So in March of 1969 I reported to the Naval Nuclear Propulsion School at Bainbridge, Maryland, for six months of concentrated academics – and I mean concentrated. The school was located at the old World War II training center at Bainbridge, northeast of Baltimore. The buildings were wooden and brick – old but adequate. I lived at the BOQ, and commuted to my home in McLean on weekends. I was one of two senior officers undergoing training at Bainbridge, the other was Commander C. C. Smith, who was several weeks ahead of me and slated to become Executive Officer of Enterprise. I was in a class of about 50 officers, all except me in the rank of Ensign and Lieutenant (junior grade). Some were junior officers from the fleet who had volunteered for nuclear power training, others were brand new ensigns who were Naval Academy or NROTC graduates, fresh out of college. All of these youngsters had a distinct advantage over me in that they had either just graduated from college or had only been away from college (or the Naval Academy) for two or three years. I had been away from academics nine years, having completed my work at the Naval Postgraduate School in 1960. I was nearly 42 years old.

We spent eight hours a day in the classroom, and had several hours of homework each evening. We moved through reviews of mathematics, electrical engineering, physics and chemistry in a hurry, then concentrated on advanced physics and chemistry that directly applied to the light water nuclear reactors that powered our Navy ships.

I would drive home to McLean on Friday evenings and drive back to Bainbridge early Monday morning unless I had an exam on Monday, in which case I would go back to Bainbridge on Sunday afternoon. I always studied for exams early the morning of the exam, rather than the night before. I have always been a morning person.

During the course of my instruction at Bainbridge I got to know the Commanding Officer of the school, Commander Frank Kelso. He was very pleasant, in constant contact with Admiral Rickover's people in Washington, and seemed to have little authority of his own. He was, of course, a nuclear sub-mariner (as were all Rickover's key military people), and I wondered how his career would weather a four year tour in this out-of-the-way place. Evidently Frank weathered his long tour at Bainbridge very well, for in 1990 he became Chief of Naval Operations!

C. C. Smith left Bainbridge and went on to Prototype Training at Saratoga, New York. He would have gone to Idaho Falls to train on the land-based prototype of Enterprise's propulsion plant except that this plant was out of commission for refueling. I thought I would also go to Saratoga for Prototype Training, but when the time came my orders were to Idaho Falls.

While I finished my final exams at Bainbridge, Millie put our household effects on a moving van and drove to Idaho Falls in our 1966 Oldsmobile station wagon with my mother, Craig, Brian and our dog Soda. When I arrived a week later, after driving from Bainbridge to Idaho Falls in my 1968 Mustang in 2½ days, Millie had already moved into a comfortable brick rental home. Hers was truly a herculean effort!

I spent the next six and a half months studying at the Naval Reactors Land Based Prototype station at Arco, about 55 miles west of Idaho Falls. Students who were married lived in Idaho Falls and rode chartered buses to and from Arco, while the bachelors lived at the station. The only other senior officer during this stage of training was Commander Bill Ramsey, who was slated to be the first Executive Officer of Nimitz. Bill and I worked and studied together, and as it turned out, neither of us went to Nimitz. Bill later became the first Commanding Officer of Eisenhower.

For the first and only time in my life I was engaged in shift work. This resulted in staggered time off of one, two and four days between working periods of seven days in a cycle that repeated itself every 28 days, and resulted in seven of each 28 days off. The only problem was that our shifts were 12 hours long, not the usual eight! When you tack on about 1½ hours of bus riding on each end of a shift, you end up with a 15 hour day, leaving but nine for eating and sleeping at home. This was particularly difficult during the shift when the time at home was during daylight hours. It was a real grind! The toughest shift was from eight at night until eight in the morning. Bill and I would get a little sleepy around five in the morning and often would go up on top of our large building and watch the sun rise over the Grand Teton mountains one hundred miles to the east – a beautiful sight.

We had a few weeks of pure academics and the usual number of exams – which were always difficult in this program! Even though we were slated for Nimitz, which would only have two huge reactors rather that the relatively small eight reactors in Enterprise, we would still have trained on the Enterprise proto-type had it been in commission. Since it was not, we ended up being assigned to the oldest prototype at the station, the Nautilus (the first nuclear powered naval vessel) land based reactor. This created no real problem, since naval nuclear reactors are of the light water type, and the same principles apply to all. The difference is that a submarine reactor is more crowded and compact than one for a surface ship. But again, this did not really matter.

The Nautilus prototype was a carbon copy of the reactor that had been installed in the actual submarine – it was critical and produced power by turning a water brake that was located at the end of the driveshaft. Here I received hands-on training which eventually led to becoming qualified as a Nuclear Engineering Officer of the Watch – the officer in charge of operation of the reactor. True to Rickover fashion the training was extremely arduous and thorough. I qualified at each watch station on the prototype, meaning I logged temperatures and pressures as did the lowliest enlisted watchstander and worked my way up to finally standing the top watch of all. When a person has qualified on each watch station, he really knows what is going on with the reactor and propulsion system.

This was very hard, but satisfying work. All students were constantly under the scrutiny of the instructors, who were intolerant of mistakes. Although each reactor was designed with fail-safe features to prevent any kind of an accident, Admiral Rickover's philosophy was that the crew should understand the operation of the reactor completely and be thoroughly trained so as to take all corrective actions before any of the automatic systems had to take over. All students continually practiced emergency procedures and got to the point where they understood the operation of the reactor very well.

The only break during my training came when a delayed award from my 1967 Vietnam tour came to the Idaho Falls Unit. The skipper of the unit, Commander Bob Chewning, was junior to me and felt he could not present the medal, so the next time Admiral Rickover visited the prototype he had an intimate awards ceremony. On my day off I drove Millie to the prototype where we were ushered into an office. Here were Admiral Rickover and his wife. Admiral Rickover read the flowery award citation in solemnity and pinned on a Silver Star medal. I have the photograph of the Admiral and I shaking hands and staring in each others eyes with deadpan expressions – Millie is looking on. Admiral Rickover said a few words to Millie and gave her a lapel pin shaped like a nuclear submarine. He told her she should wear it above the miniature aviator’s wings she had on her suit – Millie said she would wear it below the wings. She still has the submarine pin. Mrs. Rickover was a retiring, pleasant woman with her hair drawn back into a bun. She chatted amicably with Millie.

It was a great satisfaction to be qualified as Nuclear Engineering Officer of the Watch on the Nautilus prototype. After this only the final exam was required, and this was an oral exam given by the station manager and the senior instructors. At this time about two weeks of the course was left, and the shift was reduced from 12 to eight hours. During this period Bill Ramsey and I became familiar with the Enterprise prototype even though it was not operating.

My family left Idaho Falls on 25 March 1970, and it was snowing. We drove a caravan of three cars to San Diego, where I had orders to the USS Thomaston (LSD-28), my "deep draft." A "deep draft" is a ship that aviators command in preparation for their carrier command. Thomaston was 550 feet long with a tonnage of 12,000, not a small ship but certainly not of carrier size.

My tour was cut short in Thomaston so I could commence the three month "charm school" (as it was known to all) at Admiral Rickover's headquarters in Crystal City, Alexandria, near the Washington National Airport. I shared a rental apartment nearby with one on my four classmates – Commander Jack Darby. Commander "Hoss" Miller also lived in our apartment complex, while the other two students, Commanders Dan Cooper and Stan Severance already had homes in the local area. Jack, Dan and Stan were submariners, Hoss was a surface sailor and I was the lone aviator. All the others had been in the nuclear power program for a long time, and "Hoss" had served in Enterprise as a junior officer; he provided a lot of help to me because of this experience.

We started "charm school" in May 1970. The course was fast paced and extremely demanding. We were taught by Admiral Rickover's top staff, and studied nuclear reactor physics, chemistry, reactor operations and emergencies and the effects of nuclear radiation on the human body. Since we were all prospective commanding officers of nuclear power ships, we learned what was expected of us in reporting requirements, as well as the philosophy of the Navy nuclear power program, i.e., Admiral Rickover. We had at least eight hours of class a day, and quite a bit of homework was required. We were tested frequently and the exams were difficult. Two weeks into the program we had our first test covering physics, and Dan Cooper failed. He was ushered into the Admiral's office, was roundly chastised and threatened with removal from the program. Dan really sweated it out for awhile, but no other tests were failed by any of our group.

Our group was great. Everyone had a good sense of humor, which was absolutely necessary in order to survive the intense environment. The highlight of the course was having Millie fly out from the west coast for a week to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. During this period Jack Darby moved in with Hoss Miller so Millie could stay with me in our apartment.

We had a two-hour oral "mid-term" exam. Until a person has experienced such an exam he has absolutely no idea of the tremendous number of questions that can be asked in two hours. My exam started just as Millie was going to the airport to fly back to California, and I remember that the sky became very black as a thunderstorm erupted. It seemed like a bad omen at the time, but I passed the oral exam OK. Our final exam was an eight-hour written exam – again very arduous because of its length and the writers cramp that ensued. We completed our course, having learned a lot in three months.

While we were there we learned that Admiral Rickover conducted his interviews once a month, and for three days everything was focused on this. It must be remembered that every officer that enters into the nuclear power program must be personally approved by the Admiral – a huge undertaking, especially as the surface nuclear fleet was expanding at a high rate. All the candidates would be first interviewed by several members of Rickover's staff and each would make an independent assessment direct to the Admiral. So by the time the Admiral had his interview, he knew a lot about the person being interviewed. One day I was assigned to be the "interviewer," meaning that I would accompany the person being interviewed by the Admiral I accompanied three or four young officers for their interview – and stayed with them during the periods when they had been thrown out of the office and were waiting to be called in again. The interviews were usually short. The Admiral probably had already made up his mind based on the recommendations of his staff and his knowledge of the interviewee's academic record. He still gave each of them a hard time – nothing like he gave me, or I imagine that he gave every senior officer interviewed – but a hard time nevertheless. One young officer came from the NROTC and had slightly long hair. The Admiral told him to get a haircut and come back later if he wanted to be in his program. The young man was devastated – he did not want to get a haircut and could not understand why the length of his hair was important. I was unable to help him on this issue, and told him the decision was his. He got the haircut and was accepted into the program. 

Just before we finished our course I received my orders to become Commanding Officer of Enterprise! What a thrill. I was told that the Admiral insisted on a 60 day "turnover" before a new Commanding Officer took command – this meant that I was to be on board Enterprise for 60 days before I relieved my old friend Pete Petersen. Presumably I was to spend all this time studying and becoming familiar with the propulsion plant.

Before I could leave and be on my way we I had a final interview with the Admiral. Mine was very short and his shouted words as I left his office were, "You are going to ruin my ship!" Hardly a vote of confidence, but by this time I had learned that this was his style.

I was on leave at the home of Millie's father in Oakland, just prior to flying to the Philippines to join Enterprise in Subic Bay, when I received a telephone call from Washington D. C. The secretary told me that the Admiral would be coming on the line – soon I heard him say, "Tissot, I don't want you to leave the ship during your 60 day period." I said, "You mean that I can't even go on liberty, Admiral?" He snorted, "No, I don't mean that, I don't want you leaving the ship when it is underway. Do you understand?" I said, "Yes, sir." End of conversation. I later found out that one of his prospective commanding officers had gone on TAD (temporary additional duty) during his turnover period and left the ship for a period of time. This example shows what complete control Admiral Rickover exerted over his people.

I flew over on PanAm with Commander Nick Nicolson, the ship's new operations officer. We arrived just in time to experience a typhoon that had very strong winds pushing Enterprise away from Leyte Pier at the Cubi Point Naval Air Station in Subic Bay. It was about midnight and I was on the bridge observing Pete Petersen and the bridge team in action. Pete had five tugboats pushing Enterprise against the pier when all of a sudden the wind gusted from about 35 knots on the starboard bow to 65 knots on the starboard beam. The gust lasted for 10 or 15 seconds, and during that time two bollards were torn from the pier. Pete immediately ordered all lines to the pier cast off, and when this was done told the tugs to back off. The wind took Enterprise and sent her out into the bay, where it took but a little maneuvering to drop anchor at an anchorage. Pete kept the tugs nearby, but the winds finally abated and the anchor held without dragging.

Enterprise went to sea, her planes flying missions from the Tonkin Gulf, and I commenced my familiarization with the propulsion plant – and the entire ship. I had time to visit every department and see nearly every space in that gigantic vessel – this was one plus in the Rickover required sixty-day turnover. I settled in the Chief of Staff's Sea Cabin high up in the island near the bridge. I was assisted in my orientation by the Executive Officer, Captain C. C. Smith, who kept me up to date on what the ship was doing and coordinated my visits with each of the ship's departments. We had one other in-port period before I took command, and that was a visit to Singapore. During this time the ship's officers held a farewell party for Pete. One of the exhibits was a blown up photo of me as an Ensign sitting in the cockpit of a F8F Bearcat in the hangar at Alameda in 1949 – the name on the plane was Ltjg Petersen. The photo was quite prophetic.

The night before the Change of Command, as I was going through the routine administrative paperwork prior to taking command, one occurrence took place that really got my attention – this was when the Supply Officer had me sign eight custody slips, the same kind that the Navy uses for typewriters and such. Only these were not for typewriters, each one was for a nuclear reactor! I was going to be accountable for eight nuclear reactors – never before nor since have I signed my name with such gravity.

I relieved Pete Petersen on 9 December 1971, while underway in the Tonkin Gulf, and Pete – having been promoted to Rear Admiral during the ceremony, flew off the ship a few hours later. What a feeling to know you are now Captain of the only nuclear powered aircraft carrier in the world!

The euphoria soon dimmed and reality set in. Shortly I received a letter from the Admiral. It was dated 6 December and started off this way:


Dear Tissot:

I recently received the report of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Examining Board evaluation of your ship on 27 September 1971. The evaluation showed the photodosimetry program in Enterprise is unsatis-factory. Further, Captain Benton has told me Enterprise dosimetry is the worst he has seen. (Eight examples of deficiencies were then described and the letter ended with): I would like to know what action is being taken to correct the deficiencies in the Enterprise photodosimetry program. In addition, I would like to know how you intend to prevent recurrence of the above or similar deficiencies in the future.

H. G. Rickover


When a naval officer salutes his predecessor and says, "I relieve you, Sir," he assumes complete responsibility for his ship, including what has happened in the past. (This is one of the wonderful aspects of naval command – complete responsibility and accountability. There is never any ambiguity about who is responsible.) I had been briefed that Enterprise did not do well during the inspection in September, and corrective action had already been taken. Actually, the discrepancies in the ship's photodosimetry program were fairly minor, but the program certainly did not measure up to Admiral Rickover's standards, i.e., perfection. I answered his letter, describing the actions taken, and Enterprise had no more photodosimetry problems.

The day after I took command, Enterprise was assigned as flagship of Task Force 74, and Indian Ocean operations loomed on the horizon. In February 1972 I provided the Admiral with a statement describing the advantages of nuclear propulsion during Enterprise's Indian Ocean operations during the Indo-Pakistani War.

Task Force 74 was constituted on 10 December 1971 for the contingency of evacuating United States citizens from Pakistan. On this date Enterprise was conducting combat air operations in the Tonkin Gulf. Enterprise recovered her airborne aircraft, transferred material and personnel required to remain in the Tonkin Gulf to Constellation, and was quickly ready to commence a high speed transit to the troubled area. She was immediately delayed for a period of several hours while her fossil-fueled escorts went alongside an oiler to take on fuel. Enterprise was further delayed during the transit by the requirement to maintain a low speed of advance to conserve her escorts' fuel. If Enterprise had had nuclear powered escorts, her response time and transit time would have been substantially reduced.

Once assembled, Task Force 74, with Enterprise as flagship, consisted of one attack carrier, one helicopter assault carrier, one fuel/ammunition resupply ship, three guided missile escorts and four destroyers. Of this group of vessels, only Enterprise was nuclear powered. It is noted that Enterprise was assigned to this task force by central authority, while all other units were assigned by local commanders.

Task Force 74 held in an area east of Singapore until ordered into the Indian Ocean on 14 December 1971. Just prior to the transit the helicopter assault carrier and all the escorts had to be refueled. Once in the Indian Ocean the prime concern was logistic support of the task force, specifically the fuel required for Enterprise's nine companion ships. Even though task force 74 was joined by several units of the Soviet fleet, some of which remained in close proximity to our forces, the nominal speed of the task force was kept at 15 knots. In spite of the increase in vulnerability of the task force, this low speed was accepted because of logistic constraints in the supply of fuel for the other ships in the task force.

Task Force 74 departed the Indian Ocean on 10 January 1972. During the four weeks of operations in the Indian Ocean, the task force was logistically supported by units of the Seventh Fleet Underway Replenishment Group. Since continuation of the combat air effort was desired from the two carriers remaining in the Tonkin Gulf, the Seventh Fleet logistics umbilical was stretched very thin.

Task Force 74 and Tonkin Gulf operations were supported simultaneously with adequate fuel only under the following constraints:

A. The carrier in the Indian Ocean was nuclear powered.
B. Task Force 74 resupply was performed in the eastern section of the Indian Ocean operating area.
C. Subsequent to 31 December 1971, Tonkin Gulf operations were reduced from two carriers to one.
D. Ships of the replenishment group were kept at sea for nearly the entire period, at the expense of normal inport maintenance and repair.
E. The operating tempo of Enterprise aircraft was held to about 60% of that normally achieved in the Tonkin Gulf.
F. Task Force 74 speeds were kept low to conserve fuel.

Had any one of the above constraints been unacceptable, at least one additional logistical support unit would have been required to sustain task force 74 operations. For example, had Enterprise been replaced with a conventionally powered carrier (all other circumstances being unchanged), task force fuel support requirements would have been doubled. Had this conventionally powered carrier and its escorts been required to operate at higher speeds, as would be in the case in a high threat environment, task force fuel requirements would have more than tripled. With a conventionally powered carrier assigned to Task Force 74, an insurmountable logistic support problem would have been posed in a very short period of time. This would have forced termination of either Task Force 74 or normal Tonkin Gulf operations.

The employment of a nuclear powered carrier with a conventionally powered force was, in itself, a significant advantage to the decision makers, since the limiting constraint to extended operations was, in this instance, the ability to transport fuel. The presence of a nuclear powered carrier eased this constraint by significantly extending the resupply cycle. For example, had a conventionally powered carrier been employed (all other constraints held constant) a seven day resupply cycle would have been required, while the presence of a nuclear powered carrier, with its zero fuel oil usage and increased aviation fuel carrying capacity, extended the resupply period to 12 days. Replenishment ship turnaround time, including three days for resupply and transfer, was 19 days. With forces that were available, and with the nuclear powered carrier employed, constrained Task Force 74 Indian Ocean operations were supported concurrently with Tonkin Gulf operations. With forces that were available, and if a conventionally powered carrier had been employed in the Indian Ocean, constrained two area operations could have been supported for only two weeks.

Other factors of significance concern response times and freedom of movement. Had the nuclear powered carrier been provided with nuclear escorts her initial reaction time would have reduced by at least a day. Furthermore, the Attack Carrier Striking Force could have moved throughout the Indian Ocean virtually without constraint, maintaining a normal tempo of flight operations, and requiring at that tempo the resupply of aviation fuel only every 14th day. Task Force 74 would have held an unmatched tactical advantage over Soviet forces in the ocean area. A significant impact on international politics and opinion would certainly have occurred, once it became evident that surface surveillance of this force could not be maintained by the Soviets.

While deployed and at sea, even though Admiral Rickover was a long way away his presence was evident. Every three months a comprehensive report had to be submitted describing all nuclear propulsion problem areas and personnel training that had been accomplished. This report was prepared by George Davis, my Reactor Officer, with assistance from Pete Hekman, my Chief Engineer, and was reviewed and signed by me. Nothing went to the Admiral from Enterprise that was not carefully scrutinized and signed by me.

We returned home to Alameda on 12 February 1972. After a short standdown for personnel leave we moved across the bay to Hunters Point shipyard and began a six week maintenance period. Here the scrutiny of Admiral Rickover became quite evident. His inspectors were always on board, monitoring everything connected with the nuclear propulsion plant. These inspectors were, for the most part, retired nuclear trained Navy Warrant Officers that were now working for the Admiral. When a discrepancy was observed, the operator was informed and then a telephone call was made to Admiral Rickover's headquarters in Washington D. C. In a few minutes I would receive a telephone call from the Admiral berating me for the transgression.

After a few of these calls I developed a "red stripe" report. This was a report prepared by my people, handwritten on paper with a large red diagonal stripe. Everyone knew that the red stripe meant "get this to the Captain immediately." In this way I could be prepared for the inevitable phone call and tell the Admiral my corrective action.

Example: I am sitting in my in-port cabin in Enterprise and the phone rings. I am told that the Admiral's secretary is on the line. I say, "Captain Tissot," and the secretary says, "The Admiral wants to talk to you." The Admiral comes on the line and says, "Tissot, I am told that your ELTs (Engineering Laboratory Technicians) have their procedures in a drawer." (The absolute rule is that every laboratory test procedure is performed by following the written instructions as the test is made, no matter how many times it has been performed before – a rule that is often broken but should not be). Having read my "red stripe" report, I answer, "Admiral, that is not true." The phone slams down. A few minutes later I receive a call from one of Admiral Rickover's assistants asking me to explain what I told the Admiral. I tell him that the procedures were taped to sliding cabinet doors above the laboratory counter, and that a door had been left open, covering the door on which the instruction was posted. My technician was wrong, but so was the Admiral in saying they were in a drawer. That was the closest I ever came to winning a discussion with Admiral Rickover.

While in port, Enterprise was subject to propulsion plant inspections by Admiral Rickover. This was always a trial. Like all Navy ships, we had our "zone inspections" each week. Here officers from the ship hold inspections in areas other than their own. So our reactor and engineering spaces were inspected each week. I often inspected these spaces myself, even leaving the bridge area while underway something I did not like to do and going down deep into the lower decks to perform the laborious inspections. But these "zone inspections", while necessary and effective, paled in comparison to an inspection by Admiral Rickover. When alerted to a forthcoming inspection, a massive effort was made to have each propulsion plant space as nearly perfect as possible. The division officers would carefully go over each of their spaces, then the department heads would inspect. Then the executive officer and I would carefully look at each space. By this time we were all tired, especially our reactor and engineering personnel. Next, from Washington would come one of the Admirals' top assistants, who would meticulously inspect every space, accompanied by me, the department head, the division officer and the division chief. The coupe de grâce would be the inspection by the Admiral. First he would be briefed by his assistant, who would tell him which was the best space and which was the worst space. The Admiral would then inspect these two spaces, closely followed by me and a large retinue. I so well remember following that small man, and at 72 years of age he got around very well. The back of his neck was pink and young looking – I remember that because I spent so much time looking at it. After the inspection I would be called in to my own in-port cabin (more about this later) and told in no uncertain terms just what the discrepancies were. The Admiral expected perfection – if the reactor and engineering spaces had been perfect, he would have had no comment – he only discussed discrepancies. When he and his party left we all breathed a sigh of relief as all involved were exhausted.

An interesting episode took place when Enterprise was at Hunters Point shipyard in 1972 and we had an inspection by the Admiral. Since he did not like to be driven by Marines, I personally chauffeured him between the ship and San Francisco airport. Before he arrived I got to the airport early and was waiting when a gray haired thin little man got off the plane, dressed in a nondescript sport coat and pants and carrying a briefcase. We said little on the way to the ship – there is no such thing as small talk where Admiral Rickover is concerned. After the inspection, a few days later I drove the Admiral and his two top assistants, Bill Wegner (submarines) and Dave Leighton (surface ships), to the airport. Here was my chance to see who was the number one assistant. I figured that number one would get in the back of the sedan with the Admiral, and the other would be up front with me. Lo and behold, the Admiral gets in the front seat! So much for that plan. I was so engrossed in listening to the conversation between my three passengers that I took the wrong turn and ended up on Bayshore Freeway going north – away from the airport. I immediately said, "Admiral, I made a wrong turn and we're heading away from the airport. But I will get you there on time.” The Admiral said, "Do you know where you are?" I said, "Yes, sir." End of conversation. We did get to the airport in plenty of time, but I really had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when I realized I was traveling north on the freeway.

Admiral Rickover had one recurring question that he posed to me. He asked, "Why does the Captain of an aircraft carrier have to be an aviator?" I always answered, "Because when airplanes are in the air the Captain may have to make a critical decision. If he has not been a carrier aviator and knows what is happening to the airborne aircraft, he cannot make these decisions properly." I also added, "The situation could be so serious that the Captain might have to decide whether to place the nuclear plant at some risk in order to successfully recover his airplanes.” I knew this would really bother the Admiral – he felt the nuclear plant was always the only consideration. His reply would be, "Why not have the Executive Officer be an aviator, and he could advise the Captain?" I would always say, "It's not the same, the Captain makes the decisions and he must be an aviator." Then the Admiral would drop the subject until a later meeting. It is noted that carrier Captains and Executive Officers are naval aviators.

The Admiral did not care for the evening prayer. This takes place at taps each night, where one of the Chaplains comes on the ship's loudspeaker system and delivers a nightly prayer. Everyone that can stops work and bows their head during the prayer. The Admiral said he opposed the evening prayer, and if he were on my ship he would complain to me about it. I told him that if he were on my ship he could cover his ears so he would not have to listen.

When the Admiral came to inspect the propulsion plant he commandeered my in-port cabin, and when summoned I would wait outside my own cabin like all the rest until called in. I really didn't mind this, because I appreciated the tremendous contribution the Admiral had made to the nuclear Navy. Before he arrived we received a short list of his needs. We were to clean and press his civilian clothes and have plenty of lemon drops and thompson seedless grapes available on the coffee table. We provided him a set of highly starched washed khakis (shirt and pants), which he wore without insignia. We arranged a tray of ship's souvenirs, such as lapel pins, postcards, photographs and such, for him to choose what he wanted. I am sure he gave them away as mementos, as he did in the case with Millie in Idaho. When he left the ship to fly back to Washington he would usually wear his khaki shirt and pants with his blue sport coat. Not a very distinguished attire.

During the seven month period between deployments, anti-war sen-timent was very strong. There were anti-war rallies going on all over the bay area. In fact, Jane Fonda held one at Alameda just a few days before we sailed to the Far East on 12 September 1972. There were the usual protest rags, as well as articles in the newspapers. We were tipped off that two young women were going to handcuff themselves to the aft gangway as a protest. Our Chief Master-at-Arms immediately cut the handcuffs with bolt cutters and the girls were spirited away. The TV van parked outside the gate at NAS Alameda did not get its story. Seven Enterprise crewmen participated in a rally, and all were transferred from the ship. Then we had quite a few demonstrators in small boats when we sailed. They had vowed – in the newspapers – to delay our sailing. The Coast Guard easily dispersed them. The most troublesome was a canoe with a high powered outboard engine. He was very maneuverable, and it took quite a while for the Coast Guard helicopter to capsize him with its rotor downwash. We left the pier at Alameda on the scheduled minute. I wrote to Admiral Rickover:

… The only distractions during this period were provided by anti-war groups in the San Francisco Bay area. Seven Enterprise crewmen were involved, including five nuclear trained operators. After a comprehensive investigation, all those involved were transferred from Enterprise. Recommendations for Navy Enlisted Classification (NEC) removals were submitted on the five nuclear operators. With the transfer of the seven crewmen, all indications of radical anti-war sentiment disappeared …

For our westward transit of the Pacific, Enterprise was assigned a single escort, the Guided Missile Frigate Bainbridge. This was great, because we had two nuclear powered ships and no oil burners. Admiral Rickover was always looking for articles favorable to naval nuclear propulsion for use in his yearly testimony to the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, he would have them placed in the Congressional Record. So here was a chance to provide material for the Admiral and I wrote to him.

In September 1972 a nuclear powered surface force, Task Group 77.5, consisting of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise and the Guided Missile Frigate USS Bainbridge, crossed the Pacific non-stop from California to the Luzon Straits in a period of ten days. The transit encompassed a distance of more than 6,500 miles at an average speed of 26 knots. This high speed was necessitated by the presence of severe weather areas.

During the transit, two significant deviations from the original track became necessary, the first to skirt an area of gale force winds north of Hawaii and the second to avoid a typhoon at the approaches to the Mariana Islands. The availability of sustained high speed and complete independence from logistic support permitted unrestricted deviations from the intended movement. Conventionally powered ships traversing the same route would have been forced to ride out these storms, subjecting the ships to possible damage, or would have been forced to maneuver at reduced speeds over much greater distances for storm evasion purposes. The latter instance would have required additional fueling while underway. Either course of action would have either hampered or prevented aircraft launches against opposing (Soviet) surveillance flights, caused discomfort to the crew, interfered with the routine shipboard work and training schedule, and most importantly, delayed the task force arrival in the combat area. A fossil-fueled task group would have required a logistic replenishment after arrival and before engaging in combat operations.

During the previous cruise Enterprise was allowed to visit only the ports of Subic Bay and Singapore. I requested renewed efforts be made to obtain Enterprise access to additional liberty ports. Sure enough, we were allowed to visit Hong Kong from 11-18 December. Millie and a group of Enterprise wives came over and the port call was most enjoyable. Enterprise was monitored for radioactive emissions by the British. I wrote to the Admiral.

Radiation monitoring of Enterprise was performed by a Royal Navy Radiological Protection Service party which apparently utilized gamma sensitive probes and took seabed samples near the Enterprise anchorage during a 30 minute period on the afternoon of 13 December. The U. S. Naval Liaison Officer, Hong Kong, advised that the Party was performing a routine radioactivity survey and radiological safety inspection in Hong Kong during the period 5-13 December and that the overlapping with Enterprise's visit was coincidental. No communication was received from British authorities concerning the results of this monitoring Enterprise left Hong Kong in a hurry, because Operation Linebacker II was beginning. We steamed to the Tonkin Gulf at 30 knots, leaving our conventionally powered escort far behind. We flew supporting sorties around the clock while the B-52s were doing their business in Hanoi and Haiphong.

Christmas came and went, and instead of getting Bob Hope and his crew of pretty girls, we got John Warner, the Secretary of the Navy. We were told that security at Danang was such that the Hope troupe could not stage through there on the way out to the ship. C'est la guerre.

Our planes were flying on the day of the cease-fire, 22 February 1973. We lost the executive officer of VF-143, Commander Harley Hall, and his crewman on that very day. They were killed in the crash of their Phantom after being hit by a hand-held SA-7 heat seeking missile. I always kept Admiral Rickover apprised of our combat losses, so he would be constantly aware of the mission of an aircraft carrier.

The scheduled date for Enterprise to return was in April 1973, but rumors of a cruise extension were flying thick and fast. Since nearly every cruise was extended beyond the original return date, these rumors had substance to them. An additional rumor about the location of our six month "extended selected restricted availability" had it changed from Hunters Point, across the bay in San Francisco, to Bremerton in the Seattle area. Sure enough, I received the bad news and had to immediately get on the ship's annunciating system and tell the crew that we were extended nearly two months and would be going to Bremerton instead of Hunters Point. The reason I had to hurry is that the communications sailors had seen the two separate messages that told me of the changes and they would soon have the word all over the ship. So the Captain had to announce that the rumor was now fact. That was a sad day for all.

On the way home, while stopping at Pearl Harbor, we picked up male dependents for a "Tiger" cruise. I had Brian aboard and we both had a great time. Rear Admiral Jim Stockdale, just out of prison camp, had his three sons along. Jim looked pretty bad after his seven year ordeal.

Our time at Bremerton was lengthened one day, to six months and one day. This allowed the home port of Enterprise to be changed, and the Navy could pay moving expenses for those who wished to move their families north. We sailed from Alameda on 30 July, with more than 1,000 cars, about 150 dependents, quite a few pets and even a boa constrictor (I discovered this later). One dependent was mine – Millie was aboard for the two day trip, and lived in my in-port cabin while I, of course, lived in my at-sea cabin near the bridge. It was so great to have Millie on board. One of the cars was also mine – my 1968 Mustang. I breathed a sigh of relief when we arrived at Bremerton, as there is always a chance that someone will get hurt, or even fall overboard. But everyone made the trip in good shape – there were no problems or injuries to anyone.

We arrived at Bremerton at the beginning of the nationwide fuel shortage. We were not planned to be there, so Bremerton had no extra fuel for the many Enterprise automobiles that had suddenly shown up. The local populace did not appreciate their even longer lines for fuel because of our presence and one station was selling gas for 50 cents a gallon to regular customers and a dollar a gallon to Enterprise sailors.

Shortly after we arrived, an interesting front page article appeared in the Bremerton Sun.


Watt's Up? Big 'E' Power Could Turn Brown White

While power companies are warning the public about possible shortages, it might be well to consider some shocking facts about the Big E. That's Enterprise, not electricity, but the giant aircraft carrier could supply a few volts of confidence for a browned-out Bremerton.

The Enterprise hasn't volunteered, but its total generating capacity of 40,000 kilowatts could keep Bremerton's lights on, and you might as well throw in the rest of Kitsap County. And why not plug in Mason, Jefferson and Clallam counties?

The combined population of those counties is less than 200,000 and a spokesman for the Enterprise said they estimate the ship could provide electricity for a city that size.

It's less speculative than it might seem. During a severe drought in 1929, hydroelectric plants were having problems, and the carrier USS Lexington used one of its generators to supply power to Tacoma.

It seems the paper called the ship and talked to a sailor in the Public Affairs Office. The sailor referred to our ship's information brochure, which stated that the power generated by Enterprise's reactors was equivalent to the electricity consumed by a city of 200,000. So he replied to that effect. USS Lexington had a propulsion system that was electrically driven, in other words, the steam produced by burning fuel oil powered electric generating turbines which drove the propulsion machinery. So in 1929 it was easy for Lexington to provide electric power to the city of Tacoma. Enterprise had no way to generate electricity for external purposes. We did not respond nor comment on the newspaper article, and nothing came of it. I dutifully reported the happening to Admiral Rickover in my next report, and did not hear from him on this matter. Incidentally, when the ship was in a maintenance status the quarterly report changed to a two-week report – what an increase in workload.

One visitor we had while in dry-dock in Bremerton was freshman Senator Sam Nunn. I wrote to the Admiral:

… On 24 August 1973, Senator Nunn from Georgia visited the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Enterprise. The senator, accom-panied by his wife, two small children and his mother-in-law, was aboard for one hour. He seemed very impressed in all aspects of nuclear propulsion and the survivability of the carrier during a nuclear attack. He appeared to enjoy his visit …

In October 1992 I ran across my copies of the photos that were taken during the Senator's visit. I mailed the photos to him and received a cordial personal letter in reply. Senator Nunn has been a long-time member of the Senate Armed Forces Committee and a staunch advocate for a strong military.

One exciting incident took place on a Friday afternoon near the end of my tour when Enterprise was back at Alameda. The Admiral had suffered a severe heart attack some months earlier, but when he inspected Enterprise he appeared the same as in the past. He kept his wrist watch set on Washington D. C. time and thus retired and arose early – not a bad idea for a short trip. He had been ordered to exercise a certain amount every day, and my steward told me that the Admiral told him to remove all the chairs from the dining room, then the steward peeked into the dining room from the adjoining galley and saw the Admiral briskly walk around the large table until he had finished his required exercise.

The time was a Friday afternoon, and I had just been debriefed (chewed out) on the results of the Admiral's inspection. To compound the situation, one of my senior officers was heard to make the statement, "You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear," referring to the ten year old nuclear power plant. (I must now note that Enterprise is well over thirty years old and going strong). This was absolutely the wrong thing to say and was unjustified and rightly resented by the Admiral's people as being indicative of the wrong attitude. I sure heard about that statement!

Later in the afternoon I was called back to my in-port cabin where the Admiral said, "Your boys have thrown away my (heart) medicine." He was calm and matter of fact in making this statement, and I was outwardly calm but inwardly very concerned. I sure didn't want him to have a heart attack on my ship. It seems the Admiral kept his heart pills in a wadded tissue which he left on the bathroom sink counter. A steward, while cleaning up, tossed the tissue in the trash. I went into the galley where three ashen faced stewards were going through the trash. I immediately had my Senior Medical Officer summoned from "happy hour" at the Alameda Officers Club. In a few minutes Frank Dully arrived, only slightly worse for wear. I had him call Washington D. C. and talk to the Admiral's doctor so that we could replace the prescription out here. But we didn't have to – the lost pills were found in the trash, unharmed, presented to the Admiral, and the incident was over.

C. C. Smith relieved me on 9 April 1974, becoming Enterprise's seventh Commanding Officer. This ended my direct association with the Admiral.

I consider my time with Admiral Rickover to be a unique and rewarding experience. The time and intense labor was well spent, and upon retrospect a most wonderful experience. Never has so much been expected of me, and never have I worked so hard. The naval nuclear propulsion program was the most professional program I have even seen, and it was due to one man – Admiral Rickover. He worked harder than anyone else did, and he was simply unforgiving of error – no matter how minute. The exceptional safety record of his program is a reflection of his unending quest for perfection. He was opinionated and rude, overbearing and prone to bully. He could be charming if he wished, but only to ladies and congressmen. I never let his tirades bother me, because there was always some error that had provoked them. I will always hold him in the very highest regard.

I saw very little more of him. During my two year tour in Washington D. C. following command of Enterprise. I noted that he attended all the area flag officer meetings. These took place in the Pentagon in a fifth floor auditorium and here the Chief of Naval Operations would tell his local senior leadership what was going on in the Navy. I noted that nearly half the Admirals in the entire Navy would show up for these meetings – this shows how heavily the Washington D. C. area is staffed. If I happened to see the Admiral as we walked toward the auditorium I would join him and say, "Good morning (or afternoon), Admiral." He would answer, and then we would walk along together in silence. There was simply nothing to talk about. You can't say to the Admiral, "Nice day, isn't it?' or "How is the nuclear program going?" There is just no small talk involved. I never sat with him in the auditorium, and no one else sat next to him, either.

The Chief of Naval Operations and third Enterprise skipper, Admiral Jim Holloway, held a reception at his quarters for all Enterprise personnel who were serving in the Washington D. C. area. As Millie and I got to the head of the receiving line, there was Admiral Rickover standing next to Admiral Holloway. Admiral Holloway turned to him and said, "You remember Admiral Tissot." Admiral Rickover said, "Who?" I said nothing. Later, as we were about to leave, I overheard Admiral Rickover's wife tell him it was time to go home. He did not want to leave. They left shortly thereafter. His first wife had died, and his second wife was the nurse who took care of him after his severe heart attack. She was a Navy nurse, a Commander, and seemed very nice.



My retirement from the Navy took place on 29 May 1981 on the parade ground of Camp H. M. Smith, near Pearl Harbor. I was attached to CINCPAC at the time, serving as the Assistant for Plans and Policy. By virtue of not being in command, and thus not being involved in a change of command as well as a retirement ceremony, I had the opportunity to make a talk of a personal nature.

It was a beautiful morning! The blue skies and lovely clouds that so often grace Hawaii were very much in evidence. All the things that make a military ceremony so very special were there – the Color Guard, the band, the uniforms, and the good people who comprise our armed forces.

Present at the ceremony were many of the friends that Millie and I had made during my two years at CINCPAC, plus several Navy friends of past years. Of special importance was the presence of C. C. and Sara Jane Smith, who had shared so many common experiences. Millie and Craig were there, but Brian was in California and could not attend.

Since Admiral Long was traveling, the guest speaker was Admiral “Red Dog” Davis, a veteran Naval Aviator serving as CINCPACFLT.

Here are my remarks:

“What a beautiful day! What a way to go! Admiral Davis, thank you very much for your kind words – it is a privilege to have you here today.

I know you are all enjoying the music provided by the Marine Band, and I thank them for being here – I have always loved to listen to a good marching band. I also wish to thank the members of the Color Guard and Father Burke, who have come up the hill from Pearl Harbor to participate in our ceremony.

All these persons contribute to the tradition that accompanies a ceremony such as this – in my mind tradition is a very important part of our military that refreshes us and reminds us of our responsibilities. It is something we need to treasure and to nurture.

“NAS Miramar – 1976”


My retirement from the Navy took place on 29 May 1981 on the parade ground of Camp H. M. Smith, near Pearl Harbor. I was attached to CINCPAC at the time, serving as the Assistant for Plans and Policy. By virtue of not being in command, and thus not being involved in a change of command as well as a retirement ceremony, I had the opportunity to make a talk of a personal nature.

It was a beautiful morning! The blue skies and lovely clouds that so often grace Hawaii were very much in evidence. All the things that make a military ceremony so very special were there – the Color Guard, the band, the uniforms, and the good people who comprise our armed forces.

Present at the ceremony were many of the friends that Millie and I had made during my two years at CINCPAC, plus several Navy friends of past years. Of special importance was the presence of C. C. and Sara Jane Smith, who had shared so many common experiences. Millie and Craig were there, but Brian was in California and could not attend.

Since Admiral Long was traveling, the guest speaker was Admiral “Red Dog” Davis, a veteran Naval Aviator serving as CINCPACFLT.

Here are my remarks:

“What a beautiful day! What a way to go! Admiral Davis, thank you very much for your kind words – it is a privilege to have you here today.

I know you are all enjoying the music provided by the Marine Band, and I thank them for being here – I have always loved to listen to a good marching band. I also wish to thank the members of the Color Guard and Father Burke, who have come up the hill from Pearl Harbor to participate in our ceremony.

All these persons contribute to the tradition that accompanies a ceremony such as this – in my mind tradition is a very important part of our military that refreshes us and reminds us of our responsibilities. It is something we need to treasure and to nurture.

All of us in the military tread a unique path as we pursue our careers. No two paths are the same, and this is what makes each career so very special. As we serve, we each make many and varied contributions to our service, and we each withdraw the satisfaction that comes from being in an organization that we believe in and are very proud of.

The substance of our armed services is much more than the equipment we have and the people who operate this equipment. A large part of this substance comes from the contributions of those who have served in the past. I am firmly convinced that each of us leaves his or her mark, however small, on their service. This mark is our legacy, a legacy that lives on long after we are gone.

In my case, I hope I have left my small mark in carrier aviation – for if a person is allowed to have a passion in the military, this has been mine. I joined the Navy for the express purpose of flying airplanes from carriers. And although I later discovered there were other things every bit as important, there was only one as much fun, and that was commanding the carrier itself. So I fervently hope that our Carrier Air Wings and our carriers are just a little bit more capable because of me. If indeed this is the case, then I am fulfilled.

When we leave the service, each of us takes away many memories – and I have my share. I imagine that as I grow older they will get better and better, for such is life. But a few memories are most vivid to me, and I thought I might share them with you today.

Celebrating VJ day. Dressing up in my tailor-made sailor suit with the dragons on the inside of the jumper cuffs and celebrating on Hollywood Boulevard with the big boys, even though I am only an Apprentice Seaman, a freshman at Occidental College. But I didn’t tell anyone that.

At Livermore, California. Soloing the Stearman biplane known as the “Yellow Peril.” What a feeling walking back to the flight line. I did it!

Arriving at the Naval Air Station in Florida where I was going to be taught how to land on a carrier and thinking, “How can I ever fly the SNJ that well?” Then seeing the sign in the hangar: “Thousands have done it, so can you.” I have never forgotten those words.

Getting my Wings of Gold on that bright, sunny summer day in Jacksonville, Florida. Although it will always seem like yesterday, I note with pride that only five naval aviators remain on active duty who have had their wings longer than me. Of course, one of these is Admiral Davis.

At Alameda, California. Making my first flight in the F6F Bearcat – the hottest prop plane ever built. Oh, those double Immelmans!

Making a carrier approach in my Bearcat  and receiving a late waveoff. That feeling of relief as the full right rudder finally arrests that torque roll.

In the mid-Pacific, standing the Integrity Watch on the flight deck of the Boxer on a balmy, beautiful moonlit night while the strains of ”Victory at Sea” are thundering in my ears.

Landing on a carrier in my beautiful bent-wing Corsair and feeling that “whoosh” of wind that passes through the open cockpit as she stalls just at touchdown.

Climbing out from Moffett Field in my Banshee on a clear, starlit night and seeing the beauty of San Francisco Bay unfold below me as I listen to the song “Canadian Sunset” on the one commercial radio station we can receive. What a magic carpet ride!

Landing my Cougar and Fury swept-wing jets aboard a straight deck carrier by flying a flat pass. Sure hope I catch a wire! And looking back now, crazy!

Flying a low level route in Turkey in my Skyraider and following the way of Saint Paul … what a profound, moving experience.

Landing on a carrier on a very black night and experiencing that exquisite feeling after making a landing that is judged “OK – 3 wire.” The rarity of these occasions makes them very special.

Returning to my home base at Lemoore, California, after an eleven-month deployment. As I taxi my Skyhawk into the flight line I experience the indescribable joy at seeing Millie, Craig and Brian waiting for me. Yet at the same time I experience the sadness of knowing that in five short months I will be leaving them for a seven-month cruise. So little time!

The first time I was called CAG – the greatest appellation in the Navy.

Over North Vietnam, hearing the warble of my missile warning receiver go from a low rate to a high rate, which tells me that the missile fire control radar is locked on my airplane and I can soon expect a “telephone pole” coming my way.

On Constellation, bringing my Phantom in for my thousandth arrested carrier landing. How lucky can a guy get to be able to fly off a carrier that much?

Taking my Dock Landing Ship to sea for the first time. As I leave the San Diego Naval Base I think: “Sure hope I don’t run into the Coronado Bridge!” And I didn’t.

Just prior to assuming command of Enterprise – taking custody of the eight nuclear reactors by signing the same inventory form I used to sign for typewriters when I was a squadron Administrative Officer.

Sitting in the Captain’s chair on the bridge of Enterprise for the first time and thinking: “This magnificent ship is mine!”

In the Gulf of Tonkin. The deep, moving joy I felt when I was able to announce to the crew of Enterprise that the first plane-load of our prisoners-of-war was overhead our ship – on their way to freedom!

Taking Enterprise into Alameda and receiving the information from the Navigator that the mast of the ship will pass under the Oakland Bay Bridge by three whole feet!

Flying the F14 Tomcat for the first time – what a far cry from the Stearman biplane I learned to fly thirty years before.

Steaming in the Indian Ocean with an all nuclear powered Battle Group consisting of Enterprise, Long Beach, and Truxtun, and seeing more stars in the sky than I’ve ever seen before.

And the list goes on and on …

There is one memory that stands out above all the rest, primarily from the impact of the occasion but also because it’s been repeated so many times. And that is standing on the flight deck listening to a memorial service and hearing the bugler play Taps and the three rifle volleys. So I must salute my many friends who have given their lives for their country. Among them are the very finest people I have known, and I think of them often when I see that beautiful flag of ours.

I have enjoyed my time at CINCPAC. Several startling world events have taken place during the twenty months that I have been here – our challenges have been many, and helping to fashion our military responses has been fascinating. The J5 organization – and this includes all the officers, enlisted and civilians – is topnotch, and serving as its head has been a privilege. Working with Admiral Long has been a most enjoyable and very educational experience, and the CINCPAC staff is a reflection of his outstanding leadership and competence.

So as I approach the end of my active duty, I must say this: I have had a career of adventure and action where nearly every day has been challenging and exhilarating; and at the same time I have been following a noble cause, that of service to my Country. What more could anyone ask?

But all this would not have been worthwhile in any way without the presence of a strong and caring wife and family. In this department I have been truly blessed, for Millie and Craig and Brian have endure the hardships and many family separations with strength and support and love. All of you who know Millie and our sons know just how lucky I am.

So I will end by saying it has truly been a privilege to be a Navy man and a member of our armed forces. But, of course, a far greater privilege is that which we all share, that of being an American.

I will now read my orders …”

Admiral Davis presented Millie with a Certificate of Appreciation for her many years as a Navy wife. Then I gave her a dozen red roses, and noted that each rose represented an entire deployment and nearly one thousand days as a Navy wife.

Thus ended a Navy career that started at Occidental College in 1945, two weeks after I graduated from North Hollywood High School. It was a career that gave me complete fulfillment of commitment, adventure and satisfaction. What a way to go!!

“With granddaughter Chanel and Maya”    Monument, Colorado                    1990

Letter to Lou Ives

16 May 1992

I am now fully retired and living in northern California. I left Northrop after ten years and immediately moved out of L. A. to Auburn. We have a new home on five acres and really enjoy a quiet life in the foothills of the Slerras. With my computer, an unlimited amount of yard work, my Mom in a nearby nursing home and three days a week playing racquetball at my athletic club, I find I have plenty to keep me busy, but very little that needs to be done right now.

I see you are the [Flying Midshipmen] historian. I will try and find my old Pre-Flight/flight training photo album to jog my memory and see if I can remember anything worthwhile. Were you with us during the wild trip to L. A. in Ben Decker's car over a Christmas holiday when Stu Ferguson failed to properly negotiate a turn at Van Hom, Texas? I know I have a picture of the car and passengers in my album.

I seem to remember that Walt Thomas published some FM firsts a couple of years ago. The perfect one was: First FM on the moon, Neil Armstrong. If you or Walt are compiling any more I have three (maybe only two).

- First FM to achieve 1,000 carrier arrested landings (I know this is correct, as I was third in the Navy and the first two, George Watkins and Al Nemoff were not FMs).

- First FM to command a carrier, 6 December 1971, Enterprise (I am not positive of this one, but I think I was the first).

- First FM First FM to command a nuclear powered carrier, 6 December 1971, Enterprise (I know this is true, as none of the previous COs were FMs and there was only one nuclear powered carrier at the time).

As I get older I pay more attention to the obituaries, and I was sorry to see Larry Pinzel and Lou Potter listed in the last newsletter.

Anyway Lou, I just wanted to check in and say hello. All the best.

/s/ Gene


Jerry Rice                (photograph by Gene Tissot)


Jerry Rice

Jerry Rice, how did you find me?
What led you to me
On that Super Bowl Sunday morning?

When I went outside to get the paper
It was dark
You rushed up to me
Crying all the time

I picked you up
I took you in to show to Millie
She said, “Get rid of him.”

I took you outside and started down the road to get the paper
You were tangling my feet, I couldn’t even walk.

I carried you back inside
This time Millie said,
“We’ll keep him until we can find the owner.”

In no time at all
You captured our hearts
You … a cat!
I would never have thought it possible
I haven’t cared for cats

But you are different … Jerry Rice
You are some cat!

I ask you, what was your name?
You say nothing
I ask you about your other home, were they good to you?
You say nothing
I ask you what led you to me that morning?
You say nothing
But something wonderful led you to me
And I am grateful

All I know is that I love you, Jerry Rice
You have enriched our lives.

“With my beloved Buffy – the only dog that was always carried in to the vet’s.”

Millie and Gene Tissot            MGM Grand in LV (what a hotel!) for Millie’s birthday dinner    “We had all ten of our family there.”    Auburn – 1994


Have you ever wondered
Why the word dog is
God spelled backwards
I have.

I believe
He gave us dogs
To make us better
Than we could ever be
Without them.

I believe dogs are a special
Gift from God to man
And what a wonderful
Gift they are.

They love us
They trust us
Utterly and completely
Without qualification.

They do not envy
They have no jealousy
Malice and avarice are unknown to them
They have none of our failings
And we call them dumb.

Their look of love
Is wondrous to behold
It fills us with
A marvelous feeling.

Dogs make
Our life
Richer and
More complete
He has truly
Blessed us. 

March 24, 1996

Pre-Flight Class 9-46