*CVExtremely Small”

1950--four of us year-old Ensigns from VC-33 flew to USS Palau (CVE-122) off Long Island to night qualify. We had 20 landings on the Coral Sea, a CVB, with the "B" standing for “Battle” but to us it meant “Big”--like near a grand long. We found the Palau; got in two landings before enjoying the evening meal … which in retrospect was close to the 'last supper.’ Just at dark, we deck launched and started making passes. Unfortunately the afternoon winds had died. Round and round we went for 2 hours--about 150 passes with 6 landings total! The Palau was 525' long and 75' wide and rated at 19 knots (tops) when new. That was okay for TBMs and F4Fs but those AbleDogs … Noooooo. I got my first night landing and my first and only night cat on the Palau. Man, that was some cat shot! What a kick in the butt! I wish all my night takeoffs had been cat shots; but the next 60 were deck runs. We were sent to the beach at Quonset. We were running low and couldn't land to gas up on the boat anyway. The NCO tower operator was screaming that we were making sparks as we landed. So … our hooks were down, now he knew it too. We head­ed for the bar; sucked up some beers and agreed CVEs were okay but not for AbleDogs at night, at least. We may have been the only ones to fly off a CVE at night??? When we saw the LSOs back at Atlantic City, they told us the barrier operators had dropped the fences on each of our night landings or we would have had a fence! God bless them!

The "E" in CVE stands for "Extremely small"!

* Aviation Midshipmen Log, summer 2000; © 2000.


“Air America” *

Frank Bonansinga has offered up some of his avia­tion lore for the benefit of the rest of the Flying Midshipmen to share …

I was a single-engine carrier oilot for my Navy days from 1945 to 55. Then flew mostly single-engine jets while at Raytheon for ten years. While there, I flew their B-26 Invader on test work and later an Onmark Transportation 26 [a B-26 conversion]. It was no doubt, this “26” time that got me into the Air America night drop project, since many more senior guys at near by Vientiane, and around the system, wanted the job. Sometimes not getting what you want is better than getting it. Although 1 was put into it, most of the night drop missions I enjoyed.Frank Bonansinga with “Night Drop Blue Goose” B-26 after mission over Laos – 1970s

Although I had nearly 7,800 hours of light twin engine time in the Twin Beech and the Volpar Twin Turbo prop Beech, I never considered it multi-engine time as compared to the B-26. But as anyone who has flown it knows, it was one fine machine. I thoroughly enjoyed flying it except for one flight and it wasn’t all the plane's fault.

Two mechs and I had delivered some B-57 Hustler radar parts to Boeing/Seattle and were returning to Boston. Our B-26 had only prop deicers and carburetor heat. No wing deicing and no cabin heat .... WOW .... how cold could it get up there!

We were on I FR, in the soup at 15 grand when we picked up a load of ice in nothing flat! There was no forecast of icing by the Seattle weather-guessers … but you know how that is!

The wings were literally covered with a ton of ice and our lAS went from around 180 down to 140, 'as we speak'! We must have had the mother load of ice! I went to military power but the IAS was below 122 K VMc!. So rather than spin in, I descended and told ATC of our slight (sudden) problem and waited to see if there were rocks in the clouds, we were over the Rockies!

For several minutes we descended on instruments, hoping they didn't tumble us into eter­nity. But out we broke, in a beautiful snow covered valley between two very large tall rocky peaks and the ice soon melted. We were a mite mentally exhausted but none the worse for the ice and that was that! We knew we were some kind of lucky!

This was the first and only time I got iced up so bad I couldn't do anything about it but descend and hope. Many of you have been there and done that too. But that was easily my most remembered "ice up" story and it just happened to be in a beloved B26.

In SEA, we never had icing in the seven years I flew there. No big bad ugly thun­derstorms either. Seems nobody nowhere, has weather like we have in the U.S. But then, 1 have missed a bunch of places … am not sorry about that!

I was flying a WW II Navy F6F Hellcat as a target on an electronic radar flight test evalu­ation near Boston, when the single engine fighter's engine cowling partially ripped off.

It was near freezing on the ground that winter day but at around eleven thousand feet it was much colder … way, way below zero. The 2000 HP P&W engine's cylinder head temperature had dropped down from a nor­mal 190 degrees to around 100 degrees. The 18 cylinders in the engine were popping and coughing, telling me, "it's way too cold, heat us up!"

Unfortunately, my engine problem was com­pounded, as the engine cowling had torn back and was covering the cockpit so I couldn't see looking forward. This was something like having to drive your car, looking out the side window but this was safer. No traffic to avoid!

I had opened the cockpit hatch to better see out and in case bailing out was called for. I was thinking the cowling could tear loose, hit the tail and I would lose control of the machine.

So first things first, I increased the engine RPM, lowered the gear and flaps, and tried to get the engine to heat up and keep running; but I had to watch the airspeed and not go too fast to keep the cowling attached.

I called Hanscom Field tower and told them of my somewhat uncomfortable situation and requested immediate landing. The cockpit was cold, I was cold and the engine was cold and complaining. They said "OK, come land."

So I decided to make a simulated carrier approach. Came over the runway; made a left break turning downwind, dropped down to a few hundred feet above the ground while looking out of the left side of the cockpit. Slowed it down and kept the power up and made the Field Carrier Landing Practice, (but this was not practice), with no further prob­lems. I maneuvered the Hellcat slowly to the Ramp, ‘S’ turning all the way to keep It on the snow covered taxiways.

As the engine shut down, a large group of the Missile and Space flight facility's em­ployees came out to look at the old F6F tail dragger's new, funny looking dress code.

Unfortunately it wasn't so funny for the Hellcat's plane captain. He was fired that afternoon - Failure to secure several of the engine cowling's locking fastener/buttons.

The Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat was Bureau Number 93767, the afternoon was 20 Feb­ruary 1956. I was twenty-eight years old and had been working for Raytheon for three months after five years as an AbleDog night carrier pilot. It was a cold day!

"LANDING AT THE ALTERNATE" One day during the Vietnam War, while do­ing a pboto/recce mission over the Plain de Jars or PDJ in Central Laos, we were almost gassed into oblivion.

The cockpit of our modified SNB, a Volpar Turbo Prop twin engine Beech 18, suddenly was full of a dense smoke, so thick we could barely see the instrument panel! It also was not conducive to inhaling, so oxygen masks were immediately donned.

All I could think of was fire, fire and more fire!

The battery and generator switches were turned off and I told Dave Waters, the first officer, to go aft and get our parachutes. I thought we might have to bail out. Understandably, he was not happy with this request as the PDJ belonged to the other guys who were shooting at us.

We were at 10 grand and perhaps 40 miles from the friendly base called 20A or the Al­ternate, for short. It was named Long Chieng, but was not shown on charts since it was a secret base and supposedly, did not exist.

We made a VHF radio transmission on the Air America company frequency and told no one in particular of our problem, a sort of May Day … but we did not use those awful words. We said we were heading for the Alternate and would be shutting down the electrical system. We did so and made a bee line for 20A with no radios.

The Alternate was a Shangri-La type base, closely surrounded by mountains we called the Skyline Ridge; it had an eastern open­ing for the one runway--in and out. So, this was good, as we were coming in from the east.

There was considerable traffic at the Alter­nate. It was the headquarters for General Van Pao's mountain people, or the Hmongs, who were fighting their enemy, the Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese. Various single and multi-engine U.S. aircraft landed there supporting the Hmongs. Also U.S. trained Lao pilots were flying former Navy T-28 trainers as fighter-bombers from there.

And as luck would have it, just when I needed to have the runway for a straight in, a T-28 had just pranged-in about half way down the runway. The one and only run­way was clogged with crash equipment, a fire truck and lots of people milling around.

We were a mile or so out on a normal, steep final, when I saw this revolting development and said to Dave, "The hell with this, we're landing anyway."

There had to be some wide-eyed, flustered folks when they heard and saw our VTB headed straight for them. Thanks to revers­ible props, a good set of binders and remembrance of long ago carrier landings, we landed, missed them and stopped with­out further incident.

We taxied into the Air America ramp and Stan Wilson our number one maintenance man there, checked the battery wheel well and found the problem immediately. The voltage regulator had failed, allowing the battery to overcharge producing smoke and fumes as it was melting. The resulting thick toxic smoke had vented through the wing spar opening, directly into our cockpit! We normally flew at ten thousand feet and al­most never needed masks but had them with us just in case they were needed. This was one of those "cases".

Frank Bonansinga, Air America, 1970sStan removed what was left of the battery and we flew back to Udorn sans battery but with the two generators working just fine. A top Customer boss at Udorn, Jim Glerum, was a former Navy Intelligence Officer on the Princeton during the Korean War; years later told me he was at the Alternate and had seen our VTB make the landing and it re­minded him of a carrier landing.

That was true, it was something like that; a FCLP, Field Carrier Landing Practice …but it was an UFCL, Urgent Field Car­rier Landing … and with no P, for practice.

Ed. Note: Frank flew 569 pholo/recce flights from Udom rom November, 1967 to March, 1973 … And guess whatfolks … IT DIDN'T COUNT AS ‘GOVERNMENT SERViCE’!

Frank is now retired and lives with his wife, Sharon, in the desert at Indio Hills, California. His main aviation involvement now is playing with and refueling the multitude of 'hummers' ­not the wheeled type--that swarm to his back­yard feeding stations. He says the sugar water flows like beer used to at the O'Club.

* Flying Midshipmen LOG, winter 2004; © 2004.

Frank Bonansinga 2011  ‘GOT HIS WINGS’

“A Midshipman Naval Aviator ???”

This somewhat reflects the uniqueness of being a Flying Midshipman about fifty years ago; was April 1949.

I was enjoying a beer at the famous Sazerac, for men only stand up bar, at the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans. When in come two Naval Aviators in uniform, a Commander and a LT and order a beer. They look at me in my summer kaki uniform and one said, "What are you?"

I told them I was a Midshipman Naval Aviator, sticking out my chest with my new gold wings on the blouse. They looked at each other, drank their beers and left. Both probably thinking, this kid is still in his Mardi Gras costume! “Oh, what the hell is the Navy coming too!"?! I was 20, so it fit.

Then a couple of days later at NAS Pensacola's main gate, the Marine sentry wouldn't let me out wanting to see my liberty card! I pointed to my wings and said, "I don 'f need a liberty card anymore!" He gives me the same "doubting Thomas" look the two Naval Aviators gave me, but he lets me out!

[Yer Brown Shoes AvMidn Ed was exiting the gate at SAN with an exposed bottle of Jack Daniels on the back seat. The Marine guard was giving him a hard time, and wanted to confiscate the precious item, when a 2-rocker Marine explained it to him.]

Pensacola Preflight Class 12-47