“A BIG (FRANTIC) LETDOWN”
While at NAS Alameda serving in VA 195 flying ADs, our training schedule dictated a simulated squadron sortie to a distant target. The "target" selected was Davis Monthan AF Base near Tucson, AZ. Flying formation with 16 aircraft for 4½ hours was a day's work. We stayed overnight at Davis Monthan.
During the return the next day at 12,000 feet we met an overcast just above 10,000 feet just east of LA.
LAX advised us to hold in a circle until other traffic cleared the 10,000 to 3,000 feet overcast. When we were cleared for a 270 degree decent toward San Clemente, our skipper ... not the sharpest pencil in the box, but very Gung Ho ... declared: "Follow me and keep it tight."
Sixteen close formation ADs dove into the soup at 10,000 feet. It was surprisingly dark in there. All I could see upon entering, and all the way, down , was the right wing tip light of my section leader. After about 30 seconds of time, tense nerves following my leader, ice began forming rapidly on the windshield.
While frantically fumbling for the deicer controls, I had my head pressed on the left side of the canopy to maintain sight of my section leader's wing tip light. Finally, after a few hour-long seconds, the deicer hot blast cleared the ice coating from the windscreen. After the recitation of several heartfelt prayers, we broke cover at 3,000 feet headed 270 degrees toward the sea.
We were in that dense overcast for about 5 minutes, and the only reference point I had was my section leader's wing tip light. The most surprising fact was that all 16 planes came out in a reasonably close formation with no "fender benders". However, a few parachutes were probably stained. Upon our return to NAS Alameda there was no talk of "the event." As the most junior officer, I felt restrained from opening any discussion ... as perhaps this was routine!
Later, at the "0" Club bar, some lively discussions were held ... away from the Skipper’s ears.