Article from EAA Warbirds, 14:4, June 1991, pp. 23-27.:
[p. 23 missing, article continues from p. 24, 3rd column (p. 23 and part of p. 24 relate to prior flight training, not necessary to this narrative).]
Strike through portions not pertinent to this narrative.]
Advanced training [F4Us] covered all the skills we’d learned in basic, but more intensely, plus dive-bombing and a good deal of tail chasing aerobatics and dogfighting. Sheer heaven for a budding naval aviator! Still, danger was ever present. A close friend, Joe Cook, had a fire in the engine area. With the engine and fuel tank up front, a fire heats up the Corsair cockpit fast! Joe bailed out, but his parachute opened as he left the cockpit. The parachute canopy caught on the tail, and the Corsair towed Joe down to his death. You who wear parachutes: never touch that D-ring until you see you’re well clear of the airplane.
January 1950: Back to Pensacola for carrier qualification in the Corsair. Again, many field practice landings ashore.
I lost a couple of weeks due to tonsillitis. At last I made the carrier landings and was awarded my wings in April, 1950. One other aspect I was intrigued with - the F4U had fabric covered wings! The aft 2/3rds of the surface was fabric. I first noticed it while dive-bombing; the fabric bulged up between the ribs so much that it looked like a row of sausages. The only modern F4U I’ve seen was changed; Howard Pardue had the whole wing metal covered.
June 1950: In the Fleet All Weather Training Unit [FAWTUPac] at NAS Barbers Point, Hawaii. Until now, all the pilots in this elite night/all-weather intercept/attack unit had been second-tour pilots. We brand new aviators were viewed skeptically. We knew it, worked hard and made the grade! We specialized in all-weather airborne radar glide-bombing against surface targets.
The Korean War broke out at the end of June 1050. In Hawaii, we were alerted against possible hostile attacks. Our ADs carried radar useful for interception as well as surface attack, and we manned cockpits, day and night, on a diagonal ramp that let us start with high power, curve onto the runway, and then jam on full power and leap into the air. Ground radar vectored us to intercepts; some were hairy with too high closure rates in the soup. Fortunately, all the bogies were friendly: airliners, Coast Guard rescue B-17s, etc.
1951: The Pacific Fleet’s all-weather attack squadron, VC-35, was based at San Diego. From there we sent a four plane team out on each carrier headed for the Korean Conflict. A collateral mission was anti-submarine patrol, in “Hunter-Killer” pairs. VC-11 supplied “Guppy” ADs with huge long-range radar antennas beneath the fuselages. The Guppies (Hunters) would scan a 400-mile circle of ocean and vector us (Killers) to any surface contacts. On these missions, in addition to our versatile radar, each Killer plane carried a steerable searchlight, sonobuoys to hear underwater propeller noises and a homing torpedo. The Guppies’ radar was highly sensative; I was vectored to targets as small as a slatted crate floating in the water, and a school of fish breaking the surface.
In 1951, ‘52, and ‘53 I flew night attack and anti-submarine missions from the carriers Bon Homme Richard [CV-31] and Oriskany [CV-34] in the Korean War. My logbook shows over 100 combat missions in this period, including destruction of seven locomotives (rail cars and trucks were too numerous to mention). The day pilots thought we were crazy - but the AA gunners can’t see you so well at night! We even sprayed our white numbers lightly with dark blue so they wouldn’t show up in flare light. In daytime, our air coverage over North Korea was so complete that the enemy could not move supplies. They had to roll transport at night, which gave our night attack aircraft plenty of targets. A typical night mission began with pilots studying maps of roads and railroads in the chosen area of operations. This is mountainous country; we noted the tunnels most carefully, to avoid following a road into a granite wall.
After launch, we would navigate by radar to the desired landfall, then follow the transport routes visually (starlight would do) at about 500 feet above ground level. We guarded our night vision; keep one eye closed when lighting a cigarette. We couldn’t see the dark mountains, but avoided them by staying over the light-colored dirt roads and double-checking our maps before making turns. Green painted trucks were dark spots on the dirt roads. Locomotives occasionally betrayed thenselves with white puffs of steam. We worked in pairs; when the leader spotted a potential target, he’d tell the wingman to climb to 1000 feet above ground and drop a parachute flare. Meanwhile the leader would maneuver for a low pass to identify the target when the flare lit and, with luck, hit it on the first pass. Four 20-mm cannon would stop anything, including locomotives, immediately. If the flare showed many targets, we’d continue dropping flares and attacking with guns, bombs and napalm until every vehicle in sight was destroyed.
We were shot at constantly during our searches and attacks. Our night ADs carried one pilot and, in the aft fuselage, two crewmen: a radar operator and an ECM (Electronic Counter-Measures) operator. The aft crew station, with tiny windows, was a hellhole, but its occupants were the elite of all enlisted men. Once we were over land the radar operator couldn’t help, but the ECM man could tune in enemy gun-aim radar and tell me its modes: SEARCH - Normal; SECTOR SCANNING - They see us; LOBE SWITCHING - They’re locking in the guns: time to evade. Random changes of heading and altitude would break lobe switching’s lock, and the radar aimed guns never got near us when I had ECM help. Small arms fire often hit us, but not seriously.
There were, of course, exceptions. My best friend, Gerry Canaan, and I were in single seat ADs (no ECM) when, after a light showed briefly on a road below, he dropped a flare for me in the valley south of Wonsan. I burned twelve trucks with one napalm bomb on my first pass but Gerry took a hit in the engine and had to bailout over very unfriendly territory. He survived a long improsonment, and came back to make a distinguished career in Naval Service. [Ed: See Canaan’s story elsewhere in this history.]
Modern electronic attack and defense systems are fantastic compared to the simple radar/ECM equipment we used in the early 1950s. Yet our ‘50s gear was a big step ahead of what was available in World War II. One thing hasn’t changed since aerial warfare began: after rolling into the final dive on a target you feel naked and vulnerable indeed until you can fire your ordnance, pull out and start evasive maneuvers.
In late 1952 came a new twist: our pilots rotated, spending a month at NAS Atsugi, Japan, practicing delivery of “special weapons” (atomic bombs). The method of delivery was a 70 degree dive (point the nose down vertically; wing lift makes the angle flown 70 degrees) starting at 20,000 feet and pulling out at 10,000 feet. We flew AD-4Bs specially designed for this mission.
One day a USAF P-51 from Johnson AFB, near Tokyo, expressed scorn by a high-speed pass down and up through our landing traffic pattern. I felt offended, and decided to offer combat. The next day I circled my AD over Johnson AFB. The AD is an angular, boxy looking affair, and looks like cold meat for a sleek Mustang. What is not obvious is that the AD, designed to be a fighter after dropping its bombs, has a huge wing area and almost twice a Mustang’s horsepower! A P-51 came up to chase the intruder away. I let him get close on my tail, then turned. In one circle I pulled in on his wing, and nothing he could do would lose me! He tried maneuvers; no luck. He added full power to pull away; I eased in throttle and kept up easily. What fun! He got red in the face and made rude gestures while I smiled back. When he dived for home I let him go and congratulated Douglas for building such a marvelous machine. In later years, flying Corsairs, I fought P-51s and could barely stay even. The AD was a super fighter-bomber!
Mid-1953: With the Korean conflict winding down I left active duty, but served in reserve squadrons another eight years flying F4U-4s, F9F-6s, AD-5s, and S2Fs. It was all great flying, in excellent aircraft, with the finest companions one could ever hope to meet. No wonder my SNJ is proudly decked out in Navy colors!
[Ed note on accompanying photos: top and bottom, p. 24; top p. 25 (we have middle); top p. 27.]
Article from EAA Warbirds, 14:5, July 1991, pp. 19-20.:
[This article contains photos omitted from previous article. Ed note on accompanying photos: top and bottom, p. 19; top p. 20.]