“Chewing Tail” *
Dave Senft, VF-74 executive officer, and I launched from Quonset Point after dark on a night hop. Dave had acquired hepatitis dining in Greece, had been grounded for about six months and was itching to throw the F4U Corsair around the sky. There was moderate "night light" from a crescent moon early on our hop but very little at the end. We proceeded to Montauk Point doing lazy wingovers and barrel rolls in tight formation, and on the way back did elongated barrel rolls and loops. At that time (fall, 1951) we had friendly relations with the French and they had a detachment of about 10 pilots training at Quonset Point in F6Fs.
As we broke on the upwind leg for landing we heard the tower instruct a French pilot in an F6F to take interval on us, land, proceed to the end of the runway, turn onto the taxi strip and hold his position. Dave and I landed, turned onto the taxi strip and again heard the tower repeating instructions, a bit more urgently, to the French pilot to hold on the taxi strip and that a jeep would be sent for him to follow. Dave and I continued S-turning our "hosenoses" down the taxi strip until we heard the tower, with increased urgency, declare, "French pilot without lights hold your position!" This was immediately followed by, "All aircraft stop and hold your positions."
Dave kicked his Corsair 45 degrees to the left and stopped per routine. I did likewise about 15 yards short of Dave so that I could look back over my left shoulder along the taxi strip. The tower then made two or more frantic calls to the French aircraft without lights to "STOP!" This piqued my interest a bit.
As the French aircraft had no running lights, we had no idea where he was. The Corsair had a white "turtle light" mounted aft of the cockpit which cast minimal light behind us. As I was craning to see behind me, I suddenly saw the light reflected in a huge spinning propeller heading directly at my cockpit.
It was a very narrow strip. Dave was just ahead. There was no "good" place to go. So, I sucked back on the stick, two-blocked the throttle and took off for the boonies. At the same time I kicked in some right rudder to get some distance from that prop without hitting Dave.
Strange! You don't feel terror until after the event. I heard and felt that prop engage the empennage, and like a slow motion movie, he "ate" my tail. Thankfully, his prop stopped about four feet short of the cockpit where I lay in a reclined position looking up at the sky. That bit of right rudder, fortunately, kept me from being splattered.
This, of course, entailed an accident report which I immediately submitted and which the Ops Officer, the Skipper, John Fair, and XO Senft reviewed. There were some felicitous comments at the time. About four days later Skipper Fair entered the ready room with a big smile and said, "Foley, you are one hell of a pilot. I got that French pilot's accident report and you are the only g--damned pilot that I know who can BACK UP a Corsair!"
Author Foley, a retired physician, is a former A viation Midshipman and is profiled in the Aviation Midshipman feature beginning on page 17 in this issue.
* Wings of Gold, spring 2011; © 2011.