By way of a bio: Bob Smyth reported to FAWTULANT in January 1950 after 18 months flying Bearcats in Air Group NINE (CVG-9) at Charlestown, RI. He joined VC-4 in June 1950. In January 1952 he left VC-4 and entered Class 8 at the Navy Test Pilot School, Pax River. Following graduation he joined Captain Booth and Bob Jennings at the Electronics Test Division. Attached to the Radar Section, he had the oppor-tunity to fly bread-board models of the new A1 radars offered to the Navy in one of several radome equipped R4Ds. When all went well, a new all-weather fighter would show up with the developed radar installed. In this manner he became the Project Officer on the F2H-4 Board of Inspection and Survey trials.
In October of 1953, there was an opportunity to go to England as an exchange officer to help form the Royal Navy’s first jet night-fighter squadron, flying deHavilland Sea Venoms. In January 1955 he returned to the States, resigned from the Navy and joined Grumman as an engineering test pilot. The next 38 and ½ years were spent at Grumman on Long Island and Gulfstream Aerospace in Savannah, mostly flying and managing. He retired as a V. P. of Gulfstream in 1993. [Bob was the lead pilot on the F-14.]
Bob lives in Savannah with his wife Sally, Ned Shuman’s sister.
Letter to Lou Ives
December 26, 1995
Thanks for the card. You must be a worse pack-rat than I. The original dates back to my exchange duty with the Royal Navy in 1953-54. The airplanes were Sea Venom Mk. 20s, flown by three of the guys in our squadron. I’ve got a bunch of pictures from that time if you need any. I don’t know if any other Midshipmen were involved in that exchange program. The Navy only exchanged 5 or 6 officers a year, two of whom went to the Empire Test Pilot’s School. Most of the guys who were there around my time made flag rank: Don Engen, Jim Scott, Max Morris and Bud Nance. I guess I got out too soon.
I was trying to think of any significant happenings that might pique historical interest. I have a recollection that someone reported a free deck launch in a jet, or I might have dreamed it. At the time, I thought “I’ve done better than that”, having deck launched an F2H-2N from the FDR on April 16, 1951 in mid-Mediterranean to join the Coral Sea about 25 miles away. We had catapult hook cracks and were allowed only one more shot. The Coral Sea was headed westbound toward Port Lyautey where the McDonnell folks were standing by with repairs. Two days later we took our allowable cat shot and flew to French Morocco. Then again, maybe my recollection of the reference was in error.
I retired in June of ‘93. I still get to fly a Gulfstream now and again when they scrape the bottom of the barrel. I also do a bit of FAA Designated Engineering Representative (DER) work. Last week I spent a few days working with a new GPWS/Wind Shear system in an old DC-9 up in the mountains of North Georgia.
In the “Time Flys” department: last week on the 21st we observed the 25th anniversary of the F-14 first flight. In a couple of days on the 30th, we’ll lift a glass to the second and last flight of #1, when we punched out of it.
Since you are in the history business, I think I’ll include a copy of a [VC-4] squadron history I put together last Spring for a reunion in Corpus Christi. Saw Bob McIntyre there.
Please give my best to Elinor, and I hope you both have a happy & healthy ‘96.
From “A History of VC-4”
May 4th - 7th, 1995
This story began at the Charleston reunion in the Fall of 1993. Following Bob Lyon’s report that the squadron’s history was languishing after the efforts of himself and others, the writer volunteered to grab the baton and run the next leg. Enthusiasm was soon tempered by reality. VC-4 was an awfully big squadron with a great diversity of aircraft and personnel, and very little continuity. Think about it, squadron mates might serve two years in VC-4 and never meet each other.
My initial thought was to place the history of VC-4 in the larger context of the history of Night-fighters starting with its genesis in World War II. To that end, I am grateful for an excellent article by Bradford Tillman on “Night Hookers” in the Spring 1988 issue of the Tailhook Association’s magazine, “The Hook”. The remainder of the document was distilled from the semi-annual Historical Summaries submitted more or less regularly by the squadron. Apart from some frothy rhetoric during Joe Gardiner’s tenure, those reports were rather sterile. Personal reminiscences from the writer’s tour in VC-4 (1950-1951) came easily; written material by Bob Hunt, Gerry O’Rourke and others helped a great deal.
Still, there is not much contained herein that would tempt a Nightcapper to part with a buck or two. What he wants to see is the stuff that cruise books are made of: some words, to be sure, but also pictures of airplanes and beer parties and maybe his own name in print. That becomes a huge undertaking, probably beyond the scope of practicality.
And so, this document is presented to those guys (remember when there were no girls in the fleet?) who made VC-4 the best and most vital place in Naval Aviation, and who survived to savor that thought. If enough people add their own experience to the story, perhaps someone will expand this history for a future reunion.
Thanks for the memories,
Composite Squadron FOUR [VC-4]
From its inception at NAS Atlantic City on 23 September 1948, VC-4 became a large conglomerate of airplanes and personnel with a variety of missions, mostly involving night carrier work. Its first Commanding Officer was Captain Joseph A. Ruddy Jr. USN, a dynamic personality famous for his membership on the New York Athletic Club’s water polo team whose rowdiness caused the sport to be dropped from the Olympics. On 19 October 1948, CDR Roger W. Mehle, USN reported as Executive Officer. Roger’s fame derived from a sparkling war record in the Pacific, and a succession of beautiful wives.
October and November 1948 witnessed the arrival of airplanes and squadron personnel and the commencement of light operations. On 3 December 1948, VC-4 officially reported to COMFAIRQUONSET for duty. By Navy order they were commissioned to participate in the Fleet All Weather Program under the jurisdiction of COMFAIRQUONSET and COMAIRLANT. Although not yet defined officially, their mission was to “provide the fleet as required, all-weather VF and VA teams consisting of pilots, planes and personnel who are at such a level of proficiency as to permit both offensive and defensive operations without regard to existing weather conditions”.
The squadron’s first carrier activity was a day and night qualification cruise in USS Saipan (CVL-48) on 15-16 December 1949. Three F6F-5Ns and one pilot were lost during the night qals. On 30 December 1948, six F6F-5Ns were loaded on board Philippine Sea (CV-47) for a five month Mediterranean cruise, and four F6F-5Ns were embarked in Midway (CVB-41) for a two month Med cruise.
At year end the squadron consisted of 60 officers, 496 enlisted men and 54 airplanes. The aircraft fleet was composed of 12 AD-1Qs, 2 AD-2Qs, 16 TBM-3Es, 7 TBM-3Ns, 13 F6F-5Ns, 2 SNJs and 2 JRB-4s.
Between 1 January and 30 June 1949, the squadron grew to 87 officers, 904 enlisted men and 112 airplanes. The “cats and dogs” on the flight line were augmented by additional F6F-5s and 5Ns, 2 F8F-2Ns, 8 AM-1Qs, 4 F4U-4s and the introduction of 23 F4U-5Ns. The Maintenance Department’s cup most certainly runneth over.
Twenty-one cruises were made on board East Coast Essex Class carriers Leyte, Kearsarge, and Philippine Sea and the Midway class CVB’s Midway, FD Roosevelt and Coral Sea. Though many were qual cruises, there were several Med cruises and a major fleet exercise (3 carriers ) in the Caribbean in February and March.
In June 1949, eleven pilots of VC-4 participated in “Operation Blackjack”, a joint air defense exercise involving the Air Force, Army and Navy. The object was to test the effectiveness of the East Coast radar network in all weather conditions. The inadequacy of height-finding radar emerged as a serious deficiency.
At the home base in Atlantic City, extensive training activity was underway to bring all pilots up to instrument card proficiency and to ensure their familiarity with the civil instrument flying regulations. It is indicative of the instrument flying read-iness of the Navy at this point in time to note that only 58 pilots in this all-weather squadron possessed instrument cards of any color at the end of this period.
There were three total accidents during this period in which four pilots lost their lives. Two were F6F-5Ns lost at sea.
During the period June through December 1949, VC-4 participated in 13 cruises in six different ships including CVLs Wright and Saipan. There were no fatalities during these six months!
The squadron fleet grew to 162 airplanes including 29 ADs, 52 Corsairs, 29 Hellcats and 44 TBMs, plus a handful of F8F-2Ns and AM-1Qs. Clearly the squadron was in the night attack as well as the night fighter business.
Enlisted personnel increased from 901 to 1187, but approximately 135 were U. S. Navy Enlisted Volunteers, short-timers with little applicable experience. Not surprisingly, this diverse mixture of complex airplanes was accompanied by a shortage of qualified electrical and electronic technicians in addition to aviation machinist mates. Training and upgrading personnel was a full time activity.
In spite of an authorized allowance of 189 officers, the on-board count never exceeded 100 during this period. Shore-based flying at Atlantic City for the six months amounted to 9,052 hours.
The first six months of 1950 saw a total of 108 pilots involved in ten cruises on East Coast carriers. In addition to the shipboard units, VC-4 provided shore-based night resources for Operations PORTREX and SWARMER. Between 1 March and 10 March 1950, twelve VFN type airplanes and crews were detached to the Air Force to provide defensive coverage of Ramey AFB, Puerto Rico from sunset to sunrise. Two airplanes were kept airborne on Combat Air Patrol throughout the period under Ramey GCI control. During 88 missions, totaling 343 hours, the VC-4 detachment was credited with 40 of the 91 aircraft “destroyed” by Ramey forces, while suffering only 3 “losses”; a 93% effectiveness rating! One actual loss occurred when one pilot collided with a mountain while presumably under radar control.
Operation SWARMER was a joint operation conducted on the east coast of the United States. Eight VFN and four VAN aircraft were land based at NAS Norfolk. Again their mission was to cover the hours of darkness and bad weather with CAP, Intercepts, Heckler and Strike missions. A congratulatory “Well Done” was extended by Gen. Norstad at the conclusion. One VAN aircraft and crew was lost during inclement weather.
This period witnessed three major events in the history of VC-4: the beginning of divestiture of Night Attack to VC-33, the start of the Korean War, and the introduction of a jet night-fighter, the F2H-2N.
In late May of 1950, VC-4 was directed to transfer its VAN assets, planes and personnel, to VC-33, newly arrived at NAS Atlantic City. This was accomplished over the next seven months, transferring a total of 31 VAN and VAQ airplanes, 18 officers and 169 enlisted personnel.
The second event occurred on a weekend on which the writer flew an F4U-5N to Jacksonville to participate in a wedding on June 24th. On return to Atlantic City on the June 25th he was surprised to find the station on a wartime footing with grim-faced sailors belting ammunition. Sometime during the 3.6 hour flight the Korean balloon had gone up.
With a war to cover, the pace of operations increased sharply, at least for the moment. In the long run this turned out to be primarily a west coast war for the Navy, and in many respects a Reserve war as their Admirals pressed their units into action. In any case the active pilots in VC-4 were flying 50-75 hour months; a good part of it at night in endless night intercept and Field Carrier Landing Practice flights.
On 22 July 1950 Captain Ruddy was relieved by Captain Charles T. “Tommy” Booth II, a consummate gentleman from New England who had commanded an F4F squadron on board Ranger in the European/North African theater early in the war.
June 1950 saw the permanent transfer of four pilots and four F4U-5N air-planes to the Boxer in the Pacific. A short time later four more F4U-5Ns and pilots were assigned to the Leyte for temporary duty in the Pacific theater. This would be VC-4’s first involvement in the Korean War.
Perhaps the most significant occurrence during this period was the introduction of the all-weather jet to carrier aviation. The Navy had contracted with McDonnell Aircraft to acquire 14 night versions of the F2H-2 Banshee. The F2H-2N was essentially a day F2H-2 with an APS 19 radar mounted in the nose. Its ADF antenna was relocated aft of the radar and up between the four 20 mm guns. McDonnell began delivering one F2H-2N a month in the Spring of 1950. Of the 14 under contract, one was lost in test when a McDonnell pilot had his tail blown off in inverted flight, one disappeared into the R&D command, and the remaining 12 eventually found their way to VC-4.
There was lots of excitement in Atlantic City as this new dimension to the night world was making its debut. Although inherently more simple to operate, Banshee flying seemed to be restricted to LCDRs and above. Chief among these was LCDR Robert H. Jennings, USN, the Maintenance Officer of VC-4, who took a strong interest in working up a night jet detachment to deploy when sufficient airplanes became available. Bob Jennings was a Navy Cross fighter pilot from WW II and an excellent pilot and leader.
At one point in the Summer of 1950 the monthly arrival of a new F2H-2N was interrupted and Jennings noticed a Bureau Number was skipped. He jumped right on the phone and quickly found that an NAP ferry pilot had decided to visit his girl friend on the way to Atlantic City. There was some kind of minor incident com-pounded by a lack of urgency on the part of the ferry pilot that served to delay its delivery by the better part of a month. After some strong words, VC-4 received authority henceforth to ferry its own Banshees.
Bob Jennings, early on, decided he couldn’t take four LCDRs to sea in a detachment so he looked for three junior officers who had previous carrier experience prior to joining VC-4. He picked LTjg Homer A. “Hank” Winter, USN, and two Ensigns: W. J. “Willy” Hepburn and the writer. We began flying the F2H-2N in August 1950 after skimming through a Jet Engine correspondence course which featured the General Electric 1-16 engine (GE’s version of Whittle’s “tomato can”). The first flight consisted of Jennings helping with the engine start, and then a friendly pat on the helmet and you were on your way.
In spite of being ordained a “jet pilot”, we still continued to train in the Corsair. The writer’s logbook for August 1950 shows 47 hours in the F4U-5N and 25 hours in the F2H-2N. In September we did a qual cruise in Corsairs on the Cabot (the narrowest CVL in the Navy) and on 27 September 1950 we flew our Banshees to Norfolk to join the USS FDR, already at sea. Later that day we landed on the Roosevelt off the Virginia Capes on her way to Guantanamo Bay and a seven week shakedown cruise. We were unable to make more than one landing because the full Air Group was on board; however, on 4 October we were allowed to run through the deck for five more arrestments. This gave us the prerequisites for night landings which would come in ones and twos as Air Group operations would permit.
At the end of the shakedown cruise, in mid-November, we had a total of 28 jet carrier landings of which only five were at night. Clearly, night carrier operations was still a part-time occupation.
The night Banshee was a marvelous airplane for its era and a real winner on the Roosevelt whose Air Group included to F9F-2 squadrons, two of Corsairs and one AD bomber outfit. With much longer “legs”, the Banshees launched first and landed after the Grumman Panthers, flew higher and generally out-maneuvered them. Twin engine reliability may have eased the mind, but the ability to single up and conserve on a CAP station was its principal benefit. The APS-19 radar was not any better than it was in the Corsair, but the quieter cockpit and less complicated flying task made intercepts seem easier.
Around the ship there were pros and cons. First of all, in its three point attitude the Banshee seemed to have a negative fuselage/wing incidence. It was necessary to rotate the nose a fair amount upward on take-off to achieve a flying attitude. With little horizon and marginal attitude instrumentation, this was a potential problem on a night catapult shot. The pilots quickly learned to apply aft stick at the end of the catapult shot until the stick shaker activated. Holding that attitude, the airplane would immediately fly out of the stick shake regime and climb away.
Landings were simpler because of much better forward visibility, in comparison to the Corsair with its exhaust stack flame-hiding strakes. However, higher approach speeds offered the pilot less time at night to acquire the LSO, interpret his signals and find the deck. Detachment Seven had its own personal LSO, a luxury in the form of LTjg James A. Spargo, USN. Jim was a tall, lanky LSO who, early on, chose the old-fashioned wands instead of paddles to work us at night. Held outstretched in his long arms, the wands plus the phosphorescent stripes on his suit gave us a good ten feet of signal cues to extend the visible range at night.
Obviously, everything would have been easier with an angled deck and a Fresnel lens. As it was, the technique was to lock on to 110 feet on the APN-1 radio altimeter on the downwind leg, start your turn abeam the red truck light and after about 90-135 degrees of turn start looking for the LSO and the ship’s wake. While day Banshees used an approach speed of 115 knots, we flew the pattern at 105 knots to ensure there was no way of making it to the barriers if we misguided the flare on landing. The genesis of night jet operations was primitive, but promising.
In December of 1950, the squadron received 6 F4U-5NL airplanes specially configured for cold weather operations. These were equipped with an auto-pilot, deicer boots on the wings and tail, propeller anti-icing and a windshield degreaser; it was quite a Cadillac to fly.
During the final six months of 1950 the squadron flew 13,093 hours from its base in Atlantic City. in this period there were three fatal accidents resulting in the death of five squadron personnel. Head count on December 31st was 542 enlisted men and approximately 90 officers. There were 74 airplanes in the inventory including 58 F4U-5Ns, 6 F4U-5NLs, 8 F2H-2Ns and 2 SNBs.
During the first six months of 1951, VC-4 participated in 14 cruises involving a total of 63 pilots and 284 enlisted personnel on board the aircraft carriers Leyte, Midway, Coral Sea, FDR, Oriskany, Saipan, and Tarawa. One detachment of F4U-5NLs was deployed to NAF Argentia, Newfoundland to explore cold weather nightfighter operations. VC-4 also provided night-fighter teams in support of Atlantic Fleet Exercises, Airdex’s A, B, C, and E, and three USAF Eastern Air Defense exercises. The squadron also augmented the Eastern Air Defense Force by maintaining six armed airplanes with pilots alerted and available on a one hour notice round-the-clock.
In February the VC-4 detachment operating on board USS Leyte returned from the Korean combat zone and debriefed the squadron on the experiences. However, there is no historical record of what those experiences were.
The F2H-2N team was deployed in USS FDR on a Med from January through May 1951. Winter and Hepburn were replaced by LT Merle Gorder and ENS John Lurz. They continued to provide valuable experience for the future of all-weather jet operations, although the austerity of the era kept them inport a great deal. The team averaged only one night landing per month in the Med, usually losing out to the hangar deck movie.
The squadron’s semi-annual report for this period made special mention of its favorable experience with those pilots who were selected randomly from the training pipeline and assigned to FAWTULANT in Key West beginning in January 1950. These pilots were “quickly assimilated into the all-weather program and, while they might not have achieved the excellence of the more experience aviators, they reached a skill level adequate to the task”. It was suggested that all tactical pilots be introduced to all-weather flying as they complete flight training so that the special designation “All-weather Pilot” might someday become superfluous. As we know, this has been accomplished and current carrier based squadrons are comfortable operating in any weather, day or night.
Between January and July 1951, the squadron flew 10,721 hours from Atlantic City, of which 1,836 were instrument hours and 2,602 were at night. There were two fatal accidents in F4U-5Ns during this period, and several Corsairs were lost following failure of the main engine oil pump. Operations at night and over water were curtailed until modifications to the pump were made.
The second half of 1951 saw much the same squadron activity: nine cruises on seven different ships in addition to supporting a number of Navy and Air Force shore based exercises. The squadron continued to provide five pilots and five air-planes on a standby status from sunset to sunrise under operational control of headquarters, 26th Air Division of the USAF.
There were several developments of significance during this time frame. On 30 October 1951, Captain Booth was relieved routinely by Captain Josef M. Gardiner, USN. Captain Booth became the Director of Electronics Test at the Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River, MD. He took two of his F2H-2N team, Jennings and Smyth, with him and spent the next two years directing the test and evaluation of the new aircraft/electronics entering the Navy inventory. Included was the new generation of all-weather fighter aircraft with vastly improved A1 radars, better radio altimeters, TACAN navigation and UHF communications.
Captain Gardiner was a soft-spoken charismatic leader who became a cult figure to his officers and men. Ever mindful of the hazards in the daily (nightly) experience of his pilots, he railed at senior Navy leadership about the deplorable state of all-weather carrier aviation. Antiquated airplanes, primitive shipboard facilities and disinterested carrier/Air Group leadership frustrated his people who were, presumably, charged with defense of the fleet for one half of each day against modern high speed aggressor aircraft. He was right, of course. Help was on the way, but it would not see the fleet for another two years.
A new GCI facility was unveiled at Atlantic City during 1951, greatly enhancing the training programs of controllers and pilots alike. In the Fall of 1951, one of its tasks was to provide ground control for a major program assigned to VC-4 by the Bureau of Aeronautics. The Navy was interested in evaluating the comparative performance of a single place VFN such as the F2H-2N and a two place VFN such as the F3D.
Accordingly, two F3Ds from VMF (AW)-513 at Cherry Point arrived at Atlantic City. The R&D F2H-2N from Pax River was sent up with a Hughes APG-36 radar in its nose. The F3Ds were flown by two highly qualified two man crews with a great deal of intercept experience in F7Fs and F3Ds; the Banshee was flown by several of the VC-4 pilots who received a quick checkout on the APG-36 radar.
The Hughes radar was a dream! It was much more powerful than the APS-19, it was gyro stabilized so that the presentation did not play tricks in a turn and the display was beautifully engineered. Hughes was essentially an Air Force house and at this time was concentrating on A1 radars for several USAF all-weather fighters (F-94 and F-86D). They were light years ahead of Westinghouse, a fact which would soon become apparent on the F2H-3 and -4 series.
A number of flights were flown between September and November 1951, all in darkness or inclement weather. Targets included everything in the Atlantic City inventory plus fleet AJs and JDs from the VU squadron at NAS Chincoteague, VA. In each case the target was positioned well off shore for a run at Atlantic City. The F2H and the F3D were scrambled while the targets were well out and data were recorded on intercept range, positive identification, distance from Atlantic City, etc.
The results were somewhat cloudy. Basically, the F3D had better detection range with its big dish radar, but the F2H had much better performance and could generally complete the intercept farther out from Atlantic City. Whatever the interpretation of these results, the next generation of all-weather fighters was single seat followed by a generation of two seat fighters.
The last six months of 1951 ended with 7,355 hours flown from Atlantic City, including 2,109 on instruments and 3,637 at night. There were no fatalities!!
By 1952, the Navy’s Korean War buildup was being felt by VC-4. The squadron provided nightfighter service for eleven east coast carriers (Roosevelt, Tarawa, Midway, Siboney, Leyte, Saipan, Wright, Mindoro, Salemo Bay, Coral Sea, and Wasp). One VFN detachment (Det 41) was furnished to Air Pac for duty as an all-weather fighter team on board USS Bon Homme Richard in Korean waters.
The buildup also expanded the squadron’s stable of aircraft. F6F-5Ns were drawn from mothballs to meet commitments on the smaller carriers, and F3D-2s arrived to augment the F2H-2N fleet. The F3Ds brought with them a requirement for radar observers for which the Navy had no pipeline. There was a small cadre of Naval Air Observers at that time, mostly ex-enlisted radiomen who occupied soft shore jobs and weren’t about to volunteer for night carrier duty. VC-4 reached a reasonable solution to the problem by training ATs as radar observers. Supporting
the maintenance requirements of the new radars (the F3D had several) while losing ATs to flight crew added an extra burden to the over worked Maintenance Department.
In addition to its all-weather interceptor role, VC-4 was now assigned the task of providing jet bomber teams to certain AirLant carriers. The jet bomber was the F2H-2B which was configured to carry two small atomic weapons. Presumably VC-4 was chosen for the job because of its “can do” reputation with small highly skilled teams of specialists. “Teams” may not properly describe the self-sufficiency with which all-weather aviators performed their duties. “Every man a CAG” was the phrase that more aptly captured the independent nature of most night pilots – those ideally suited to high priority missions with little external support.
Despite written complaints to the contrary, VC-4 had always shown itself capable of adding a few more “cats and dogs” to its fleet of airplanes. Accordingly, the bombers were accepted, crews were trained and the first F2H-2B team was deployed in USS Coral Sea on 19 April 1952. Two more teams were trained during the remainder of the year.
The final six months saw the introduction of the McDonnell F2H-3 to service in VC-4. The F2H-3 was a larger version of the F2H-2N with hydraulics taking the place of most of the electrically actuated systems. It was designed from the ground up as an all-weather fighter with a Westinghouse APQ-41 radar in its nose. The radar was supposed to be a major break-through; it was not. It was difficult to maintain, was not antenna stabilized and employed a cockpit display that was crude at best. These straight wing airplanes carried more fuel than their predecessors but used the same engines, hence their performance was disappointing. In fact an F2H-3 could not be expected to successfully intercept an F2H-2B. Fortunately most F2H-3s were destined for VC-3 and some of the early all-weather versions of the former day squadrons. VC-4 eventually standardized on the F2H-4.
The F2H-4, otherwise identical to the -3, came with a Hughes E-10 A1 radar. The E-10 was a marvelous radar: gyro stabilized, with better reliability and a dynamite cockpit display. In fact, the Navy was so pleased with the E-10 display that they forced Westinghouse to adopt the Hughes display on its follow-on radar, the APQ-50. Unfortunately, Hughes was primarily an Air Force contractor and the Navy was stuck with Westinghouse.
1952 brought forth another appeal by Captain Gardiner for better recognition of the squadron’s problems by senior Navy management. In addition to shortages of critical maintenance skills, VC-4 suffered major operational problems. Its all-weather detachments were not being used efficiently on board the carriers. Daytime activity was so intense there was little enthusiasm for taking the extraordinary efforts to rig for night operations. The night detachments were losing their proficiency the longer they stayed at sea and safety would certainly suffer. Captain Gardiner made a strong plea for a dedicated night carrier which could conserve its energy during the day and provide a strong and proficient defense for the U. S. Atlantic Fleet at night. Detachments could be assigned to the day carriers from time to time so they might develop proficiency in handling night operations. This attempt to revive the popular WW II concept may have fallen on deaf ears; a night carrier never materialized.
This year also witnessed a significant transition from props to jets. At mid- year there were 52 propeller aircraft and 26 jets. At year end there were 38 props and 41 jet aircraft. The effect of this evolution was to create several airport facility problems. Millville, N. J., which had been the primary FCLP airport, was too small for the jet airplanes. And NAS Atlantic City’s 5,000 foot runways were marginal for all-weather jet operations. Appropriations to extend runway 13-31 by 3,000 feet and runway 4-22 by 1,000 feet were anticipated, with a completion date of December 1993.
The squadron suffered four fatalities during the year. Six airplanes were lost, 2 F6F-5Ns, two F3D-2s, an F4U-5N and an F4U-5NL. Head count was 102 pilots, 15 ground officers and 836 enlisted personnel.
The available records fail to show any narrative information on the activities of VC-4 after 1952. A snapshot of 31 May 1953 mentioned four detachments at sea. These were Det 6 on board Coral Sea with 7 F2H-3 aircraft; Det 7 on board the FDR with 4 F2H-2Bs and 3 F2H-3s; Det 32 on board Tarawa with 2 F4U-5NL aircraft and Det 44 on board Lake Champlain in Korean waters with 2 F2H-2Bs and 4 F3D-2s.
The latter detachment was led by LT Gerald G. “Gerry” O’Rourke, USN who later wrote that his team of F3Ds was detached from the Lake Champlain in June 1953 and sent to join VMF(N)-513s F3Ds at K6 airfield near Pyongtaek, South Korea. With the war winding down, their primary mission was to protect the Air Force B-29 bombers on their nightly raids. The opposing MiG-15s were not equipped with A1 radar, but they had excellent ground control radar close at hand. When their home base weather was good, the MiGs could be expected to come out looking for the bomber stream. VC-4 and the Marines as bomber escort could count on one team tangling with the MiGs each night. Since the MiGs enjoyed a commanding performance advantage, there was little the F3Ds could do except chase them away.
Gerry tells about one tactic the MiGs employed which was particularly effective on a lonesome CAP. The Communists would launch a single MiG-15 which Gerry called a “rabbit”. Ground Control would position the MiG in the forward quadrant of the F3D, within radar range but beyond gun range. The FD3 would acquire the “rabbit” and move in for the kill while the MiG applied enough power to stay just out of firing range. Meanwhile, three other MiGs would be vectored into a stern chase behind the F3D. With their superior performance, they would close on the F3D and look for a visual shot at its brightly glowing tailpipes.
One of the Det 6 crews, LTjg Bick and CPO Smith, apparently fell victim to this maneuver and was lost. However, they were credited with downing the “rabbit” and were each recommended for the Navy Cross.
Bob Lyon reports a joint exercise with VC-33 and VC-12 to demonstrate all-weather carrier based aviation on board the FDR from 4-8 May 1953. VC-4 was represented by 40 officers including Captain A. R. “Dick” Matter who was to relieve Captain Gardiner on 18 May 1953. Following this cruise Bob Lyon transitioned to the Big Banshees and on 30 August 1953, led the first F2H-4 team on a Med cruise in the Bennington. En route to the Med the Bennington’s Air Group participated in an exercise with the British in the vicinity of Greenland and Iceland. Bob describes one launch where the ship ignored adverse weather reports (fog) and eventually recovered all aircraft, with some on fumes. Not an unusual story in those days when airplanes were cheaper and carrier management was wartime-Gung ho. The Bennington’s Det 41 returned on 23 February 1954.
Hospice of Marion County Main Office
3231 SW 34th Ave.
Ocala , FL 34474
We are sorry to report that Robert K. Smyth (F), Grumman chief test pilot who flew the first flights of the A6A, the F-14A and the Gulfstream II, passed away on 10 January 2012. Bob had suffered a stroke a while back and seemed to be improving, but took a fall recently and did not recover.
His career at Grumman began as experimental test pilot after resigning from the U.S. Navy in 1955. He was appointed Chief Test Pilot for Grumman in 1967 and conducted first flights of three aircraft. His flight test programs at Grumman include projects on the F9F-6, -8, -8P and -8T, the F11F and -1F, the Mohawk and the Gulfstream I. This work included structural, spin and carrier suitability tests and FAA, British and Australian civil certification tests. Between 1962 and 1966 he served as Consulting Pilot and Astronaut Liaison on the Lunar Lander program in addition to his aircraft test flying. He was responsible for management of development and production test programs at Grumman and continuous flying in A-6s and Gulfstream Is.
His ten years of duty with the U.S. Navy included 3-1/2 years in fighter and night fighter squadrons flying F8F, F4U, and F2H-2N aircraft. He graduated from the U.S. Navy Test Pilot School in 1952 and was assigned to the Electronics Test Division at Patuxent River.
Bob was selected for the USN/Royal Navy exchange program and helped form the first Royal Navy jet night fighter squadron flying Sea Venoms in 1953-54.
He joined SETP in 1962 and became a Fellow in 1977. Bob is survived by his beloved wife Sally and two sons. If f you wish to remember Bob, please consider contributing to Hospice of Marion County, in Bob’s name.