The carrier, the USS Boxer CV-21 was operating ninety mile off the coast of Hawaii. It was during a night "group grope" with ninety-six aircraft groping around in a pitch black night with no stars. It was like flying inside Carlsbad Caverns.
We were simulating a carrier task force operating with five carriers although there was only one carrier and one plane guard destroyer.
After milling around the black sky of the south Pacific for nearly two and one-half hours near Hawaii, it was time to simulate a break up of a mythical task group of nearly 500 planes, the "fun" began. Each carrier's aircraft had designated sectors to break-up, which all "Air Groups" broke up heading away from the "large" task force. Then the Air Group Commander would lead his "chicks" back to the carrier.
For myself, all was going fine until I noticed I was closing in on the white tail light of the plane I was to follow. As my squadron was the fifth squadron of the air group, we were naturally the last planes that would arrive back at the carrier. As I was wingman for the section leader of the fourth and last division of our squadron, this always left me as "tail end Charlie."
When in a parade formation, it is poor airmanship to pass your leader, so I reduced power to slow down in order to remain behind my section leader. But slowly, I noticed I was still closing in on my leader, so I pulled off more throttle. As the white light kept getting closer and closer, I wondered why my leader was slowing down so much, and suspected we must be very close to the carrier and he was taking the normal landing interval between him and the plane he was supposed to be following. The only light on the carrier was the white "TRUCK" light, which I had not seen as of yet in order to orient myself with any other aircraft. I should have been able to see some red lights on any aircraft on the down wind leg of the landing approach, but all I could see was the white tail light of my leader, which I kept closing in on.
Keeping my eye on this light, I found myself about to pass it, so in an effort to remain behind it, I attempted to pull off all my throttle in order to slow down even more, but at this time my throttle was at idle, yet I was still passing the white light. My landing gear was down and I had extended my flaps fully down. As I came abeam of the light, I reached for the dive brake handle to aid in slowing down even more. Before I could actuate the dive brakes, I looked down, and with the aid of the white light on the belly of my AD, I could see white faces looking up at me. Then I recognized the partial form of a destroyer. I quickly realized that I had been try to fly formation on the "TRUCK" of the plane guard. Immediately, I looked at my airspeed indicator and to my horror, I was two knots below stall speed.
From previous experience with the torque roll of jamming on the throttle of the powerful engine attached to the front of my AD, I gently applied just enough throttle to keep me from falling into the ocean.
My heart pounded in my chest as I looked ahead for the carrier. I had completely lost sight of my leader. As I passed the carrier, I could not see any other aircraft lights everyone else had already landed.
With all the recent anxious moments, I misjudged the proper distance up wind of the carrier in order to have a descent down wind leg for a proper landing approach, so I was turning at the ramp, necessitating a wave off. Again I misjudged and had to take a second wave off.
After eight wave offs because my approaches contained every mistake in the book, it appeared as if I had never landed aboard a carrier. Finally, the ship's air controller called and casually asked, "Caboose 515. What is your state?" I knew I was almost in a panic, and my first thought was that they must know my mental condition, so they were attempting to calm me down. My muscles were flexing to press the microphone button and respond, "Tennessee," when my mind jumped to attention, "NO! NO! That is not what they want to know. They want to know how much fuel I have remaining. So with a composed voice, I responded, "Ninety-five gallons."
There was no response, so I figured they were attempting to consider sending me to the beach Hawaii, if I didn't make a landing pretty soon.
Apparently, this little conversation cleared my mind and on the next approach, I received that wonderful "CUT" from the LSO, and caught the number two wire.
I was a non-drinker, but I wrote my dear wife that, "If I didn't start drinking after tonight, I would never get started."
I had never been so scared in my life, but
I remained a non drinker.
Two "nuggets" fairly fresh from flight training, having under gone operational training, including carrier qualifications in the TBM were out on an instrument training flight in the Douglas dive bomber, AD-1 while assigned to VA-195 at NAS Alameda, California.
"Nugget" Ensign Earl B. had been under the "bag" while "Nugget" Ensign Mac Grisham was flight safety chase plane for Earl's practice, which was mostly becoming confident in controlling the aircraft smoothly under blind flying conditions, along with a couple of practice orientations on a low frequency radio range navigational facility. These practice flights also included descents to a partial approach to a field, but not to descend below 3,000 feet. Normally, these flights remained above 5,000 feet for safety reasons. And of course it was not part of the instrument syllabus, but no one could resist performing a few aileron rolls and loops while under the "bag."
Having not been able to do any aerobatic flying since the days of flying the SNJ, every AD pilot desired to spend a little time having fun and diversion from restricted flying such as was required in the TBM. So at the end of each instrument flight, it was common practice to do a little "Blue Angel" flying in close formation, performing smooth aerobatic maneuvers. This actually was just a "tail chase" with the wingman holding a close position behind and under the leader.
Ensign Grisham, having been the safety plane pilot, became the wingman. He positioned himself behind and below Ensign Earl's plane with his propeller about a three-foot clearance from Earl's tail hook. Ensign Earl happened to be older than the skipper but he acted as if he were still nineteen very aggressive and fearless.
During the tail chase exercise, Grisham was so focused on the lead plane, that he had no idea if he was upside down, right side up, or vertical going up or down. He maintained constant vigilance on maintaining his formation position.
SUDDENLY Grisham detected a closure on his leader's plane and jammed the stick forward to avoid a mid-air collision. To this day he does not understand how his vertical stabilizer did not strike Earl's propeller as he sped forward and under his leader's plane. Grisham pulled out to one side and attempted to execute a rendezvous with his leader. When he approached Earl's plane, and to remain behind him, he had to swing wide on each side to kill speed and realized that Earl's plane had no power, as Grisham had to keep his throttle at idle just to remain anywhere near behind his leader. Grisham immediately thought Earl's plane had experienced an engine failure, but he recounted that he had not seen any smoke from the engine which was a common factor with an engine failure either black smoke or blue smoke. (Unknown to Grisham, Earl had pulled off his power, and Earl never explained why he had to do so.)
As he was deciphering all these factors, and attempting to join formation, and was just about to press his microphone button to ask about any problems, Grisham saw an F8F flash by. Immediately, Grisham thought, "We have been jumped by a "Bear Cat" and he wants to dog fight. Ensign Grisham happened to be in the right position as the two Skyraiders turned toward the attacking F8F and began weaving as in a one-on-one dog fight. Ensign Earl dropped back on Grisham's tail and maintained formation during the next four-fighter weaves.
As things seemed to be pretty even, Grisham deducted that if he should make a sloppy or slow turn, and if Earl is on the ball" he could make a quick maneuver and get on the opponent's tail before the opponent could get his guns bearing on Grisham with any good tail or deflection shot. Earl was on the ball, and as Grisham executed his sloppy turn, he called out on the radio, "Get him Earl!" Earl immediately responded, "I got him."
Earl had pulled up in a Chandelle, rolled over, split his large dive brakes and completed the last part of a "Split-S." He was immediately on the tail of the Bear Cat to the total surprise of the F8F pilot.
The Bear Cat pilot had been sold a "bill of goods" in that he was flying the aircraft that held the world's climb record from sea level to 10,000 feet in 90 seconds. So he calculated that he could out climb this large 50-foot wing span dive/torpedo bomber in order to get away from him.
So beginning at about 8,000 feet, the F8F pilot applied full throttle and pointed his nose for open sky, envisioning that his little aircraft was climbing like a "home sick angel." When he reached 18,000 feet he thought that he had left the AD far behind in his "wake," so he turned with the idea of going back and fight the Skyraider. But to the F8F pilot's surprise, the AD was tucked neatly under his tail, and had no problem staying with the 36-foot wing span scooter. For the next fifteen minutes, the F8F pilot attempted every maneuver in the book to "shake" the AD, but to no avail.
In the mean time, Grisham was all by himself at 8,000 feet. His immediate thought was that these guys don't go around by themselves, so there had to be another F8F some place nearby. With a swivel neck, Grisham looked for that second F8F. Finally he saw him diving toward him. Either the other F8F pilot knew what he was doing or he was lucky in that he was diving out of the sun.
Ensign Grisham applied full throttle and pulled the nose of his AD toward the attacker. They passed each other in a flash the F8F was doing at least 450 knots, while the AD was doing about 80 knots.
At this point it is interesting to note that Ensign Earl had had only two dog fight lessons in an SNJ almost two years previously, while Ensign Grisham had had only one dog fight lesson at that same time. They were far from being trained "dog fighters."
Grisham immediately turn toward his attacker, and immediately knew that the F8F pilot had made his first mistake. He had failed to convert his high airspeed into altitude, thus Ensign Grisham maintained altitude advantage and could press the fight to his advantage.
The two adversaries, the AD and the F8F began their dog fight weaving, which seemed to remain on an equal level of performance for about eight weaves. At about this time Grisham was about to call it a draw, until Grisham noticed he was gradually out turning the F8F, so he continued to press the fight until he was on the tail of the F8F.
The F8F pilot rocked his wings in acknowledgement that he had been "shot" down, and the fight was over.
Ensign Grisham called to Ensign Earl. "It's time to go home, Earl. Join up." In a matter seconds, Earl swooped into place on Grisham's wing and they dove for home NAS Alameda. As they entered the "break" over the end of the duty runway, an F8F flew by and pulled up into a victory roll. In the traffic pattern, he had made a gunnery run on the two Skyraiders.
As the two AD drivers walked to the hanger, they conversed about the incident, and agreed they would not mention it to anyone. They were fearful that they may have encountered some senior officers in the fighter squadron, and they didn't want any trouble to fall their way. It was during this little talk that Grisham discovered that Ensign Earl had actually initiated the dog fight, and Grisham never saw them during their "Blue Angel" act he was concentrating on his leader's plane too much to see anything else.
After lunch, a couple of other AD driver "nuggets" asked how our flight went. We casually respond, "Pretty good. If you have been on one instrument hop you have been on any another." Then Midshipman Ed, a Holloway Plan aviator, said that an F8F pilot, a Lieutenant Junior Grade from VF-193, was bragging at the BOQ dinning hall that he had shot down a couple of ADs that morning. Adding "It took me fifteen minutes to shake the first one off my tail, but" At this time the room roared with laughter, and he was reminded, "Man, you had been dead for fifteen minutes." Midshipman Ed reported that the other Lieutenant Junior Grade confessed that he had a real fight on his hands and that he gotten shot down by an AD.
This was all good news to all the frustrated fighter pilots that had been "Shanghaied" to a "lousy" torpedo squadron. Some inexperienced Ensigns had proven that they had a real airplane to fly and not some old lumbering torpedo/dive bomber, like the TBM or SB2C.
The irony of this event was that the two LTJGs had been trained as fighter pilots, now assigned to the, supposedly, newest, most maneuverable plane in the Navy's inventory, and the two nuggets had been trained as torpedo pilots.
After this incident, all the no longer frustrated fighter pilots in VA-195 felt that any F8F in the air was fair game for a dog fight. This severely curtailed the fighter squadrons training as they were constantly "jumped" whenever they placed their landing gear in the wheel wells.
Interesting enough, the bragging LTJG only attained the rank of commander, while the honest, confessing LTJG attained the rank of Rear Admiral. Did integrity have something to do with a couple of careers?
Also interesting is the fact that when Grisham returned to VA-ATU-5 at NAAS Cabannis Field, Texas, four years later as an instructor, not as an Ensign or Lieutenant Junior Grade, but as an Enlisted Pilot, the former torpedo training squadron that Grisham and Ensign Earl B. had undergone their taste of a large aircraft, the TBM, had transitioned from the TBM to the AD and had incorporated dog fighting in the syllabus of several instrument instruction flights.
Later, when the Skyraider availability became
critical due to maintenance problems, the instructor was required
to fly chase in an F6F Hell Cat. In a dog fight, this was one
of the most mismatched affairs of aviation. Every instructor,
regardless of experience and ability to fly, got shot down very
easily by all their inexperienced students.
The Piper J-3 Cub had been one of the most famous civilian trainers. It was the little plane that I first flew and soloed at age 16. It began with a power plant of only 40 horse power, and shortly moved up to a 65 horse power engine. After soloing, most of my flying was conducted in the only 40 horse-powered Piper Cub in the fleet of ten planes of the Laurie Yonge Flying Service of Jacksonville, Florida. As no one else liked to fly this under powered bird, and I knew it would always be available, I claimed it as a personal aircraft. It was fun to take in out early in the morning, just after sunrise, with a parachute strapped on and perform tail spins for a couple of hours at a time. I was in "hog heaven" until after earning my Wings of Gold and began flying the AD Skyraider.
While in VR-32, I had to task of delivering a Douglas AD-4N Skyraider to NAS Norfolk. This marvelous dive bomber initially started off with a 2,750-horse power engine, but ultimately the engine had been modified to the point of developing 3,000 horses.
In the ferry squadrons, there was a policy that if you happen to be away from the squadron for five days, you got two days off. Even if you had been on the road for thirty days, you were allowed two days off. For a lot of the times in this unique outfit, I would leave on a trip on Monday, return on Friday and then get my two days off. On this particular incident, I had arrived back home on Sunday and was taking my two days off when a phone call from the Schedules Officer instructed me that I had to pick up this old bird, an AD-4N at NAF Litchfield Park, the Navy's "grave yard" where it had been in storage for seven years. The Aircraft had to be in Norfolk by noon Friday so as to be loaded aboard a ship. The plane was being given or sold to France, who would ultimately use it in Southeast Asia, which is now Vietnam.
Pleading my case that I had been gone for almost two weeks and that I deserved two days off fell on deaf ears. I was told that I was the only pilot remaining in the squadron qualified to fly the AD. After a leisurely shower and a bag of clothes refitted, I arrived at the squadron and boarded an R4D Gooney Bird that had been waiting to take me to Litchfield Park.
The next morning, on entering the cockpit, I was horrified to say the least. I found several holes in the instrument panel where the primary flight instruments had been removed the aircraft had been cannibalized. In addition, the radio would have crystals for only four communication frequencies. And there were no navigational radios, not even the low frequency radio range receiver. In fact, the only navigational piece of equipment was the magnetic compass. Except for the more sophisticated engine instruments the plane suddenly took on the characteristics of an over grown Piper J-3 Cub.
Although I had accumulated over 950 hours in the bird, it had been a long time since I had taken one off the ground. As I aligned the aircraft on the runway, I noticed that the magnetic compass, commonly referred to as the wet compass, was about five degrees off the runway heading. I knew that I might not be perfectly aligned with the runway heading, and I considered the magnetic compass was within the allowable tolerance it generated no concern.
However, as I applied throttle, the sound of the engine quickly gave concern that it would keep running. I had forgotten how noisy the short exhaust stacks were. Keeping an eye on all the engine instruments revealed nothing wrong. The engine ran smoothly, but noisy. With concern of an engine that might quit any time, my test hop remained in a circle, all within gliding distance of the field, climbing up to 9,000 feet. In the circle around the field, looking at the magnetic compass never entered my mind. My wings went to level flight on the last final seconds before landing. With nothing to actually complain about to prevent flight, I signed for custody of the bird, and filed a VFR flight plan to El Paso International Airport.
Without the normal primary flight instruments, the flight to Norfolk would have to conducted under Visual Flight Rules (VFR). My first stop for fuel was to be El Paso International Airport, followed by NAS Dallas, Nashville and then terminating at NAS Norfolk.
The heading from Litchfield to El Paso was 092 degrees magnetic. On this heading after takeoff, the city of Phoenix and Sky Harbor Airport would lie to the left of the fuselage, while Mt. Graham would be just to the left of the nose. After take-off, and I leveled off and pointed the nose on a heading 092 degrees, Phoenix and Sky Harbor was on the right of the fuselage, and Mt. Graham was misplaced about 45 degrees to the right of the nose. Immediately, I knew the compass was useless. Then I deducted that a good compass would not be available at Litchfield, along with using nearly a whole day of critical time, I elected to continue on, as time was short to complete the task on time. As I had flown over this terrain many times, I felt very comfortable, just as if I were in my own back yard.
At El Paso, a message was sent to NAS Dallas requesting a wet compass. I knew I could make it all the way to Memphis with out a map and compass, and even all the way to Nashville with out a compass, but from there on, I would need a compass and a map.
After passing Big Spring, Texas, a line squall of thunderstorms necessitated, dropping down to 1,000 feet above the ground, and flying through some heavy rain. For about ten minutes, ground contact was lost as I reverted to "partial panel" instrument flying. "Partial panel" flying meant flying with out the aid of any stable gyro operated instruments. This is often referred to as "needle-ball-air speed" flying. Emerging on the east edge of the summer storm, I figured that my heading was off about ten degrees. This deduction came from the noticeable fence lines and agriculture field layouts. I felt pretty good about the "partial panel" flying during the heavy turbulence encountered under the thunder storm. Once I was out of the rain, I climbed up to 8,000 feet, looked around, and orienting myself without the aid of maps and proceeded on to Dallas.
Arriving at Dallas before night fall, the compass was installed during the night, and the next morning, I put the airplane on the compass rose for calibration. All my previous experience performing this task, assigned to me because I was always the junior man on the totem pole and it was such a menial task, no one else wanted to take on the job, was paying off big time, (sometimes "dirty" jobs provide some good experience) and fine adjustments brought the compass within 2 degrees of the cardinal headings a fine and satisfying piece of work.
After a leisurely flight to Nashville, arriving about noontime, I spent Thursday afternoon and night visiting my cousin, Henry Ford Grisham and his wife Frances. Norfolk could have been easily reached Thursday night before dark, but I was upset that I had been deprived of my two days off, and was not going to deliver the aircraft no sooner than absolutely necessary.
The next morning the weather between Nashville and Norfolk contained a line of clouds over the Allegany Mountains, stretching from the Great Lakes to deep Alabama which required climbing to 12,000 feet to traverse this area. The maps were useless because of the cloud cover, so it was a strictly "Dead Reckoning Navigation."
An hour after takeoff, it was time to give a position report to a Flight Service Station. As I was over clouds, without positive position indications, my radio report was little more than just the fact that I was still airborne, someplace between Nashville and Norfolk. I had to estimate my location near some kind of fix for the benefit of the Flight Service Station record.
Another aircraft, over Atlanta, over heard my radio report. It happened to be flown by another ferry pilot crew in a P5M aircraft. During a short exchange of information, the other pilot revealed that there had actually been nine other pilots, including himself, around the hanger that wanted to fly the mission, but the Skipper wanted the most experienced AD pilot, and the most experienced ferry pilot to take the flight thus Gisham was "volunteered." This removed my resentment for having lost my two days off.
Realizing the problems I had encountered, the other pilot confessed that he was glad that he had not been given the task, and that the Skipper was right in his personal selection.
After passing the high clouds over the mountains, the sky ahead contained lower broken fair weather cumulous clouds. Picking out land marks became easy, and the AD-4N was delivered just 30 minutes before the dead line time.
So say the least, I was glad to be relieved
of this 3,000 horse-powered J-3 Cub.
Air Group Nineteen had been at sea on the USS Boxer (CV-21) for two weeks undergoing carrier qualifications for every one, but in particular for the new guys in both the AD Sky Raider and the F8F Bear Cat the Air Group was flying.
It was the last for this activity, so those in the air and conducting their final qualifications, were going to fly to the beach while the rest of us would remain on the ship until it docked at NAS Alameda.
One of Lieutenants, Lieutenant Val, who had transitioned from "Poopy Bags" to heavier than air aircraft was making his landings although he had landed aboard at least 20 time before, and was considered to be one of the "old hands." His wingman thought Lieutenant Val was a very good Aviator.
I was on the O-2 deck, commonly called "Vultures Row," observing operations. From our view point, the Lieutenant's approach looked normal all the way, but for some reason, the LSO gave him a wave-off.
Lieutenant Val, executed his wave-off properly by applying full throttle, turning left to avoid flying over the carrier, then he attempted a right turn to parallel the ship's course. But instead of the aircraft turning right, it continued in a left turn, descending slowly until the left wing struck the water, cart wheeled in a huge splash. When the splash subsided, the AD sat in the water in a slightly nose low attitude/ The pilot appeared the casually climbed out of the cockpit and jumped in the water with his Mae West life jacket inflated and awaited the destroyer to pick him up.
Lieutenant Val was always the cool one, and reported that he thought he was going to make it until he found water in the cockpit.
How and what happened was a mystery to everyone, even after analyzing the motion and still pictures. I did not get anyone to agree with me, but I simply remarked that he had the aircraft in a side-slip condition, pointing out that he had the proper aileron and rudder position for a roll out, but they seemed to be ineffective, and his nose was pointed above the horizon. I rather quickly applied how I often executed a side-slip in the old N2S Stearman, although my instructor always had me in a more radical side slip with a steep wing down and heavy top rudder. My one injected thought to the solution was that the engine torque kept the aircraft controls to be effective.
Keeping my theory, I was privileged to have a few minutes with our new Skipper and pointed out that Lieutenant Val had plenty of flying speed and all he needed to do was pull off the throttle, roll the aircraft to a wings level attitude, and then slowly apply throttle. My feeling was that the new Skipper took this with a "grain of salt."
Just two weeks later, the Skipper was out on an FCLP (Field Carrier Landing Practice) hop in preparation to going aboard the "Boat" for carrier qualification. When he returned to the hanger, he almost ran up to me and wrapped his arms around my shoulder and exclaimed, "You just saved my life!"
It seems that the Skipper had executed his cut and landing procedures properly, and then he jammed on the throttle. The AD jumped into the air immediately, and began a left hand roll. At about 50 feet of altitude the Skipper found himself in a 90-degree angel of bank and his controls were not effective in making the aircraft roll back to a level attitude. The AD had also stopped climbing because of the steep bank there was no vertical lift. He told me that his mind raced to what I had said about the action Lieutenant Val should have taken pull off the throttle! This he did and the AD quickly rolled to a wings level attitude, but dropped back to the ground and struck the runway hard in a three-point attitude. He then slowly applied throttle and continued his flight.
Maybe no one else believed me of the proper
action to take to over come the torque roll of a 3,000 horse powered
engine, but I now had one believer, who I am proud to say ultimately
retired as a Captain.