Tales From John's Naval Aviation Career
I was 10 years old. I lived on the southern edge of Springfield, Illinois just two blocks from an electric railway line called the Inter-urban that ran from Springfield to St. Louis. There was a trestle that spanned the street that ran by my house and the crumbling concrete abutment upon which that last section of the trestle rested was being renovated. Every day I would walk down there and watch the work. The foreman of the iron workers took a shine to me and one day he asked me if I had ever flown. When I said no, he asked if I would like to go flying with him. Wow! How could a 10 year old kid say no to that.
He owned a small Cessna at the Springfield airport and drove us there. I'll never forget the feeling in my gut after takeoff when he went into a steep banked turn to the right and I was looking down at the ground from probably 1500' or so. It was magical and that lit a fire that only diminshed when I retired from the Navy.
That evening my parents had a cow when I told them where I had been that afternoon. The next day my dad had a face-to-face with that foreman. He should have gotten parental permission before taking me up. And I guess I was lucky that he wasn't some perverted predator. Hell, I was 10 and just wanted to go flying.
On June 28, 1960 after making 7 day arrested landings on U.S.S. Lexington in an McDonnell F3H-2 Demon, I launched just after sundown for night carrier qualification. I boltered on the 4th landing attempt and was directed to NAS Miramar, there to await a time to return.
I landed at Miramar and went to the host squadron ready room to wait for the call from the ship. It came about an hour later. I manned the aircraft and took off, but I was unable to retract the landing gear. The lineman had failed to remove the landing gear locking pins. I had been taught that when given a time to be overhead a carrier, known as a Charlie time, you must be there. Instead of burning down to landing weight, I called for a final landing.
I landed on the 12,000 ft. runway very heavy and used every inch of it. I taxied to the warm-up area at the approach end and parked while a lineman removed the pins. I took off and the gear retracted normally. By this time the normal marine layer had moved in and I was heading to the ship above an undercast. No radar controlled approach in those days so I found myself descending through the cloud layer relying on intstuments to get me to the ship.
They actually conducted night carrier ops the same as day ops in those days so I entered the break, callled the 180 position and made a nice landing - OK three wire. But I was unable to taxi out of the gear because both tires were blown. Not an uncommon occurrence in those days. I was towed out of the gear and later reported to the ready room.
Cdr. Don Engen, our C.O., took me into his stateroom and quizzed me about my Miramar take-off and flight to the ship. After I told him about the gear pins and heavy landing he informed me that the main gear tires had blown just as the gear was retracting into the wheel wells. Had they blown after the gear doors had closed, I likely would have gotten very wet or worse. Landing heavy had caused me to use extensive braking which overheated the brakes. The hot brakes heated up the air in the tires until they burst.
The skipper did two things. He ordered me to remain aboard ship that weekend and he had me write an essay on hot brakes to be delivered to the next squadron all pilots meeting. He could have ended my career but he didn't.