Arthur Padios (2002)
In the fall of "64" VMA-225 had a requirement for all its special weapons delivery pilots to refresh their carqual records with 2 traps & 2 cats. We were flying out of either Naha or Kadena on Okinawa and caught the "Connie" in transit back to the states. I'm sure the last thing those 'black-shoes' wanted to see was a herd of Jarheads coming to their boat and smashing into the deck, especially since it delayed her transit to CONUS. I was flying #2 in the first flight. With our Marine LSO aboard the ship, I picked up the ball on my first pass. With a center-ball, I remarked to the LSO that I felt 'flat.' "Oh, yeah," he said, "I forgot to tell you guys, that's a spad ball on the mirror - it's a 3 degree slope and only gives you about 5 feet hook-to-ramp clearance." I immediately adjusted my pass to accept a slightly high ball. No big deal.
After trapping, I cleared the gear and was directed to the starboard cat with my flight lead on the port. As I approached the cat a "Grape" held up the blackboard with "Fuel" printed on it. I replied with my actual fuel state of about 1,800 pounds. Lead and I both cranked up to 100% with tension on both cats. He fires first and appears to just "stagger" into the air. At this point, I've already saluted the Cat Officer when lead comes up and tells Pri-Fly that he only had 100 knots over the bow. Pri-Fly casually answers, "You had sufficient end speed." Whammo, off I go, same thing about 105 knots. The valiant little A4-C struggles into the air, accelerates, and is climbing. I come around for my second trap, clear the gear, see the same "Grape" with his little blackboard, and promptly indicate my fuel weight is now 4,500 pounds. He holds up the board with 4,500? Yes, I indicate 4,500! Nice smooth, comfortable cat shot with an end speed of about 125 knots.
God, Naval Aviation is a joy, isn't it?
The "Scooter" gets it done!
Arthur Padios (2002)
Categorizing the missions in Vietnam, I think there were three basic types.
1. Direct Close Air Support of US troops in close combat (the most rewarding).
2. Strikes against hard targets (frequently the hairiest because the baddies were shooting back, often big-time).
3. Bombing suspected VC trees (sheer boredom, a waste of assets, JP fuel, and time).
In close support I'm guilty of becoming over zealous. On one of my '69 missions into the DMZ in support of a Marine rifle company (don't ask what they were doing in the DMZ, except getting themselves surrounded), I burned up two $15,000 each 20MM Mark 4 Gun Pods strafing the gooners - 300+ KIA. When my Ordnance Officer and good friend (CWO Warren Rook), chewed me out for destroying his guns, I told him to order two more, after all the gooners only cost us $100 a head - fair bounty for the afternoon's work.
On occasion, some of us would stumble into a meaningful mission simply because of being airborne at the right time with the right ordnance load, or being scrambled from a hot-pad. An example would be when one of our helicopter's was shot down. Often close cover by the Skyhawks would make the difference between buying time for a rescue mission to extract the crew, or they being overrun and killed/captured.
Another was running across Marine Recon troops trying to get away from the bad guys after becoming entrapped. You know the motto - "Swift, Silent, and Deadly". We called them "Swift, Silent, and Surrounded". In "65" I ran across a 4-man fire team beating feet in the foothills some 30-40 miles west of DaNang. My flight of 4 and I were loaded with slick 500 pounders (before Snake Eyes) and some 2.75" rockets. Talking directly to the Fire Team Leader on the radio, he asked me to drop a pair of 500's on the eastern edge of a small river. Considering the baddies were chasing him from the west, I couldn't figure out what good the bombs would do east of him. When I asked he quickly replied, "We need an instant fox-hole and don't have time to dig one." I dropped where he asked.
Arthur Padios (2002)
A SLOSHING GOOD TIME AT TRADER JOHN'S:
Back in the '60's every flight student at Pensacola spent as much time as possible at it's most famous watering hole, Trader John's, or as it was and is affectionately known, TJ's. Not only was it a neat place to go to immerse yourself in aviation history, it was also a class strip joint with good looking strippers who tastefully removed just enough clothes to excite and inflame the imaginations of the ever-horny flight students. Occasionally, TJ himself would conduct some sort of contest, usually involving some feat of physical strength and give away booze to the winner, if any. On several occasions I was fortunate enough to win bottles of champagne for pumping out 50 military push-ups in less than 60 seconds. A great way to get a free buzz at TJ's expense until he began to canvass the audience to ensure I was not available before running the contest.
My most memorable night in TJ's occurred after a parade at the air station one Friday summer afternoon. As with most parade's during the summer season, the participants wore dress whites; both Navy and Marines. Now there was, at the time, a sensuous stripper performing at TJ's who was very erotic to watch. Her act was a solo, but performed with a partial mannequin attached to her left arm, who simulated her lover for the duration of her act. The 'two' would start the music with what appeared to be some 'kissing' and heated petting and progressed toward her 'lover' caressing her and removing some articles of her clothing. Eventually, she would place her back on a low stool on a stage that was at the eye-level of the bar patrons. Her lower torso would be suspended in air as her feet were on the floor. At this point she would simulate the act of love with her 'lover', her pelvis gyrating frantically towards orgasm as the music reached a crescendo - very erotic. It was shortly before the climax of her act that I overheard an argument develop between two patrons in the audience at the next table, a couple of Naval Aviators, a Marine Captain and a Navy Lieutenant, both in dress whites. The argument generally evolved something like this:
Lieutenant, "You don't have the b---s."
Captain, "Like hell, I don't."
Lieutenant, "You wouldn't dare do it. You don't have enough hair on your a--."
Lieutenant, "I'll bet you $100 you don't have the guts to do it."
Captain, "You're on, that's a bet."
Upon accepting the bet at the climax of the performance, the Marine grabbed a fresh pitcher of cold beer off his table, jumped up on the stage before our amorous stripper was aware of his presence, and poured the beer directly on her frantically undulating crotch bringing about the most horrific scream I've ever heard from a woman before or since. Immediately upon finishing dumping the beer on her, the Marine dropped the pitcher and exited stage left. Running at full speed over the tabletops, covering at least four of them before jumping to the floor and vanishing out the door onto the streets of Pensacola. It all happened so fast that no one in the bar had time to react or try to restrain the Captain who made a clean getaway. I always wondered how he spent his winnings and it made me proud to be in the same service with him.
WOODY SPROUSE - THE HAIRIEST THING I'VE EVER DONE:
Arthur Padios (2002)
Heywood 'Woody' Sprouse and I were flight students together from the start of Pre-Flight at Pensacola in 1960 until the day we both got our wings in August 1961 at NAS Kingsville, TX. Woody went on to serve with distinction and completed a very successful career as a Naval Aviator achieving the rank of Navy Captain, and capturing what will probably become the all time carrier arrestment record by one aviator because of the reduced flight time now being suffered by Naval Aviators. Woody and I had not seen each other from the time we got our wings until we happened to bump into each other at Naha in Okinawa in the fall/winter of 1964. In 1964 Woody was flying the A3D Skywarrior off the USS Hancock, one of the few remaining 27 Charlie (Essex-Class) carriers still in operational existence at the time. With a 'center-line' arrestment aboard the Hancock, there was 12 feet wing-tip clearance between the aircraft and the island of the carrier. That would be hairy enough for the average aviator during the daytime; I shudder to think what night traps must have been like - or single engine landings. Also, there were no ejection seats in the A3D. Bailouts were accomplished by sliding down a chute behind the crew seats. So, the reader may infer, a crash on the deck of an aircraft carrier meant the crew had to manually egress from the aircraft - no ejections for these guys. The pilots and crews who flew these aircraft off carriers must have had balls the size of helmet bags. Anyway, after we got back together in Naha, Woody related the following story to me.
After we got our wings, at the start of his flying career in the fleet, Woody was assigned to fly the same aircraft I was flying, the A4C Skyhawk aboard a carrier. As part of the Navy training evolution, Skyhawk drivers who were Special Weapons Qualified were required to make night attacks on special weapons targets. Woody was on a carrier back then operating off the coast of Jacksonville, FL where the targets were located. After many of the squadron pilots completed this particular night training mission, Woody's turn came up one dark and moonless night. The plan called for three or four Skyhawks to take off from the carrier loaded with a single 2,000-pound water-sand-filled practice bomb each, simulating a real nuclear weapon. After they were airborne, the A4's were to join up on a single A3D Skywarrior who would then take them individually to pre-designated radar-located Initial Points (IP) over the Okefenokee Swamp at 1,500 feet altitude where each Skyhawk would individually detach from the A3D and proceed on an attack heading to the designated target.
After leaving the A3D, the A4C's were supposed to stay on the run-in heading provided by the mother-plane, time their arrival over the target, accelerate to 500 knots, and descend to 500 feet above ground level (AGL) using their radar altimeter's for the run-in at the target. Since it was being done at night, the only way for Woody to successfully strike the target was to fly directly over it and perform an 'Over-the-Shoulder' delivery. In the A4, this is done by pulling at 4G's into the first half of a loop, matching the G program provided by the Low Altitude Bombing System (LABS). At approximately 120 degrees of climb at 200 knots airspeed, the 2,000-pound water-sand-filled bomb is released from the aircraft. Released is a euphemistic term; the bomb rack ignites an exploding cartridge that literally 'kicks' the bomb away from the aircraft. As you might imagine, it takes a strong charge to kick 2,000 pounds safely away from an 18,000-pound aircraft traveling upside down at 200 knots. When it happens, because the A4 is only traveling at 200 knots - slow for a jet aircraft, the whole aircraft goes into a 'shudder' when the bomb is ejected, approaching the stall - in fact it almost stalls. This is compounded by being upside down (inverted) at the top of a loop at about 7,000 feet altitude. In Woody's case it was doubly compounded because it was dark outside, denying him any visual reference and requiring he complete the entire maneuver flying his instruments. After the bomb is released, the procedure is to complete a œ Cuban 8 by remaining inverted until the nose comes 30 degrees below the horizon, then rolling upright while still descending to 500 feet, and accelerating away from the 'atomic blast' as fast as the aircraft will fly.
Upon completing this hair-raising stunt, Woody flew on back to the carrier where he made a successful arrestment. When he returned to his Squadron Ready Room, many of the pilots who had already flown this type flight asked Woody how it went. Woody replied, "That's the hairiest thing I've ever done it my life." To which they replied as one man,
"You mean you really did it?"Woody sheepishly confessed that he felt rather foolish when he learned the other pilots, after leaving the A3D, were making the run-in on the target level at 1,500 feet and 'punching' the bomb off the aircraft while flying straight and level at 300 knots.