Maintenance Officer's School
Memphis, Tennessee
(February 1963-March1965)

NAS Cecil Field, Jacksonville, FLA

VA-45 Instrument Training
(April 1965)
VA-44 A4 Training
(May, 1965- October, 1965)

(Updated December 25th, 2019)

My Exciting Drive from Kingsville to Memphis

Once again, Mary and Heather were on their own after I got my wings.  We decided that they would drive from Texas to Duxbury while I was participating in the Maintenance Officer Training Course in Memphis.

My Marine friend and I chose to drive from Kingsville to Houston to New Orleans and then north to Memphis; a trip of about 880 miles.  We thought it would take about 13 hours. We expected that we might make it to Memphis about noon. But, it turned out to be a very eventful trip. We took turns driving. He took the first watch. I relieved him at about midnight somewhere along the coast of Louisiana. It was raining and the road was slick. He and his dog went to sleep.  I apparently allowed our right front tire to go off the rounded edge of the road. I over corrected and the two cars went into a spin crossed the grass median and ended up off the road on the other side. He and his dog awoke mid spin! The VW was in a shallow marsh. The VW was pretty beat up as it had rocked back and forth collapsing both front fenders, one of which had caused a flat tire. I noticed that we had passed a bar about a mile back. It was a Friday night so I thought there might be help there. I walked the mile to the bar in the rain. Several guys brought me back in a truck. They got the VW out of the marsh, bent the fenders back in relatively the original position, changed the tire and helped us hook the VW back up to the Pontiac. We were back on our way about 3:00 in the morning. My Marine friend opted to drive. I went to sleep. I awoke about 11:00am and observed the VW passing us on the passenger side. It had somehow become detached as my Marine friend was pulling into a gas station. The VW had came to rest at the gas pumps causing no damage to either the VW or the gas pumps. We filled up the Pontiac and drove the 210 miles to Memphis arriving  about 3:00 in the afternoon and checked into the BOQ (Bachelors Officers Quarters), our new home for the next four to six weeks.

 Maintenance Officer's School
Memphis, Tennessee

(February 1963-March1965)

I'm not sure how long the course at Memphis was. My guess is about four to six weeks. I know that I was there April 16th, 20th, and 22nd because I flew station aircraft on those dates (two flights in a T-28B and one flight in a UC-45J. I probably left Memphis the last week in April because I started flying instrument flights in Jacksonville on May 20th. So, I guess the course could be as long as six weeks. I know there was a lot of material to cover.

This proved to be a very valuable course for me because my job in my first fleet squadron, VA-15 was as the Aircraft Division Officer. The Aircraft Division in a fleet squadron at that time included the Power Plants shop (AD rating), the Airframes shop which included the aircraft structural mechanics (AMS rating) and the hydraulics techs (AMH rating), the cabin pressurization, oxygen, and ejection seat shop (AME rating- Aircraft Mechanic Equipment), and the parachute riggers (PR rating).  Memphis had detailed courses in each of these areas.

The Aircraft Structures course was especially valuable. It included welding, non destructive testing, and fabricating a structural part from a sheet of aluminum (constructing a block, selecting the correct type of aluminum, and molding the aluminum to the form of the block). This was intermediate to depot level work not normally accomplished at the squadron level.  There are three levels of naval aircraft maintenance; organizational (squadron), intermediate (a separate higher level of maintenance capability on the ship or air station), and depot (separate facility where major repairs are accomplished) such as the Naval Aircraft Rework Facility (NARF) at NAS Jacksonville.  As it turned out, my first squadron had to do some of this work by necessity to make combat damage repairs.  It also included corrosion control which was very important when operating aircraft off a carrier at sea. This included the removal of existing paint, the preparation of an aircraft for painting, and the application of primer and finish coats of paint.

In addition to the Aircraft Division associated courses, we had avionics courses, a quality control course, and a maintenance control and records course.  This was a short course in aircraft maintenace engineering. An exceptional course.

But, it wasn't all academics.  There was a motel/restaurant/bar outside the gate that my Marine friend and I frequented on numerous occasions.  The restuarant was convenient and the bar had good bands on the weekends.  There was an amazing restaurant and bar downtown Memphis called The Vault which had great food and a good bar. It used to be  a bank and the customers actually walked through the vault into the restaurant and bar.  But, by far my most favorite thing to do was to go horse back riding especially on Saturdays.  Memphis had forty horses and a lot of land to ride them on.  Once you demonstrated that you could ride safely, you were free to have at it.

Horse Stables

The Vault Restaurant

I completed my training at Memphis sometime at the  end of April, 1965.  I think I flew to Duxbury and spent some time with her family. I really enjoyed spending time in Duxbury.  I got a chance to know Mary's father better by visiting his factory in Canton and spending time with him on the tennis court. I also relished the opportunity to listen to Mary's grandfather, Dr. Warren K. Lewis talk about the history of technology.

I expect that we also had a chance to visit my family in Ridgewood, New Jersey on the way to Jacksonville.

 Jacksonville, Florida

The house was located at about the g in Herlong.
There wasn't an Interstate 295 at the time!

2002 Braque Court is the house with the van in the driveway. It was a 1950s era cinderblock three bedroom two bath house with small patio in the back.

We rented it from a First Class Petty Officer for $110/month

Almost everyone assigned to Cecil Field in the 1960s lived on the west side of Jacksonville. In the early 1970s, that had changed and most mid grade officers stationed at Cecil lived in Orange Park in Clay County. That was mostly because in the 1070s, we began to have school aged children and the Clay County schools were better than in Duval County.

When we arrived at Jacksonville, Mary was pregnant with our second daughter, Laura.
Heather was about 16 months old.

I was promoted to
Lieutenant Junior Grade (Ltjg)
just before I got my wings in Kingsville, Texas

The normal promotion interval from Ensign to Ltjg was 18 months back then.


SERE Training

Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape

SERE Training was mandatory for military personnel before being assigned to a combat zone. Since it was 1965 and things were heating up in Vietnam, it bacame part of the Fleet Replacement Squadron (RAG) Syllabus for every student. The training lasted a very long week at Brunswick Naval Air Station, Maine. We were flown to Brunswick on a weekend so that we could start the training on Monday morning. I completed SERE School in early May, 1965 which was great because it wasn't too cold or too hot.

Survival (We were alone in our training)



The uniforms pictured in these images are from recent training. We didn't have fatigues in those days. We wore our orange flight suit with the concept that we had just been shot down, were on the ground in enemy territory and had to evade capture and get to a predetermined relatively safe point for a helocopter rescue. We would not wear an orange flight suit on combat mssions. The orange suits could been seen better if you were in the water. Combat flight gear was olive drab in color.

We were not permitted to have a helmet, survival vest, or G suit because they were too expensive to mess up during the training.
But we were taught how to usee them in an actual situation.

We did carry a standard naval aviator survival knife and a couple bottles of water. We needed to stay as hydrated as possible duuring the training.

In the real world, we would have a large bottle of water in each G suit pocket in addition to many survival items in the survival vest.

A lot of the details about SERE training are classified. But, I want to give you an idea of the challenges and importance of this type of training. On the first day (Monday), the instructors described the objectives of the program, the rules of the game, and we did some field training. We started the survival and evasion portion on Tuesday morning.  We single seat guys (A4s and A1 Skyraiders) had to go it alone, just as it would be for real.  If you were slated to fly an A6 or F4, you could go in pairs etc. We were told that while living off the land, we had to navigate from our shootdown point (Point A) to our pick up point (Point B) and arrive before noon the next day (Wednesday). If we sucessfully evaded capture, we had to give ourselves up to be able to participate in the resistance/escape portion of the training (POW training). Evading capture was going to be a challenge.

The instructor force dressed in enemy uniforms was positioned between Point A and Point B. I was captured early on Wednesday morning. I was hiding but was discovered by a giant (about 6 ft 6 and 280 lbs or so). He yanked me up by the front of my flight suit and spit in my face. I was excorted to the POW compund by the same giant and he proceeded to force my forehead against a rough tar papered wall surface causing a lot of pain and bleeding. This was serious business. There were flight surgeons and medical corpsmen in the instrutor quarters in case there were a serious medical emergency. The objective was for us to experience the pain, discomfort, and feeling of helplessness involved in actually being captured.

Upon capture, we were placed in an outdoor compound enclosed with a high chain link fence. We were fed and given plenty of water. But we were inconvenienced. They simulated solitary confinement by putting you in a black box and locking you in. I liked the black box because they couldn't cause you any physical pain in there. It was a mental exercise and I was up to it. Each prisoner was taken into a buliding and "tortured". The torture was sort of simulated but it was painful.  It didn't cause any physical damage, but it wasn't pleasant. Out in the compound, the senior officer responsible (SRO) was treated harshly and the executed (removed from the group). There were about 30 of us in the POW group.  After the SRO was executed and removed, the next senior guy had to step up and take the lead. He was then "tortured" and "executed".  This went on for awhile until we had gone through about 6 SROs. I didnt have to worry about being an SRO as a Ltjg. We had a Marine Reserve  (a lawyer) with the POW group who was on his way to Vietnam. The enemy was particularly hard on him. I say the enemy because by then the instructors had definitely become the enemy. I can't discuss escape training other than to say that in the few instances where a POW escaped, he had to give himself up to complete the training. The "escapes" may have been planned events.  The 21/2 days and 2 nights we were POWs seemed like a week. It was difficult training. The spectacularly well executed event that completed the POW training was designed to be inspiring and it was. But it didn't satisfy all the POWs. After the training, we all walked back to a point to meet a bus to take us back.  There were a couple of assaults on instructors by POWs on the way back. After we returned to the BOQ and had a chance to cool off, we went to a restaurant with the instructors and enjoyed a steamed Maine lobster dinner.  It was delicious but pretty rich and some of the students couldn't keep it down.  By the way, several of the instructors were Korean War POWs. The rest were very highly trained Master at Arms security personnel.  Incredibly valuable training!!

More Instrument Training

VA-45 Blackbirds

It's back in the TF9 for instrument requalification

VA-45 was asquadron at Cecil Field which specialized in instrument instruction using the F9F-8T Cougar.  When I returned from SERE training, I checked in to VA-45 for intsrument requalification. Students are required to requalify by flying a certain amount of simulated (under the hood) or actual instrument hours and executing a prescribed number of simulated (under the hood) or actual TACAN (a navigational aid) approaches and GCA (Ground Controlled approaches). I completed my instrument requalification in eight flights from May 20th through May 31st ( add another15 hours to my F9f-8T flight time).

Swim and Altitude Chamber Requalification
NAS Jacksonville

More fun with the Dilbert Dunker

 Learning something new in the chamber

All pilots who were on their way to their first squadron had to requalify in swimimg and the altitude chamber. After that, all jet carrier pilots had to requalify on a periodic time table.  I always seemed to learn something new each time.

Ejection Seat Traininng in the Douglas Ejection Seat (Cecil Field)

The A4 Skyhawk had a different type of ejection seat than in the Grumman F9 Cougar and the F11 Tiger.  The Grumman seats were
ballistic seats. They were powered like an artillery shell. They had a high initial impact and a constant rate of acceleration.

The A4 Douglas ejection seat was powered by a rocket. It had less initial thrust but accelerated at an increasing rate. This new technology meant that it was not only easier on your back, but it was more effective giving the A4 a ejection seat an envelope down to ground level as long at you didn't have a rate of descent on ejection.

Flight Training required to get assigned to a fleet squadron

A Fleet Replacement Squdron, AKA Replacement Air Group (RAG) is designed to train piilots of all experience levels before they join a squadron that flies an aircraft that the pilot has not flown before. Pilots who have just completed flight training get the long course. Pilots who are experienced but have not flown a jet before get a long course. Experienced pilots in the aircraft who are going to their second or third fleet squadron (Department heads and prospective Ececutive Officers (XO)/Commanding Officers (CO) get a short course. Prospective Air Wing Commanders get very short transition phase and then participate in weapons training and carrier qualifications (CQ).

VA-44 at NAS Cecil Field in Jacksonville was the RAG squadron on the east coast for A4 Skyhawk training.

VA-122 at NAS Lemoore, CA was the A4 RAG on the west coast

The A4 Skyhawk was manufactured by the Mc Donnell Corporation.
VA-44 flew mostly the A4C model of the A4.  They might have had a few of the newer A4E models. There were no two seat TA4s at that point. So, all my flights were solo.
The A4C engine was a Wright J-65 (The same engine as the F11 without the burner).
The A4E engine was the Pratt & Whitney J-52.

NAS Cecil Field

Cecil Field would be my home base for many years to come.

The VA-44 hangar was located at the 11 o'clock position
from the semicurcular array of buildings which were enlisted barracks.

My first fleet squadron  flying A4s, VA-15, was located in Hanger 13 on the smaller ramp to the top right.

My second fleet squadron VA-82, an A7 Corsair squadron was located in one of the large hangars at about the 8 oclock position of the barracks.

My CO/XO tour, my third fleet squadron, again VA-15, was located in the same hangar complex.

My final flying tour was as the CO of the A7 RAG located in the same hangar as VA-44. I started there and finished there.

The VA-44 RAG Syllabus

Ground Training
. The ground syllabus lasted about a week.  It consisted of the usual classes about the engine, aircaft systems, and squadron standard operating procedures (SOP). The blindfold cockpit check was conducted in a actual aircraft.

The Flight Training Syllabus:  I began the VA-44 flight syllabus in late June. Flight time was sparse at first. I flew my first transition phase flight on June 30th and only four more flights in July. Perhaps students in classes in front of me were involved in the Weapons Deployment and Carrier Qualification Phases which had a higher priority.  My July flights involved quite a bit of landing practice. I would do a few touch and gos on each flight. Again, all flights in VA-44 were A-4 solo flights. Flight time picked up significantly in August. I quess it was my class's turn. I had my last four transition flights by August 9th.There was no instruments phase as we had achieved a Standard Instrument Card qualification in VA-45. We did a little bit of everything on these flights; formation practice, a few simulated instrument TACAN and GCA approaches, and acrobatics. Every flight was a check flight. As long as you demonstrated acceptable performance, you moved along without having to fly a repeat flight. On August 10th, I flew an inflight refueling flight where we learned to plug our refueling probe in to the drogue of an inflight refueling store loaded on another A4 flown by an instructor.  I suspect that there was a second instructor flying chase giving recommendations if one of the  student pilots was having difficulty. That was it. We were ready to go to MCAS (Marine Corps Air Station) Yuma Arizona for our Weapons Detachment.

The Yuma Weapons Det:
Students who came from Advanced Jet Training were organized into classes of about 20 students. The second tour pilots, third tour Prospective COs/XOs, and the prospective CAGs (Commander an Air Group) had their own schedule but would join whatever the next group of new students fit into their schedule. So when it was time to go the Yuma, there was a group of mainly new students (RPs - Replacement Pilots) with a second tour pilot or two and maybe a PXO/CO or CAG.  Each group assumed its own identity and before it was time to go to Yuma, had designed a class T shirt (some combination of squadron colors and a usually politically incorrect design depicting the delivery of ordnance).  Each pilot had a couple of T shirts each to  fly with in Yuma.

There was a VA-44 Detachment in Yuma that had all the personnel, ground support equipment, and suppplies to support the detachments. So, every pilot in the group and the instructors each flew an airplane to Yuma. As a result, these dets required up to 30 aircraft for the duration of the detachment. My group left Cecil Field on August 13th and landed at Kelly Air Force Base (AFB) in San Antonio, Texas. We did a  RON (Remained Over Night) at Kelly. We left the next day and flew from Kelly AFB to NAS Albuquerque, New Mexico refueled and then flew on to MCAS Yuma. The transit had involved 7.0 hours of flight time.

Yuma, Arizona is located in the southwest corner of Arizona.

The weather is hot and dusty but is clear with incredible visability; perfect for weapons training.

Note that the Colorado River flows  through Yuma on its' way southwest.  The Colorado is normally only about 20 feet wide and 4-5 feet deep at Yuma. It's a little muddy but is still perfect for swiming or a gentle raft/tube trip.

MCAS Yuma Arizona

The weapons syllabus consisted of 23 flights. They were all day VFR flights. We learned how to manually deliver bombs from a 30 degree and 45 dive angle using 25 lb. Mk-76 practice bombs.  We also learned how to deliver weapons from a 15 degree angle using a pop up roll ahead maneuver. The pop up roll ahead maneuver consisted of approaching the target at 500 feet AGL (above ground level) at 450 kts. airspeed, executing a rapid but smooth 3-4g pull up (like beginning a loop) and then rolling inverted (upside down) and looking for the target out of the top of the canopy. When you reached the right position, the pilot would  pull the nose back  down until the plane was about at a 15 degree angle from the target then rolling back upright (like in a cuban eight). When the gunsight mill setting (for the weapon being carried) reached the bulls eye of the target, you hit the pickle (a button on the top left of the stick) and released the practice bomb (a Mk 106). As soon as the bomb released, you pulled up using a smooth 4 G pullout. This maneuver was a lot of fun. We also practiced firing 2.75 inch rockets (like in the image above) from a 30 degree dive anlgle. The flights lasted about an hour. I flew a total of 23.6  flight hours over the 23 flights.
I did well at Yuma and became confident that my decision to be a light attack pilot was the right one.

Return from Yuma and Pre-Carrier Qualification Night and Instrument Flights

I flew back from Yuma on August 25th in two flights; Yuma to Kelly AFB and after refueling Kelly to Cecil.  We were able to fly back in two legs (flights) because the 150 mph jet stream at 35,000 feet was a tail wind. I logged 1.8 hours of night time and .8 actual instrument time on the flight from Kelly to Cecil.  I flew four pre-carrier phase flights to get some more night and instrument time. By August 31st, I had flown 4.8 hours of night time, six night instrument approaches, and eleven night landings.

Day and Night Carrier Qualification

Day Field Carrier Landing Practice

It was a different ball game this time because we were not only going to land on the carrier in the daytime, but also at night!

I began day FCLPs at Cecil Field on August 1st. I flew three flights completing 41 FCLPs by August 3rd.  The squadron used Cecil Filed for these day flights because it was easier to cycle pilots in airplanes after refueling in ther fuel pits if these flights were at Cecil. The LSOs assigned to our group were stationed at the mirror (Fresnel Les) at the end of the duty runway (runway in use) and then returned to give each pilot a detailed debrief after each flight. Each pilot started night FCLPs when the LSOs were confident they were ready. I flew 49 day FCLPs during day qualifications.

Night Field Carrier Landing Practice

Night FCLPs were flown at Navy Auxiliary Landing Whitehouse (NAAF Whitehouse) if weather permitted. We could use Whitehouse as long as the weather was at least 1,500 ft overcast with 3 miles of visibility bacause we could fly the mission night VFR underneath the cloud layer.  Whitehouse was located about eleven miles  north of Cecil and had a single runway with carrier deck lighting . It took the LSOs only about 20 minutes to drive there from Cecil.

The procedure was that each pilot would take off from Cecil with only about 4,000 lbs of fuel so that they could enter the night 1,200 foot FCLP pattern (night VFR) and have the proper amount of fuel to be able land (touch and go) on the first pass. The goal was to get about 13 FCLPs on each flight. The pilot would bingo to Cecil at about 2,000 lbs of fuel land and taxi to the fuel pits where another pilot would get in refuel to 4,000 lbs of fuel and fly his flight. These flights were usually flown from midnight to about 3:00 am and were followed by a detailed  debrief by an LSO before you went home for the night, usually about daybreak. You would then get a good night's sleep and be back at the squadron by about 7:00pm or so for the next night's work.  I finished my night field qualification on August 17th with 12flights,108 night FCLPs.

I flew out to the Lexington CVT-16 (yes Lexington again) on August 20th and did 2 touch and gos and 8 arrested landings in A4 #1485002.  I flew back to Cecil for some reason later that night. I flew back out to the LEX the next day (August 21st) and logged 2 arrested landings in the same A4 # 148502. That night I flew the same aircraft and logged 6 night carrier landings and one bolter. A bolter is when you indend to land ((hook is down) but you either land long and miss the wires or more likely had a hook skip. A hook skip is usually caused by the pilot lowering the nose of the aircraft just prior to landing (raises the hook).  My logbook doesn't reveal how I got off the boat (aviators call aircraft carriers boats). There is no return to Cecil logged?

I was day/night carrier qualified in the A4C on August 21st, 1965!

But, I was not quite finished with VA-44. I flew one instrument navigation flight in a TF9 at VA-45 and five more syllabus flights in VA-44; three instument flights (one at night) and two inflight refueling flights.  I completed VA-44 on October 27th ready to check into my first fleet squadron.

 My first fleet squadron was the VALions of Attack Squadron Fifteen (VA-15).  Before I move on to my next chapter, VA-15 (1965-1966), I want to tell you a little bit about how aircraft carrier air wings were organized in the  mid-1960s.  In 1965, each attack carrier (CVA) air wing had two fighter squadrons (flying F4 Phantoms or F8 Crusaders), two light attack squadrons (flying either the A4C or the new A4E) one medium attack squadron (A6 Intruders) or a heavy attack squadron (A3 Skywarriors or A5 Vigilantees), a photorecon detachment usually flying either RA5 Vigilantees or RF8s Crusaders, an electronic warefare detachment flying EA6 Growlers, an airborne command and contol detachment (E1s) and a rescue helo detachment.  Each squadron had a squadron color that was used in painting squadron aircraft. VF aircraft numbers and colors were 100 series red color and 200 series numbers yellow. The A4 light attack squadrons had either 300 numbers and blue or 400 numbers and orange.  The medium attack A6 Intruder squadron had 500 numbers and green. I don't remember what the tail color or numbers for the heavy attack squadron (maybe 600 and black). Each airwing was assigned to a specific aircraft carrier and had work up training and deployemnt schedules associated with that carrier.  Rotation of pilots for light attack squadrons was somewhat organized with a CO/XO, a couple of second tour pilots, and about half of the 1st tour pilots being replaced each deployment cycle. Squadron assignments were normally for two years.  So a typical light attack squadron would replace about eight or nine pilots during the post deployment cycle (about a year).  So the replacement of their piots was over a six month period or about one or two per month before reaching a full alotment of piolots before their deployment.
This was not the case with my first squadron, VA-15.

When I left VA-44, Mary was about eight months pregnant with my second daughter, Laura
Heather was two months shy of two years old.

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