My VA-15
 
Executive Officer/
Commanding Officer Tour 1976-1979


(Updated August 3rd, 2021)


 I will do updates as I receive new information and edit the text.
  Please let me know if you find any errors in content or have any new information to add.

bo_smith@bellsouth.net


Introduction

Command of fleet squadrons is organized so that a prospective Commanding Officer serves a tour as the Executive Officer (XO) before "fleeting up" to relieve the Commanding Officer (CO).

In my case, I completed VA-43 instrument requalification with VF-43 at NAS Oceana while still at AIRLANT. I completed the VA-174 PXO/CO A7E syllabus at NAS Cecil Field from June, 1976 trough October. I was XO of VA-15 from November, 1976 through December, 1977. I relieved Cdr Kel Huehn as Commanding Officer in Hangar Bay One of the USS America in Palma D'Majorca while on deployment to the Mediterranean Sea.

I became the CO ten years after I left the VA-15 VALION A4 1966/1967 Vietnam era Skyhawk squadron as a Lieutenant.


        
Getting settled in Jacksonville

Mary and I decided to live again in Orange Park. This time however, we had a home built in a new development called Park West.  Heather was 12, Laura was 11, and Stacy was six. The superior schools in Orange Park drove our decision to live there. It turned out to be a wise decision.


Orange Park High School and the associated middle and elementary schools were excellent.




Bosco was still with us at Park West.

I have always had a favorite dog in my life. Bosco was one of the best.
From chasing tennis balls in Wichita in 1969 until; Park West, he was always a loyal friend!


Pictures of Mary, Heather, Laura, and Stacy

So far I have found only one picture!

Stacy about 1977


Building our new home






We decided to build a new house in Park West. I don't recall where we lived while it was being built!

Our address was 575 Gulfstream Trail West

Schools

The girls were not old enough for Orange Park High School yet.
(Although both Heather and Laura would go there while they were still living in Park West).

In September, 1976 Heather was 12 and Laura was 11. They both attended Lakeside Junior High School in grades 6 (Laura) and 8th (Heather).


Lakeside Gators

Lakeside Junior High School

Stacy would have been in 1st grade at Lakeside Elementary School which was right next to Lakeside Junior High School.


Lakeside Elementary School




VA-174
(June, 1976 - October, 1976)


This is a great picture of a VA-174 A7E flying over Cecil Field.  The VA-174 hangars and ramp area is directly above the aircraft.  The VA-15 hangar and ramp are on the right side of the double hangar complex second from the top.




June 23rd, 1976

The day before I started the VA-174 syllabus (my 35th birthday), I flew in a VA-45 TA4J to Homestead Air Force Base. That morning a VA-174 A7 which was one of a section two aircraft flying a low level route as part of the VA-174 syllabus had collided with a 585 ft tower.  I was sent to gather information for the accident investigation. The aircraft had hit and severed a guide wire. The wire had slid down the starboard side of the aircraft damaging the leading edge of the wing. The wire had parted with the impact causing the top 85ft of the tower to tumble to the ground. The aircraft had shook a bit from the impact but the pilot was able to land the aircraft at Homestead. I met with the owner of the tower and with the local sheriff. Both were very cooperative and had not disturbed any of the aircraft and tower debris. The accident board concluded that the A7 was exactly at 500ft when it impacted the tower which was the proper altitude for the low level route that a section of aircraft was using for the mission. I returned to Cecil later that afternoon in the TA4. 



The VA-174
Training Syllabus



There were three categories of pilot training in VA-174.  The full length syllabus was designed for students who recently earned their wings from  advanced jet training or who were transitioning from another aircraft. These students were called "RPs". The Prospective XO/CO syllabus was shorter than the RP syllabus and was especially designed for each PXO/CO depending on his experience level in the A7 aircraft. The third syllabus was for prospective CAGs (Commander of an air group), was much shorter and was specially designed based on the background and wishes of each PCAG.

Ground Training

Completion of ground training was required of each RP before he/she was allowed to start the flight portion of the training. I say he/she because this was during the time that the first woman completed training at VA-174.



Left:
Rosemary Conatser completed the VA174 RP syllabus in 1976 as the first woman to fly a single seat tactical aircraft.

                                      Right:
Cdr Rosemary Mariner was the first woman to command a fleet squadron, VAQ-134.

Captain Mariner retired from the Navy in 1997. She died of ovarian cancer in 2019.


Ground Training Syllabus

The ground training syllabus consisted of completion of learning about the A7 systems, a simulator syllabus, blind cockpit check, requalify in swimming including the "Dilbert Dunker" (at NAS Jacksonville), ejection seat training, hypoxia training in a compression chamber, survival training, and Escape/Evasion/POW training (for those who were going to combat assignments).

Note: The blind cockpit check consisted of the pilot in training sitting in the seat of an actual aircraft (or in a simulator cockpit) blind folded with an instructor sitting on the canape rail. The instructor would call out a control lever, switch or a cockpit instrument. The student would then have to touch that lever, switch, or instrument without delay. A successful blind cockpit check was required prior to the first flight in a single seat aircraft.

Because of my previous background in flying a total of 940.0 A7 flight hours during my first RAG (111.7 hrs), my A7 fleet tour in VA-82 (733.9 A7 hrs.) and "proficiency" flying while at COMNAVAIRLANT (94.4 hrs hours), I did not have to complete the systems training and had a shorter simulator syllabus. But, I did have to requalify in swimming, the ejection seat, and hypoxia training in the pressure chamber. I was previously qualified in survival, evasion, escape, and POW training.
 


Flight Syllabus

I completed my VA-174 PXO/CO flight syllabus in 76.3 hours. This included basic flight including acrobatics, instrument training including an instrument check, formation flying including air to air refueling, basic air combat maneuvers, weapons training at MCAS Yuma, Arizona, Field Carrier Landing practice (FCLPs) at NAAF Whitehouse, and 10 day arrested landings (traps) and six night traps onboard USS Forrestal CVA-59 November 14th and 15th, 1976.


Scouting and Recruiting Nuggets

While I was going through my PXO/CO training, I carefully observed the flying skills and personalities of the RPs during the classes I flew with; especially at Yuma during weapons training, on liberty and during FCLPs and carrier qualification on Forrestal CVA-59.  This group of RPs would be the source of first tour pilots (nuggets) for the squadrons going through workups prior to a deployment. This included VA-15 and our sister squadron VA-87. I identified the best pilots and potentially great shipmates. I communicated my preferences to someone I knew at BUPERS (Bureau of Naval Personnel) who dealt with preparing the orders for the new VA-174 RP graduates. All my request were satisfied except one. An outstanding graduate, Matt Moffet was assigned to our sister squadron, VA-87.  It turned out that his brother, Mike Moffet was already in VA-15 so BUPERS sent Matt to the same airwing but a different squadron.






I reported to VA-15 as the Executive Officer
in November, 1976

 



Pictures for this section come from my files, the Scrapbook (my departure gift), and Google







I reported to VA-15
with 1016.3 A7 flight hours


Turnaround Training Flight Time and Related Activities

November, 1976

I flew 7 A7E flights in November (14.0 flight hours). The concentration seems to have been on instrument flights with actual instrument TACAN and GCA approaches. One was a night flight with 2.5 hours of night time (2.0 hrs of actual instrument time).


December, 1976

I flew 7 A7E flights in December (14.5 flight hours). The concentration seems to have been on instrument flights with actual instrument TACAN and GCA approaches.

January, 1977

MCAS Yuma Weapons Det

January was dedicated to a weapons detachment at MCAS Yuma

On January 7th, we flew from Cecil to NAS Dallas, TX.


NAS Dallas patch




LTV Plant- Grand Prarie, Texas



A7E Test Aircraft



I had arranged a tour of the LTV plant in Grand Prairie where the A7 was manufactured


Back Row Left to Right: LTV NAVPRO REP.Frank Gerwe, Kel Huehn, Bo Smith, Bob Maloney, Tom Mitchell
Front Row Left to Right; Boh Chimenti, LTV NSAAVPRO Rep.  LTV NAVPRO Rep.

Can anyone idenitfy the LTV NAVPRO guys?


On January 8th, we flew from Dallas to Yuma.






I flew 12 weapons training flight from January 10th to January 21st. Three of those flight were night weapons delivery flights.



One of these flights at Yuma involved this excellent diamond formation picture.


The short Yuma weapons det was a great way to start 1978. After all, bombing is what we do!




After my last weapons flight on January 21st, I flew from Yuma to NAS Alameda, CA arriving before sunset.
I flew from Alameda to Albuquerque, NM. 

On January 23rd, I flew from Albuquerque to Cecil.

In total, I flew 21 flights (50.9 A7E flight hours) in January, 1977




February, 1977

FCLPS and Fly On to USS America/REFTRA

February 1st through February 2nd was dedicated to FCLP at Whitehouse (4 day flight and 5 night flights).
On February 25th, we flew out to the America.
On February 27th, I flew one day flight and one night flight recording 2 day traps and 2 night traps.

My total flight time for February was 13 flights ( 21.6 flight hours)




March and April
, 1977

In March and April we conducted Type Training onboard America

March 3rd-March 31st- I flew 18 flights (33.0 flight hours) during type training.
April 1st-April 23rd- I flew 17 flights (27.0 flight hours) during type training.
The fly off to Cecil took place on April 23rd.

I logged my 300th trap aboard America on April 20th, 1977


May, 1977

Type Training/ORE/ Exercise Solid Shield

May 2nd-May 5th- I flew 9 flights from Cecil (mostly weapons training)
* On May 5th, I completed Day and night weapons compexes (competitive exercises)
May 6th- Fly on America for Type Training Two
May 10th-May 22nd- I flew 14 flights as art of TT2
May 23rd- Fly Off to Cecil

In total, I flew 26 flight in May (46.0 flight hours)


June and July, 1977

South American Deployment


Pictures for this section come from my files, the Scrapbook (my departure gift), the Rio Cruise book and Google


Scrap Book

Rio Cruise Book





June 6th- FCLPs Whitehouse
 
June 10th- Fly On for transit and operations off the coast of South America


America is headed south





June 11th-June 18th- flight operations off the coast of South America. I don't remember if we were part of a UNITAS Exercise or
                                   independent operations in connection with an important July 4th visit to Rio de Janeiro.


We had two port visits during our deployment of the coast of South America



Crossing the Equator- June 19th, 1977

It is a long maritime tradition that when a ship crosses the Equator, those who have not done so before (Pollywogs) must receive instruction by those who have (Shellbacks) before they can properly enter the realm of King Neptune!


The lowly Polywogs enter the realm of King Neptune on their haunches. The Shelllbacks are in command.

As a seasoned Shellback, I was a member of King Neptune's Court.

The final task before acceptance was to kiss the "Royal Baby", usually crusty Chief Petty Officers


Crossing the Equator Certificate



You might ask why I got a Crossing the Equator Certificate when I was already a Shellback?
Good question; administrative error. I never got one for crossing the Equator with VA-82 in 1972.


In port Salvador de Bahia, Brazil
June 20th-June 24th





Salvador de Bahia was a previous capital of Brazil.
In 1977, it was the home of Base Naval de Atato, a naval base and ship repair facility.
I suspect the purpose of the port visit was to pay our respects to the Brazilian Navy.




African slaves were brought to Bahia to work in the gold mines in the 18th century resulting in the modern
Afro-Portuguese culture in Bahia.


Tourists throng to the Pelourinhoa and other parts of the old city.



The Salsa dance had it's origin in Bahia.





18th century gold mine in Bahia
Modern gold mine in Bahia



June 25th- Air Wing Six flight to Galeao AFB near Rio de Janeiro


We had one day to drive down to Ipanema Beach at
Rio de Janeiro to set up an "admin".


Galeao Air Force Base

Note: It was traditional (in those days) in most Navy carrier squadrons to set up an "Admin" when possible for inport visits.
An "Admin" is a location, usually a couple of adjoining rooms or a suite to crash in rather than get individual hotel rooms.
The squadron usually arranged with the ship to store beer and liquor on the ship for this purpose.


June 27th- We flew back to USS America

10 total flights for June (18.2 flight hours)




Inport Rio de Janeiro
June 28th-to July 6th

Rio de Janeiro is the main location of Brazil's armed forces bases.
Our Independence Day 4th of July port visit was an important political event.




Rio de Janeiro is the most picturesque port I visited during my navy career. Hong Kong is a close second.
There are many things to do in Rio. But, spending some time on Ipanema beach is at the top of the list.



Othon Palace Hotel

We had two rooms with a view of the beach.

Ipanema Beach was right across the street.

The guys that set up the "Admin" (I suspect it was Cisco Chimenti and Norm McCollough) did a masterful job. I think it was on the 13th floor with a view of Ipanema Beach. We had enough room for anyone squadron officer to crash there who was on liberty each night. There was a party every night which was crowded with local guests.

I had a busy schedule both during most days and every night.
As I was a LCDR squadron Executive Officer, I was too junior for the Senior Shore Patrol Watch and too senior to assigned the CAG Duty Officer (usually a squadron LCDR).


The first night, I attended a reception at the American Consulate. Key USS America officers, senior CARGRU 8 Staff, senior CVW-6 staff, and the COs and XOs of the squadrons received invitations to the reception.  Many attended. Many did not want to bother having to dress up in their Service Dress white uniform for just another reception. However, I had learned during my 1971 VA-82 Med cruise, that these receptions were a great opportunity to meet local Americans who could be willing to take some time to show me the local port city.



T
he American Consulate in Rio

Service Dress white with ribbons was normally the required uniform at summer receptions.

Service Dress white with medals required a sword and was restricted to Changes of Command.


The Rio reception was no exception.  I met several very interesting people. The most important for me was the "nany" for Doctor Ivo Pitanguy.
Ivo Pianguy was a famous plastic surgeon and one of the richest men in Brazil. He was not at the reception as he and his wife were in China.
But the "nanny" invited me to check out the estate.


Ivo Pitanguy

A small part of Ivo Pitanguy's estate.

The estate was amazing. It consisted of a main house, rolling landscaped grounds and several out buildings. The main building was incredible.  The large "family room" had beautiful leather couches and expensive tables with ornate lamps and objects d'art. The most valuable of the art objects were two large birds (probably Aztec) made of solid gold with green emeralds for eyes!. One of the out buildings was a Japanese "pagota" which housed the Karate instructor who Dr. Pitanguy hired from Japan to teach his 17 year old son the marshal arts. Dr. Pitanguay and his wife had three children. In addition to the 17 year old son, they had a 15/16 year old daughter and a younger son about 10 or so. A part of the "nanny's" job was to teach the children English.
The 'nanny" was a graduate of Syrasuce University in New York. Her major was English.

In exchange for my visit to the Pitanguy estate, I invited the "nanny" and the Pitanguy children for a tour of the USS America. The
17 year old boy declined. Like it was beneath a 17 year old "Latin" male (almost man) to get excited about such things. But the teenage girl and the young son were very excited about the tour, as was the "nany". After the tour the next day and as the kids returned to the estate loaded down with America and VA-15 patches etc., I could tell that the 17 year old was very interested in the tour.


 
I enjoyed giving tours of the ship!


Most days in port, I would get up at 0700, have breakfast, and be in the Ready Room by 0800 or so.  My first task was to read the message board and take care of any XO stuff that needed action that day.  I would also listen to whatever "port stories" were emanating around the Ready Room. I was usually able to leave the ship by 1100 or so; free to enjoy Rio's many day time pleasures.





One day,
I was able to play tennis at a private club with red clay courts.  I received the invitation as a direct result of the first night's reception at the Consulate.

I don't remember whether I played with Tom Michell (who was my regular tennis partner) or whether a local opponent had been arranged.


Before we left Jacksonville on our "Rio Cruiuse", I learned that the President of Lions International was a member of the Rio de Janeiro Lions Club.
Well, I thought that since VA-15 was known as the VA Lions, there could be a relationship established with our local Lions Club that could produce something interesting during our visit to Rio. The Orange Park Lions Club came through for us.  They established a relationship that encouraged the Rio Lions Club to plan an event during the USS America's visit.


Lions International badge

Rio de Janeiro Lions Club

Just a cool stamp.


The Rio Lions Club invited the VA-15 officers to a dinner a a fine Rio restaurant. We met a boat at a dock which took us to the restaurant on an island with the city. When we arrived the restaurant was crowded with Lions Club members, their wives, and their children. We had a great dinner with lots of Salsa dancing. It seemed that every Lion's wife and older Lion's daughter wanted to dance with American carrier pilots. About 0200 or so, the children disappeared. The drinking and dancing continued. About 0400, all the remaining party goers were on boat from the island. But, some of the Rio Lions and remaining Lions' women, were not through! The next step was to watch the sunrise from a seaside bar; an apparent Rio tradition. The VA 15 VALions and the Rio de Janeiro Lions Club relationship was well established!


July 6th- Underway from Rio de Janeiro
July 6th- July 16th- Flight operations from South Atlantic enroute to Norfolk
July 16th- Fly off from America to Cecil

6 total flights for July (10.3 flight hours)



Naval Aviation Tennis Tournament
NAS Pensacola, Florida



During the two week break between the Rio de Janeiro trip and August 1st, Tom Mitchell and I were able to participate in the Naval Aviation Tournament over a weekend.
Tom and I proved to be an excellent doubles team and did well. I also competed in the men's singles and won a few rounds.

Tom (AKA Demon) and I played a lot of tennis together while we were in VA-15.
At first, I usually won our matches. I was the better tennis player. But, Demon was the better athlete and
every time we played, he got better and better until at the end, he was as likely as me to win the set!


I was using a YONEX tennis racquet during those days.

My call sign "YONEX" was the result. Thanks Demon!



August, 1977

Type Training/COMTUEX

August 1st-August 10th- 6 Cecil based flights
August 14th- Fly on to America
August 16th-August 22nd- 9 type training flights
August 23rd- Fly Off to Cecil
August 26th-August 30th- 4 Cecil based instrument cross country flights
Total number of A7 flights for August was 21  (46.8 flight hours)

Note: On August 5th, 10th, and 11th, I flew 3 TA4 intsrument flights (4.1 flight hours) with VA-45 to renew my Special Instrument Rating


September, 1977/REFTRA

September 1st-September 15th- I flew 8 flights from Cecil including two Adversary flights on September 6th and a Coordinated strike lead with RESCAP compex on September 14th.



September 22nd- We flew on to America andI had a subsequent night flight
September 23rd or 24th- USS America back in port Norfolk
    
Note: It was not unusual for a deploying air wing to fly aboard every possible aircraft and then return to port for a few days to continue to load the non flyers from the squadrons with their maintenance ssupport equipment, to load last minute supplies  needed for deployment and crane about the remainder of the aircraft.

That resulted in about a five day period in port Norfolk for the fly aboard pilots before getting underway.

There are three activities I remember about our time in Norfolk before we got underway.

Of course, I spent some time on the hard courts at NAS Norfolk. I particularly remember playing with Bob Chimenti and I think Jack Sheehan.
Second, we spent quite a bit of time at the Oceana Officer's club. I think I rented a car to take care of the transportation problem.

The third activity actually occurred after one of the nights at the Oceana O Club. Despite being only a day or two from deployment, CDR Jim "Grumpy" Lusk had gathered some of his officers at the club. Representatives from VA-15 gt together with CDR Lusk and some other "Pukin Dogs" and decided that we would continue the party at the Lusk home.


CDR Jim Lusk
CO, VF-43

Mrs Lusk was not stressed about her house suddenly being the site of a party just a day or two before deployment. In fact, she enthusiastically joined the party.


I remember drinking some of Grumpy's scotch from one of Mrs. Grumpy's best Waterford glasses; or maybe it was the cream pitcher!



September 29th- USS America underway for deployment
September 30th- I flew a day and night flight after getting underway for the Med deployment



The Transit from Norfolk to Rota

Note: The competitive cycle for the Battle "E" started October 1st, 1977

The transit from Norfolk on September 29th through our arrival in port Rota on October 9th took eleven days.  The time was not wasted for most of us.  We had lots of squadron AOMs (All Officer Meetings) and APMs (All Pilot Meetings) and Kel Huehn and I had a few meetings with the air wing COs and XOs.  Of course there was lots of time for jogging on the flight deck and other sorts of leisure shipboard activities.

In addition to the previous activities, I spent some time on the America's bridge and in the engineering spaces.  I wanted to get as much time on the bridge as possible.

This transit was very different from previous transits in my career!

During my first fleet tour in VA-15, I made two transits on USS Intrepid through the Suez Canal to the Indian Ocean then on to Subic Bay in the Philippines for operations off North Vietnam. During my first transit I was only concerned with being a skillful bomber and good wingman (for my normal lead; Jerry "Possum" Terrell) and doing as good a job as possible a the Aircraft Division Officer for my Maintenance Officer boss, LCDR Jerry O. Tuttle.
On my second transit, I was the Weapons Training Officer responsible for conducting Electronic Warfare training as our squadron was the air wing designated Iron Hand squadron (Anti-SAM and AAA missions). We conducted a lot of training for this mission during the transit.
I participated in bridge and engineering training on both transits.

During my second fleet (Department Head Tour) in VA-82, I made two transits onboard the USS America. The first was a short transit to and from the Med. The second was the long transit around Africa enroute Subic Bay in the Philippines. In both cases, I was the squadron Maintenance Officer. The first short transit to the Med required that I spend a lot of time with my Maintenance Officer responsibilities. I was division leader but most of my flying was as a squadron leader not as an air wing flight leader.  The second transit was entirely different in that it was much longer but my responsibilities were much different. I had delegated most of my Maintenance Officer responsibilities to the department ground officers and the senior chief petty officers of the department. The big difference was that I was a designated air wing combat strike leader for the first time and my flying responsibility included air wing level flights.
I participated in bridge and engineering training on this transit.

This current cruise would be much different. Not only would I have air wing strike leader responsibilities but also, I would be an Executive Officer for 21/2 months and the Commanding Officer for the remaining four months of the cruise. As Executive Officer, my job was to support the policies of the Commanding Officer (Kel Huehn). A big part of the job was to try to eliminate as much of the stress of possible for the CO such as by monitoring the maintenance program and coordinating the discipline program in accordance with his policies so that he could concentrate on mission matters. But, while doing this, I would access the strengths and weaknesses of the squadron so that I could implement changes after I was the CO.

As Commanding Officer, I would be compared to other squadron commanding officers in the air wing in my fitnes reports. I decided that I would not worry too much about that. I was confident that the performance of my squaron would be the most important factor in my fitness reports.

I believed the most important elements required for a squadron to be great were:


1. A strong aircraft maintenance program resulting in an outstanding readiness rate.
2. A discipline program that is fair but firm.
3.
The key to strong morale in a squadron is instill in all hands that their performance is important to achieve mission success.
4. Provide a challenging mission.



This picture was taken in early October, 1977 on the ship; probably during the Atlantic transit or in port Rota.


Back Row (L-R: CWO2 Will Hinkle, LT Mike Harris, LT Norm McCollough, Ltjg Mike Groothousen, Ltjg Jack Sheehan, Ltjg Bert Johnson, LT Bob Yakeley,
LT Russ Nolan, Ltjg Kevin Brown, LT Doug Magnant, LT Lew Richards, Lt John Ilhenburg, ENS Pete Gray, ENS Jeff McComb
Front Row (L-R): ENS John Hodgkinson, LT Bob Chimenti, LCDR Bob Moloney, CDR Kel Huehn, Me, LCDR Tim Vogel, LCDR Tom Mitchell, LCDR Frank Gerwe

Note: John Mazach (PXO) and George Webb (PMaintenance Officer) were undergoing RAG training at VA-174 when this picture was taken.
They would report to VA-15 in Palma in December, 1977.



1977-1978 Med Cruise

Pictures for this section come from my files, the Scrapbook, the America Mediterranean Cruise book and Google


Scrap Book

A Mediterranean Mosiac



October 9th-12th- In Chop Turnover/Port Visit Rota, Spain (5 days)


Naval Station Rota, Spain

The first stop for most of us in Rota besides the Officer's Club bar was the famous Rota Naval Exchange.  The Rota Exchange was well known as one of the best navy exchanges for Spanish items such as LLadro sculptures made in Valencia. Also, Rota was the key place to stock up on soft drinks, beer and alcohol items we would need on cruise to support  squadron picnics in ports like Naples and officer "Admins" in many ports. Our in port Rota experience was pretty normal except for the following event:

There was an excellent restaurant a few miles from the Rota main gate. We decided to have a squadron officers gathering