Colonel, Bob Pitt (Left), of El Paso, TX, a former Daedalian Flight 24 Captain, and a long time FASF member, recounted his harrowing experience being wounded, while flying a USAF 101 ‘Voodoo” fighter (below) over North Vietnam, to the monthly meeting of the group.
Bob was on a mission with a fellow pilot over North Vietnam, when his jet suddenly took a direct hit to one of its two engines from a Viet Cong 85 mm anti-aircraft battery. He and his wing man had been flying down “on the deck” – and fast – to help avoid SAM (Surface to Air) missile sites. But, just as they flew out over a large valley, the Vietcong opened up with small arms and anti-aircraft fire.
Some of the explosion’s shrapnel wounded him in his left shoulder. Without warning, the future Air Force Colonel’s life was precariously hanging in the balance. The date was exactly 54 years ago this coming Saturday, the 5th of October. It was 1969 at the height of the Viet Nam conflict.
F-101 McDonnell Supersonic ‘Voodoo’
His fellow team member, his Operations Officer, Major Tony Weissgarber,continued on to the target after getting the go-ahead from flight leader, Pitt. In the meantime, Bob had several quick decisions to make: Should he eject and bail out of his burning fighter right then and there, or try to limp back to the South to the nearest U.S. Air Base? Could he even make it that far, since his fuel was leaking rapidly from one of his ruptured tanks? At least he had managed to extinguish the fire from the bad engine.
He quickly decided to head back to the East in order to get out over the ocean, where he hoped the friendly U.S,. Navy was ubiquitously available to rescue a freshly downed flier – just in case.
Colonel Mario Campos, Flight 24 Captain, Introduces the Lunch’s presenter, Col. Bob Pitt.
Bob Pitt reads from one of the publications that published the story about his harrowing encounter over North Vietnam in 1969.
If he crashed or had to eject over the jungles below, he’d at best have to register at the “Hanoi Hilton,” where he’d heard . . . “the accommodations were much less than satisfactory,” so the ocean it was. He called for help from the nearest air tanker, but, since they were restricted from flying over North Vietnam, he didn’t have much hope of getting his much needed fuel from his too rapidly diminishing supply.
Luckily, he took no more hits as he wheeled about and headed out to sea. Once over the water, he was surprised to see a KC-135 Aerial Refueling Tanker headed his way.
Meantime, he was constantly scanning the horizon for any incoming North Vietnamese Russian Migs, to which he’d be a sitting duck, since his Voodoo was already seriously crippled.
He was simply no longer able to defend himself from any air-to-air attackers. He maneuvered the damaged jet to a close-up refueling position behind the Tanker, but could not raise he refueling probe to connect to the big Boeing tanker’s fuel boom. He also discovered that his utility hydraulic system was one of the vital systems destroyed by the anti-aircraft strike. That hydraulic system was needed to work the Voodoo’s refueling probe – and also other important mechanisms on board.
View of the McDonnell RF-101C cockpit that Pittwas flying on this harrowing mission
He banked towards to nearest Air Base, concerned that he’d wasted some of his vital fuel load maneuvering to get re-fueled by the tanker. He managed to contact DaNang Air Base, whom he advised of his emergency status.
They cleared the field for him in to come on board. He noticed his fuel indicator read “empty” as he lined up to land. Bob came in with extra speed, not sure of how much his normal stall speed had been increased by the damage inflicted on the 101. He touched down perfectly, deployed his Drogue Chute to help him slow down, but suddenly noticed that he had no steering, since the defunct utility hydraulic system also powered his nose-wheel steering.
A stiff cross-wind condition forced his nose to the left, and he helplessly careened off the runway, across the turf, and headed directly towards a base radar (‘GCA’) shack. He yelled to the tower to have any personnel vacate his new “target” immediately. The big crash threw him wildly about and stirred up a huge cloud of dust. As the dust cleared he looked up to see one of the base firemen looking down at him in his silver helmeted fire suit. “I’m OK,” reported Bob. There’s no fuel left to burn!
Two days later, patched up from his wound, and ready to fly, he was quickly airborne on his next mission. For this harrowing experience, Pittwas awarded the DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross), and for his wounds and damaged back (from the crash into the building), the Purple Heart.
Less than a year later, again flying the Voodoo, but this time out of Okinawa island, he lost both his engines shortly after take-off in a giant explosion. Still low over the Pacific Ocean, he had no choice but to eject. His chute opened almost simultaneously with his striking the water. Two lost Voodoo jets, but not their hardy fighter pilot, Bob Pitt.
L to R: Colonels Bob Pitt and Mario Campostake questions after Pitt’s talk.
Ever wonder why, unlike all other U. S. Navy Officers, Naval aviators always wear brown, rather than the normal black shoes? Well, FASF Aviation News Scout, and former U.S. Marine Corps Pilot, Jerry Dixon, (at Left) once again discovered another intriguing piece of U. S. Navy historical trivia.
The piece Jerrydiscovered was found on a U.S. Navy Aviation Blog site, appropriately enough called “The Brown Shoes Project!” This story, which is indirectly, also a peek into U.S. Naval aviation itself, was written by retired USN Pilot, LCDR William Estesin his letter to Pat Francis:
“Naval aviation officially began 08 May 1911 with the first order of a “Flying Machine” from the Wright Brothers. (See the photo immediately below, of the U.S. Navy’s version of the Wright Flyer – Model B) This purchase also included aeronautical training of naval personnel who would become the first naval flight instructors who would be the founders in spearheading Naval aviation as we know it today.
Please keep in mind that our First Aero Squadron was also based here at Rockwell Field shortly before it moved back East to Texas, and then on to Columbus, NM, for its role in the Punitive Expedition. The initial cadre of First Aero Squadron Pilots had been stationed at Rockwell field, as well.
Early photo of the U.S. Navy’s Model B of the Wright Flyer.
To train these future naval aviators in the new Wright Brother’s flying machine, Rockwell Army Airfield was commissioned to be the first U.S. Military Flying School.
Above is a 1914 aerial photograph of San Diego’s Rockwell Army Airfield, the nation’s first full-time Flight School. Although it is now called simply, North Island Naval Air Station, by its current sole occupant, the U.S. Navy. You should notice that there are no runways in evidence. This is because runways, as such, had not yet even been invented!
The new airfield was located on the northernmost island (see photo above) of the island chain in San Diego, California. It was decided that it would be jointly shared with the Navy as the most suitable airfield site in the local area, an area chosen because the flying weather was some of the most consistently good flying weather to be found anywhere in the U.S.
In October 1935, the entire Rockwell Field facility was transferred to the Navy by presidential executive order of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The last Army units departed in 1939. Later, the Army Corps of Engineers was commissioned to dredge the channel immediately to its East, and to also fill in the island’s low areas, leveling the island chain’s surface. accordingly, the name “North Island” emerged as Naval Air Station North Island, San Diego, California. See a current photo just below to see how it now appears.
2017: U.S. Naval Air Station North Island, San Diego, California. This photo is taken looking to the South. The Bay, which was dredged by the Army Corps of Engineers, is to the left above. The current U.S. Navy Submarine Station San Diego, is immediately out of this picture’s bottom, across the channel’s inlet to the Pacific Ocean, the the right above.
Memorial Commemorative Plaque at Rockwell/North Island NAS, San Diego, CA
First Aero Squadronpersonnel with their Burgess Model H No. 26 at North Island in 1915
Now, quoting Commander Estes: “Six commission officers were selected from the surface fleet as the first student Naval aviation aviator trainees to be taught by these naval flight instructors.
These pioneer naval aviator trainees coming from the surface fleet wore uniform low quarter, square-toed, black rough out leather shoes which served best on the coal-burning ships, which commonly produced great quantities of black soot from the ship’s stacks.
Arriving for duty at the North Island Air Field for training flights, the six students experienced a foreign environment of brown dust on the soft surface air field. They found themselves being constantly required to remove the dust from their black shoes, which was irritating enough to cause them to look for a better alternative to this shoe cleaning nuisance.
In the midst of their training, while often times funding their own petrol expenses, the six discussed alternatives to their problem, deciding that brown shoes might serve best to solve their problem with seniors who were putting what they felt was too much into uniform appearances. With that, all six decided that brown high top shoes with brown leggings was their solution. On a Saturday morning, the six located a cobbler shop on 32nd Street in San Diego, California whom they commissioned to produce same at a time and price they could live with.
Upon taking custody of their prize a short time later, the test of practical use of their new Brown Shoes and acceptance from their senior cadre members became a function of time.
Within a few days, the practicality of the Shoes of Brown proved to be an acceptable solution to the student aviators. The six then met to discuss how to bring about change of the uniform regulation to include the Brown Shoes and high top leggings as distinctive part of the aviators permanent uniform.
With some discussion on how to approach their proposal, they concluded that a petition to bring about change for a distinctive aviators uniform would best serve their plight.
A few days later, they met to compose a petition which would later be approved and endorsed by their seniors and forwarded to the Navy Bureau for consideration.
On 13 November 1913, the Navy Bureau signed approval to the uniform regulations to include The Shoes of Brown with Brown high top leggings as part of the permanent uniform for Naval Aerial Aviators.
U.S. Navy officers with Black Shoes.
This change carried itself through World War II to 1944 while logistically, the brown shoes were not in production due to priority war efforts. However, in stock supply would be issued and the wearing of same was still authorized. At the end of the war in 1945, production of brown shoes was again continued and issued until July 1976.
Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, Jr., USN, was a two term CNO from 01 Jul 1970 to 01 Jul 1974. An Admiral from the surface navy (Black Shoe) had a desire for significant change within the Navy and its policies. With that, one of his initiatives was to end an era of Naval Aviation with the removal of the Brown Shoes from the Navy.
With the stage set, at midnight on July 1, 1976, the CNO (Chief of Naval Operations), by instruction to Naval Uniform Department of NMPC (Naval Military Personnel Command), ended an era in tradition of naval aviation distinction and pride. “A Naval Aviation tradition came to an end when Brown Shoes were stricken from the Officer’s and Chief’s uniforms. The tradition distinguished the Brown Shoe Navy of the Aviators from the Black Shoes of the Surface Officers.”
U. S. Naval Aviator, a Commander, in Khaki Uniform – but with an aviator’s traditikonal Brown Shoes
In September 1979, I was assigned to TRARON Ten as a T-2B/C “Buckeye” flight instructor (The Dirty 100) at NAS (Naval Air Station) Pensacola, Florida. With my keen interest in history, I began initiatives to resurrect The Shoes of Brown as part of the permanent uniform for Naval Aviation in the same spirit as those in lead who first set the initiative.
With several cross-country flights to the Naval Archives at NMPC in Washington DC, I researched for the original aviators petition in an effort to author, in kind, the same which would be reborn at Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida, the Cradle of Naval Aviation.
Receptive and in support of the Brown Shoes initiatives, Captain Jude J. Lahr, USN, Commodore, Training Air Wing 6, gave the “Thumbs Up with a Sierra Hotel” for same.
With that, I drafted a petition which was headed by and reads: “RESURRECTION OF THE BROWN SHOES – WHEREAS, In the course of history of Naval Aviation, the “SHOES OF BROWN”, first adopted in November 1913, have held a position of revered, cherished esteem in the hearts of all those associated with Naval Air, second only to the “WINGS OF GOLD”, and – WHEREAS, in the course of human events it becomes necessary to recognize an overwhelming desire to return the esprit of heritage amongst the cadre of AIRDALES (The affectionate name Navy personnel use to describe their Pilots and aviation support crews), now – THEREFORE, let the feelings be known that we the undersigned, all duly designated NAVAL AVIATORS, NAVAL FLIGHT OFFICERS, FLIGHT SURGEONS and FLIGHT PHYSIOLOGIST, do hereby affix our signatures and designators to this petition calling for the immediate change to the Naval Uniform Regulations which would allow the “SHOES OF BROWN” to once again take their rightful position below the “WINGS OF GOLD.“
The first and most fitting to sign was Captain Jude J. Lahr, USN followed by senior CNET cadre members to include Captain Robert L. Rasmussen, USN, parent Commanding Officers (NASP, NASC, NAMI, NAMRL) and other command seniors, mid-grades and juniors alike and was unanimously received and signed as presented.
Numerous requests from commands throughout the United States, foreign ashore activities and carriers on the line requested the petition be sent them for signing via telephone, message and post mail.
Upon completion of my shore tour, I was then assigned to USS MIDWAY (CV-41). I continued initiatives with the Brown Shoes petition after receiving a “SH” approval from Commanding Officer, Captain Charles R. McGrail, Jr., USN. After an overwhelming receptive Carrier Air Wing 5 and ships company cadre, Captain McGrail later signed out the petition in Red with “forwarded Most Strongly Recommending Approval” to the CNO/NMPC on commands letterhead stationery with a personal note.
LCDR William Estes, USN Retired Aviator and Resident of Salzburg, Austria, “Flew West” on October 12, 2013. A memorial was held in his honor at Pensacola NAS, FL.
Following my 2.5 year Midway tour, I returned to Training Air Wing 6 as a T-2C Buckeye flight instructor with TRARON Ten. On the morning of 12 Sep 85, while airborne on a APM/Spin Hop with a student, I received a UHF radio call from the squadron duty officer (SDO) to “BUSTER” return to base with no explanation. On return to squadron spaces to meet with the SDO, the Skipper escorted me to his office where he moments later received a telephone call from SECNAV, The Honorable John F. Lehman, Jr. (a Tailhooker himself) who congratulated me as being the spearhead in Resurrecting the Brown Shoes back to the “AIRDALES” (affectionate name given by the Navy to its aviation crew members) of U. S. Naval Aviation. SECNAV (Secretary of the Navy) Lehmaninformed me that he was going to announce that month, the return of the Brown Shoes at the 1985 TAILHOOK Convention and that he wanted to personally authorize me to be The First to wear the “Coveted Shoes of Brown” before his announcement.”
Thanks again to our Aviation News Scout, Virg Hemphill (L), for this memorable video. This short 5:07 minute talk from the stage by former First AeroSR-71 Blackbird pilot, Brian Shul, entitled “LA Speed Check” is a real laugh generating piece of jet pilot “hangar talk” – – – one that brings laughs from pilot audiences each and every time. While the talk is meant for a pilot audience, that fact doesn’t very much diminish the laughs generated each time the Major share’s his short story with non-pilots . . . Without further ado, let’s have his words bring some humorous guffaws back into being.
Maj. Brian Shul stands in front of his SR-71 Blackbird in his regular space suit. Shulwas an injured POW in Vietnam.
Once again, from our ever alert Aviation News Scout, Virg Hemphill, comes another great video post regarding Naval Aviator in training – – – when they are ready for their first attempts to land a fast moving jet on the mother ship – and Aircraft Carrier.
Virg and I were USAF jet pilots, so we didn’t have to endure this experience, in fact we not so jokingly used to refer to all Navy landings aboard ship as either good or bad “controlled crashes.” That’s because, as you can see, there’s simply no such thing on an Aircraft Carrier as a “smooth” landing.
The arresting gear that so suddenly jerks your hurling machine to a sudden stop, simply cannot provide a “smooth” end of flight experience. In fact, when you stop to think about the Navy shipboard landing process, if the pilots were not tightly constrained by a strong shoulder and seat harness, they’d likely be gravely injured or even killed by the sudden stop – as would they be had their plane hit a brick wall. Of course the jets are purposely designed to be exceptionally strong, enough to safely take the sudden stops involved with every Carrier landing.
Without further ado, here’s “The Day of the Tests.” It is 6:52 long.
When Air Force model aircraft are re-designed for Navy Carrier Service, they must be especially reinforced to be able to withstand the extreme landing forces they’ll have to endure. The result is, of course, that the USN version of the jet will be considerably heavier because of the extra weight of the reinforcement metals involved.
As you can see in this video, there’s a tendency for understandably nervous new pilots to come in too high – – – and to thereby miss the arresting cable altogether. One pilot even forgets to put his tail hook down.
One of the most difficult parts of the new carrier landing technique is for the fledgling pilots to remember to immediately put on full power the instant they touch the deck.
This must be done to be sure that, should the pilot not snag the arresting cable, they’ll have sufficient power to “go around” or make another attempt to land. Missing the arresting cable is called a “bolter.” Doing this sudden application of power upon touching down is an unnatural or non-instinctive procedure, yet critically necesary. If it’s not done with precise timing, they risk rolling straight off the Carrier’s deck and into the ocean.
Your editor spent three years in the Navy before switching to the Air Force and found this videos’ pilots’ reference to the “Boat” as startling. When I served in the Navy, one never used the term “boat” for a large ship, such as an aircraft carrier, so the acceptable language has certainly changed in the past fifty years! We were literally scolded, if we referred to our ship as a boat!
The first two videos in this post are taken in high definition (HD) clarity, so don’t hesitate to open each of them to full screen – and keep your sound turned on for the full experience. If you watch the videos on a mobile device or in your email notice, you will miss the full experience seen on a larger computer screen’s monitor.
Two USN Super Hornets in formation, left ship is breaking to land . . .
This featured image, above, of Two F/A-18C Hornets, assigned to the “Knighthawks” of Strike Fighter Squadron One Three Six (VFA-136), performing a carrier break maneuver at the conclusion of the tactical air power demonstration during the 2005 Naval Air Station Oceana Air Show. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Daniel J. McLain
Classic US Navy carrier break – – – and landing. Lots to see and enjoy in this 2:07 long video. just below. Want to know what it is like landing on an aircraft carrier? Here you go – – – Hold on!
And, here below, is what it’s like (6:36 long video) to bring this same hot Navy fighter back to your pitching and rolling carrier – when the weather tries to make you fail . . . Case II Recovery in Low Visibility, with a Pitching Deck Swings from 6-10 feet.
And, for a special bonus, here below (10:49 long) is a video of a group of high speed passes as seen from either shipboard or land – – – and from both inside – and outside – the cockpits.