Thursday, July 13, 2017

Low Fuel

This is one of many memories of Crusader Pilots who are a part of our Crusader Assn.  This one is so much a representation of “Days Gone Bye” that I thought you may find interesting.
R.L. Clark

[Low Fuel]

I enjoyed reading Dick Shaffert's account of the exciting, desperate, and frustrating Dick Hartman rescue attempt. I remember flying several Res-Cap missions during those three days. At that time, I was the junior pilot in VF-162.

As Dick Shaffert mentioned in his narrative, I also remember being one of those guys "saved" by KA-3D tanker pilot Lcdr Tom Maxwell, although not during the Hartman operation.

On one fine day, returning to the ship in my F-8E after being relieved on the Northern Bar-Cap a little bit late, I called the ball with about 1100 pounds. Unfortunately, I got a fouled deck wave off because the pilot ahead of me had trouble clearing the arresting gear. Other than the two tankers, I was the only one left in the pattern. To my surprise, I was told to make a second pass rather than tank. I made the tightest pattern I possibly could and called the ball with 800 pounds, below the normal minimum fuel state for tanking.

These many years later I clearly recall that second pass as being: "Great tight pattern by an enthusiastic 22 year old youngster followed by a steady-as-a-rock groove and an OK 3 wire spoiled by a hook skip caused by an under serviced hook damper; not the pilot's fault at all". The unsympathetic LSO simply logged it as a BOLTER while the Air Boss said, "Superheat 213, your signal TANK".

The duty A-4 tanker was goofing off at 3000 feet on the other side of the circle oblivious to what was going on, so it took a lot of my remaining fuel to climb up and chase him down. He streamed his drogue and I hit it on the first try; ... no joy. He recycled his package, I hit it again; ... still no green light. He mumbled something about resetting some switches and I plugged the basket a third time. Sour package was the final verdict, dang. Why didn't he confirm his tanking gear was operating correctly before I desperately needed fuel?

I snapped the throttle to idle and started down in a left turn. I remember thinking I had only a slim chance to make a successful landing. I was looking at about 200 pounds and wondering if I could survive a flameout in the groove. I was reviewing my ejection procedures when I got a call from Tom Maxwell who said, "Superheat, keep it turning".

Tom, who took his A-3 tanking job a lot more seriously than the guy flying the A-4 tanker that day, had been listing to the whole thing and knew exactly what to do. I looked in my mirrors and saw the Whale at 6:00 o'clock bellowing black smoke and closing at a terrific rate. This image is forever etched in what is left of my brain as if it were a high definition DVD. Funny how that works.

Tom skimmed under my belly just outside my radius of turn, pulled up directly ahead of me, went idle and speed brakes, streamed his drogue, and almost put the basket on the end of my probe. It was as fine a piece of airmanship as I have ever seen, before or since.

A touch of throttle and I was coupled up and taking on fuel. From the time Tom extended the basket until I was connected was literally only a few seconds with almost no maneuvering other than adding a little power. That's how accurate Tom's rendezvous was.

Problem solved and things went back to routine, or as close to routine as combat carrier ops can be. That was the day that Lcdr Maxwell became my new hero and earned a case of Scotch Whiskey on our next visit to Cubi, gift-wrapped no less. Thanks again Tom.

Bob Walters (Pagan) VF-162
13 July 2017