We continue with the Howdy Sligar saga. Iwakuni, Japan.
“John Shinnick began showing me how to pre-flight the aircraft ie, making sure all the big pieces are still there, checking to see if anyone left a monkey wrench in the intake etc. We climbed up to the cockpit and John explained a multitude of things ranging from seat ejection to radar operations to switches to circuit breakers to harness straps to oxygen flow to radio operation, to canopy operations, to emergency procedures, to the care and feeding of “barfsters” etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.
As I climbed in, there were two things that stuck in my mind like glue–seat ejection and canopy operation!! (right about this time, I reflected upon myself and was alarmed to find I was quite calm and alert. This could only mean I’d go to pieces instantaneously !) I got strapped in and put on my helmet and oxygen mask. I noticed Capt. Lewis climbing aboard at this time. The oxygen mask is a bear to get used to. The oxygen comes in under a little over two pounds pressure which makes for forced exhalation and is very uncomfortable for the novice. Nonetheless, I was all set! Then I noticed some of the mechanics climbing up and down from Capt. Lewis’ half of the cockpit. Finally John signaled from the ground with a cutting motion across his throat that the flight had been “canked” (aborted) There was no radio between me and the pilot. I climbed out feeling like the kid who didn’t have to fight the bully because he’d moved away. A sense of relief but overwhelmed with the desire to do the deed. It was a long walk back to the Ready Room. Off with the gear (I now felt qualified to conduct suit drill) and back to the hut. Capt. Lewis said maybe tomorrow.
Tomorrow came and Capt Lewis said, “no dice.” I caught Capt. Johnson, the flight scheduler, and told him I wanted a ride. He came right back with “O.K.” He was back 30 minutes later and told me I was on the flight schedule for a 1900 brief and a 2030 take off that nite (!) with Lt. Pappas as pilot. Bob Pappas is one of my better friends and his being the pilot couldn’t have suited me better. The only thing that unnerved me is that you just don’t take your first hop in an F4B at nite!
1830 Monday nite. 22 November 1965
Back into the gear. Major Dunn, the XO conducted the brief. Bob Pappas was to climb to 30,000 feet and be a “boggy” for two other aircraft who would practice radar intercepts with us as the target. The Major asked me if I would like to use the radar. I laughed weakly. He then told Bob to tour the area for my benefit and return to the field and make a carrier landing (arrested landing with the tail hook and cable bit). I slouched down in my seat, a numb but nonchalant spectator.
A longer walk to the aircraft. John Shinnick was along again for professional and moral support. There’s no way to describe how you feel the first time you climb aboard on a cold clear nite unless it was to say I was apprehensive as all hell! Another way to say I was scared. Lt. Col. O’Donnell had come by at the end of the brief and said to me, “Sligar, any body that FAM’s at nite with Bob Pappas has got to have guts as big as helmet bags!!” Put me right at ease.
I strapped in and we taxied out. Bob kept up a running bit of chatter, nice and light and cheery. His chipper like psychology worked well. By the time we reached the end of the runway I was relatively relaxed. He went through the take off check list faster than I could follow except the part that said to secure your seat. The he said, “I’m now running up the starboard engine to 100%, I am now running up the port engine to 100 % (all I could hear was a high whine) and here we go!
The surge of power is like on arrow from a bow. It held me flat to the seat and in 3000 feet we were air borne. It couldn’t have taken five seconds. We climbed to 30,000 feet and leveled off. In five minutes we were over Hiroshima. We toured the area taking in the sights and except for the side rolls there was no sensation of movement. Again, the most difficult part was the helmet and oxygen mask. After 30 minutes I became very warm and the mask and helmet started closing in on me. Trying to talk against the oxygen pressure was disturbing as hell. A verbal pause would be distorted into a death rattle. The intercom allows each to hear the other’s breathing on “hot mike” or on “cold mike” you connect yourselves with a push button. The “hot mike” allows instant response and in my case, Bob could tell if I was having any difficulty.
I told him about my discomfort and he turned the temp. down and in a few minutes I was in good shape.
About then Bob received word that one of the aircraft to maneuver with us had been unable to get their landing gear up, so the mission was cancelled. Major Dunn told Bob to give me a ride and to come on in.
Bob told me he’d show me how high “up” was. He hit the after burners and we literally shot to 50,000 feet. The G-force almost make me ill. The true speed indicator read 800 knots or about 1,000 miles per hour! We’d passed through the speed of sound like riding across the street, except for the G-force and the instruments you couldn’t tell we were moving. At 50,000 feet we could see the lights from both coasts of Japan.
I am now approaching the basic reason for this whole narration. Bob decided to make a speed run for my benefit. A speed run is another way to say Mach 2 or higher. Twice the speed of sound. We started the run at 45,000 feet and I watched the true speed indicator revolving like a slot machine as Bob called off the Mach readings- 1.4; 1.5; 1.6; he clipped off matter of factually. The temp. rose some 250 degrees on the skin of the plane. The canopy was hot to the touch as we slid past 1.8. We were at 41,000 feet. I was tight as a bow string with my eyes glued to the true speed indicator as it eased past 1120 knots! I got a terrific sensation of straining, like you strain with an athlete as he surges. Bob clipped off 1.9. The indicator rolled past 1150, my eyes darted to the Mach meter as it sneaked past 2.0.
Then it happened. A tremendous noise and deceleration like someone had hit the nose with a sledge hammer, the whole plane shuddered for an instant. The fear shot through me like a rifle bullet and I involuntarily ducked my head. My hands moved to the face curtain which would eject me. I waited for Bob to speak, my mind immediately told me to wait for his command. “Everything’s all right Howdy. Both engines running well, all instruments read A.O.K. I believe it was a compressor stall caused by engine absorption of supersonic air. I’ve made a dozen Mach 2 runs and it’s never happened before. If you were shook, don’t feel bad. It scared the hell out of me too!”
The whole thing was over in 15 seconds. We came back in, made two “touch-and-go” landings and then the carrier landing. Like hitting the clothes line in the dark. Yanks you up short!
What a ride! A nite hop, a Mach 2 run, a near catastrophe, and an arrested landing. They say it must have been the greatest first ride in an F4B!
The next day we found out that we had torn off one of the belly doors made of aluminium alloy weighing about 10 lbs. It also caused an international incident because of the sonic booms over Hiroshima! It was in several Japanese papers. Pretty sensational stuff for this little ole admin officer!!
Last nite at the Officers Club, Lt. Col. O’Donnell presented me with my Mach 2 button in front of all the squadron officers in behalf of McDonald Aircraft Corp. Many of the Radar Officers who have many hours in the back seat have yet to go twice the speed of sound! They were green!”
So ends the exciting tale of the admin officer, the jet plane and the ride of his life. Oh, by the way, Howdy never did need that “barf bag.”
Next I’ll share about the infamous phone call in Viet Nam.