RA-5C Ejection Story - VFP-62

Volume 1, Issue 3
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Inside this Edition
• Feature...Ejection
Aboard the USS Constellation 1973
• RVAHNAVY Reunion
• Important Statistics
• Looking for Shipmates?
• The Forum
• Trivia
• RVAHNAVY Newsletter
gets a new look and a
new name
• RVAHNAVY Benevolence fund begins
• Coming next month
• What is this Canopy
doing in a GA swamp?
• Pictures from Key West
Which RVAH squadron
was the only one that
did NOT do a tour in
Viet Nam? Hint: they
did not sail a WestPac
cruise. Post your answer on the RVAH-
NAVY.com Forum.
April 15, 2008
Constellation departure
control transmitted:
USS Constellation Flight Deck
By Dockrammer
the cockpit the catapult shot felt
routine and normal until the aircraft crested the bow of the ship
wherein the ramps caution light
illuminated and the aircraft nose
dropped causing the aircraft to
settle. Howie had to apply an un-
They sat patiently for their turn to
launch. Routine. Almost mundane
and certainly repetitive. Lcdr
“Howie” Fowler reacted with the
cockpit controls as the yellow shirt
precisely motioned with
his wands. The lumbering
Vigi surged slowly forward
toward the now lowering
JBD. The yellow shirt
handed off Lcdr Fowler to
the launch crew as the
RA-5C straddled the #2
catapult of the USS Constellation. As the deck
crew connected the launch
bridal and the hold back
Ltjg Art DiPadova chimed
in from the backseat with
the usual pre-launch
checks. The launch crew
fully extended the nose
Lcdr Fowler & Ltjg DiPadova (1973)
gear and the aircraft squatted slightly as the catapult
took tension. The Cat Officer called usual amount of back stick to bring
for the pilot to increase to 100% the nose back to a climbing attipower on both engines. There were tude. Art called from the backseat
two simultaneous booms as the two for “Flaps!” and Howie responded
afterburners ignited. Howie took a with “Flaps 30” as the aircraft belast sweep of the instruments, con- gan a climbing right clearing turn.
firmed that Art was ready to go and The pilot reset all of the warning
then saluted the Cat Officer who, in lights and everything appeared norturn, swept his right arm forward 1 mal. 10 to 15 seconds after the
and touched the deck. From inside Vigilante had became airborne, the
you appear to
have lost a fuel
tank . . . “ Almost immediately, Art said
from the backseat: “I have a
Fire Warning Light.”
Howie looked down
“Roger, fire light #1
and #2 engines.” As
Art repeated his indications
Howie began to pull the throttles
out of after burner and tried to
commence a climb. However,
before he could do anything, the
aircraft began to buffet slightly
and both aviators felt what they
thought were explosions coming
from the aft part of the aircraft.
Simultaneously, the Caution and
Warning enunciator panels lit up
like a Christmas tree and the
stick froze pitching the aircraft
about 20 degrees nose down and
causing a very violent starboard
roll that they estimated to be
approximately 300 to 400 degrees a second. It was abundantly
clear to the crew that this aircraft
had become an “un-reusable
container” and that they needed
to exit – NOW!!!
told Art,
read the first
hand account of this amazing
story as told by the Pilot and the
RAN see pages 3-7.
The RVAHNAVY Newsletter has a new name!
“The Vigilante” makes it’s
debut this month. The letter style was borrowed
from the style used in
early A-3J imagery and
icons. Also, the newsletter is now multi-page! We
hope you like it. We are
always looking for Newsletter stories so please use
the Forum to submit your
ideas and stories.
A VERY special Thank You! by Noel Briley
RVAHNAVY Reunion 2009 is coming back to
the “Cradle of Naval Aviation!” by Alvis
Mr Wickey “AKA” Michael Thompson contributed
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would like to contribute to this fund please contact
Dan or Noel at rvahnavy@rvahnavy.com
From the RVAHNAVY Webmaster by Bob Marioni
Our website is still in its infancy but has been very active.
In the month of March there were more than 340,000
hits to the site. There are a lot of great things planned for
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date. We average 1900 hits a day so it is very active.
Keep up with your posts and others will follow. It’s a great
Looking for Shipmates? by Joe Phillips
way to stay in touch with former shipmates and friends
We have over 1000 email addresses for our VAH/
and meet new people who share a common bond.
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we’ll forward that post to your shipmate if we have We are negotiating with numerous vendors to
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MAJOR announcement about this very soon.
Get ready Pensacola…we’re coming back. Save
the date: June 18-21, 2009. We were in
Pensacola for a fantastic reunion in 2002. We
will be in the planning stages for the next several months. We are expecting our best turn out
ever. If you want to assist please contact Alvis
Didway: alvdid45@yahoo.com You won’t want
to miss this gathering.
RA-5C Ejection Story (The RAN’s View)
By Art DiPadova
In 1973, my squadron, Reconnaissance
Attack Squadron Twelve (RVAH-12), was
embarked on board U.S.S. Constellation.
The Connie had left San Diego shortly after
New Year’s in 1973 for what was to be an
almost ten month WESTPAC cruise. Because the ceasefire was declared later in
January of 1973, the air wing did not conduct any flights over North Vietnam but
for a short period of time, we flew over
Laos and then we flew extensively over
South Vietnam. Also, because of the ceasefire, the air wing had little in the way of
tasking, however, being a reconnaissance
squadron, we were generally tasked with
photographing sections of the Ho Chi
Minh Trail, roadways, and coastal areas
searching for truck parks and other evidence of supplies being brought down
from North Vietnam into the south. Lieutenant Commander Howie Fowler and I
were tasked to fly one of these reconnaissance missions on April 21st but the pictures of us taking off were probably more
exciting than anything we had photographed on the ground during that cruise.
Howie and I flew as a crew during our tour
in RVAH-12 and, in fact, we had both
started training in the RA-5C Vigilante at
the same time and had flown most of our
training missions as a crew in the RA-5C
Replacement Air Group. Coincidentally,
after completing training, we were assigned
to the same squadron and although initially
we were not paired up, asked our CO to
put us together as an operational crew
which, to my delight, he agreed to do.
We were scheduled for a late afternoon
launch and as was typically the case, we
were about the last airplane on the launch.
The Vigi, being the largest aircraft on the
ship at that time, was usually parked aft of
the island and did not wind up getting a
spot on the catapults until the other aircraft
had gone. To slow things down a bit further, we were initially spotted on cat three
but because of a problem with the shuttle,
we were moved up to cat two. After getting hooked up and making sure everything
was in place in the cockpit, Howie ran up
the engines. The instruments looked good
and we went into afterburner. A recheck
of the instruments was still good and
Howie, as usual, let me know he was saluting the catapult officer and I put my head
and was covered with an aerodynamic tail
against the head rest and waited for the
As our aircraft, NG 605, cleared the deck, it On the catapult launch, something happened to NG 605 that had not ever hapseemed to settle a bit but I could feel it
pened to a Vigilante before that period.
establish a positive rate of climb. As was
The aft fuel can separated from the train of
our procedure, as soon as the aircraft
cans on the catapult shot and landed on the
cleared the deck, I
deck. As it separated, it
called for “flaps” to
broke connections beremind Howie to raise
tween the two cans rethe flaps from the full
maining in the aircraft,
flap position to the
spilling fuel into the aft
one-half flap position.
bomb bay area. The Vigi
Howie acknowledged
takes off in maximum
that and a few seconds
afterburner which lit off
later, he asked me,
the residual fuel and the
“Did you feel that setpictures from the PLAT
tle off the cat?” I said,
show a huge fireball be“Yeah, what was that?”
hind the airplane as the cat
Howie said he wasn’t
stroke begins and a raging
sure; he had gotten a
fire in the bomb bay as it
RAMPS light but the
left the end of the flight
fuse reset and the light
deck. In fact, it looked
went out. I thought
like the airplane had three
perhaps that might
Art DiPadova (today)
engines. The flight deck
have something to do
crew had the unenviable
with it but there did
task of trying to dispose of a burning can
not seem to be a problem at that point so
we just continued on. This was a Case One containing 2000 pounds of jet fuel laying
on the deck and, brave souls that they were,
departure, meaning a daylight launch, and
generally we were to maintain an altitude of managed to maneuver it over the side.
Meanwhile, aboard 605, things were appar300-500 feet until we were several miles
ently normal and we were just getting to
from the ship, at which point, we would
the task of going through the after take-off
continue on our mission. Because we were
checklist. I was organizing things for prothe last airplane on the launch, we knew
ceeding on our mission. I hadn’t heard
that there would be F-4’s breaking overhead at 800 feet for the landing pattern and anything on the radio but then CATCC
came up and announced “605, believe you
to maximize the separation, we generally
left a tank behind . . . ” As I was hearing
stayed around 300 feet until we were clear
this, I started to reach for my emergency
of the ship’s operating area and on this
pocket checklist, thinking at the same time
flight, leveled off at 300 feet.
that there is nothing in there about losing a
What we did not realize is what had hapfuel can. However, before CATCC was
pened back on the deck. The Vigi was
even done talking, I saw the fire warning
originally designed as a heavy (nuclear)
light come on. I called to Howie, “I have a
bomber and had a linear bomb bay in befire warning light. I have a fire warning
tween the two engines. The Navy decided
light.” I heard Howie start to acknowledge
against purchasing the A5 for that purpose
and in the background, I could hear the
and North American Rockwell reconfigsound of the other annunciator lights and
ured the aircraft to the RA-5C including a
warnings going off. Again, within the merreconnaissance pod and was able to convince the Navy to purchase it as a dedicated est fraction of a second, the airplane began
a violent right wing down roll. Aviators
reconnaissance vehicle. Since the space in
often wonder, if there came a time when
between the two engines was not being
used, the Navy did what it would usually do they needed to eject, would they hesitate in
making the decision, possibly waiting too
with any extra space on an aircraft and that
long? It was amazing how quickly I came
is fill it with fuel. The bomb bay could
to a decision. What flashed through my
carry up to three fuel cans that would be
mind was that we were at 300 feet, accelerhooked together in between the engines.
ating through 250 knots, had a fire warning
Each can carried 2,000 pounds of fuel,
light, and a violent uncommanded roll.
mounted internally in between the engines,
RA-5C Ejection Story (The RAN’s View)
There was not a moment’s hesitation making the decision that I needed to get out—
now! I reached for the left hand turn and
pull knob which was near my knee. The
violence of the roll caused me to slip at first
but then I grabbed it and pulled it. As I
pulled it, I heard Howie say, “Eject!” The
next thing I remembered is very similar to
the experience that Howie recounted and
that was how time seemed to slow down
for an instant. I actually saw the smoke
from the cartridge that began the ejection
sequence rising very slowly in front of my
face. After that, all Hell broke loose.
The wind blast on exiting the aircraft plus
the acceleration from the seat was incredible. My oxygen mask was torn off and my
helmet went sideways, beating me in the
face. I very definitely felt seat-man separation and myself rolling forward from the
seat but before there was any shock of an
opening chute or anything like that, I hit
the water head first.
The roar of the wind
suddenly stopped and it
became very quiet as I
realized I was underwater.
My first thought was
“Wow! You just
ejected!” My second
thought was that I better
do something to get up
to the surface.
At that time, our flight gear included the
LPA-1 life preserver. It had two toggles by
the waist which would inflate a couple of
bladders around your waist and one around
the neck. With the LPA-1, you needed to
pull the right toggle first because that
would inflate the collar around the neck.
Then the left toggle would give you a bit
more buoyancy. As I went to pull the right
toggle, I realized that I could not move my
right arm. There was no pain or discomfort. It simply did not work. After a second, I tried again and, again, I was unable
to move my right arm. Plan two came next
which was to pull the left toggle and as I
reached down to locate it, of course, I
could not find it. This is the only time I
became a little bit anxious during the se-
quence. Before that, there was no time to
even think about being frightened. When I
could not find the left toggle, I thought I
would try to swim and I took a few strokes
with my left arm but then stopped. I realized that with fifty pounds of flight gear
and only one arm, I was not going to get
very far. I told myself that after just ejecting, there was no way I was going to
drown. I reached down with my left hand
and immediately located the toggle and
tugged it. The vest inflated and rising
through the water at what I estimated to be
at least five feet was the best feeling in the
As soon as I hit the
surface, the first thing I
did was take a huge
breath, the bulk of
which was sea water,
but it did feel good to
have at least my face
above the surface. In
fact, with only a partially
inflated life vest and 3-4
foot seas, there was not
much else other than
my face above the surface. I had this tremendous feeling of exhaustion and for a few seconds, sat there and
found that if I put my
left arm over the bladder, I could keep my
face out of the water
most of the time. However, I realized that I needed to get rid of
the chute before it sank, taking me with it.
I was able to release the left riser on my
parachute but again, I experienced the inability to move my right arm and could not
release the right side. Trying to reach with
just my left hand was difficult and simply
caused me to roll over in the water. I
thought what I would try next is to get rid
of my seat pan. The seat pan comes with
you when you separate from the seat and
contains such items as your life raft and
other survival equipment. I had no illusion
about being able to get into my life raft and
knowing that all of this occurred right in
front of the ship, I was pretty confident we
would be picked up shortly so I decided I
would get rid of my seat pan and hopefully
be able to float a little better without the
extra weight. I did somehow manage to
release the fittings and about that time, I
heard the Angel heading over toward me.
Knowing that the helo was going to pick
me up in a few minutes, I just waited for it
to come. The first thing that happens
when the helo approaches is that you experience the spray kicked up by the rotors.
In fact, it was like having a fire hose
pointed at my face—more water to swallow. Then, as the helo positioned itself
over me, I was in the vacuum created by
the rotors which seemed to suck the little
air I had in my lungs right out. However, I
saw the swimmer drop in the water and he
came over to me with the first words that I
am sure all rescue swimmers are instructed
to say: “You’re going to be all right”. At
that point, I was certain that was the case
and it was just a matter of getting to work.
The young swimmer (he was younger than
me and I was all of 24) proceeded to try to
separate me from the chute. I was entangled in the shroud lines and he was under
the water and around me trying to pull
them away from me. Since I had only my
face out of the water, every time he pulled
on the shroud lines, it pulled me underwater and I was having a really difficult time
breathing. Eventually, he got close enough
to me where I could grab him and I pulled
him over and said, “You’re drowning me!”
At that point, he looked around (I did not
think to suggest that he pull the toggle on
the life vest) and then did an amazing thing.
He took off his UDT (life) vest and put it
around my neck and continued to clear me
of the chute.
During this time, I noted that my right leg
RA-5C Ejection Story (The RAN’s View)
hurt quite a lot. What had happened was
that the hamstring in my right leg was completely torn. What we did not find out until
several months later was that I had also
torn all the ligaments in my right knee.
Also, the heavy flight boot that I wore on
my right foot had the sole almost completely torn off and was just attached
around the toe. I think my leg might have
gotten caught on something with the roll
and the ejection and that I almost had my
leg torn off (amazingly, I was flying 30 days
When the swimmer finally got the chute
removed, he signaled for the helicopter.
Again, I experienced the same fire hose in
the face feeling, followed by the air being
sucked out of my lungs. The swimmer
came over with the line and was trying to
figure out how to hook it up to me when I
grabbed the snap link on my harness. The
snap links were fairly new but they made it
really easy to hook up to the line and the
swimmer hooked himself up as well. The
hoist raised slightly, to where my legs were
still hanging in the water a bit. The link
was attached to the torso harness and as
the helo continued to pull me up, all my
weight settled down on the straps that went
under my legs, including the strap that went
across the torn hamstring. The pain was so
sharp and intense that I just threw up into
the water. Also, looking down I noticed
that the water was colored red and I realized that I had probably been bleeding. I
was hoisted up into the helicopter and let
the crew pull me inside. I was laid on the
floor and at that time, I told them that
there was something wrong with my leg.
We then proceeded over to Howie’s position and I watched the swimmer drop in
the water again. It was only three or four
minutes before I saw the hoist come up
and there in the doorway was Howie. This
is the first time I remember moving my
right arm. As they pulled Howie into the
helo, I reached up and grabbed him by the
arm. It wasn’t so much to help him in as
for the reassurance that he was really there
and he was safe.
The whirlwind continued. As soon as the
helo touched down on the flight deck, the
flight surgeon jumped in and began to examine my leg. He had been told there was
a problem and he was just checking to
make sure there was a pulse in my foot and
that at least everything was connected. He
next tried to figure out how to get me out
of my flight gear without destroying any-
thing and finally decided to just cut it off.
Afterwards, he told me he realized that it
was kind of silly to worry about cutting up
my flight equipment after having just lost a
multi-million dollar airplane. After he was
done with his examination, I was put onto
a litter and carried below deck to the medical ward.
While there, the story began to come out
from our end. Of course, there were about
20 aircraft overhead in the landing pattern
who saw most of what happened. Most of
the people on the ship didn’t see an ejection at all and those who did see an ejection
saw only one. Although several of the
flight crews in the landing pattern overhead
saw Howie eject and his chute deploy before he hit the water, they saw me go out
while the aircraft was inverted and only my
partially deployed chute on the surface of
the water. After being examined and everything looking not too bad, except perhaps
for some soft tissue injury in the hamstring,
my body was completely x-rayed. The xrays were all negative. When the ship’s
surgeon came down and was told the details of the accident (that is, me ejecting
into the water inverted at 300 feet and hitting it without a chute) and that there were
no broken bones, he ordered another complete x-ray which, as the first, turned out
negative. Because of the trauma in my leg
from the torn hamstring, the knee injury
was not visible and didn’t surface until several months later. However, as noted
above, after a few weeks of bed rest, I was
back in flight status and flying again. In
fact, I ended the cruise with the second
most flight time of any of the crew members in the squadron.
A number of years later, a friend of mine
who was the commanding officer of a reserve P3 squadron at Willow Grove, Pennsylvania asked me to speak before the
group. He wanted me not only to tell my
story but also to tie it in to what it means to
be part of the Navy and esprit de corps. I
thought about it and as I did, I was surprised at the things that really popped into
my mind looking back on the event. It was
not so much the terror of the fire warning
light, the rapid roll, or the wind blast, but
certain other events stuck in my mind. I
remembered being carried down from the
flight deck on the litter. I looked around at
the people grabbing the litter and hurrying
me down to the medical ward and you
could not have fit another set of hands on
there. I remembered being visited in the
medical ward by everyone from the 7th
Fleet (who were aboard the Constellation at
the time) to the guys in my division. I remembered the Chaplain’s prayer that evening when he came over the 1MC as he did
every evening. The prayer that night was
special to me because he thanked God for
the safe return of the two aircrew who had
gone into the water earlier that day. What I
thought about during that prayer, and what
I told the group that I addressed, is that for
a period of time, there was a Constellation
crewman in serious danger of being lost in
the ocean. At that point, there were 5,000
people on board the ship whose entire focus was rescuing that one crewman. That
one crewman was of course me and while
we often talk about esprit de corps and
being part of a ship’s crew, I had the honor
of experiencing it first hand. Believe me, it
is not just a lot of talk.
We did not come back from the cruise with
a great deal of medals but Howie and I
came back with one great sea story which I
know I have told hundreds of times over
the years. One question people ask me is
whether, after that incident, I was afraid of
getting back into the cockpit. Actually, my
feeling was quite the opposite. I had a
great deal of confidence in the airplane and
its egress system and even more so in my
shipmates, who I knew would be there to
take care of me if anything ever went
I think Howie mentioned in his version of
the story that years later, his son, who attended the Naval Academy, was speaking
with one of his instructors and mentioned
the fact that his father was a retired Naval
Aviator. They got to talking and the accident came up. It turned out that the instructor was the helicopter pilot that picked
us up.
Just a few months ago, the P3 skipper who
had asked me to speak to his group called
me. He lives in Annapolis and his daughter
was dating a midshipman whose father was
a physician in California. The families were
talking together and it turns out that the
physician had been a flight surgeon in the
Navy. They were swapping stories and my
friend told him of my accident. The doctor
thought it was quite an unusual story, especially since he recalled it and was, in fact,
the flight surgeon who hopped into the
helicopter to first attend me. We hooked
up on the phone and had a nice chat. The
Navy world really is a small one sometimes.
RA-5C Ejection Story (The Pilot’s View)
By Howie Fowler
It was slated to be a late afternoon reconnaissance mission over Vietnam that would
launch at 1653 local from the USS Constellation on Saturday, April 21, 1973. My
Reconnaissance Attack Navigator (RAN),
LTJG Art DiPadova and I went through a
normal mission brief and pre-flight inspection. The engines were started, flight system checked, and then the aircraft was taxied to the number 2 catapult. The nose
gear was extended and when the bridal and
hold-back were secured, the Cat Officer
called for 100% power on both engines.
The aircraft squatted slightly as the catapult
took tension on the aircraft and then the
Cat Officer signaled for afterburner. There
were two simultaneous booms as the two
afterburners ignited. I took a last sweep of
the instruments, confirmed that Art was
ready to go and then saluted the Cat Officer who, in turn, swept his right arm forward and touched the deck. The shot felt
normal until we left the bow of the ship
wherein the ramps caution light illuminated
and the aircraft nose dropped causing the
aircraft to settle. I had to apply an unusual
amount of back stick to bring the nose
back to a climbing attitude. Art called for
“Flaps” and I responded with “Flaps 30” as
we began our climbing right clearing turn.
Immediately retracting the flaps from 50 to
30 was very important since single engine
flight was not sustainable when flaps were
greater than 30. Not knowing what had
happened, I assumed that the engine inlet
ramps had inadvertently monitored down
which could restrict airflow to the engines
and cause a reduction in thrust – which – in
turn could cause the nose to drop. Now
that I had mentally justified the nose drop
off the cat, I reset all of the warning lights
and everything appeared normal. Since
other aircraft were already approaching the
break to make their 1700 Charlie time, I
remained at 300’ to stay below the breaking
Unbeknownst to either of us, the last bombay fuel can had failed during the catapult
shot remaining on deck and ripping a hole
in the remaining fuel cans. The result of
this damage was a very aggressive and hot
fire that was being fed by the remaining
4,000 pounds of JP5 being blown out under pressure by compressor bleed air. Located in this area, in the linear bombay
(between the engines), were the aircraft
hydraulics and sophisticated flight control
systems (pitch augmentation, yaw augmentation, electric flight etc.) that allowed the
pilot to easily control the aircraft. As heat
increased in the linear bombay, things began to rapidly deteriorate.
Aircraft configuration was now landing
gear up with flaps / droops 30 / 25 Ten
to fifteen seconds after we became airborne, Departure control transmitted:
“Speartip 605 you appear
to have lost a fuel tank .
. . “ Almost immediately, Art said: “I have a
Fire Warning Light.” I
looked down and responded: “Roger, fire
light #1 and #2 engines.”
Although the following sequence of events
took place in less than 2 to 3 seconds, it
seemed like an eternity. Everything that
happened next seemed to take place in slow
motion – very slow motion.
The first thing I remember after initiating
ejection was the sound of rushing air after
the canopy was blown off the aircraft.
Now, with the horizon well above my head,
I remember pulling the turn-and-pull ejection handle again thinking that my ejection
seat was not working.
In the RA-5C, when the pilot initiates ejection, although both canopies are jettisoned
simultaneously, the back seat is fired first
and then, following a ¾ second delay, to
avoid seat collision, the front seat sequence
is initiated. Believe me, that was and still is
to this day, the longest ¾ of a second I’ve
ever experienced.
The aircraft airspeed and altitude at the
time of my ejection was approximately 250
knots and less than 300 feet. Art was
ejected from the aircraft while it was inverted and I departed either laterally or
As Art repeated his indications to me, I
began to pull the throttles out of AB and tried
to commence a climb.
However, before I could
do anything, the aircraft
began to buffet slightly
and I felt what I thought
were explosions coming
from the aft part of the
aircraft. Simultaneously,
the Caution and Warning enunciator panels lit
up like a Christmas tree
and the stick froze
pitching the aircraft
about 20 degrees nose
down and causing a very
violent starboard roll
that I estimated to be
Howie Fowler (today)
approximately 300 to
400 degrees a second.
It was abundantly clear that this aircraft had
slightly upright. Pilot statements from
become an “un-reusable container”
other aircraft who observed the accident
that we needed to exit – and now! I told
confirmed that the aircraft actually made
Art to “Eject! Eject!” and on the second
two complete rolls prior to water impact.
command to eject, I initiated ejection by
pulling the port turn-and-pull ejection knob
I remember the ejection seat bottoming
located by my left knee. The aircraft attiout, body positioning taking place (inertial
tude at the time of ejection initiation was
reel firing and pulling me back into the
about 90o right wing down with the nose
seat), the mechanical leg restraints rotating
about 20 to 30 below the horizon.
down to secure my ankles, and smoke from
Unless someone has experienced this type
the black power charge filling the cockpit.
of event, it is difficult to explain the effect
The black powder charge is what lifts the
that adrenalin has in dramatically slowing
seat above the canopy rails prior to the
(and almost freezing) the passage of time.
RA-5C Ejection Story (The Pilot’s View)
ignition of the
ejection seat rockets. And then,
bang, the seat
rockets ignited and
I was on my way
out of the aircraft.
The vertical acceleration forces were
high but smooth. I
lost my helmet
almost immediately
during the ejection
and remember
seeing the aircraft
knife into the water upright and
about 30 to 40
degrees nose down
immediately in
front of me and
disappear leaving
only boiling water
behind. Next,
there was a loud
pop above my
head when the
ballistic parachute
spreaders fired and
blossomed the
chute giving me a
quick jerk just before to my feet
entered the water.
After inflating my
LPA (Life Preserver Apparatus) I tried to
disconnect myself
from the parachute. Although wet slippery
flight gloves made the process a bit
frustrating, I was very interested in separating myself from the parachute since it was
beginning to
my feet
into the
Although Art was only about 40 to 50 feet
away from me, I was unable to see or communicate with him due to the sea state.
Since he had been ejected while the aircraft
was inverted, he entered the water head
first and continued to 10 to 15 feet under
Angel arrived (call sign “Indian
Girl”) overhead the crash scene
very quickly and rescued Art and
then came back to pick me up.
The rescue helicopter pilot and
crew were a welcome sight and
they all performed admirably.
Art and I were flown back to the
USS Constellation flight deck
and taken to sick bay for evaluation and treatment.
Today, Art is a very successful,
well known Estate Tax Attorney
in New Jersey.
water. The inverted ejection and related
forces also temporarily incapacitated the
right side of his body delaying the inflation
his LPA and causing him to swallow a lot
of water.
Even though we were a mile to a mile and a
3-Can Fuel Train
half away from the ship, it was immense as
it passed by us. Of course this was the first
time I had ever looked at an aircraft carrier
from water level.
During air ops, there is always an airborne
helicopter referred to as the “Angel” stationed aft and starboard of the carrier. The
That was April 21, 1973. Now
fast forward to January 1998
(almost 25 years later). Our son
Todd was a “Firstie” in his last
year at the U.S. Naval Academy
when he had called me on the
telephone to share a story with
me about one of his classes.
He explained that, from time to
time, the Academy invites guest
professors from NASA and
other organizations to speak and
teach at the Academy. Todd
said that he had the opportunity
to visit briefly with his instructor, John Burks after class. During the conversation when John
said that he had been a Naval
Aviator, Todd mentioned to him
that I was also a retired Naval Aviator and
had flown the RA-5C. Since the Vigilante
community was very small, John asked
several more questions to determine if our
paths had crossed during his Naval tour.
Long story short, John Burks, then LT
John Burks was the
pilot in command
of the Angel that
plucked both Art
and I out of the
Gulf of Tonkin
that fateful day.
John’s son, Michael Burks was
also Todd’s classmate in the class of
Now you tell me – what are the odds of
that happening to your son 25 years later
and 3000 miles away from home! Small
world . . . . . .
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