From its genesis in 1969, the Navy Fighter Weapons School (NFWS, aka TOPGUN) has gone through a number of evolutions, expansion, and has changed geographical venues. In its initial existence Topgun was established solely to train F-4 pilots to fight and defeat Soviet fighter aircraft over Vietnam in close-in, dog fighting combat. The school was obviously, tremendously successful.
Congratulations to my friend and UK talented aviation artist, Pete Wenman, for his work now being selected for display within the US Pentagon. One of his five paintings is of my old squadron aircraft. Bravo Zulu, Pete!
42 years ago who among us in VF-151 aboard the USS Midway could have imagined our colorful F-4B fighter aircraft someday adorning five dollar Greeting Cards!!??
Added a photo of an AIM-9 Sparrow missile with a VF-1 F-14A on my VF-1 page.
My trusty and venerable Rolex watch that I purchased in 1971 in the Subic Bay, Philippines, Navy Exchange, and the watch that graces my wrist in most all images of me on this website, is in the shop (Shreve & Co.) in San Francisco for reconditioning.
Someone had commented on my lack of updates here in awhile. They worried that maybe my cancer had caught up with me. Thankfully that is not the case. I am quite healthy at the moment. I just have been lazy and otherwise occupied. So I have added a few more things here in the past few days to update this site.
We recently had a mini VF-151 reunion at the Ranch Bernardo Inn in July. Pictured are two stellar RIOs, one stellar maintenance officer, and two stellar F-4B drivers... one who had to endure some time as a POW in the Hanoi Hilton. Great stories, mixed memories, and a special bond among "we few, we happy few, we band of brothers."
I recently came across a vintage, Aviation Officer Candidate School (AOCS) article from a 1964 All Hands magazine. Although a few years before my time there, it is a good representation of what I experienced during the hot and humid Pensacola summers of 1966 and '67 in AOCS. The Making of a Naval Aviator (pdf).
Someone recently sent me this photo of us during a "sky spot" drop in South Vietnam behind an Air Force Pave Phantom we used for their more accurate navigational guidance. While technically not a true Sky Spot - which we also did - that is what we called all these similar missions. When the weather was bad and precluded our visual, close air support to ours and ARVN ground troops,this is what we did elsewhere.
Fear as motivation…
I recently came across this old but interesting article concerning the enormous pressure of Naval flight training back in the day, especially the extremely grueling two weeks of Aviation Officer Candidate School’s indoctrination period.
A great man that I had the honor of knowing passed away this week – Jerry Coleman. Among other fine things, he was a star New York Yankee Infielder, a Marine combat fighter pilot in two wars, was the “Voice of the San Diego Padres,” and was once the team’s manager.
Flying in my F-4 Phantom against the F-8 Crusader was great fun, a real challenge, and excellent training.
The Cubi Pt. Officers' Club recreated in the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola Florida.
A talented friend - Robin Lee - recently worked up a great photographic representation of the F-14 bearing my name on it, when I first joined VF-1 in the Fall of 1976, aboard the USS Enterprise in the Philippines.
40 years later, after they were POWs, released and returned, and then were honored at the largest White House dinner ever held, they reunited once again this year. It was a reenactment of their original dinner with then, President Nixon.
I have recently made some comments about my experiences on Reddit. Some there want to verify that I am who I purport to be there, which is good. So I post this as verification to allay any concern: "I am doing an AMA on reddit."7/26/2013
Researching old Naval aircraft? Or do you just want to know whatever happened to one you formerly flew?
Added a great F-14 video to my VF-1 page.
Congratulations to Anamosa High School senior, Henry Taylor, who is this year's recipient of the John R. Chesire Aviation Scholarship award. Henry will be attending Iowa State University, majoring in aerospace engineering. Our best wishes go out to this well deserving and talented young man.5/17/2013
Unfortunately and as many know, I no longer am able to fly due to health reasons. However I can still fly vicariously, thanks to my lovely aviator daughter. She has just accepted a position with rapidly growing Desert Jet as a Citation jet captain.
Over 40 years ago our squadron mates Ted and Dave were shot down over North Vietnam, captured, and became Prisoners of War (POWs) in the ‘Hanoi Hilton’.
A framed print of Aviation Artist Pete Wenman's awarding winning By the Dawn’s Early Light, depicting the actual F-4B aircraft I flew in 1972 with my name on the canopy rail, is now on permanent display aboard the USS Midway Museum in San Diego.
Even after 40 years, some things are still vividly and painfully remembered... The sad and tragic loss of Mondo and Arlo in "Christmas ’72 Stories: (8) 'A-rab Beeper, come up voice.'"11/27/2012
An amazing and long series of photographs of the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail [that I came to know over four decades ago] as it appears today. LINK10/5/2012
Added to my VF-1 page a link to an interesting, old school 1970s video that covers Air Combat Maneuvering training early on following F-14's initial introduction to the fleet - F-14 Air Combat Maneuvering. Most of those in the video were some of the best at the time, and are pilots and RIOs that I knew and flew with often.10/4/2012
Added this 1950's 30 minute documentary video, Small Town USA, to my prologue page. It was a Cold War U. S Information service propaganda documentary of my small hometown of 4,000 people - Anamosa, Iowa - designed to show foreign viewers how well we lived on farms and small towns in the Midwest. Although highly idealized, the places, people, and events were all real. I remember them all, fondly. And I miss those times too, for they have greatly changed since.9/25/2012
Added a link to former shipmate and A-7 driver's recent article, Air War Vietnam Remembrance at 40 Years - All Days Come From One Day on my Linebacker I & II page. In the article Ed describes vividly his remembrances of our 11 month, 1972 cruise aboard the USS Midway and the air war over North Vietnam that we shared. It is from the Remembered Sky blog.9/1/2012
Godspeed Neil Armstrong! As a young Student Naval Aviator I was so proud that another Naval Aviator was the first man on the moon. I was in awe at the incredible accomplishment. I remember it vividly.
" This was to be a historic year. It was the year of " Woodstock" (three of us actually talked about getting some leave and going to the Woodstock Festival in upstate New York, but alas it was, only talk). Much more importantly, it was the year that man first set foot upon the moon. My trailer mate Mike and I had left Beeville for the greater weekend 'excitement' of San Antonio. Staying with an uncle, we delayed our sortie into town that historic night to watch, in black and white TV amazement, Apollo 11 and Neil Armstrong's first step upon the moon on July 20, 1969."8/23/2012
Back on line.8/16/12
Circumstances dictate I will be offline for awhile...7/16/2012
Two F-14s crashed in 1976, two days apart and almost in the same place at NAS Miramar. Four good men died. They were four men in my VF-124 Field Carrier Landing Practice (FCLP) class whom I knew well. One was a close friend with whom I flew with frequently.
Added on my Top Gun page, a some years later photo of Dan Pedersen, who not only taught me how to fly and fight the F-4 Phantom, but was the original Officer in Charge (OINC) of the initial Navy Fighter Weapons School (NFWS), later and better known as TOPGUN.5/18/2012
Added a link on my Linebacker II page to a B-52 audio/video as they flew over Hanoi in December of 1972, trying to end the war. We flew on the night of the 20th as MigCap near Hai Phong as protection for the strike. The multiple annoying background noises are the aural warnings one receives when different enemy fire control radars are tracking/firing at you. The loud and persistent 'beepers' are emergency locater beacons from crews who have been shot down. The relative calmness and professional transmissions belie the death, destruction, and amazing fireworks all around them. BZ4/5/2012
Added a video link, "F-14 Tomcat Carrier Landing Tutorial Plus PLAT Footage" to my F-14 Flight Training page.
This past week we lost not only an extraordinary Naval Aviator, but also a man for all seasons; a true Renaissance man. He was retired Navy Captain - Carroll LaFon - but more widely known as Neptunus Lex on his blog. He died doing what he loved. But he died far too early for his family and innumerable friends.
One the best things about this website are the many old and new friends who stop by and comment.
I always appreciate the many responses I receive almost daily as a result of this website. But sometimes I am caught off guard. An old RO I once flew with, but have not seen in decades sent me this week his memories about one mission we shared. Much of my experience is a now a blur. But his email brought this particular memory back:
"I also remember quite vividly the bombing mission on the rail yards south west of Hanoi. The run was a south to north run with a sharp right turn after release. When we came off target and looked right the Strike group was getting really hosed by triple A. I suggested we reverse to the north and come out very low over the next river mouth. That's when they opened up on us with the ZSU-23's radar-controlled (aka Golden Hose). Do you remember that mission?"
Yes my old friend, I now do remember that day. Thank you, partner.9/13/2011
Added a paragraph on my Linebacker I & II page titled, "Danger and Death on our Deck." It concerns the 1972 A-6 crash on our flight deck that killed 5 and severely injured 23 more.
During our long and difficult 11-month SEA combat cruise in 1972-73, one of the treasured bright spots for the 5,000 officers and men aboard USS Midway was looking forward to the daily "Snoopy Cartoon." It appeared each morning on the bottom of the daily Strike Ops Plan. (I believe the artist was a junior officer, Lt. W. E. Girard.)
Added a link on my Top Gun page to my former squadron mate, stateroom mate, friend, extraordinary fighter pilot, and the guy destined for the NFWS, TOPGUN before me in 1971 - callsign "Symo"!
Aviation artist Pete Wenman's painting By the Dawn's Early Light of my old VF-151 aircraft over North Vietnam, has just won The Captain Duane Whitney Martin, USAF Award at the 2011 ASAA International Aerospace Art Exhibition. The painting will be on display throughout the summer at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola.
Link added to an F-14 Tomcat night CQ (carrier qualification) video from Patricks Aviation site on to my F-14 page.
Added another link on my Epilogue page to aviation artist Pete Wenman' site, who now has prints for sale of his original work, By the Dawns Early Light.
Added a unique and moving rendition of Taps, with orchestration, for all our fallen heroes on my Vietnam: Operations Linebacker I and Linebacker II page.1/22/2011
Linked on my War-2nd Cruise page to "Snako" Kelly's great personal short-story posted on the Tailhook.org website: "My First Division Lead".
Link added to aviation artist John D. Shaw's F-4 painting, Into The Storm on my F-4 Tour: The RAG page. Along with a number of other Vietnam era F-4 Naval Aviators, I recently had the privilege of signing John's original work of art along with many of the prints.10/14/2010
Added a link to a comprehensive 1972 Air War Timeline on my War-2nd Cruise page. It lists many of the dates, names, places and events of flying over North Vietnam in 1972 that I remember. It is an excellent resource for a researcher, historian, family member of one who served, and even an old participant like me.10/13/2010
VF-151 37 year reunion last week in San Diego, covered by KUSI TV video.8/15/2010
Many of our old warriors, finally after 37 years, are returning to their roots, regrouping, and will once again have the opportunity to try to tell more unbelievable lies to each other -- at San Diego, the USS Midway, and at the former NAS (now MCAS) Miramar, this month.
Noted British aviation artist Pete Wenman's workup color study of our VF-151 squadron's F-4B aircraft over North Vietnam in 1972 (including my former "personal" aircraft, NF-213), recently won a "Founders Blue Ribbon" at the San Diego Air & Space Museum's 24th ASAA International Aerospace Art Exhibition. Since this was only a smaller, preliminary "study" in preparation for the final work of art on larger canvass, it promises to later be an aesthetically pleasing and very special work of historic and accurate aviation art. Congratulations to Pete.6/24/2010
Added a link on the '72/73 War2 page about our lost next door neighbors aboard USS Midway in 1973, KIA (Killed in Action) Mike and Al. They were recently honored on April 2010, by having their names affixed to the Midway Museum's A-6 aircraft. One of the speakers was Al's son Tad, who was only 2 months old when his father was KIA, having never met him. Tad was more recently a member of the USAF Thunderbirds flight demonstration team, is now a selectee Lt. Col., and flies F-16s for the US Air Force. Link5/5/2010
Added a link to Lap Around The Boat... an excellent 6 minute video of the catapult, landing pattern, and trap of a Navy T-45 trainer aboard an aircraft carrier. As real as it gets on video.
Added a link to Pete Wenman Aviation Art on my Epilogue page. Unbeknownst to me, Pete had recently seen my website photo and had kindly done a very nice pencil sketch of it one afternoon. He then mailed it to me from the UK. It was a very pleasant surprise.
Added a link to an old but excellent 1987 Texas Monthly article about "Frankie Smooth Talk" Frank Lorenzo on the Continental Airline page. It gives insight on how this reckless, devious, and malicious man soared, then crashed in the airline industry.... Finally being officially banned from the industry, but unfortunately, well after wrecking thousands of airline employees' lives. (For the complete TM article, email me.)1/25/2010
Added two F-14 images on the F-14 Tour page1/1/2010
Happy New Year! Just a few minor changes on a number of different pages, and a couple of new images too.
Added a corrected link to the History Channel's excellent video recreation on YouTube [apparently now recently taken off line] of fellow Top Gun classmate Bart's 1972 MiG kill on my TOPGUN page.
Added a link to Bud "Thunder" Taylor's Collection of combat photos taken during our 1972 cruise. (Vietnam - 2nd Cruise page)
San Diego Tribune 4/9/2009 article on the establishment of TOPGUN 40 years ago, including comments from some of the six original NFWS innovators at a reunion aboard the USS Midway. Link provided on my Top Gun page3/24/09
Added a photo, and a link to an Air & Space magazine article - The G Machine - about the famous (infamous?) NADC Centrifuge, (that I unfortunately rode far more than I should have) on the Naval Air Development Center page.3/21/09
Thanks to all - old friends and new, world-wide - who have emailed me so many kind comments. Indeed any comments, questions, and recommendations are always welcome.3/20/09
I have been busy the past two weeks adding text, images, and expanded images on over half of the pages. Look around and you will discover new things.2/12/09
When I initiated this site, I tried to keep my limited images as few and as small as my website basic instruction books had indicated I should. And I didn't then know how to add expandable thumbnails (which I later learned is extremely simple).
Added a VF-151 officers' group photo thumbnail on the Vietnam; Second Cruise page.1/21/09
Added two F-4 patches, a SERE patch, and a VF-126 patch to the F-4 Tour RAG page.1/1/09
Added a Ray Kroc Sea Story.12/21/08
Added a link on my F-4 Tour page to M. Waterloo's excellent website. He collects and restores old aircraft cockpit instrument panels, especially F-4 aircraft. His is an interestingly unique and excellent collection, especially with his very detailed pictures and associated descriptions of cockpit instruments and avionics.11/22/08
Added a link to Vietnam War Resources. This is the most comprehensive and current collection of links regarding every aspect of the the Vietnam War. Again from Tom Pilsch. It is all here!11/11/08
Added a link on the Operation Linebacker page to Tom ("Flipper") Terrlizzi's novel, Kilo Sierra, based in part on our USS Midway cruises to Southeast Asia in the early '70s. Although I have yet to read it, having just ordered it today, it does have some nice reviews and should be a fun read.
Added two new incredible links:
Added a number of photos courtesy of Michel in the Netherlands, who has quite a collection. His F-4 gallery is here3/18/07
Just some general housecleaning and link repair. This site has been dormant for a little while, but I am in the process of adding a new page or two... hopefully soon to follow.7/2/06
Added a link to my former squadron-mate and author, Art (Kim) Long's Book, Tail-End Charlie; which accurately chronicles our 1972 combat cruise aboard the USS Midway, from a uniquely personal and insightful perspective.6/25/06
Kenny W. remembered - It would likely have been me.6/24/06
Added a short sea-story: "Sir, You're Never Going To Make It!"3/1/06
De-bugging site. Fixing many typo's.2/5/06
Not much, yet.
Remember, this is a brand new, squeaky website. Therefore, nothing has yet had any time to be changed. Nor has anyone had time to point out the mistakes, or quibble with any issue.
However rest assured, as significant changes are made, they will be documented here.
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