("More Than a Number")

Table of Contents

Flight Training
F-4 Tour
The War
Top Gun
R&D Test: NADC
F-14 Tour
   The RAG
Continental Airlines
S. D. Padres
Naval Reserve
Pride Air
America West Airlines


VF-1 History
USS Enterprise
Big E documentary
Tailhook Assoc.
Vf-1 Wikipedia
A fan (pdf Page 3)
Sea Legs video
Hobart Visit Video
F-14 ACM Video
ACEVAL/AIMVAL Dogfight of the Decade...
My F-14, Wichita 110

VF-1 patch fighter helmets

Six years prior when I had completed F-4 training in the RAG, my transfer to my fighter squadron - VF-151 - had only involved my walking 100 yards from one aircraft hanger to the next at NAS Miramar, to assume my new duty.

VF-1 F-14 on ramp

This time however, instead of only a short walk, my transfer to my new fighter squadron - VF-1 -took me halfway around the world.

It involved a commercial flight from San Diego to LAX. Then followed a transfer to a long red-eye, middle-seat ride in a stretch DC-8 to Clark AFB in the Philippines, that painfully included a 3 hour midnight refueling stop en-route. Awake for well over 24 hours and not even knowing what day it was with a Dateline crossing, my partner and I were still fascinated with our older and estimable, Filipino driver.

He drove us from Clark AFB to NAS Cubi Pt. where the USS Enterprise with VF-1 embarked were docked at the time. VF-1 PlaqueAlong the way our driver pointed out all of the places where his [heroic, I believe] family and friends had hidden WW-II U.S. personnel from the Japanese; where WW-II battles and fire-fights had occurred, and where many had died. His running commentary along the drive was absolutely fascinating, and inspirational. And it certainly arrested any complaints we may have had about our own lack of sleep, and our long journey from San Diego! Officers of VF-1, Wolfpack

Some Disappointment

Tomcat patch

At the time, one would think that I had reached the epitome for a Navy fighter pilot: Given a new and "eye-watering" air superiority fighter aircraft to fly; a most prestigious new fighter squadron re-commissioned specifically for the arrival of the then-new, "air-superiority" F-14; and an elite squadron cadre of the Navy's "best and brightest" of the time as squadron mates.

VF-1 F-14s in formation

Incredibly, I was now with VF-1 onboard the USS Enterprise for the second ever carrier deployment of the F-14 Tomcat - which should have been the best fighter-pilot flying in the world. Unfortunately, there was disappointment ahead.

It didn't take long to learn a few things:
  • A peacetime Navy is far different than a wartime Navy
  • The rules and especially priorities had changed.
  • Tactical maneuvers were less important than tactical "politics".
  • An excessively "top-heavy" squadron can easily become a dysfunctional one.
  • Aim-7 Sparrow
  • Long cruises away from home while exciting for a bachelor, can be very difficult with a new family.
  • A peacetime defense budget severely reduces the amount of flight time available.
  • Bureaucracy tends to overwhelm action; form supersedes results.
  • Important lessons learned can be quickly forgotten.
  • The early model F-14As were delivered with problematic engines.
  • The former challenge and thrill were gone.
  • Old personal adversaries of a former cruise make for difficult new bosses.
F-14 glove vanes out, coast of California

F-14 Growing Pains

As with any new technology and equipment, our new F-14's - on only their second operational cruise - had some growing pains. The monsoonal rains of the Philippines quickly brought one new problem to light.F-14 inflight refueling

Rainwater pooled in certain parts of the parked aircraft, frying some electronics. The solution for this $40 million per copy aircraft was simply to drill some weep holes on the underside of the aircraft. This mostly solved the water problem, but caused another, and one that took some time to discover.

Our jet engines were frequently becoming damaged by what is called, FOD (Foreign Object Damage). The source of this FOD was not immediately known.

Enterprise Centurion Patch

Eventually we realized that the weep holes drilled on the underside of the aircraft also allowed, along with rainwater, the blind rivet-heads formerly held inside the aircraft to now escape their containment. These little rivet heads then fell to the deck where they were quickly sucked up into the TF-30 engines, severely damaging the turbine blades. So in addition to a limited budget for fuel, and fried electronics, we often had a limited number of F-14's to fly while their FOD-damaged engines were being repaired.

F-14 Pre-launch checks F-14 taxi to the cat F-14 on the cat

The F-14 was a much needed, quantum jump in capability over the F-4. Nevertheless, the F-4B and J still remain even today as my favorite, fun-to-fly aircraft (with maybe the A-4 second). The F-18 could have been, but I only logged 1 hour of flight time in it.)

Although I had equal flight time in both the F-4B/J and the F-14A aircraft, I never became as totally comfortable, or as proficient in the F-14 as I did in the F-4. The pleasure of flying the F-4 was its instant responsiveness from its pure turbo-jet engine, instead of the early-model-F-14A's sluggish and temperamental TF-30 fan engine; f-14sthe F-4's greater roll rate at slower airspeeds; and the F-4's rock solid stability in the landing configuration . . . unlike the spoiler and horizontal stabilizers' flapping "Turkey" F-14. (It was always easier to get a better landing grade aboard the 'boat' in the F-4, than the F-14, despite a nearly 14kt greater difference in average approach speeds.)

One other problem became glaringly evident when I first joined VF-1. Previously when I was in training with the VF-124 RAG, I unfortunately never received any air combat maneuvering (ACM) training. The reason for this was that there was some problem with the aircraft at the time and it was G limited for many weeks until the problem was rectified. Since fighting the F-14 was very different than the F-4, I was at a great disadvantage for the first several months in the squadron without any prior and necessary ACM training in the F-14. Eventually I learned slowly on the job and became proficient. However it was very embarrassing, especially with my reputation preceding me to not be very good initially in the ACM arena.

USS Enterprise Flight Deck Pack

But most likely my lasting affinity for the F-4 was a result of being bonded together, man & machine in harm's way so many times, and by providence returning unscathed. Indeed the fast F-4B became my savior, and thus my eternal, dual afterburner and aluminum friend.

Two Cruises

Relative to the two prior wartime cruises aboard the USS Midway, my two 7-month cruises with VF-1 aboard the USS Enterprise were mostly nondescript. Our limited flying became routine, and even sometimes monotonous. This was only occasionally punctuated with exercises involving ACM (Air Combat Maneuvering) with foreign air forces, but they were too few. Because I did not receive F-14 ACM training in the RAG [training eliminated because of a temporary F-14A G limitation] – and its tactics were far different than other aircraft I had flown – it took me some time to become comfortable, and even longer to become proficient in the F-14 ACM arena.

With less at-sea time, we now spent more time in more varied ports. Since we were the first US Navy ship to visit Hobart, Tasmania since WWII, the whole city gave us a resounding and memorable welcome, and was the highlight of that cruise.

Hobart Tasmania F-14 Tomcat patchCascade Brewery Momento Label USS Enterprie memorial to Hobart, Tasmania

Malindi, Kenya

A year later on our next cruise, we visited the beautiful city of Perth, Australia. It reminded us in many ways of our home in San Diego. A later port call to Mombasa, Kenya during a rainy period, precluded a hoped-for safari. Instead, four of us went up the coast to the European resort of Malindi.

During a later port call in Singapore we were befriended by a Texas oilman. He threw a large party for us in his downtown high-rise penthouse. Singapore at night For refreshments he had a large cattle stock tank out on the balcony filled with ice and beer... the beer was naturally Lone Star beer that he had specially flown in from Texas.

Also during this cruise my wife was able to find a long-term baby sitter, and along with a squadron wives' group, she met me on the pier in Hong Kong for a week's visit. What a wonderful time we had; a second honeymoon for us. We shopped at the China Fleet Club and dined at the renowned restaurant, Gaddis in the Peninsula Hotel. We then traveled via Cathay Pacific to Manila on leave Spending another week in the Philippines at the luxurious Makati Mandarin Hotel, we took a bus to Subic Bay on a bus this some chickens.

Cruise patch

Sea Story

In between these two cruises with VF-1 aboard the USS Enterprise, I ferried an F-14 to the Shah of Iran as detailed on the following page. For that trip I was issued a brown "Official Passport" by the State Department rather than a normal blue tourist passport. It indicated that the passport would be good for five years before expiration. Several months later I was in Hong Kong and had some business to do at the American Consulate. While there I was asked to present my passport, so I gave them my official passport. The clerk looked at it and asked me to take a seat. Several minutes later I was escorted up to the American Consul General's large and impressive office. His name was John Coffey, and he graciously asked for me to take a seat.

"Tell me about your passport," he said as he held it up for me to see. After I explained whole story, he became very serious. "Don't you know that this passport was issued for that one specific trip only, and not to be used for any others?" "No," I honestly replied, naively and sheepishly.

He then cancelled my official passport and proceeded to have a new tourist passport issued to me. I regretted losing that official passport as it had helped me get through customs a number of times as quickly as possible. passports

We then engaged in some interesting small talk. We both learned that we had met each other six years earlier when he was then Consul General in Singapore and where he granted me an extension on an earlier passport. We decided it was indeed, a small world.

In the relatively short turnaround between the two 7-month+ cruises, our daughter was born while I was away on a highly classified and inflexible detachment (Constant Peg) in the Nevada (yes, that "place") desert. I also participated in two other important detachments (one to Iran) far from home during this period. These were exciting experiences. NPGS Safety School, 1977 But they compounded my time away from home, as did my attending Safety School at the Navy Postgraduate School in Monterey during this brief turnaround period.

[While there at NPS Safety School, I met and became friends with an East coast F-4 pilot, Chic Burlingame. We subsequently crossed paths occasionally over the years. But tragically much later, he would become one of the two pilots I knew personally, both flying aircraft for their respective airlines, and who along with their crew and passengers were tragically and unmercifully killed by the terrorist hijackers on "9-11".]

F-14 Crash on I-15

Two weeks before another long cruise, and while trying to relax on a rare and well-earned leave at home with wife, an almost two-year-old son and new daughter, I received the "call" on 27 March, 1978 - we have had a crash!
[Ironically one of three Navy Jet crashes that same tragic day near San Diego.]

As the new squadron Safety Officer - and designated aircraft accident investigator - and although on an official leave of absence, I immediately rushed from home to the squadron. Making sure the required "immediate" to higher command reports were in process at the squadron office, I quickly proceeded out to the crash site on the I-15 freeway, just short of the runways.

[My wife was a witness - on the freeway! Going to the Exchange on base, this aircraft caught her eye as it was "very low and slow". She then watched in horror as it stalled, saw the dual ejections, and then helplessly watched the pilotless aircraft crashing and sliding onto the I-15 freeway into a truck and in flames, just two cars ahead of her!

A result was the later movement of the I-15 freeway to the East and bending it some distance further away from the approach ends of the runways, in case another similar crash ever occurred in the future, short of the runways. The original freeway was renamed, Kearny Villa Road.]

[Later note from a reader: "I found myself on your website when I was looking for old newspaper articles about the F-14 crash on March 27, 1978 just short of the Miramar runway. I was of course sorry to hear about the death and serious injuries of the aircrafts crewmen."

"Interesting notes for your website - the F-14 did hit a truck carrying two occupants, Jim Rodr and my father Kai Musurlian (former Navy man served on the USS Ajax) who were not too seriously injured. They were however almost killed by the ammunition which was firing off as it was spilled all over the freeway and by the Corpsman who loaded them onto an ambulance only to have the back doors fly open during transport and the empty gurney flying out of the rear of the ambulance."
Erik Musurlian in email 29th May 2014

By the time I had arrived at the crash scene from home, the critically injured pilot - who barely but fortunately lived - had by then been evacuated to the Naval Hospital. But there I witnessed the remaining body of my VF-1 RIO who had ejected but did not live - the body awaiting the coroner....

Two weeks later, we left home and families for another eight months in WestPac and the Indian Ocean. We had to conclude the accident investigation and mishap report at sea.

VF-1 Heroes F-14 off the cat

After my first cruise with VF-1, I had hesitatingly decided to leave the Navy and pursue an airline career. However, because of an apparent, post-training commitment, I was told that was not possible. Because of training received, I needed to serve another year and another cruise. So I did. Then I left.

End-of-Cruise Fly-ins to NAS Miramar . . . 1977 and 1978

End of Cruise Flyoff Flyoff to NKX flyoff family Welcome Home, Daddy

[Edit: My son pictured above (and now age 43 in 2019), recently complained that their mother didn't always dress his sister and he in red and white homemade outfits like that, and that I should "delete the photo." (Sorry, kid. The photo stays :-) )

In fact they are dressed in VF-1 red and white Wolfpack colors, as all the awaiting families were for our fly-off/fly-in that day in 1978, and our festive return to NAS Miramar after a long cruise away from home aboard Enterprise in the Indian Ocean and WestPac.]

Chesire family photo '09 F14 Desktop Model


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