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"Crazy days" -- email from the Spadguys (part 1)

[Through luck and diligence, I got the email addresses of an amazing bunch of men who'd flown the Skyraider during its days as a nuclear bomber. The correspondence was so fascinating that I publish it here with their permission, only slighted edited to eliminate duplication. — Dan Ford]

Date: Sat, 19 Sep 1998 17:12:54 +1200
From: Norm Davis
Subject: Spad idiot loops

In response to your query about "tossing shapes", I trained in VA 42 and practiced this manouevre in VA 65 in 1959-61. There were several variations - 45 degree release, over the shoulder, and Boar manouvre -firing a 5" HVAR rocket at about 30 degree release. If you missed the IP on run in for a 45 degree release, you could continue in to directly over the target and pull up into the over the shoulder manouevre. I may not remember very much about all of the techniques involved, but I do remember the idiot loop. If the LABS gear didn't work, you could still pull up on the All Attitude Indicater and pickle at about 52 degrees nose high to get a 45 degree trajectory. As I recall, I was the only survivor of a hydraulic aeleron boost failure during roll out from this maneouvre at Stumpy Point. The safety report that went in on this incident apparently led to cessation of the then mysterious losses attributed to "spinning out" on top. Contamination of the hydraulic fluid caused the aeleron boost to lock in full deflection making the recovery roll out quite exciting. It looked like an inverted spin (I saw the plane in front of me on another practice do just that - right into the water). In my case, I had no time to pull the release and go manual. Instead, I put both feet up on the instrument panel and forced the stick to centralize, leaving a "pancake" in the water in the process. Red McDaniel, I believe (could be wrong there), witnessed the near crash, and Ted Casimes was the safety officer at the time. Needless to say, the flight back to NAS Oceana was straight and level with a hell of a long straight in approach to landing!

Some years later, the same manouevre was practiced in the A4 in VA 125, VA 192, and VA 195. While flying my final sandblower checkflight for qual, I went to the special weapons range at Fallon for the first time and, not realising there was an old target on the run in to the Bullseye, saw the old target directly ahead just after crossing IP, and decided it was my target. I quick shifted from 45 degree release mode to over the shoulder, pulled up on the old bullseye and got a direct hit -about 3,000 feet short of the correct target. I passed.

In the Spad, the attack would occur about 5 or 6 hours after takeoff, with another 5 hours return. In the A4, the flights were certainly shorter.

Thankfully, we never had to release the real thing! Perhaps it was because we were willing to do so! I did go on to fly A4s in combat, however. Hope this helps.

Norm Davis, CDR USN (retired but still flying!!!)

From: "Tom Beard"
Subject: tossing the shape
Date: Fri, 18 Sep 1998 21:59:36 -0700

About tossing the shape--- I did like many others in the mid to late 1950s. We trained for many--many hours doing the idiot loop for both the medium angle and low angle (BOAR rocket assisted weapon) loft. The latter was a real killer because, as I recalled, we would pull up to about 45 degrees then roll into about a 135 degree roll and pull through rolling out wings level on the reciprocal. At night and low visibility, the roll could get slowed up without visual cues and essentially the plane would be split-S into the ground.

We learned to the medium angle loft on instruments entering at fifty feet and recovering at fifty. China Lake had an instrumented range where our profile was plotted on a graft paper sheet and our deflection from the ideal curve was traced. After the flight of about six loops, we'd debrief with the chart showing our attempts. In a short time, we'd be able to keep the track within ten feet of the line. As you know, we used a special "G" meter located on the right center panel--it was the size of the attitude gyro and had a full deflection from the center of one-half "G" registered by a needle lying horizontal but attached at the 3 o'clock position. So, our four and a half "G" pull-ups could be most accurate.

But my claim to fame was dropping a shape near Bolder Dam intentionally due to engine failure. I have a short write-up of the incident if you care to read it. My CO threatened to send me back to the site and personally dig up the MK-7 shape buried 15 feet deep in the Colorado River bank mud.


Date: Sat, 19 Sep 1998 21:57:37 EDT
Subject: Idiot loops

Saw your note on the Span Net looking for information abou the Loft maneuver. I have lofted a Mk 7 shape, as a part of a "Sandblower" flight. Lots of us have. Just a couple of thoughts and memories. It's amazing how accurate the delivery was CEP's of 100 - 200 feet were not uncommon - as if we needed to be that close. Frankly I was never convinced that we could get away from the effects of the weapon I wonder if an research is available about that. Even if we escaped the overpressure, and thermal effects, flying with flash blindness at low altitude over enemy territory for 5 - 10 minutes never seemed to me like a fun thing to do.

I'm sure you have heard about the BOAR (Bureau of Ordanance Aircraft Rocket) a Mk 7 with a rocket motor attached made specially for the AD. We probably could have escaped from that and used a wingover maneuver since the weapon was released at about 30 - 35 degrees nose up.

Yes it was possible to recover from a full loop - not doing a half Cuban eight - one of my fellow ensigns (Tommy Tucker) did it.

We also had a high dive delivery of the one weapon, a penetration bomb which was interesting, in what was basically a low altitude airplane. Some of use got to drop those shapes too, nice bump when the centerline ejector fired at 24,000 feet. We were surprisingly accurate with that delivery too well inside 300 feet.

Ron Pickett

Date: Sat, 19 Sep 1998 22:05:44 EDT Subject: More

Just thought of some more. Do you know what a "circuit breaker puller" is? Vital piece of equipment in the late 50's!!!!!!!!!!

Box lunch, "doughnut" (inflatable rubber ring used for hemrroid operation recovery), and a bag of charts ane we were ready for a predawn launch. "And by the way, if you get a TACAN bearing and distance from a shore station while you are still in radio range, call the ship - we aren't too sure just where we are."

Cheers, Ron P

From: "Tom Beard"
Subject: delivering weapons
Date: Sat, 19 Sep 1998 21:52:51 -0700

Here is a short "air story" I conjured up recently from my past experiences with the Skyraider. 'Sorta like how it was. My experiences were not unique. This may give you a little flavor of the exciting times when the Navy was trying to best the Air Force in the weapons delivery race. In our squadron of 22 pilots, we lost three killed by flying into the ground/water (one in a loft maneuver) during a twenty month period. I thought this was normal.

I heard a rumor years later that the yield on the weapons the AD carried was larger than we had planned for. If actual deliveries had been made, none of us would have survived. You might try to find the escape envelope criteria that we planned for and what the actual yield of the weapon later tested at, if you can find this information. We were on suicide missions trying to prove that the Navy could be a powerful nuclear force. Perhaps we all were, even the Air Force. Crazy days.

You've got a great story--perhaps more than you planned on!


From: "Jay Velie"
Subject: Loft Bombing
Date: Sat, 19 Sep 1998 11:31:54 -0500

During 1956, I was stationed at Atsugi, Japan, as a member of Marine Attack Squadron 251 (VMA-251). We were a detachment of 12 aircraft (AD-4 and AD-6) and about 18 aviators, with the primary mission of SWDU (Special Weapons Delivery Unit). We used the "over the shoulder" delivery method, and we were using simulated bomblets for training. Our procedure was to fly in at treetop level at max power (I was a Lieutenant then) and at crossing the "initial point" we would fly straight and level for a specified number of seconds at a specified air speed. (I don't recall, after some 42 years, exactly what the speeds and timing were.) At the pull up mark we would pull up in a wings level 4.0 g (as registered on a g-meter in the cockpit) entry into a "half Cuban eight" maneuver. At 43 degrees (I think) from level (as indicated by a mark on our gyro horizon, we would release the bomb, continue on over, roll upright after passing the top of the vertical turn, dive back to the deck at full bore and head out of the target area.

I never actually dropped a "shape" during this training in Japan, but I did drop a shape while doing the same type of training when I was with VMFA-533, flying an F2H-4 Banshee, while stationed at Cherry Point, NC, in 1955. The shape was dropped on a Florida target somewhere near Melbourne, FL. Many people today, assume that this type of delivery of an atomic warhead in an Able Dog was probably a suicide mission; we didn't think that at the time. Like I said, I was a 24 year old Marine lieutenant at the time, and I wasn't afraid of anything. Those were the days, my friend.

Semper Fi,
Jay Velie, Dallas, TX

Date: Sat, 19 Sep 1998 09:04:06 -0700
From: "william r. wilson"
Subject: Nuclear Weapons Delivery and the Spad

I am a retired Navy pilot who flew the Spad [nee Able Dog] during the period 1954-60. It was then thought to be strategically important to have aircraft carriers with delivery systems which could attack at low level, beneath any known radar and loft a weapon on the unsuspecting enemy. We practiced penetrating coastal defenses from 2-300 miles at sea on a routine basis. Some of the more spectacular events occured when a/c were launched near typhoons in the belief that the trusty Spad could penetrate such storms, attack the target area escape the blast and return to the ship. To eveyone's amazement we actually accomplished this several times in 1956-57 in WESTPAC. Many of those missions were in excess of 8 hours and some over 10 hours.

Best regards,

continued in part 2