[Randy Cunningham Photo] The Unauthorized Randy “Duke” Cunningham Page

Randy “Duke” Cunningham Forum

  Forum Index
 Ode to the F-4
Author: LB 
Date:   2006-04-26 12:04:49

Harley Hall's sister sent this to me. Harley was the last pilot shot down in VN, former CO of the Blue Angels when they flew F-4's.

I think it was written by Steve Queen, as there is a reference to himself as "Queenie", and most of the names are folks who were in VF-96 when he and I was there. Enjoy:

Ode To The F-4 . . Author Unknown

They're coming one after the other now. Each day seems to bring another heartache. Articles in professional journals, invitations for the "last of" events, calls for yet another Old Guy Reunion, order forms for coffee table books. I'm beginning to realize that there's no putting off the fact that one of the most revolutionary, capable, and elegant airplanes ever to dominate the skies has gone away.

I refer, of course, to the F-4 Phantom II. Over the last several years the grand old gal has taken her leave. With the F-4 goes the notion of variable intakes, radar intercept officers, and 2.2 showing on the machmeter. And with the F-4 also goes a big part of what made my life noteworthy, dare I say the stuff of novels.

The Phantom had an amazing run: nearly forty years.... the Vietnam War, dozens of brushfires and contingencies. Few airplanes in the history of aviation have adapted as well to the tactical landscape over their years in the inventory. The F-4 was designed by McDonnell Aircraft Company as an interceptor aircraft around the radar missile system, a long-range air superiority fighter that pushed out the boundaries of fleet defense.

The early portion of my flying career was about launching on the Alert 5 and escorting Soviet bombers and transports. Those were the days of the 1+45 cycle, the days when the Phantom was the fuel critical jet in the air wing. The thought of dropping bombs was anathema to us then. But the threat changed as the Viet Nam War dragged on, and other mission requirements meant the Steely eyed fighter pilots had to load Mk-82s on the wings and prove they were capable of beating up the dirt almost as good as any fully trained attack puke. Suddenly the Phantom, with its two-man crew and newly received upgraded radar, was the platform of choice for air superiority in high threat areas.

But now the F-4's time is over. Emotions stir in the face of this reality. Thousands of hours of my adult life were spent strapped into the front seat of the Big Ugly Fighter. It was there that challenges were met, friendships were forged, and the nation's will was carried out. From that lofty perch I looked up at the heavens and down on hostile lands. I didn't always realize it then. Youth, of course, is lost on the young, but each sortie was a gift.

So, too, was the time spent in the company of greats. I think back on chain-laden plane captains who loved the airplanes as much as we did, those like Sam Summa, who kept the aviators going with their enthusiasm in the face of long days that promised nothing but more hard work. I remember the maintenance master chiefs who taught me not just how the Phantom works but how to be an officer and a man. And for their caring they asked for nothing in return. In their countenances I saw my responsibilities.

Anyone familiar with Naval Aviation has a de facto doctorate in pilot personality types. Any RIO with 1,000 hours or more in the airplane possesses a similar degree. And as I flip through the pages of my weathered logbooks and read the names Smith, Crenshaw, Southgate, Driscoll, Ensch, Roy, Bouck and hundreds more I think of their skill, skill that boggles the mind even now, and the teamwork between cockpits that made flying the F-4 so rewarding. I know few things as surely as I know that U.S. Navy carrier-based pilots are the best in the world.

And what of the down times between sorties? In my mind's eye I conjure up a gathering in the eight-man stateroom where problems are broached, dissected, and solved. This is where I learned about trust. This is where I realized I could survive the trial that was life at sea.... hell, life period.

Now I close my eyes and hear the clack, clack, clack of the shuttle as it moves aft for the next launch. The exhaust from the powerful and reliable J79 engines fills my nostrils until we drop the canopies and bring our jet to life. Air roars through the ECS. Systems power up. Soon we're parked behind the cat, waiting our turn. I roger the weight board... 56,000 pounds, buddy, 56,000 pounds. Grasp that, if you can. The jet blast deflector comes down and we taxi into place, deftly splitting the cat track with the twin nose tires. And then, even after decades of doing the same thing, the adrenaline starts to flow as we go through the deck dance unique to the Phantom: The nose strut extends, giving the fighter the look of a beast ready to leap into the air by itself; the director moves you into the holdback. Wings spread. Flaps lower. Our hands go up as the ordies arm the missiles and bombs.

There's the signal from the catapult officer. I put the throttles to military power and wipe out the controls ....stick forward, aft, left, and right; rudder left and right.

"You ready, C-ball?", I ask.

I run the fingers of my right hand across the top of the lower ejection handle (for orientation purposes) and hear from the back, "Ready, Queenie, I'm right behind you."

I salute. We both put our heads back slightly. (forget once and you get your bell rung by the head rest). A couple of potatoes later we're off. Airborne.

And for the next hours we stand ready to bring this machine, this manifestation of American know-how, to bear however it might be required. Or maybe today isn't our day to save the world, so we accommodate one of the small boys' requests for a fly-by or break the sound barrier — just because we can (and we're far enough above our fuel ladder to get away with it). We're flying a Phantom. And we're getting paid to do it.

Alas, I speak of days gone by. What remains of what once gave my working life purpose is now only found in front of main gates, aviation museums, and VFW halls around the country. In the blink of an eye I have become the white haired guy with the ill-fitting ball cap and the weathered flight jacket who bores young ensigns (and anyone else who happens to make eye contact) with his tales of derring-do. VF, dang it! I rail. Those were real fighter squadrons. And they were. Fighting Falcons, Jolly Rogers, Swordsmen, Pukin' Dogs, Grim Reapers, Diamondbacks. Mascots of an adventure. At the center of it all was the airplane itself, and when an airplane has so much heart, personality, and character it ceases to be inanimate to those who climb into it on a regular basis.

So it's goodbye, dear friend. Forgive my depression. I've heard the promises of a brighter future, but my time in the arena was with you. I watch you launch into the sunset and wonder how it all could have passed so quickly. It doesn't seem like that long ago when we were together, inextricably linked, one defining the other. Ours was a world of unlimited possibilities and missions accomplished. Ours was a world of victory.

So goodbye, Big Fighter, blessed protector of the American way and our hides. We who knew you well will miss your class, your swagger, your raw power. Even in the face of technological advances you bowed to no other. Thanks for the memories. They are indeed the stuff of novels.

.........Author unknown, but bless his heart

 Re: Ode to the F-4
Author: Paul 
Date:   2006-04-26 15:46:34

Steve Queen, now there is a name; and yes, he did write it. Steve was a good guy, definitely a good guy.

As for Harley Hall's shoot down, what a waste. He was sent to the Pukin' Dogs to get it back on track after Bill Albertson and his idiot clone, Mace Neel, had thoroughly destroyed it. The war was over and they had no business launching that last day. Harley was "The last shoot down of the last day of the most useless war in history." Everytime I put the Threshold tape in the machine, I go back and visit with Harley. He was destine for stars, many stars, he was a water walker.

Thank you for posting it, looooooong time no see and no read. Double ugly was a hell of a horse.

 Re: Ode to the F-4
Author: Paul 
Date:   2006-04-26 18:24:49

LB -

Oh, yeah, they kept Harley.

Before the teeth were recovered, there was talk of him being in Siberia working on some project for the commies. That fell apart when those teeth were recovered. Of course, they could have been planted.

He was seen alive on the ground, I understand.

I too love to hear the moaning howl of those J-79s. Used to hear them overhead from a near by AF base. Now, I too have to crank up Threshold.

Steve at least, at the very least, owed you a night full of Cuba Libras where your money was no good.

On a more serious occasion for me when the RIO had really pulled one out of his a$$ and saved our bacon – at least my ego. So I was hosting him at the NKT telling everyone many lies about how great he was. Well, my American Airlines stewardess sister came to the Miramar O'Club to join us. Now during that phase of her life, she was a fast mover. She was a 6-foot fighter pilot in a skirt. Anyway, she sized him up and she and the RIO left together for my place. She told me to bunk at the BOQ for the weekend. So I took his room at the Q. They made a serious dent in the booze stores at my place, ate every bit of the junk food and rode my water bed (remember those?) for all it was worth.

Needles to say, she very good to him . . . I always loved Janet for that . . . They dated for about 6-months, and then he made the very stupid mistake of speaking the "M" word, marriage. Janet changed her domicile from LA to NY in a nano second and she never acknowledged him ever again. My brave and courageous RIO had confused $ex with love. Janet showed him that she had not.

He lived. She prospered. She became a hugely successful - unmarried - investment banker in NY and never went to jail; and, I wish that she would write that book! Trial title: “What I Would Do To Close The Deal.”

He? He got out and purchased a pest control company somewhere in the deep south, and that was the end of him.

Ole Sis could read the tea leaves.

 Re: Ode to the F-4
Author: Paul 
Date:   2006-04-26 22:27:38

Threshold is out of print and I have heard that the owner of the master will not put it back into print. Sometimes you see an old copy or a bootleg on ebay. Someone should take a good copy to Hong Kong and have it re-mastered and a billion copies made and and sold out of China.

To respond to the couple of emails that I received. Oh, do I have a book in me about those days. But my attorney assures me that I would likely be sued. I would be sued by some, popular with others and be a pariah to the Naval Aviation community . . . many of whom, after all these years would still like a hunk of this tuff old hide. I do not need that.

 Re: Ode to the F-4
Author: Senior Fleet Ensign Hewett 
Date:   2006-04-27 06:10:39

Aha, I did some quick Google stuff and will try to locate a copy of Threshold.
Here's a link you guys may or may not have seen regarding the dedication of the Harley Hall Memorial. Once I was released from active duty in July '72, I tried to keep the Viet Nam news out of my receptors, hence I never had the honor to know of this man. What a sad ending. Thanks to all.

 Re: Ode to the F-4
Author: Paul 
Date:   2006-04-27 08:33:11

Excellent reference Taz, thanks!

 Re: Ode to the F-4
Author: Senior Fleet Ensign Hewett 
Date:   2006-04-27 18:03:42

L.B.- The best part about being on a carrier in time of war WAS the daily airshow. I NEVER got tired of watching you guys launch and land. I recall some fly-bys below the flight deck, then the punch out w/vertical rolls after some MiGs got taken out...WOW. The burners on night launches was like the 4th of July every night. I will find a copy of Threshold, I will.
I went to a 49'er game a few years ago at Candlestick Park. As the Star Spangled Banner was being sung, four F-18 in diamond formation came across the top of the stadium low enough to drop everyones jaws. Totally unannounced. Their shadows came right down the center of the field. The crown went crazy. I'll never forget that one!
You know the make/model of the new improved waterbed that you do water landings on? I'd like to look into it. A buddy of mine said his Mom slept on a Temper-Pedic bed and wanted one badly, but she couldn't afford the price, so she settled on Vodka-Pedic.
I went to SF State in the Design and Industry program in 69-70. Supposedly a guy in our class came up with the waterbed patent, although I heard they'd been used in hospital-type recovery before that.

You could write the book and do it with a different name/ghost writer. From what I've read from you on this website, it would be a doozie! Great stories, interesting perspective, and the kind of humor I like. The trick is to publish it before all of us old farts can't read anymore. AND, if you can get it done in the next 6 years or so, you could autograph one and send it to Randy for reading material in the joint. I know, sick.

Since Harley Hall has come up, I'll go back to the cruisebook and post those KIA or MIA from the Connie's 71-72 cruise and the squadron's they were in.
I trust that wherever they are, they aren't any older than we are and can still read.


 Re: Ode to the F-4
Author: Paul 
Date:   2006-05-06 12:46:19

I just saw a guy at a @!#$ in Atlantic city that I had not seen in years . . . another F-8 and F-4 driver. He jumped out of 2 - F-8s. One he was low state and another F-8 ahead of him went right to left on landing and was hanging over the side closed the deck; the other an ACM mid-air. The F-4s were one to combat damage, one a fire and the 3rd another ACM mid-air - the boy was aggressive. He has always stated that he won all of the mid air engagements because he was in the air(in his chute) longer that the other guys. He hit the water last!

Anyhoo, what he says about the F-4 is "Best Ejection Seat I Ever Rode!" His were all F-4J ejections with the rocket seat. Much smoother than the the old gun powder "bang and go" Martin Baker.

They never got his wings, they tried; he had to go to Washington twice to plead his case. After #5 he never had a flying job again. He retired, are you surprised, a LCDR at a desk. But he lived to get his 20.

I jumped out of a TF-9J in the training command - crash in the wires, fouled/closed deck fuel starvation - a very nice ride on that North American rocket seat compared to the F-4 - fire - that I left off San Clemente with a martin-baker rocket seat.

I learn on that T-2B event to never believe or trust an air boss. I saw the crash. I was in the pattern needing another trap to qual; and was also near bingo. The air boss ordered me to stay in the pattern - me a young, scared, cherry ensign - Yes, Sir! Well, I should have turned off the radio, cleaned up and climbed and make it back to NAS. I put a perfectly good airplane in the Gulf and got scared again in the water thinking about sharks.

After that I likely bingoed during my time, 4 times against the rantings of the air boss and CATCC. I lived and the a/c flew another day.

 Re: Ode to the F-4
Author: Paul 
Date:   2006-05-06 15:23:50


 Re: Ode to the F-4
Author: Paul 
Date:   2006-05-06 15:25:52

Correction I meant T-2B at VT-4.

 Re: Ode to the F-4
Author: Paul 
Date:   2006-05-06 20:05:26

Like I said earlier, I had just walked past the open doors of the hanger on the West side when the F-8 flew in the East doors. He had a rough runner and jumped out at the 90, that was pretty stupid.

A lot of sticks lost their wings for doing a lot less than him. I know of one they went after for breaking off a main gear on a carrier landing. Later on as the speedy board was actually meeting on the ship, the skipper of the squadron did exactly the same thing. "Well, boys, what in the he!! you gonna do now?" "Mess with this LTJG and not the skipper, or go after both of them? What happened was that the JG stick got about 60% error for the landing, the LSO got about 30% for taking him and the ship got about 10% for not bingoing every one due to the rough seas. He was off the ship the next day after the findings were published. Went to another squadron, lived and just retired from United.

That photo puke was pretty embarrassed about shutting her down in the break as I recall.

And . . . the F-8 had her day. Only so much you could do with a single slow to spool-up engine – thus the many ramp strikes. You know all those save your backside power corrections in close that the F-4 did that saved many a plane from the ramp? Well, those were impossible in the F-8. It also had a wing with terrible aerodynamics and pi$$ poor cg and hydraulic system.

They also were not obsolete to the -27 Charlie decks and the photo mission. And the F-9 still had a better kill ratio over MiGs engaged vs. F-8s lost than the F-4 . . . of course, not near as many engagements.

I also never met an F-4 driver who did not wish that he had had the opportunity to fly it . . . even once.

I was surprised that after all of the influence the NFO has had on Naval Aviation that they would put out a single seat F/A-18 this day an age. I thought that the F-8 was the last of the single seat gun fighters . . . turns out the F/A-`8 resurrected that configuration.

 Re: Ode to the F-4
Author: Paul 
Date:   2006-05-06 21:11:25

I meant F-8, not F-9. I'm a mess tonight!

 Re: Ode to the F-4
Author: Paul 
Date:   2006-05-07 10:23:00

I went from a 27 Charlie deck in F-8s to carrier qualing on the Enterprise. The difference was breath taking.

Ah, the classic "slider."

 Re: Ode to the F-4
Author: Paul 
Date:   2006-05-07 11:21:00

The cheeseburger topped with ham and egg was always better with a generous splashing of Tobasco on top of the egg.

 Re: Ode to the F-4
Author: Senior Fleet Ensign Hewett 
Date:   2006-05-14 19:08:01

Thanks again L.B. for the post on the "Ode to the F-4". My brother is an Engineer in the Aerospace Industry and has a co-worker that, like yourself, was a RIO in Phantoms. He, however, was in the Air Force instead of the Navy. I have forwarded him this column in case he has never seen the "Ode" or knew of Harley Hall.

As you know, this tender young Ensign would never try to stir up controversies, etc., but I feel compelled to liven things up a bit. Other than Patrick's post, it has been pretty darn quite around here. So here's what I relayed to my brother: "Hey Doug, can you ask your co-worker (former AF RIO) if it is true that to relieve constipation they would ~book~ a nightime carrier landing?"

"Stir It Up"
Bob Marley

The Fine Print: The above comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not responsible for them in any way (Communications Decency Act, 47 USC § 230). In compliance with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998, we do not accept postings from children under 13 years of age. Privacy notice: messages posted to this forum are public. Trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective owners. The rest copyright © 2001-2012 Dan E. Anderson. All rights reserved.


[Blue Ribbon] [Bottom 5% Web Site] Copyright © 1996-2012 Dan E. Anderson. All rights reserved.
This page is not authorized or approved by anyone, but I hope you enjoy it. About this website.

If you have comments (hate mail, praise, jokes, corrections, constructive criticism, or destructive criticism), please send me (Dan Anderson) a secure private message. You can read other people's comments here.

[Best viewed with 20/20 vision]