VR-3 assigned me to be an instructor aircraft commander in February of 1966. I did all kinds of training. I did annual training, aircraft commander upgrade training, tactical training and instrument training. Here are a few tales of the training I did.
We would go out on paratroop drops and we did that at low level. We would leave McGuire and fly at 500 feet across the Delaware river, turn left and flying up the coast over the Atlantic, parallel to Seaside Heights, NJ and then head in for a drop at the Lakehurst drop zone. We would raise up too 1200 feet and the Navigator would give the jump sign and out the paratroopers would go. One of the Majors who we dropped brought some cornstalks back to VR-3 for the navigator who put him in the cornfield. Below a C-130 dropping a test dummy at Lakehurst.
The Tactical Air Command gave us orders to train our pilots to come into Vietnam airfields at 1200 feet above the airport’s altitude and make a breaking turn over the approach end of the runway in order to prevent ground machine gun fire hitting our planes on the approach. To accomplish this maneuver we would close our throttles over the runway and make a descending turn. We would hold off putting our gear down until we got slow enough to extend them for landing. With the throttles closed, when the C-130 went through 1000 feet above the ground a warning horn would sound to indicate the throttles were closed and the gear was not down. We briefed our pilots to allow that horn to keep blowing as a reminder to lower their gear.
I did this training with many of our pilots, including the Four Stripe Commanding Officer of VR-3, Captain Montunnas. I gave him the briefing NOT TO SILENCE the horn. Well, when we hit the end of the runway, he went into the turn and started slowing down and descending. When we went through 1000 feet the horn started to sound. He said: “Silence the horn.” I didn’t because of my briefing but he said it again. This time, I silenced the horn. I reached across and turned off his radio reception with the tower. Then I told the tower I was an instructor and knew the landing gear was not down and asked them not to say anything about that on the radio. Then, I turned his radio back on. We kept coming in for the landing and when we got to about 150 feet above the ground, I said: “I have the airplane. Look at your gear.” So, we had to go back out and do it again.
I went out one Sunday morning with several pilots who needed to make some instrument approaches. To do that, I would go to Atlantic City airport where there were two runways and various navigational radio facilities. We were too heavy for landing when we first got there, so I asked the pilot flying to enter a holding pattern. As he did that, which he did correctly, I started setting the ADF radio for an ADF approach. I was looking down at the ADF tuner. The plane was at 20,000 feet and we were 20 miles out over the Atlantic. We were working Atlantic City radar control. All of a sudden, I felt a large bump and looked up. All I saw was the side of a Navy P-3 airplane. It was a turbo prop like the C-130 and was also at 20,000 feet. He was heading from Navy New York to Jacksonville, Florida and he was east of his flight path by at least 10 miles. I got through the flight work with the first pilot flying and then called it off and went back to McGuire. That was as close as I ever got to having a mid-air collision.
SHORT FIELD LANDING
I had to demonstrate that the C-130 could be stopped in 800 feet. To demonstrate that I went to the Willow Grove Naval air station in Pennsylvania. If you look at the image below, you can see the first taxiway to the right. That was 800 feet from the end of the run way and I would land on the end and taxi off on that taxiway, to prove that not could be done.
AIRCRAFT COMMANDER UPGRADE
I was asked to upgrade a 1st pilot to be an aircraft commander. The pilot was a graduate of the Naval Academy and was a full Lieutenant. He was a wonderful guy and really great to be around, but he was not a very good pilot. The most demanding maneuver in the aircraft commander upgrade training was to make an approach to an airport with two engines inoperative on one wing and then making a circular landing to another runway, as if the approach got you to the airport but you had to circle to land into the wind on another runway. Normally, I would do that at Atlantic City, but to make it easier for him I decided to do it at McGuire where there was only one runway. So, we had to make the approach to one end of the runway and then fly up the runway, turn around and face the opposite end of the runway for landing.
I briefed him that the pilot would not put the gear down until we were facing inbound to the runway for landing because you can not control the C-130 at slow speeds on only two engines. Well, we made the approach and arrived at the airport and started down the field to the opposite end of the runway. When we got abeam the end of the runway, he called:”Gear Down.” At this point we were not facing the run way, we still had to turn 180 degrees. I did not put the gear down. He had the #1 and #2 engines working and he had to turn to the right into the “dead engines”. As we started into the turn, he called for the gear again. This time, I put the gear down. As they came out, it was harder and harder for him to keep the turn going. By this time we were at about 400 feet above the ground. He said: “We can’t get turned to the runway.” I said: “What are you going to do?” He said: “Go around.” I said: “Good.” At which point he pushed the 2 “good engines” throttles up. The left wing raised high in the turn. We were at about 200 feet above the ground. I said:”I have the aircraft.” I pulled the power off the two engines and then added power on all four engines and climbed out of there.
He asked what we were going ton do next and I said we are going to land and we are going to have a debriefing. As we were leaving the airplane the mechanic who was sitting between us whispered in my ear “Mr. Pateas, you don’t mind if I never fly with you again.”
When we did the debriefing I told him that nI would not recommend him for upgrade to aircraft commander.