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"The Gear Pin Story by Richard A. Hoffman, Captain, USN (Ret) email@example.com" Submitted by Beth Perry (E-Mail Removed By Request) NEWSLETTER: "VP-8 Alumni Association" World War II Stories, and more!!! [19APR98]
The events of this little tale were a little embarassing to the crew involved at the time, and they could have been career-ending for me, but fortunately for all involved, VP-8 spirit and humor saved the day. If anything, VP-8's reputation gained in stature because of the way in which our shipmates handled the situation.
As you know, VP-8 was the first Atlantic squadron to deploy to the Far East in support of the Viet Nam effort. Our arrival was the occasion for a lot of the Pacific VP Community to question as to whether or not this Atlantic outfit could cut the mustard in the very different Pacific environment. It didn't take long for the question to be answered: VP-8 was a top-notch performer capable of performing any and all assigned missions.
We got along very well with the Fleet Air Wing Commander, Captain Dave Kendrick. In the course of a normal reassignment, Captain Kendrick was relieved by Captain Les Barco. The good news was that Captain Barco had been skipper of an Atlantic squadron, so we were spared the task of reproving ourselves. But Commodore Barco ran a taut ship. He demanded performance and he did not suffer fools lightly. That was fine with VP-8 and our operations continued to run like clockwork.
Things were going so well and nothing was on the schedule except a routine, midnight takeoff Market Time mission to be flown by one of my most reliable PPCs, Lieutenant Commander Hal Taylor, so I decided to take a night off and go to Manila for a party at the Army Navy Club. It was a great party and I arrived back at Sangley Point in the wee hours and probably a bit worse for wear. I was just about to settle in my bunk when the XO came in and told me that we had a problem. It seems that the scheduled aircraft launched on time but when it got airborne the PPC could not get the wheels up. Because of airspeed and manuevering limitations , flying the assigned mission with the gear down was impossible and it was necessary to launch the backup "Ready Alert " aircraft.
The supposition was that the "gear pins": steel pins which prevented the landing gear from being retracted on the ground had not been removed. There were three of these pins on each aircraft and each was attached to a long red cloth streamer which read "Remove Before Flight".
The uninitiated might think "no problem", all the PPC had to do was land, remove the pins and go about his business. But it wasn't that easy. The patrol had taken off at Maximum Take-Off Gross Weight, which was far heavier than the allowed landing weight. A landing at Maximum Gross Weight was permitted in an emergency, but after such a landing the aircraft had to be grounded until an extensive structural examination was performed. Since our early P3s were not equipped with afuel dumping system, the PPC could not land until enough fuel was burned off to bring the aircraft down to a permissible landing weight. Therefore the aircraft was orbiting over Sangley Point burning fuel and I was informed the landing-gear-down aircraft planned to land about 0730.
The squadron duty personnel had handled the situation in a professional manner and the assigned mission was covered. In fact, Crew THREE, Lt Ed Weiss PPC, had launched within 15 minutes of receiving orders and had arrived on station on time. Since there was nothing more I could do, I turned in.
The next morning I arrived at the mess to find the Commodore in a state of high dungeon.. To say the least, he was not a happy camper! He told me I was to accompany him the the flight line to greet our errant brother-and the inference was that the PPC and I would be the subjects of a world class reaming! I can't say I enjoyed my breakfast. Finally the Commodore gruffly said "come with me" and we drove in silence to the flight line. As we drove along, my mind was occupied with making plans for a new career, since this incident seemed to spell the end of any future that I might have had in the Navy.
When we got to the flight line we were greeted by an amazing sight. The entire squadron was there and each and every man jack was waving a red streamer which said "Remove Before Flight". I didn't know that there were that many red streamers in all of Sangley Point. As poor Hal and Crew 8 taxiied in, they received a royal rassing from the whole squadron. The ramp was covered with VP-8ers yelling and wildly waving red streamers and they formed a gauntlet through which the embarassed crew had to pass as they left the aircraft. (For a long time the PPC stayed in the cockpit with his face covered-I thought I would have to send the Shore Patrol to get him out.) I must admit my first thought that this seemingly frivolous display would make things worse: that Commodore Barco would think VP-8 did not take its responsibilities seriously. The Commodore stood watching the proceedings with a stoney face until all of a sudden he broke into a big grin and said it was the damdest thing he had ever seen. With a big smile he turned to me and said: "You guys know how to handle things" and then he got in his sedan and drove away.
For the rest of the deployment, Commodore Barco was VP-8's biggest fan and he and I became pretty good personal friends.
In reviewing this tale with Hal, I found that it was LCDR Wil Roberts who had the bright idea to pass out the gear pins and streamers to the crew. During the night, while Hal was circling over Sangley, Wil got every "Remove Before Flight" streamer in Sangley Point Supply and arranged for an early muster so the whole crew would be on hand. Furthermore, Wil had a forty-foot red "Remove Before Flight" banner made and draped over the squadron Quonset. Hal said that he saw the banner while on final approach and knew he was in for it. Thanks Wil!
Wil continued to stick it to his friend Hal. On the transpac returning from Sangley, Wil preceded Hal and at every field along the way: Guam, Barber's Point and Patuxent, whenever LC-8 asked for landing instructions, the tower asked: "Is this the fixed gear P-3?".
There is a little sequel to the story. In 1972 while visiting NAS Moffett , I found outthat Hal, now CO of VP-19, was returning from deployment that very day. I went out to the flight line to join the welcoming committee and while we were waiting for him to taxi in, I "borrowed" a gear pin complete with a "Remove Before Flight" streamer which I rolled up and hid in my right hand. After the official welcome was over and after he hugged Greta and the kids, I went over to offer my congratulations on his successful deployment. As I shook his hand, I slipped him the gear pin. I swear he blushed! [19APR98]
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