An Interview With Wagsled
Posted 02 April 2008 - 01:39:40 AM
1. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Born at the very end of WWII to a Marine fighter pilot from Kansas and a mother from the Deep South. My dad saw action at Okinawa flying Hellcats with VMF(N)-543 and after the war ended went into China with his squadron. He left active duty after the war, but was recalled to serve as a Corsair pilot during the Korean conflict. I grew up all over the US east coast and eventually went to Auburn University where I graduated in 1967 with a degree in Aero Engineering.
I entered the USAF that same year, attended Undergraduate Pilot Training at Randolph AFB, TX and finished with 210 hours in the T-41, T-37, and T-38. I received assignment to F-4 training at MacDill AFB. After roughly 60 flight-hours in Phantoms (and several survival schools), I was assigned to the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Udorn RTAFB, Thailand, where I immediately began flying combat missions. I served 13 months with the Triple Nickel and had the honor to fly with some of the best fighter pilots the USAF had. Missions included everything from MiGCap to recce escort to strike flights on targets in N. Vietnam, S. Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. I flew MiGCap for the Son Tay Raid and felt miserable when I learned that we had failed to rescue of any of our POWs.
My second tour in Southeast Asia was with the 335th Chiefs deployed out of Seymour Johnson AFB to Ubon RTAFB, Thailand. Again, I flew with some really fine pilots and WSOs. Our missions were the same as my first tour with the exception that many of them were up North and we were tasked with flying “chaff missions” – laying down corridors of chaff in the air so the strike flights coming in behind us wouldn’t get shot down by SAMs or radar-controlled AAA. Those flights really sucked and we lost a lot of crews performing those missions.
I finished my second tour with 295 total combat missions, about 750 hours combat time, 4 DFCs, 18 AMs, and a Congressional Commendation for Heroism. All of which – along with a dollar – would, at the time, get me a cup of coffee. Don’t misunderstand, I’m proud of my war record and especially of the guys I flew with – I just wish the powers that be had let us win the damn war!
2. What all aircraft did you fly and how many hours have you accumulated?
Well, I’ve mentioned the trainers and the F-4 Phantom – and I think I’ve flown almost every model of the F-4 Phantom the US ever operated – but I also had the chance to fly a lot of other types during my test pilot training and during exchange duty. I have 4,600+ hours PIC in roughly 40 different types of aircraft, mostly fighters – birds like the F-4, F-105, F-16, F-15, F-14, A-7, A-4, Mirage F3, F-5A, etc. I also flew the C-7A, C-130, and P-3B multi-engine a/c along with the CH-46 and Huey helicopters.
3. You were in USAF and then switched to the USMC; can you tell us what it was like then and the differences between the 2 as far as the flying goes?
After the Vietnam War ended, the USAF had far too many fighter-pilots for the peacetime Air Force. Some bright bulb probably made general with the idea of sending two tour fighter pilots to ground jobs for three year assignments to make room for all the new graduate pilots who had been guaranteed four years in the cockpit to get them to sign up. They called the program “Rated Supplement” and it sucked…along with about 30 other pilots at Seymour Johnson, I resigned and went into the Air Force Reserve. I quickly decided I didn’t like civilian life and went to the USMC recruiter. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was one of only two selected from 400 inter-service transfers or requests to return to active duty that year.
I reported to MCAS Beaufort, SC as a USMC Captain in 1975 and absolutely loved the Marine Corps. As for the difference between the two organizations, I can best sum it up this way. In both the USAF and the USMC we had a book about 1/4” thick…in the USAF it told you what you could do, anything else was prohibited…in the Marine Corps it told you what you couldn’t do, everything else was okay. We just had far fewer rules and regs to follow. Discipline was tougher in the Corps, but the flying and the fun were as good as it got in peacetime. And believe me, carrier landings are a real differentiator, especially at night!
4. You stated you were a test pilot? Can you elaborate on that?
After a three-year tour as an Advanced Jet Instructor at Navy Chase Field, I requested Navy Test Pilot School. It took me three tries, but on the 3rd I was accepted and attended USNTPS Class 81 at NATC Patuxent River, MD. Following graduation in 1981, I was assigned to run the final acceptance trials on the F/A-18 and eventually became the F/A-18 Hornet Flight Test Program Manager. I flew some of the high-alpha testing on the Hornet, asymmetric load envelope expansion, the g-limiter development and flight test, ski-jump takeoff evaluation, and several other test programs. I retired as a LtColonel in 1986 and then spent five years in Singapore as Chief Test Pilot for their A-4 Super Skyhawk re-engine and avionics upgrade program. I stopped flying professionally in 1991.
5. What was one of your most humorous moments?
There have been many of them…it’s hard to pick one. This happened to my wingman, but I watched it from my bird and then heard all about it when we got back to Ubon RTAFB. Our four-ship flight was getting ready to hit the post-strike tanker after a mission up North. My wingman, Tom B., was #4 and being lowest on fuel was first to hit the tanker. When he finished, he slid off to the right wing of the KC-135 as was standard procedure. Less standard, but not uncommon, was to let your WSO (in the back seat) fly the a/c on the tanker’s wing. (Most of us had taught our regular WSOs how to fly well enough to do that without difficulty.) Well, Tom told Pete S. in the rear seat to take the stick because he was going to use his “piddle pack” to relieve himself. The “piddle pack” was a soft plastic bottle (like a small hot water bottle) with a spring top that you squeezed open. I’m sure you can get the rest of the picture.
Well, Tom was busy taking the pressure off his bladder when Pete suddenly pushed forward on the stick. The resulting negative-g put what had been in the piddle pack up in the air in front of Tom. Pete then pulled back on the stick and the previous contents dropped into Tom’s lap. Needless to say, Tom was unhappy. Instead of just cursing Pete over the intercom – and he did plenty of that! – Tom proceeded to completely un-strap and, being somewhat small of stature, was able to turn completely around in this seat. Tom pulled his service revolver out of his survival vest and stuck it around the back of his ejection seat (although the F-4 has two canopies, there are open areas between the front and rear cockpits). Tom pointed his .38 right into Pete’s face and told him he was “going to blow his f-ing head off”.
By this time, Pete was laughing so hard he couldn’t fly very well and was bouncing up and down like a yo-yo on the tanker’s wing. Our squadron CO was the flight lead for our four-ship and he calmly asked over the radio, “Four, are you having a problem.” All I could see was my wingman’s Phantom doing an imitation of a roller coaster while Tom was turned around in his seat pointing his pistol at his WSO. Needless to say, we all had a great laugh as that story was told over and over again at the bar that night. Obviously, Tom didn’t shoot Pete.
6. What was your favorite aircraft and why?
I can’t really give you only one. While I love the F/A-18 and, if I had returned to combat for some reason, would have picked it above all others – I could tell you why, but this is already way too long – I have to say that the Phantom was special to me. It really couldn’t do any particular mission better than any other fighter, but it did all types of missions pretty darn well. It also brought me home every time…even when I wasn’t sure that was going to happen. It was a good old bird and it bothers me to see them on pedestals instead of flying…worse yet, I hate to see them sitting in a long line in the desert at the Davis-Monthan AFB bone-yard.
7. What was one of your hairiest moments?
I’ve already bored everyone reading this, so let’s just say that those hairy moments were relatively few considering how long I flew and – for me – generally ended pretty well. For some of the great guys I flew with though, both in war and peace, that wasn’t always the case. For those who sacrificed it all, I am eternally grateful that at one time I was privileged to walk among them.
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Posted 02 April 2008 - 11:28:47 AM
Continuing our series of interviews here at CA I got an opportunity to interview Wagsled. A great read.
another great read,thanks guys.Did anyone notice the the guys who should be thumping their chests saying they are heros are the ones least likely to do it.
This seems very true these days
Posted 03 April 2008 - 07:56:58 AM
Usually the ones who say they are are the ones who shouldn't be.
The Jedi Master
"Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!"
Posted 03 April 2008 - 10:17:21 AM
Salute and remember these guys.
Just 'cos I'm Brainless don't think I'm stupid but sometimes I do very stupid things.
Posted 04 April 2008 - 08:34:45 AM
Triple nickle and 335th,They were always in the right place at the wrong time.
4 DFC's and 18 AM's,when this guy walks by you can hear his (you know what's) clank.
A terrific career by a true patriot and American Hero.
Wags: as another who was honored to walk among them for a short time,
You done good,MARINE!!
ezlead(Linebacker I,EA-6A and A-6A)
Posted 04 April 2008 - 11:09:46 AM
Posted 06 April 2008 - 04:59:46 PM
Posted 06 April 2008 - 05:50:26 PM
outstanding story and a great series.
God, Vietnam, u guys were the real heroes. Every Vietnam vet I have talked to tells me thank you and that I am a hero for being over there 3 times but thats BUL$#(@t. I havent done crap compared to u guys. It really bothers me when people say that to me honestly. YALL HAD THE BALLS OF STEEL.HANDS DOWN PERIOD.
Thank you for the time u did in a war noone wanted.
GySgt R. Lee Ermey Full Metal Jacket
"Some people go their whole lives wondering if they have made a difference. Marines dont have that problem"
President Ronald Reagan
I come in peace, I didn't bring artillery. But I am pleading withyou with tears in my eyes: If you f**k with me, I'll kill you all.
General James Mattis, to Iraqi tribal leaders
The Marines I have seen around the world have the cleanest bodies, the filthiest minds, the highest morale, and the lowest morals of any group of animals I have ever seen. Thank God for the United States Marine Corps!
Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of the United States, 1945
Posted 10 April 2008 - 04:32:52 PM
Posted 29 April 2008 - 09:33:53 AM
Posted 15 May 2008 - 11:53:36 PM
The Wagsled interview /history realy turns my screws for the following reasons:
1. High speed but not wreckless.
2. At the pointed end of the spear.
3. Indian stuff: The crooked arrow, not illustrated but evident, is the crooked path you take in life to get were you are.
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