Non-Stop Trans-Atlantic Flight.
VMF(AW)-451, May 15, 1964
The Warlords were given the opportunity to make history with F8D Crusaders by flying a 3700 NM nonstop trans-Atlantic flight from NAS Rota, Spain to MCAS Beaufort, SC. A first for the Marine Corps and the Crusaders. VMGR-252 would refuel with KC-130s. Skipper Ltcol "Fox" Dempster was a "We can, we will" type of Commanding Officer. Fox exuded confidence. A picture in the maintenance office showed Fox climbing into his spit-shined impeccable crusader on the left side while the right side of the F-8 had a drooping wing, a flat tire and support equipment hanging on the fuselage. That picture was drawn because Fox trusted his plane captain and flight line personnel to have the plane ready for his launch and he never went around to the other side to make sure. Fox was a natural leader in all respects. He participated in the most demanding flights and enjoyed challenging the younger fighter pilots. His lovely and gracious wife, Spot, was perfect for her role as First Lady of the Warlords. The squadron wives worshipped Alyce "Spot" Dempster. Spot's counsel and advice were frequently sought in the everyday strife associated with the women of pilots and support personnel who lived out of seabags on dozens of deployments each year. Fox and Spot were a special couple. We held great admiration, love and respect for Fox and Spot.
Ten Warlord Crusaders departed Beaufort on May 8 for Kindley AFB, Bermuda led by Fox. The F-8s flew the four hour second leg of the journey to Lajes, AFB, Azores on May 9 using one refuel from Marine tankers 500 miles east of Bermuda. The final leg from the Azores to Rota was flown on May 10th. The most fun going East was talking to the Navy Duck butts and Ocean Station Vessel Echo. One Crusader had an engine gripe which required engine run up and afterburner check. Something about the engine making night noises in the daytime on the long trip between Kindley and Lajes. The Air Force at Lajes directed me to run up the engine with the tail pointing at a 100 foot high embankment which was supposed to stop the thrust. As a Post Maintenance Test Pilot, I ran the engine up. The engine performed perfectly at full engine power so I selected afterburner which brought the thrust up to 20,000 pounds. A USAF security jeep came racing over to the aircraft waving and mouthing something. I came out of afterburner and moved the throttle to idle. My plane captain climbed up and said, "The AP's say you blew the roof off a local civilian's house on the other side of the hill. They said stop the run up!" The engine had checked out okay. But I had to fill out several official papers regarding the US Government compensating a Lajes native for his destroyed abode.
Then came liberty in Spain practicing the Marine Corps People to People program. Much Mateus was consumed and many pesetas spent spreading American good will. All good things had to end and liberty expired at midnight on May 14th.
Doctor Jim, our Quack, was at the ready room before daylight on May 15. He was worried about safety on the long eight hour flight. He passed out some Dexedrine tablets with assurance that it would keep us alert with no side effects. Regrettably, I took the pills.
Fox Dempster led the first four plane flight from Rota on the history making nonstop flight to Beaufort. Doug Lawrence, Norm Marshall and Jack Carr were his wingmen. Nine KC-130s were waiting at three refueling points. My flight was last out of Rota. Tiny Wanless was my wingman with Quaker Rice and Jim McRoberts in the second section. Tiny was a tall, handsome, Johnny Weismueller looking gold bar nugget who always wore a K-Bar knife and acted like Tarzan in a uniform. Tiny was very capable as an officer and pilot until hitting a tree head-on one night near Parris Island. Tiny made the disability retired list. Quaker was our LSO, a fine officer and an excellent pilot. Mac was a champion rifle shooter and an outstanding pilot. It was tigers only for the nonstop flight.
The pilots listened on the base radio for the word to launch. We were scheduled for 11:30 AM but had to wait for the flight ahead to clear the Azores ARCP Abort point. We launched at 11:55 and headed for the first KC-130 rendezvous. Fifty miles from the tankers, we began our descent. Hayride 4-1 assigned the flight members to drogues on the three tankers. When we called "Tallyho," Hayride cleared us to the "Stabilized Position." Our plan was to start taking fuel ASAP in case of a problem with a tanker or a Crusader. Thus, more time to solve problems before the abort (Go/No-Go) position. Upon being cleared to plug in, I realized that Dexedrine had everything moving in slow motion. It was a scary feeling to see the drogue jump away from my probe. After three wild slashes at the basket, I stopped, readdressed the drogue and shoved the probe home in a calm, steady closure. I warned the other pilots, "Do not rape it!" Quaker Rice reported a fuel transfer problem in one plane. Emergency procedures did not correct the gripe, so Quaker and Mac diverted to Lajes AFB for maintenance. They were out of the nonstop trip. I took off my mask, ate a sandwich, and smoked cigarettes while plugged in for 150 miles. I chuckled at the wild-eyed refueling observer 15 feet to my right watching my oxygen mask dangling from one side of my helmet as I puffed away on Pall Malls while he was surrounded by JP-5 and was pumping it into my wings. We unplugged at the abort point and climbed back to 41 thousand.
The remainder of the trip was uneventful. Plug-ins were routine. The Ziploc bags were lousy relief tubes. The longest and loneliest part was the 1100 NM leg over Ocean Station Vessel Echo between Hayride 5 and 6. I call it lonely because of requests from the ship's crew to pass messages to their loved ones by phone and letter. A simple note, "Be home soon. Love Bill." was sent to Mrs William Patterson of Naranja, FL. While Mrs Richard Jeantet of Opalocka, FL was told, "Happy birthday. Happy Mother's Day. Be home soon. Love, Dick." I sent many messages to Navy families upon arrival home.
Tiny and I unplugged from Hayride 6 over Bermuda and climbed to FL410 for the last leg. Upon realizing we would have nearly 5000 Lbs of fuel at Beaufort we decided to complete the flight in under 8 hours. We flew in the afterburner aft detent at 1.3 mach (IMN) until nearing the Initial Approach Fix. Luckily, we contacted Approach early and were told that Beaufort was closed for a practice Armed Forces Day air show. There we were making the trip in 7 hours and 40 minutes and we could not land for an hour! The 25 minute delay out of Rota did it! What an ego deflator! The worst part of the trip was the butt-busting 45 minute orbit at the IAF (initial approach fix). We got no respect! Ouch!
Back to Back We Face the Past
Donald Cathcart LtCol USMC Ret.