Sea Story Saturday: Phantoms vs the Dragon Lady



Some few years back our readers may recall a post about the Battle of Palmdale we posted over at the USNI blog.  Long story short – a gaggle of F-89’s spent the better part of one evening diligently attempting to bring down a wayward F6F drone that had sipped the surly bonds of it’s controller and attempting to make a break for freedom – headed Los Angeles-way.  Successfully eluding the unguided (very) ordnance expended by the Scorpions, the lowly Hellcat eventually ran out of gas and crashed eight miles east of the Palmdale airport.  In between a rain of Mighty Mouse rockets fell on the countryside causing fires and almost striking an occupied station wagon.

That was 1956.  A decade later it was a little more serious – a U-2 was headed directly for Cuba in contravention to the President’s order forbidding overflights and a pair of F-4Bs from VF-74, forward deployed to NAS Key West were scrambled:

On July 28, the boredom was shattered. Shortly after 1 p.m. the bell went off. The timing was not unusual; we were frequently released from Alert Five status early. Still, my radio intercept officer, my wingman, and his RIO all ran to our aircraft. After a quick strap-in aided by our enlisted plane captains, we radioed for permission to taxi. Key West gave us priority and cleared us for takeoff, and we turned onto the duty runway. We were airborne three and a half minutes after the bell. Bill Reynolds, my RIO, switched to JARCC frequency and checked in. We fully expected to be released to fly yet another intercept training flight.


Instead, we heard this: “Backwash 202, turn right to heading 170.”


Bill responded with typical professionalism: “Backwash 202, roger, 170.”


What? I turned to a heading of 170 degrees, wondering what was happening.


The next thing I heard only made my heart beat faster: “Backwash 202, your bogey five right, 22.” Bogey?!


Bill, cool as ever, responded, “Backwash 202, roger.”


The next call explained why Bill had nothing on his radar scope. “Your bogey high. Go burner!” That spurred Bill to elevate the radar antenna and me to light the afterburners of both J-79 turbojet engines.

Read the rest here at Air & Space Smithsonian