With the neck down in platforms, officer accession and student naval aviator (SNA) training pipelines, there is a certain homogenization characterizing Naval Aviation today.Â Not that that is all bad mind you, especially when one considers the reduction in mishap rates and capabilities today’s anchor-winged warriors bring to the fight.Â Still, for those of us who had the opportunity to train, fly and fight with those who entered in the 40’s – 60’s we had the fortune of knowing some real characters and, occasionally, some real pioneers and pillars of the community.Â For that was a period of interesting, challenging and oft times, awkward growth as Naval Aviation moved past the breakout period of WWII and through the early days of the jet age to arrive at the version more recognizable today, repleat with super carriers and supersonic fighters. Getting to that point, however, required a distinct breed of aviator, formed in a time before NATOPS, honed on the small decks of 27C’s and the early “supercarriers” of the Forrestal class CVA, with new missions and (then) leading edge technology to master and fight with.
One of the signature aircraft of that period was the A3D/A-3 Skywarrior, aka “Whale.”Â Originally designed to be the Navy’s contribution to long-range nuclear strikes, the Whale eventually morphed through a number of other platform variations and missions — tanking, photo-recce, ELINT, electronic warfare, DV hauling, and the like.Â It was at once a typical life that the Whale led, compared to some of its contemporaries (viz., AD/A-1 Skyraider and F3D Skynight) – yet it outlived all those and many of the more modern and specialized aircraft that followed.
Like their aircraft, the men who worked on and flew the Whale were (are) of a particular bent and were central in establishing the tenor and tone of that era.Â Today, courtesy Andy Niemyer (A-3 Skywarrior Association) we learn of the passing of a true pioneer and pillar of the VQ community from that era – and Naval Aviation Pilot, CAPT John E. Taylor, USN-Ret:
Capt. John E. Taylor was born 5/23/23 in Cohoes, New York. He attended Cohoes HS and went to College at California Polly, Gila Jr. and St Mary’s under the V-5 Naval Cadet program. Growing up 9 miles north of Albany, NY, he spent summers on Saratoga Lake, Lake George, and Lake Champlain, plus other places all over the New England states, fishing with his father. 54 years ago he married former Elizabeth E. Dunwoody.Â They met in Oklahoma City while he was in pre-flight training at Norman, OK. The name Elizabeth Taylor has gotten a lot of attention over all these years. Captain Taylor thinks that is probably why he made Captain to start with. Those that know the Taylor family will admit that Elizabeth was a driving force behind a lot of his successes. Additionally, it was his true desire to get the job done right and having fun along the way that allowed him to go from E-1 to O-6 and earn those “Wings of Gold”.
Seaman Recruit Taylor entered the U.S. Navy on March 25, 1941. After recruit training at Great Lakes, Illinois, he attended the Ford Motor Company Aviation Machinist School in Dearborn, Michigan. His first duty assignment was in the Operations Department at Naval Air Station Ford Island, Hawaii. Speaking of Ford, his first Division Officer was none other than Henry Ford II. In September 1943 he was selected as one of a special group of fleet personnel to attend preparatory schools and subsequently Naval flight training. Upon
completion of flight school at Pensacola he was commissioned as a Naval Aviator and given the rank of Ensign, USNR. After a tour of duty on USS Portsmouth as a Scout Observation Pilot he was released to inactive in the Reserves. In 1947 he resigned his commission and reenlisted as an Aviation Pilot 1st Class (AP), in 1953 he was promoted to Chief Petty Officer.
In 1955 he was selected and attended Naval Officers Candidate School. Graduating with honors, he was once again commissioned an Ensign and reported to the USS Hornet. In 1957 Lt. Taylor joined VQ-1 and thus started his association with the A-3 Skywarrior. At one point in 1959 Taylor was the sole A-3 Pilot with his own personal A3D-1Q 130363. He caught back up with this bird again when assigned to NMC in Pt. Mugu. Three more back to back VQ tours followed NMC, VQ-2, VQ-1, and a return to VQ-2 as Skipper. By this time Captain Taylor had over 10,000 hours in 48 models of aircraft with 4,000+ in the A-3. He took an assignment to the CNO’s office working with C3 and EW, where he made Captain. He then went to NTC in
Orlando as Chief of Staff. Finally Captain Taylor headed back to VQ-2 as Skipper for one more tour “with that beautiful A-3 aircraft” as he refers to the Whale.
Captain Taylor retired after 39+ years on June 20, 1980 piped ashore in a ceremony at VQ-2. Ironically the A3 also had 39 years of Naval service but that’s another story. Capt. Taylor was the last commissioned AP in the Navy. His decorations include the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star with Combat V, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal with Numeral 6, numerous Campaign and Service medals from WWII to Vietnam and on into the Cold War.
A-3 Association Interview with Captain Jack Taylor (“CJ”)
A-3 Association: You flew just about every type A-3 produced. What versions did you fly and tell us a little about Douglas and how they supported the mission back then.
CJ: The types of A3’s that I flew are as follows. A3D-1 & 2, A3D-1Q, EA-3B, RA-3B, NA-3A, NA-3B, TA-3B, and YRA-3B. I have all the bureau numbers of the A3’s (42 of them). There are still four of those A3’s in the custody of a commercial company (Raytheon) that are used for research projects that I have flown. The only relationship I had with Douglas was with the Tech Reps in each of the Commands that I was assigned to. VQ-1 (2 times, 5 years total), VQ-2 (3 times / 8 years total) and one tour at Pt. Mugu EW section (4 years) doing equipment testing in the odd ball type of A3’s, pylons on the wings and fuselage, an oversized nose radome(144825) and lots of different antennae. During my first tour in VQ-1, I picked up the second new EA3B
from the Douglas factory. The first one was picked up by Cdr. Frenchy Surry and was lost somewhere near Wake Island. During the pick-up of these new birds, Douglas had class room instruction on all aspects of the systems for pilots and crew. The Tech Reps were excellent instructors at the squadrons as well. Mr. Dan King, at VQ-2, was considered to be the best that Douglas had.
A-3 Association: Rumor has it that you were even an E-8 and E-9 but that rank wasn’t around in 1955?
CJ: You are right about the E-8 & E-9 not being available during my early years. I made E-7 in 1954 when all the AP’s that had passed their exam were promoted regardless of the quotas that existed then. When I was Skipper of VQ2 the last time, the CPO’s decided that since I had gone from E-1 to E-7, I should be made an Honorary E-8 & E-9.
A-3 Association: The “Golden Age of Jets”. What was it like transitioning into them?
CJ: “The Golden Age of Jets”! I flew prop aircraft from 1944 to 1954 both single and multi engine land & sea. My first Jet checkout was in an F3D twin engine night fighter. I was really excited about coming over the field at 300Kts and pulling almost straight up to high altitude. This caused my instructor in the right seat to get an ear block. The next day he came in with one half of his face paralyzed. He had a cold and the fast climb caused the problem. To this day he has a loss of hearing in one ear. The one thing that the early jet pilots had to
be careful of was the use of power. It takes a jet engine time to spool up and that caused some problems on landing (field and ship). Once the transition was made to the jets power was controlled much better. As time went on there were much better engines and of course the power increased also. The first A3 engine was under-powered and was changed to the J57-10. In all my 4350 hours in the A3, I never lost an engine. I did ingest a seagull once but didn’t know it until we landed after a 4+ hour flight. When the engines stopped, several blades were bent out of shape.
A-3 Association: What were your first and last A-3 flights like and what is your favorite version?
CJ: My first A-3 flight was in A3D-1Q 130363 at VQ-1 in Iwakuni, Japan on 8 Jan 1959. My last flight was in an EA-3B 146453 at VQ-2 in Rota, Spain on 4 Jun 1980. My favorite version is the EA-3B. Not just because of the bird, but also because of the mission it flew. That final flight of mine in that wonderful machine, the EA-3B, is still imprinted on my mind. I sat in that seat for 4300 hours over the years and loved every darn minute of it. It never failed me, mainly because the people that maintained it kept it in perfect shape.
A-3 Association: You flew 144851 around the world. Right after you left VQ-2, 146453 and 146455 did the same. What did you have to do with that mission to the I.O. ?
CJ: Those VQ-2 around the world flights in 453 and 455 were not of my making. I didn’t have anything to do with it and to this day no one told me why or where they went.
A-3 Association: Your favorite A/C is the A-3. What is your second most favored bird and why Fly Navy?
CJ: My second most favorite aircraft is the N2S/N3N or Yellow Pearl. It was the most fun airplane to fly and I think most pilots will agree. The answer to your question of why fly Navy is simple – It’s exciting, fun, and when on a carrier, as my right seater, Jim Vambell, used to say “The Navy gives you three Hots and a Flop plus they let you fly at night!”. In all honesty though, I really loved the VQ mission more than anything and of course the aircraft that performed that mission. Besides the A3, I flew Multi Engine (some were various models of each i.e.: A3A, EA3B, RA3B etc)- P2V – P4M – R4D – R4Y – PBY – PBM – EC121 -EP3E – S2F -SNB JRB. (When I was a mech., I flew as a crew member on the following: ( JRF- J2F – J4F – R4D3 – R5O).
Single Engine: Interstate (first solo in training) N2S-N3N-SNV-SNJ-OS2U (L & S)-SC1&2 (L & S) GBTBM-TBF-SB2C-T28-AF-AD-F6F-TV2-F3D-F9F2-4-5-8T-& (SBU Crew member). Lots of sea stories on almost all of them.
A-3 Association: What is it about the A-3 Community’s loyalty, camaraderie, and respect for each other that is so hard to explain? Some have never had that same feeling since.
CJ: I am not sure that I can explain it either but will give an opinion. Looking back over my 5 tours in the VQ community and comparing it with all my other tours, I think that the most important thing that stands out in my mind is the Mission. This was completely different from anything that all the other types of aircraft flew. It didn’t matter if there was a War going on or if the world was in a peaceful time, we still had a very important mission. There was always some new factor to be looked at and when found by the operators, there was a feeling of great accomplishment. The next feeling that I have is the way we had FUN! All our parties, picnic’s, sports etc. were well attended and fun. Then there was the Maintenance of our aircraft. The A3’s in particular took a beating going aboard the carriers but they held up quite well. Any accidents were usually caused by some human error and I think all our people were always aware that they were trying to keep from causing any of those accidents. Finally I believe that the Commanding Officer had the responsibility to maintain a very high degree of morale. Of course that is up to the individual CO on how this is accomplished. My theory is to “Work Hard and Play Hard”!! It seems to work most of the time.
A-3 Association: A-3s flew over 39 years in Naval service and are still flying for contractors today. Are you surprised?
CJ: When I retired in 1980, I thought that the A3 was invincible! They were in perfect condition and had a lot of life remaining in them. When ’91 came around and I was invited to the retirement of the A-3 over in Rota, It was still a beautiful aircraft and it was hard to realize that it would go to Davis-Monthan. After the ceremony, a PAO gent asked me to let him film me talking to the A3. I did and just walked around the aircraft and really did say “Good Bye”. It was even worse when they had the retirement ceremony at Key West. There were about 200 to 300 people there and I was asked to talk about the A-3. I got started and talked about the first model and then my mind went blank. I tried to get out of it by calling Jim Vambell up to talk about the Russian Bear (another story). He gave a short description of the event and sat down. I started to go back but the host CDR. got on with the program. I still regret not saying something about the Crew that flew the last VQ-2 A-3 from Rota to DM. They were the ones that flew the last Combat missions in the A-3 during Operation Desert Storm
A-3 Association: You and hundreds of other Whalers flew on 144825, 146454, 142667, 146449 (FS 446 back) . These birds are still operational, what can replace them?
CJ: A replacement for the A-3? Some of us that worked to build the ES-3B thought that it would be around for quite a while also. Now they (Navy) are going to put those out to pasture. From what I got from those in VQ-6 at Cecil, some of the carriers wouldn’t go to sea without them. I just hope that the people in charge know what they are doing. If I were to design one, I think I would ask for a twin engine (newest version); 6 operators, 3 for EW and 3 for Intel plus two pilots – no Navigator since technology takes care of that by pushing buttons on a computer. The aircraft would have to have a fairly long endurance and range. It would have to be a Carrier capable bird and of course not too large to take up space on the flight deck. Avionics would not take up too much space since micro chips & etc. can keep the system small but do an excellent job. Finally, a well trained ground crew to keep everything ship shape and beat the record set by the A-3. AMEN!!
Editors note: Remember the days when we had to hard wire relays for Omni or DF ? I was there in ’79 and saw a huge change in our operational capabilities of the EA-3B. Capt. Jack had a tremendous influence on us and on our support organizations. We worked long hard hours, flew everywhere, night qualed on the CVs. I think generally he blew new life into our role as the eyes of the fleet. When we returned from our detachments, Capt. Jack and the squadron greeted us with beer, fun times and a hearty “Bravo Zulu”. Captain Taylor, we had a blast, thanks for the good times!