The Whale in Vietnam

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EA-3 on catapult number one, USS Coral Sea CV-43, ready for launch.

Our newest aircraft the Douglas A-3D, Skywarrior aka Whale, served during the Vietnam War. Its primary mission in the EA-3 variant was to warn Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force aviators, whenever SAMs (surface to air  missiles) were launched at them. On Tuesday, 14 September, one of the former crew members, who actually flew in our Whale (Navy Bureau Number 146457), visited Patriots Point.

Patriots Point's Whale reunited with former crewman (L to R: Hank's sister Marie McBride, Hank Schultz, his other sister Nancy and Ralph Manento).

Hank Schultz came to visit his old bird with sisters,  Marie McBride, Nancy Manento and brother-in-law Ralph Manento (close up below).

Our A-3 was accepted from Douglas Aircraft in May 1960, while Hank Schultz was a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy. Hank was commissioned an Ensign upon graduation in 1964 and headed off to Pensacola. He received basic flight training at the Naval Aviation Observer school (prior to VT-10 for Naval Flight Officer training) and then travelled to Naval Air Station (NAS) Glynco, Georgia. Ensign Schultz was given training on how to conduct ECM (electronic counter measures) and ELINT (electronic intelligence) missions. ECM deals with the jamming or decoying of enemy radar signals. ELINT deals with the intercept and analysis of radar signals.

Hank was sent to VQ-1 in based at NAS Atsugi, Japan in January 1966. Originally he was to fly in the EC-121 Warning Star, a Lockheed Constellation loaded with electronic gear, but soon after arriving was introduced to Lieutenant Commander Harry “Murph” Wright. Murph told Hank to grab his gear and they were off for his first Whale flight. As they were about to return to base, Murph asked Harry if he thought he could roll the A-3 (an acrobatic manuever normally performed by smaller tactical jets, not the largest aircraft in the Navy inventory) and then proceeded to roll the Whale. Young Ensign Schultz was impressed and Murph equally impressed with Hank’s coolness under stress. He  told Hank, “You’re in my crew now!”

Vietnam missions for VQ-1 began at NAS Cubi Point, Philippines and were early launches patrolling off the coast or near the DMZ (demilitarized zone) and late afternoon refueling at Da Nang and then return to Cubi around 1915 (7:15 pm). NAS Cubi seen below.

Upon detecting a SAM launch, the Whale’s crew would broadcast a general call on Guard (Military emergency frequency, 243.0 UHF) with the latitude and longitude of the missile launch. VQ-1 did not have an official tactical call sign to use and so they began to use the call sign “Peter Rabbit.”  Maybe it was the big ears and Peter was always trying to avoid Mr. MacGregor.

Two SAMs are launched in North Vietnam (normal launch was 2 at 1 time).

On one missile launch warning by Peter Rabbit (Murph and Hank), a F-8 Crusader pilot recognized his location was the same and immediately executed a split-S (vertical manuever changing direction by 180 degrees and a rapid loss of altitude). As the pilot rolled the aircraft upside down he could see the plume of the missile as it accelerated and climbed towards his aircraft. The warning call from Peter Rabbit and his split-S saved his life. When the Peter Rabbit crew landed later that night back at Cubi Point…a case of gin was waiting in the squadron duty office for Murph, Hank and the rest of the crew…the Crusader pilot’s thanks for saving his life…

Eventually the call sign, “Peter Rabbit,” and the use of the Guard frequency caught up with VQ-1. One day they called out on guard with “Peter Rabbit” and a flight of fully armed B-52’s returned to their base in Guam. The words “Peter Rabbit” just happened to be the general recall word for USAF B-52’s that day. Next day, VQ-1 fliers had a new call sign, “Deep Sea.” Almost word for word what they had gotten into with the admiral the day before after the busted B-52 mission.

VQ-1 bird launched from USS Kittyhawk, CV-63 (note the canoe on the bottom of the aircraft).

The A-3 Association plans a reunion onboard Yorktown at Patriots Point 14-17 April 2011, click here to see more details. We look forward to a great gathering of patriots. Patriots Point salutes Hank, Murph and all the other Whale Warriors who helped to protect and defend America! See you in 2011.

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