Volunteer Profile on Dr. Art Schmitt – Helicopter pilot extraordinaire!

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Retired Navy commander Dr. Art Schmitt in front of our HS-3 Sea King helicopter.

One beautiful summer day a 15-year-old boy and future Eagle Scout looked up into the New Jersey sky and saw a Marine F4U Corsair fly over in a low pass, he said to himself, “That’s what I want to do one day!” Be careful what you wish for…

Art Schmitt grew up in Brooklyn, New York and entered the Naval Aviation Cadet (Navcad) program in 1955 after 2 years of college. After receiving his wings of gold, he flew the P-2V Neptune for VP-8 and then returned to VT-2 in Pensacola as an instructor. Art transitioned to helicopters and received orders to HS-4 which deployed to Vietnam onboard the USS Yorktown (CV-10).

Two HS-4 Sea Kings fly over a Soviet Whiskey class diesel submarine ca. 1964.

One of Art’s most spectacular moments on the “Fighting Lady” occurred 26 April 1965 at 0500 as he prepared to lift off from spot 2 on the port catapult. In a pitch black, early morning launch his rotor failed and cut his aircraft fatally, the helicopter disintegrated on the flight deck of Yorktown launching bits of rotor blades, engines, and fuselage all over the flight deck forward of the island structure. Art’s crash also severely damaged 3 A-4 Skyhawks belonging to VMA-223. The Marines would not talk to Art for about 2 months after the mishap…

He spent a tour at NAS Guam flying search and rescue (SAR) and logistic/passenger flights, until ordered as a flight instructor to HT-8 in Pensacola, Florida. While at HT-8 Art had the pleasure of instructing several of the Apollo astronaut corp who were preparing for lunar landings.

Lunar module detaching for landing attempt.

The lunar module (LM) training plan had all possible LM astronauts receive 3 weeks of helicopter training in Pensacola to prepare them for the lunar landing mission. No relation, but one of Art’s students was Harrison Schmitt, the only true scientist in the Apollo astronaut corp as the rest were all test pilots. Harrison was the last American astronaut to step on the moon during Apollo 17 and was later a United States Senator from New Mexico.

After HT-8, Art received orders to HAL-3 and a ticket back to Vietnam. One of the young co-pilots he helped to train and keep alive became Rear Admiral Kevin Delaney. In his tour from November 1969 to November 1970, he flew 808 combat missions and received the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), Bronze Star, and 21 Air Medals. Art served another tour later in Vietnam and suffers from PTSD.

During his Navy service, Art was able to take advantage of the Navy’s educational opportunities to earn his bachelors and later his Ph. D. in Psychology. He retired from the Navy in 1977 and after several civilian positions, retired for good and moved to his wife’s hometown of Charleston, SC. Art has written four books and you may find them at his website here.

Art came over and visited Patriots Point a few years ago, asked about volunteering and now is in great demand among our visitors and in our Speaker’s Bureau program in the Carolina Lowcountry. Patriots Point salutes Art and welcomes him back to his old ship, Yorktown aka The Fighting Lady!

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