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A-4F as a Glider

TA-4J Skyhawk in a RIsyllabus Solo Cross Country

I heard this tale third hand and can only relate what I was told. I believe it to be as true any TINS story can be….taking place sometime before 1976.

I was flying the TA-4J as an advanced jet instructor Sept.1975-78 at Kingsville - VT-22.

Once through the IUT (Instructor under training) I was determined to head home on a cross country to Hill AFB (HIF) Utah. I had a deal with the ops folks at Hill, where I kept an old family car (Buick) out in the lot and spare A4 parts, wheels, starter dog, CSD link, fuses etc in my own locker in base ops. Al’s Dad, one of the HIF Ops guys, also had a key and he could loan out the A4 tire to distressed XCtry A4;s- as long as they replaced tire.

I had my XCtry (cross country) Student plan and file a DD175 to Hill AFB with a fuel stop enroute at Williams AFB (CHD ). Hill and Williams didn’t have PPR (Prior Permission Required) restrictions and I was very familiar with their ops, having flown in and out recently in a gun squadron A-4M. So I submitted the X-Ctry request to Wing and prepared to spend the weekend home at HILL, skiing – playing hockey etc. Surprise surprise, the X-Ctry request came back disapproved! I followed up by going across the street to TRAWing II and the LTCDR who disapproved the request. I asked why, as Williams wasn’t PPR and all he could say was that since he had arrived at NQI (Kingsville) Williams had been on the ‘no go’ list. I wanted to see the No Go list in writing, as a order, something, but he couldn’t find anything written. So I had my student re-file NQI – LUF – HIF (Kingsville-Luke-Hill) and went to Williams any way (Luke was always PPR- and you had to have 3 stars to get a PPR number out of ‘em).

The trip out to Williams was boringly uneventful until we got to the Williams transit line.

Remember those old retired guys that always ran the AFB transit line in their white coveralls? Well when we taxied up in our white and yellow VT-22 TA-4J to the transit line they ALL came out of the line shack with big shiteating grins and stood around while we got pinned and shut down. They couldn’t wait: “Hey Navy, it’s been a long time no see”. “Welcome back”, “You guys aren’t going to do any more exciting air shows are you” ? “should we call the fire trucks”??? and I replied, “No, and what do mean fire trucks” ? The following is the story they told me. And every time I went into CHD, which was often, I heard this story all over again.

The student in question is long gone but his solo cross county to join a weapons det in Yuma AZ, with a fuel stop at Willy (CHD) AFB lives on. It seems the squadron’s effort to make their pilot quota led to some marginal students to continue flying.

Our Student starts the weekend with a Friday night solo bounce in the pattern where he so scared the RDO (runway duty officer) (remember the RDO log book with all the zany entries?) that he ordered him to land. The RDO calls the Squadron SDO and says he’s going to give the student a down. The intrepid SDO must have been an ops weenie, as he was more concerned about the pilot completion rate than the fact this Student couldn’t fly. The SDO talks the RDO out of giving the Student a down and to wait until he can talk to the Ops Officer tomorrow.

Unknown to these two instructors, the intrepid Student was on the next days schedule with an early early go on his RI syllabus solo Cross country to Yuma to join a weapons det. The syllabus solo cross county required a stop over and his was Williams AFB.

Before he leaves, Maintience Control loads a center line tank-blivit with parts for the weapons det., and a mechanic to install the parts.

Refreshing your memory of Williams AFB way back in the 70’s; it was a training command base, 3 long runways and a million white T-37 and T-38 swanning about. Three long runways, 30L for the T-37 aircraft, 30C for transit and IFR aircraft and

30R for T-38 pattern. Everything at Williams is flat as a pancake-baked hard hot sand.

The student lets down on approach control and is passed off for a GCA to runway 30C.

He’ slow to make corrections and follow GCA guidance, as he starts off high and well to the left of course. GCA gives constant calls, “B204 you are well left of course turn further right to 315, well above glide slope”. This goes on all the way down the chute with the student making ineffective corrections. GCA calls “Bravo 204 you are cleared to land on 30C, if runway not in sight go around.” Our SNA is still lined up on runway 30L and as soon as GCA un-keys his mike, the student asks GCA “if he can land on 30L?” GCA replies, “no, you are cleared to land on 30C”…... making a last ditch, huge, correction to land 30C he touches down briefly on 30C going north. Skidding off 30C all the way over to 30R leaving a huge pall of dust and sand behind him. On 30R (he still hasn’t brought the power back) our student tromps in full left rudder, where upon the TA-4J skids back over to 30C and off on the other side toward 30L. The dust ball is getting bigger and now he’s remembered to pull the power off, and with full right rudder he swerves back on to 30C and stops at the end of the center runway, turning left and holding short of 30L. He didn’t hit a thing and the tires stayed on the aircraft. Meanwhile, the tower has hit the crash alarm, the trucks roll and they all lose sight of the A4 in the dust ball. The T-38s and T-37 are all bingoed out of the pattern. Amid the confusion, our student asks Twr for clearance to cross 30L, and a distracted tower operator, still looking for the crash site in the dust ball and not realizing who is who: clears him to cross and switch up ground and not to call GND, just follow the “follow me truck”.

B-204 crosses 30L and follows the truck to the transit line. As they are taxing,

The tower and the fire trucks finally spot their quarry, and are in hot pursuit, along with several blue sedans with the flashing red cherry on top. One of which is the wing / base commander. Taxing to a halt in the transit line under the guidance of a couple of smirking white jump-suited transit line guys. The parade is big now with 5 fire trucks and half dozen blue sedans following the TA4. Transit line guys put the gear pins in and hook up the ladders as our student shuts down the engine and raises the canopy all the way. Where upon the wing/base commander (O-6) storms up the ladder addressing the pilot in the front seat with a rant, “What kind of XXWXWY!!! Idiot are you, etc etc.” and our SNA replies, cowed by the furiously angry colonel: “sir I’m just a student”. The colonel angrily switches target to the flight suit in back seat: who is quick to respond:, Sir I’m just a mechanic and this is my first ride in a plane.” This revelation, stuns the colonel for a few seconds, and makes him even madder, when he goes off in a rant about XXWXY!!!! Navy pilots and their incompetent students. And who the hell let this clown out unsupervised??? Because he sure as hell ain’t flying it out here. He storms off and the transit guys are killing themselves laughing. The colonel calls up CNATRA (Admiral ___?) relates the incident and forbids any navy CNATRA aircraft ever again landing at his base.

This was the reason why our white TA-4J were banned from Williams AFB. The Colonel apparently was gone, transferred, as I used CHD all the time as a fuel stop on my training command cross-countries to HIF and no one ever complained. I just had to listen to this story every time I used CHD transit line.

Denny West

One time A4 pilot /

Boca Raton FL.


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