One Thousand MPH Pin
Shiny new Crusaders were pointed towards the taxiways at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina in April 1963. The F-8Ds of Marine All Weather Fighter Squadron 451 were ready for young nuggets to start, take off and zoom into the heavens where tremendous excitement and countless thrills awaited. Newly winged naval aviators checked in daily. The sign on the ready room door shouted to the spirited young pilots, "All Tigers Will Be Leashed!" The gold bars entered a training program that put them in a Crusader cockpit within two weeks. Familiarization flight number three was the event all FNGs eagerly anticipated. They would earn the heralded 1000 mph pin!
The typical Fam-3 was an afterburner takeoff, followed by gear up, wing down, wing lock, LE droop up, and at 425 knots, pull the nose up to 60 degrees above the horizon and maximum rate climb to a flight level of 45,000 feet. All in about two and one half minutes! Next was level off and accelerate to maximum mach. Check the oil cooler doors going through 1.6 mach to insure they opened automatically. If the gage did not flip-flop, then the pilot would manually open the doors with a toggle switch. During the rapid-fire chain of events, the nuggets were primarily just hanging on. Fuel consumption was a concern during the speed run and the chase pilot made frequent inquiries as to the transfer of fuel in the Fam pilotís crusader.
The beautiful CAVU Spring day in the Southeastern US started for First Lieutenant Doug (Toad) Lawrence in accordance with standard operating procedures [SOP]. Toad was assigned to Charlie Flight, Mofak's Misfits, and was chased on Fam 3 by his flight leader. It was a cool morning when Toad blasted off on his maximum speed flight to earn a coveted 1000 mph pin. Toad taxied onto the center of the left side of the North runway, looked to his right and gave his chase the engine run-up signal by circular rotation of his right hand. He then advanced the throttle to full power on the J-57 engine. After checking his instruments and controls, Toad gave a thumbs up to chase who returned the signal. Toad punched the time clock and released the brakes. With a head nod, he moved the throttle outboard and selected the afterburner. "Boom!" The mighty afterburner kicked the pilots in the back, boosted the engine thrust to 20,000 lbs and rapidly accelerated the crusaders down the runway. Within seconds the aircraft reached 150 knots and Toad rotated the nose for takeoff. Immediately the crusader was airborne and accelerating rapidly. He raised the landing gear handle and the landing gear quickly disappeared into the wheel wells and the doors closed. He grabbed the wing handle, nodded his head and lowered the wing, and immediately moved the wing lock handle into the lock detent. Toad then trimmed the aircraft nose down to stop climbing and more rapidly reach zoom speed. The trimming action promptly entered the Crusader into a Jesus maneuver at 100 feet. Before toad could stop the violent porpoise action he had passed pull up speed. Following high-pitched verbal prompts, Toad snapped the throttle droop actuator aft which raised the wing leading edge droops and then yanked the stick aft raising the nose straight up with his Crusader mach meter indicating 550 knots.
The vertical speed indicator pegged and the altimeter spun like a top. Toad's radio seemed to work perfectly until leveling off at 45 thousand and then, maybe to suppress the soothing voice of chase and to insure reaching 17 miles per minute on the TACAN, his radio shut down. Soon thereafter Toad departed Whiskey 132 and contrailed westward toward Savannah. Chase saw the oil cooler doors open at 1.55 Mach. Chase heard no radio transmissions in response to radio checks. The mach meter was rapidly winding up. Toad had his head in the cockpit as we flew abeam of Savannah. Maybe he was enraptured by the mach meter or the TACAN DME. Soon, we were streaking towards Albany. Toad's F-8 was approaching 1.9 mach. My Crusader was about 100 feet to the right and 100 feet aft of Toad. I considered shifting to Manual Fuel to get more power (EGT). Trimming slightly nose down, I tried to outrun Toad's F-8. We passed Albany and were approaching Dothan when I saw 1.95 mach. Like a slow crawl, I inched abeam of Toad. The DME was clicking at 22 miles per minute. Finally, I was just ahead of him at 1.97 mach. That was the maximum allowed speed for the F8D. Scuttlebutt was that the skin was supposed to start burning above mach 2. Finally, Toad looked over at me. I rocked my wings and broke right.
Toad was slow to follow. I surmised that he wanted to push through Mach 2. I was out of burner immediately and set the power at 85% RPM for the low-fuel cross-country home. If Toad had gone another two minutes, we would have been forced to land at NAS Pensacola.
Toad miraculously regained his radio after terminating the high speed run. He earned his 1000 mph pin all right! Toad had three minutes at 22 miles per minute. Maybe Chance-Vought Aircraft Corporation could have special 1300 mph pins made for Toad and his chase?
Back to Back We Face the Past
Donald Cathcart LtCol USMC Ret.