Entertaining Royalty on the Randolph

” The USS Randolph put on an air show for the King and Queen of Greece, and it wasn’t the sort of thing that pilots extend themselves beyond the range of their capabilities to do, but simply the work of the ship’s squadrons in their everyday missions.

For this demonstration we towed a sled 150 yards astern which was to be the target for the jets to attack with their rockets. The feature attraction was to be a finale where two AD 6s from VA-176 would dive-bomb the sled to extinction. They boast they can carry externally the bomb load a B17 carries internally (4800 lbs). They both had a 5000 lb bomb on the center station and 1000 pounders on each wing.

It was a warm day with no wind at all. Airplanes don’t lift so well when it is hot and humid, and the carrier had to make all the wind there was by steaming at 33 knots. They catapulted all the jets and then started the 2 ADs from all the way aft. CAG flew the first one and barely made it off the box. He sunk out of sight and came staggering up into view again shouting – “Don’t launch him, Don’t launch him”, into his mike, but LTJG George Ormond was on his way, and couldn’t hear the call.

With canopy open, full power, he followed his leader down the deck. He had a plane that was just out of check and hadn’t been run up. Abeam the island he backfired twice and that was enough power loss to deprive him of flying speed off the bow. He knew he didn’t have it as soon as he began to settle. No time to salvo his load, he jigged to the right to get out of the onrushing carrier’s way, and landed wheels up.

The carrier turned hard to port to miss him. As we rushed by, there was George climbing out of the cockpit of his sinking AD, saluting the King and Queen, and not watching for the Angel to come and get him so its downwash surprised him and blew him arise over teakettle into the water. They got a sling around him in no time and moments later he was deposited back on deck, soaking wet but unhurt. The M.C.  announced, “LTJG Ormond, arriving“, just as he was some big shot, but the fun wasn’t over. As CAG was groaning for altitude with his heavy load, the Banshees streaked in against the target sled one by one and nearly every one of them hit it.

CAG was an experienced dive-bomber pilot from the Korean War. He wanted to get to 10,000 ft just like we had done at Duck Target back on Padre Island out of Cabaniss Field, but he was climbing very slowly on such a hot day.

When the jets were done he was only up to 6000 ft. He and the Air Boss argued back and forth for a while. The royal couple was getting restive with nothing happening. CAG compromised on 7500 ft for his start down.

Commander Fidel, the ship’s XO on the one M.C. announced to all of us that now we were going to see the biggest explosion the Navy could make which would blow the sled to smithereens. And we all watched the little dot CAG made in the sky as he opened his dive brakes and started his run.

The sled did not evaporate in a colossal blast. What happened was anticlimactic. CAG had neglected to flip the little toggle switch to arm his bombs in his haste to start the non-standard run. The bombs hit near the sled all right … they just went “phut phut phut“, as they hit the water. No one said a thing. The one M.C. was turned off. The Air Group Commander’s embarrassment was acute, and he didn’t visit the air group pilots in their ready rooms, for several days to come.”

Former Randolph crew member, Gil Hartman, AN, V-1 Division received this first person account

from Doctor Roger G. Smith, a former “Guppy” pilot in VAW-12.

Doctor Smith added … ” Gil … I love you guys from the flight deck crew. Randolph had a very fine and safe flight deck. Ensign Santivasci ran the catapults superbly. I think he was a mustang officer. This was a hilarious story at the time … and sad to say … Captain Ormond died down in Jacksonville a few years ago. (Actually he died in Utah, but he lived in JAX.)

Story used with permission of the USS Randolph Association

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