Typhoon “Hester”

A Story of a flight of 16 AF’s (VS-21) from Guam to Iwo Jima in December of 1952, to escape Typhoon “Hester”.

Before the carrier based anti-submarine fixed wind S2 and S3, there was the AF. The AF came in 2 versions – One, a Guppy (AF2W) with APS 20 Radar for extended search and the other team player was the AF2S, with the attack APS 31 Radar, a powerful search light, depth charges and other weapons to attack possible enemy subs. This a/c was powered by a Pratt/Whitney R-2800 and reported as the largest single engine propeller plane ever built. This was always in contention because of the short lived AM (an attack plane with a 4360 engine), a crew of 4 in the Guppy and 3 in the AF2S to do what a crew of 4 would do better, in later years, with the S2 and follow on S3.

VS-21 made a 7 month WestPac cruise from Oct 24, ’52 through May 26, ’53 with a total of 18 AF type a/c and a copliment of 260 people. The CO, XO, OPS and Maint Officer flew to Guam on the USN Seaplane “Mars“, the rest of us, and the aircraft, were embarked in the USS Cape Esperance (CVET-88), a former CVE assigned to the “Military Sea Transport Service” (MSTS). We spent 3 months operating from Guam and 4 months operating from the USS Bairoko (CVE-115), we were relieved in Japan by the USMC F4U Checkerboard Squadron. We then loaded aboard the USS Bataan (CVLa-29) and returned to NAS North Island, San Diego, CA.

The Evacuation: On the dark night of Dec 29, ’52, 16 AFs departed Guam (Mariannas Islands) about 2000 hrs for Iwo Jima to the NW (an island in the center of 2 others in the volcano chain). This flight consisted of 4 divisions(4 a/c ea div) navigating with the AF2W APS 20 Radar as the skipper (CDR Calvin T. Durgin, Jr) led the flight. The 2nd division of 4 was led by the XO (LCDR Kenneth D. Oberholser), the 3rd division leader was LT Samuel A. Sparks, the Maintenance Officer, and the 4th div was led by Lt Robert B. Wightman, our Safety Officer. I was a LT at the time and flew slot position in Sam’s flight.

Weather was bad underneath but we were on top with a moon at 8000 ft. Guam toIwo is a distanceof about 930 nautical miles. Japan lies 600 miles N of Iwo. Upon arrival over Iwo Jima, weather was estimated to be a 400 ft ceiling & 2 mile visibility. The top of the clouds/overcast, however, as we could estimate was down to4000 ft, so the entire flight descended from 8000 to 4000 ft as we orbited Iwo.

There was no documented instrument approach procedure, no operational control tower (we talked to the USAF 1st LT on a VHF Flt Advisory Channel) and no approach lights for the single 7000 ft EW runway. The lights marking each side of the runway, although quite dim were nonetheless adequate. No landing lights on tail-wheel carrier planes so the approach was similar to a carrier approach, but without the LSO. He was one of our pilots on this flight. Three divisions orbited in a delta pattern as the skipper took his division of 4 thru the decent (let down) on a heading of 270 degrees, breaking out of the overcast at about 450 ft then reversed course, put his group in a right echelon, made the break over RW-9 and landed as each pilot established a 45 second interval … with no taxiway lights, the pistol grop spot lite carried, as standard equipment, in the cockpit was used to find our way as we taxied in, find a parking spot and shut down.

When the skipper, with his division arrived over the runway for the break he called the 2nd division to start their descent in the same fashion. This adoped approach went on until the 3rd & 4th divisions had landed. All 16 planes landed and shut down without a hitch. Time was slightly after mid-nite and could beer time compliments of a 12 man Air Force Station Keeper Crew. A 1st LT USAF was in charge of the detachment.

Note #1 – A flash back – One of the fiercest battles of WWII took place here from Nov of ’44 until Mar of ’45. I had two Marine Cousins in this battle and both survived, but now deceased. The 2.5 by 5.5 mile island had been honeycombed by the Japanese, over the yrs prior to WWII and the Command Post, Hospital, Airplane Maintenance and Hangars wer all under ground and could not be discerned by the Intelligence gathering groups.

Note #2 – We totaled 16 pilots with 40 enlisted crew members and spent the 30th & New Year’s eve there. Some had bunks, some slept on tables and a few slept on the deck of the Operation/Crew Quarters/Mess Hall building of about 3500 sqft. Our Maintenance crew in this squadron, under LET Sam Sparks, was highly efficient. We returned to Guam on New Years Day in beautiful CAVU weather. No aircraft engine problems going or returning.

Note #3 – To my knowledge there are only 2 pilots still living that took part in this flight. Paul Sengir, a retired United Airline Captain, who lives in CA, and yours truly. As for me, I plan to live on until I die … YEAH!

Note #4 – There is an AF2S in the Naval Air Museum with VS-25 markings on it. VS-25 was a sister squadron to VS-21 and in the next NORIS Hangar. VADM Jim Stockdale, now deceased and a long time POW of the N Vietnamese, was a LT in VS-25, as I recall, before going to Attack Squadrons in the A4s.

Note #5 – Usually in an-all-out effort to evacuate a mass flight of a/c from the onslaught of a Hurricane or a Typhoon, very little if any damage is ever incurred on the evacuated base. Just double secure put them in a hangar & batten down is safer than evacuation flights. I was also involved in an Evac one time form HAS North Island in San Diego – probably the only evac from that base – ever. On that evacuation flight, 2 planes were lost and 1 pilot was killed – the base was not damaged.

CAPT Floyd H. Brown, USN (Ret)

 

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2 Comments

  1. The story contained Notes about landing on the carrier deck. My uncle, Paul Sengir, is mentioned in Note 3 as one of the 14 pilots that made the difficult and dangerous carrier landing. He is a quiet and strong man, a man that I’m proud to say is my uncle. His two brothers also served in WWII—-
    Tom Sengir (Army) and my dad Charles F Sengir, Jr. (Navy), now both deceased.
    Words aren’t enough to express my emotions right now, but …….I’m so grateful to have found this wonderful and detailed account that I can save and treasure. Thank you so much for taking the time to memorialize this harrowing landing maneuver.

    Reply
  2. Floyd H. Brown

     /  December 28, 2014

    Diane – Paul is a good friend of mine. I was 92 last Oct and he turned 92 here in December. Paul was probably the best pilot we had in VS-21 a challenging time of my life. luv Ya, Floyd Brown

    ps: I just talked to Paul a few days ago. He is busy taking care of Dottie.

    Reply

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