Flying Warrior: My Life as a Naval Aviator During the Vietnam War

Flying Warrior: My Life as a Naval Aviator During the Vietnam War

by Jules Harper


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781683500667
Publisher: Morgan James Publishing
Publication date: 02/28/2017
Pages: 204
Sales rank: 1,280,976
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Jules Harper is uniquely qualified to write about combat missions over Vietnam as he personally flew 200 combat sorties from 1966–1968. As the public affairs officer for his attack squadron, VA-112, stationed aboard the USS Kitty Hawk during this time period, he wrote many articles about his squadron mates’ missions that were published not only in newspapers and magazines, but were also used in television shows. As a highly decorated Naval Aviator he has been the President of a Veteran’s club, served on the board of directors for the Naval Air Historical Society located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, given presentations to other clubs, and companies have hired him to give inspirational talks to their employees.

Read an Excerpt



For as long as I can remember, I knew I wanted to be a pilot. My step-father, David Harper, was in the business of heavy construction and supported my desire to become a pilot. I was taught at an early age to respect large mechanical equipment and not be intimidated by its size. When I was approximately twelve years old, David took me out to our local airport and dropped me off to spend the day on my own. I had planned to just visit the various hangers at the field and look at all the airplanes. This kind of freedom and curiosity was allowed at that time.

I wandered into one hanger that had a beautiful, yellow J-3 Cub chocked down in it. The pilot, who was also the owner of the Cub, was doing some work on the inside of the cockpit. We started talking, and I told him I had never been up in an airplane before but really wanted to fly. He asked me how much money I had. I emptied my pockets and counted out sixty-three cents. He said that was plenty to go up and fly around for a while. In those days, things were much simpler.

He finished up his work in the cockpit, and then he strapped me in the front seat of the Cub. He gave me some instructions about what was going to happen during our flight. After starting the engine, we taxied out to the runway and took off. As soon as the wheels left the ground, I knew aviation was what I wanted to do.

As a result of this flight, I built many model airplanes and learned to fly them. During this process, I crashed every one of them until a seasoned modeler taught me the techniques required to fly them successfully. This showed me you have to have instructions to learn how to fly, as a crashed model looks very similar to a real airplane that has crashed.

After two years of college, I made the decision to join the navy in a special program known as the Naval Aviation Cadet Program (NAVCAD). The normal eighteen-month progression provided training in academics, military traditions, physical training, and flying. This program had proven very successful in the past as it allowed not only college graduates to fly but also students with only two years of college. Fleet-enlisted personnel could also join and have a flying career. At the completion of training, the NAVCAD would receive both a reserve commission in the US Navy and his wings.

To begin the process, I had to go to Jacksonville, Florida, and take a physical exam. The team of medical personnel that gave the physicals were reservists, and they only gave them once a month on their active duty weekend. I was doing very well on all the tests — until I took the eye exam. The medical corpsman that administered the test told me I had failed the accommodation portion of the eye test. I asked him what that test meant. He showed me the slide-rule-type instrument he had used to measure my accommodation. He moved the instrument back and forth, showing me where I should have been able to read the letters at my age. I was twenty-years-old at that time and considered myself in excellent health. I had no trouble seeing anything, day or night. The corpsman explained that I would need glasses in the future.

He then told me the test was complete and that I could leave as I was not eligible to continue testing due to failing the eye exam. I began to have a heated discussion with him about the test. It became so loud that the flight surgeon, who was giving a different type of test in the adjoining room, came over and asked what was going on. The corpsman filled him in on the results of my eye test, and the flight surgeon asked him to please leave the room.

The flight surgeon settled me down a little bit and set the accommodation instrument next to me and said he would be back as soon as he finished with the patient in the adjoining room. When he left the room, I picked up the instrument and memorized the letters on it. Shortly, he returned and gave me the test again. This time I passed with flying colors! I continued the rest of the exams, passing them all. My paperwork was signed, and I was given a class date at Pensacola, Florida, to begin my military training. If it hadn't been for that empathetic flight surgeon, I would not have experienced any of the things that were to happen to me in the next few years during my tour of duty.

I continued to fail the accommodation portion of the eye exam every time I had my yearly physical for the navy. Because of my young age, failing this particular exam did not indicate a deficiency in my vision. At age forty-five, however, I went into reading glasses.

I reported to Pensacola, Florida, in February, 1964. During the next seventeen months, I learned a lot about the military and about flying. I also made good friends that would last a life time. After sixteen weeks of basic training, I graduated with my class on May 22, 1964. My class ranking, among my class of twenty-eight, was as follows: first in physical training, third in military bearing, and twelfth in academics.

Even though I was first in physical training, there was one little incident that occurred during the survival water training that should be mentioned. Being from Florida, I grew up loving the water and water sports. I was scuba diving by age fourteen — long before lessons were required to engage in this activity. My roommate, Bruce Bealmear, was a non-swimmer. However, between the navy method of teaching non-swimmers how to swim, which included poking them with a long bamboo pole if their feet touched the bottom of the pool, and my assisting Bruce's practice in our small amount of free time, he became a competent swimmer. While I was helping Bruce, other non-swimming members of my class joined us in the practice sessions. Because of helping them, I had a good reputation for knowing a lot about swimming.

The day came when we had to exhibit our ability to get out of a cockpit that was turned upside down underwater. Crashing into the ocean was simulated as the "cockpit" slid down tracks into the deep end of the pool. The device that was used was called the "Dilbert Dunker." There was a scuba diver standing by in the event of an emergency at the bottom of the pool, watching as the exercise progressed with one student after another taking the ride into the pool on-board the Dilbert Ducker.

Many of my classmates were very apprehensive about doing this required event. I waited to go last as I was counseling several of them, including my friend Bruce, before the plunge. Bruce and my entire class made it through the Dilbert Dunker with no problems. As I climbed into the simulated cockpit, strapping myself in good and tight, I knew I would have no trouble with this ride either.

The instructor made sure I was ready, released the Dilbert Dunker, and then down the rails I went. I remember the cockpit turning upside down and all the air bubbles surrounding me. Slowly and deliberately, I reached down to undo my harness straps, only to find out I could not locate the release mechanism. No problem. I continued to try and locate it — until it became a real problem. I was running out of air at an alarming rate. Panic set in, and shortly after I had swallowed a lot of water, the rescue scuba diver moved in and released me, bringing me to the surface gasping for air.

My classmates watched in amazement as I crawled out of the pool. Sheepishly, I grinned at them as I coughed up what felt like gallons of water. The instructor said, "Ok, sport, get in again, and this time, wait until the air bubbles dissipate before you try and unhook the harness." Down the rails I went again, and heeding the advice of the instructor, I waited for the bubbles to rise up and get out of the way. Reaching down towards the release harness, I found it with no trouble and was soon back up on the side of the pool.

The next stage of training was to go to Saufley Field in Pensacola, join VT- 1, the squadron for "primary flight training," and begin the actual flying portion of becoming a naval aviator.

My initial instructor was Lieutenant Harry Watson. On my first flight in the Beechcraft T-34 Mentor, I "tossed my cookies" thirteen times. When we returned to the hanger, I cleaned my flight gloves (where else could I store the vomit in the cockpit of an aircraft?) and was debriefed by Lieutenant Watkins. He assured me that I would not get air sickness anymore. The following day we went flying again, and once more I got sick three times. This time on the debrief, Lieutenant Watkins told me he wasn't sure I was going to be able to "hack the program," due to my airsickness problem. Luckily for me, my desire to become a naval aviator overcame my motion sickness, and I never got airsick again!

I remember one of my early flights with the lieutenant. We had just taken off from Saufley Field, and I was feeling so proud of myself for correctly executing the complicated departure procedure during our climb out. I was talking to him on the aircraft's intercom system about how "wonderful" it felt to be flying. He answered me by saying, "Jules, your departure procedures were great, but we might be able to climb a lot faster if you would raise the gear!" Lieutenant Harry Watson signed my "Certificate of Solo Flight" on July 7, 1964.

My next step in becoming a naval aviator was to go to Whiting Field, Florida, and work my way through VT-2 and VT-3. Here I would learn how to transition into the navy's T-28 Trojan Trainer, which replaced the former trainer aircraft, the venerable SNJ. Learning precision, acrobatics, basic instruments, radio instruments, formation flying, night flying, and, of course, sixteen more weeks of ground school was the syllabus.

The T-28 was a beautiful aircraft to fly. It was built by North American Aviation and was powered by a 1425HP engine, known as a Wright R-1820-9 radial engine. There were two models of the aircraft. One was the T-28B, 489 built, which did not have a tail hook, and the T-28C, 266 built, which did have a tail hook. The Charlie model had a shorter propeller for use when landing on an aircraft carrier. The Bravo flew more smoothly, quickly, and quietly than did the Charlie.

When you started the engine, it coughed, belched white smoke, and was very noisy. Because the engine was so large and developed so much torque, the pilot had to apply a lot of right rudder during acceleration to keep the plane going straight during takeoff. One of the stories I heard at Whiting Field concerned a T-28B that ran off the left side of the runway during takeoff. The student pilot who was flying the aircraft was a Naval Academy graduate under the direction of his instructor.

During the accident investigation, as the story went, the instructor stated he said repeatedly to the student, "Add more right rudder, right rudder, right rudder." The student answered, "I am! I am!" When the board asked the Naval Academy graduate why he didn't follow his instructor's advice, he said, "Sir, I got my left foot confused with my right foot."

Following VT-2 and VT-3 at Whiting Field, I moved back to Saufley Field to join VT-5. Here I learned the concepts of landing an airplane on an aircraft carrier. In February, 1965, my instructor and I flew out to the USS Wasp, which was the training carrier operating off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida, at that time. I was sitting in the back seat of the T-28 as we came aboard the ship. No problem until the instructor, following the lineman's signals, taxied the aircraft over to the side of the carrier to be parked. I looked out of the cockpit and into the moving Atlantic Ocean, some eighty feet below, and almost "tossed my cookies" again. Fortunately, I managed to get out of the aircraft and away from the side of the flight deck! Aircraft carriers, a new concept to me, would become my home in less than a year.



After basic training flying the T-34 and T28, my orders read something like this: "Report to Corpus Christi, VT-31, to fly the T- 44A Tracker." The T-44A was a twin-engine, propeller-driven aircraft known as the "Stoof." The Stoof was used primarily as an antisubmarine aircraft. Its secondary mission was to act as a carrier on-board delivery (COD) aircraft. In its secondary role, it brought passengers, cargo, and mail to the carrier while it was at sea.

As nice of an airplane as the Stoof was, I wanted to fly jets. I arrived in Corpus early, and it was a weekend. The officer of the day called me in and said I didn't need to be there until the following Friday. He said he did not have any orders for me at that time. I told him I knew that, but that I had been instructed to report early to start the jet class in Kingsville, Texas, on Monday, which was not exactly true. After some discussion, he stamped what paperwork I had and said, "Ok, son, get down there to Kingsville and fly those 'Stove Pipes.'" Thanks to Navy bureaucracy, by the time my "real orders" reached Kingsville, I was already established in the jet training syllabus, and nothing was ever said about it. That's how I became a jet pilot!

I checked into VT-21 at Kingsville, Texas, in the month of February, 1965. One very interesting event that happened during my training was when our class of ten students went out to the "line" to demonstrate that we knew the correct procedures to pre-flight the TF-9J Cougar jet. This plane was the replacement for the old Panther jet, which was a straight-wing fighter used in Korea, and the Cougar was the first jet I was to fly.

Besides kicking the tires, looking for hydraulic leaks, etc., we also had to climb up on the wing, walk to the fuselage area, and push open the two "blow- in doors," which provided air to the engine at slow speeds. We could then look down into the inside of the fuselage where the engine was located and check it for damage. One of our classmates smoked cigarettes, and we were wearing our flight suits, which had a lot of pockets. As he bent over to look into the engine area, a cigarette lighter fell out of one of his open pockets and landed somewhere in the engine compartment. It took the maintenance division several days to pull the fuselage apart and search the engine for the lighter. After an extensive search, the lighter was found, and the jet was put back together. The student received a "down," which meant he had to repeat this particular event before moving on. It was pointed out to all of our classmates that we were in an occupation that required constant "attention to detail" to keep us alive! Point well taken.

Before we actually flew the jet, we had to go back out to the "line" (where the aircraft were parked) and start the engine in the F-9. After flying the T-28, which was very exciting every time you started the engine, the F-9 just made a little bit of a "whine sound," and you had to look at the instruments to make sure it was running and idling at the correct rpm.

The day finally came when I got to actually fly the plane with the first of several instructors I was to experience, Marine Captain Tim (Mad Dog) Mason. Whatever the jet lacked in starting excitement, it made up for it with its speed. The first time I accelerated down the runway for takeoff, the plane reached a speed of 140 knots; it soon rotated and became airborne. I had been used to flying the T-28, which cruised at a speed a little less than two hundred knots. The F-9 had a top speed of 562 knots and cruised at about three hundred and fifty knots. It took a while flying at these speeds to be able to get your thinking process "up to speed" to identify objects on the ground and thus stay ahead of the aircraft. It always amazed me at how well one's mind could adapt to do this.

In May, 1965, I was introduced to an event that was really exciting. I was flying a "Hop," as we called them, when, out of nowhere, another F-9 flew right below us at a higher rate of speed and pulled up directly in front of our nose! We flew through the "jet wash" and were physically shaken in the aircraft. My instructor called out on the common radio frequency, which we all monitored: "If it's war you want, its war you get!" We then began to "hassle" with not only the F-9 that had attacked us but also with several other aircraft that had joined the fray. "Hassle" is another word for air-to-air combat. The idea is to position your aircraft behind another plane (six o'clock position) and simulate shooting it down. It is tremendously competitive and requires great flying ability to "win the match."

This situation was strictly forbidden at our stage of training, but it sometimes occurred. The reason that it was not allowed was because you cannot see all the aircraft that are involved in the "fight." This can lead (and has led) to two or more airplanes running into each other with disastrous results. This brings up a crucial aviation rule: "Never allow two aircraft to occupy the same airspace at the same time."


Excerpted from "Flying Warrior"
by .
Copyright © 2017 JULES HARPER.
Excerpted by permission of Morgan James Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Preface Bringing the War to the Enemy,
Part I: The Road to Becoming a Naval Aviator,
Chapter 1 Sixty-Three Cents; Basic Flight Training,
Chapter 2 Bending the Rules; Advanced Flight Training; Marriage,
Chapter 3 22The Rag; Joining VA-112,
Chapter 4 Russian Planes; Loss of a Squadron Mate,
Part II: The Making of a Warrior,
Chapter 5 Leaving Port; Jungle Survival,
Chapter 6 First Combat Flight; Chuck Hill's Story,
Chapter 7 Charts of Vietnam; Weapons Our Skyhawks Carried,
Chapter 8 Danang; Singer Sewing Machine Company; Bullpup Missile,
Chapter 9 Bombing the Vinh Airfield; Junior Officers' Bunkroom,
Chapter 10 First Combat Loss; Barricade; the Premonition,
Chapter 11 Tet; Nancy Sinatra; the Vigilante,
Chapter 12 Gatlin Guns; Squadron Mate Goes MIA; Tragedy at Home,
Chapter 13 Haiphong Power Plant; Kep Airfield Raid,
Chapter 14 R and R; Hanoi Raid,
Chapter 15 Thomas E. Pettis Story; Home at Lemoore,
Chapter 16 Second West Pac Cruise; First Line Period; Khe Sanh,
Chapter 17 Captain Thomas Hudner's Sea Story,
Chapter 18 Road Reconnaissance Mission; Liberty; Navy Detailer,
Chapter 19 Second Line Period; Yokosuka, Japan,
Chapter 20 Third Line Period; Ho Chi Minh Trail; Chu Le Highway Bridge,
Chapter 21 Hong Kong; Final Line Period; Home,
Conclusion Super 8 Movie Available,

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Flying Warrior: My Life as a Naval Aviator During the Vietnam War 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
John Murphy More than 1 year ago
Jules has captured the stark essence of the air war in Viet Nam. I thought I knew what those guys were going through at the time, but I really didn’t. Between December 1965 and May 1967 I served as a flight surgeon assigned to two A-4 squadrons (VA-113 and then a complete cruise with VA-112) aboard the USS Kitty Hawk during combat operations mostly on Yankee Station in the Gulf of Tonkin during  the Viet Nam War.  Many of the pilots in this special book were my dear friends.  I found several of their names on the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington D.C. which I visited last year.  This book is very readable in a most unassuming and matter-of-fact way.  Jules had an amazing career ultimately with two hundred combat missions.  Those trips up north had to be terrifying.  Not one A-4 pilot ever used me to shirk his duty.  I flew as a crewman a good deal in the “Whale”, the A-3 tanker, and rode through several night cat shots and landings.  So I did have  an inkling of an idea about naval carrier operations.  Maybe that’s part of the reason why this book had such an emotional impact on me.  Thank you Jules, for the book and for your honorable and steadfast contribution in what turned out to be a thankless job.  I remember seeing soldiers and sailors during WW-II as a six year old in 1943 at Union Station in Chicago. They were traveling across country by train.  We were there to geet my cousin (US Coast Guard).  I remember girls and bands and balloons.  There was nothing like that when we came home from Viet Nam.