The Last Crusade
After twelve years, the last Crusader cruise took place in the autumn of 1975 aboard Oriskany. By this time, VF 191 and VF 194 were the last fighter squadrons still flying the F-8 Crusader. Following the completion of that cruise in March 1976, the USS Oriskany was decommissioned and the F-8 Crusader, the last of the gunfighters, was also retired from the fleet.
After returning to the U.S. in early 1976, VF 191 transitioned to the McDonnell F-4J Phantom. Although some of the squadron's pilots transitioned to the new aircraft, most did not. The pilots that flew both aircraft compared the F-8 to F-4, as a Porsche 911 to Corvette - the Crusader was more manoeuvrable, while the Phantom had more power. The maintenance crews went to F-4 familiarization school at NAS Miramar and trained with VF 121; the fleet Replacement Air Group (RAG). Before receiving the aircraft, the "hodgepodge" of F-8 tools and tool boxes were scrapped, and standardized F-4 tool boxes were assembled for each maintenance shop.
While the squadrons reformed flying new aircraft, VF 191 and VF 194 were allocated to to the USS Coral Sea (CV 43).
McDonnell F-4 Phantom
First reported in squadron, VF-121, in December 1960. The Phantom II would prove to be one of the finest aircraft ever operated by the Navy and Marine Corps. A two-place, twin-engine, tricycle gear, carrier-based, all-weather fighter carrying missiles and special stores, the J varient was also equipped with the AWG-10 pulse doppler radar and improved avionics. Of the 4 261 delivered, 3 057 Phantom IIs were used by foriegn services.
Even though the last delivery was made in December 1971, Phantom IIs would still be in use right up until the end of the 20th century.
VF-191 flew the F-4 Phantom from June 1976 until their disestablishment in March 1978.
To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the United States Declaration of Independence, the USS Coral Sea was open to the public. VF 191 was represented by a static F4 and one of its pilots, a British Royal Navy exchange pilot, Lieutenant Paul Chaplin - a fine example of the sense of humour of the squadron's CO, Commander Ken Cox.
December 1976, the squadron boarded USS Coral Sea (CV 43) for carrier qualifications. On 7 December 1976, a Phantom crewed by the CAG Landing Safety Officer, Lieutenant Cdr. Burns and RIO Lieutenant (JG) Checchio suffered the loss of an afterburner on launch. Both crewmen ejected safely. Although the rescue helicopter was on scene 18 seconds later, by the time the swimmer was in the water, the pilot was seen to be dragged under the surface by his parachute. Lieutenant Cdr. Richard Burns was lost. Lieutenant (JG) Mark Checchio was recovered with minor injuries.
In the February of 1977, VF 191 embarked on a single cruise aboard the USS Coral Sea (CV 43). However, for this final cruise, they deployed as CVW 15. The attack (VA) squadrons, of CVW 15, were made up of VA 22, VA 94 and VA 95. A short time into the cruise and the squadron's CO, decided to give the ground attack munitions allocated for VF 191 to the sister squadron, VF 194, with the declaring that VF 191 was a "fighter squadron and not attack pukes!".
May 1977 saw the squadron lose another F-4. During a night cat launch Commander Denny Moore, the Squadron CO, with RIO Lieutenant (jg) Charlie Bednash, suffered catastrophic engine failure: during the acceleration on catapult, a nose-wheel detached and entered an engine intake. Both crew ejected successfully and rescued by the planeguard helicopter. For Lieutenant Charlie Bednash, it was a very close shave as he was being rapidly dragged under by his parachute and rigging which would not release. This was the also second ejection for Commander Moore who, a few years earlier had been shot down by a missile while over Vietnam in an F-8. He was held as a POW by the North Vietnamese.
During another sortie, pilot Lieutenant Dennis Cook experienced a serious heart attack. The RIO, Lieutenant (jg) Mark Checchio ably talked them back to the ship where Lieutenant Dennis Cook even managed an ‘OK’ landing - that is still an amazing "above average" considering his medical condition.
4 July 1977, the 201st Independence Day, the squadron's skipper Commander Denny Moore and Lieutenant Paul Chaplin (RN) paraded in full whites at foremast of Coral Sea while moored in Subic Bay. They performed a mock ceremony, whereby Lieutenant Chaplin surrendered his colonial sword to the amusement of the ‘new world’ naval personnel. This was followed by ejecting tea bags over the side of the ship!
During the latter part of the cruise, high ambient temperatures and light winds enforced limitations to allowable aircraft weight for catapult launches. External fuel tanks were removed and most sorties were short ACM (Air Combat Manoeuvring) duration of about 20 minutes. The current XO of VF 191 was Commander Jim Ruliffson who had previously been skipper of the Naval Fighter Weapons School (later commonly termed "Top Gun"), and therefore somewhat proficient in imparting to the rest of the crews his dogfighting skills and knowledge.
September 1977, Coral Sea met up with USS Midway (CV 41) at Atsugi, Japan. VF 191 and VF 194 transferred their F-4Js to VF 151 and VF 161 who were aboard Midway. VF 191 and VF 194 received the other squadrons' F-4Ns in return. The older aircraft had spent so much time at sea, the corrosion control efforts had made some skin panels thin enough that they could be pushed in by hand. Several of them were cleared for one flight only for the disembarkation to NAS Miramar once Coral Sea had reached home.
People Planes and Places
The Navy has set dates for the disestablishment of CVW-19 and seven West Coast squadrons at NAS Lemoore and NAS Miramar. As a result of President Carter's FY 78 budget, the Navy will reduce its forces to 12 active carrier wings and 13 aircraft carriers.
The units and dates are, at Lemoore: VAs 153, 155 and 215, September 30, 1977; and VA-125, October 1, 1977. CVW-19 was disestablished June 30. At Miramar, VF-191, and 194, March 1, 1978. VAW-111 was disestablished June 2.
Navy Aviation News, September 1977.
The squadron returned to Miramar October 1977. VF 191 began the disbanding process. People were transferred and equipment went to other squadrons or the scrap yard. VF 191 and VF194 were officially disestablished 1 March 1978 thus ending an honorable 35 year span.
The final cruise of CVW 19, was aboard USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CV 42). Comprising of VF 51, VF 111, VA 153, VA 155, VA 215, VMA 231, RVAW-110 DET 4 and HC-1 DET 3, they deployed for the Mediterranean October 1976 and returned in April 1977. CVW-19 was disestablished 30 June 1977.
|Lieutenant Cdr. Richard Burns||Killed||7 Dec 1976||F-4J #153875||USS Coral Sea||Western Pacific|
|Sep 1975||Mar 1976||USS Oriskany (CVA 34)||CVW 19: VF 191, VF 194, VA 153, VA 155, VA 215, VFP 63 DET 4, RVAW 111 DET 4, HC 1 DET 4.||NM||Western Pacific|
|Feb 1977||Oct 1977||USS Coral Sea (CV 43)||CVW 15: VF 191, VF 194, VA 22, VA 94, VA 95, VAW 114, VFP 63 DET 3, HC 1 DET 4, VQ 1 DET.||NL||Western Pacific|
* The tail-code is for VF 191 only. While the other figther and attack squadrons had the same tail-code, the support squadrons, such as patrol and fleet angels often had different tail-codes.