Remembering the EF-10B Skyknight
By Doug Bodkin
[Editor's Preface: Doug sent us these recollections of his service with the US Marine Corps and the F3D (redesignated F-10) Skyknight after finding the article about the Czech Model kit here. He graciously consented to allow us to share his recollections with you. Thank you Doug for this glimpse into the Skyknight and for your service!]
I am a former Marine Naval Aviator (and in another life, a retired Utah Army National Guard Huey gunship, Cobra and Apache driver). I flew the EF-10B for VMCJ-3 (at MCAS El Toro, 1968-9) and VMCJ-1 (Da Nang, 1969-70). By this time, the Marines used it strictly as an EW bird. In between these two assignments, I became qualified, during a "quick course," in the then- new EA-6A at VMCJ-2 (MCAS Cherry Point). I was to return to VMCJ-2 later, after Viet Nam, in 1972, flying only the electric A-6. Incidentally, we never called it a wild weasel. That name was always reserved for 105s. It should be noted that when the Marines started using the EF-10B as an EW platform, it replaced in that role the venerable, and modified, Spad, or A-1. Some of my squadron mates in VMCJ-3 and VMCJ-1 were ECMOs (Electronic Counter-Measures Officers - at that time, often Warrant Officers) in Spads.
I can fill in some of the background presented on the Whale for you. Ingress was through the greenhouse canopy via a sliding hatch feature. The lack of ejection seats is noted, which made for anxious moments during take-off and landing in the event of an emergency, or while "flat-hatting," when we could get away with it, believing ourselves to be bullet-proof. Take-off rolls were quite long, giving one ample opportunity to ponder a take-off emergency. The Whale was a real ground-lover - we would joke about the perceived ability to play a game of chess during the event).
The "ingenious" (!) emergency egress was as mentioned in the article: upon initiation of a bail-out, the side-by-side seats were designed to swivel toward the hatch-covered central egress chute, which was canted at about a 30-45 degree angle (don't hold me to an exact angle). The aircraft's NiCad batteries were housed directly beneath that chute, and Don Bowen, a friend of mine, had the misfortune, on a night hop, to have a battery explode, thus creating a mass of twisted metal in that chute, precluding its use!
Likewise, when VMCJ-3 deployed to MCAS Yuma in late 1969, we had one make an emergency landing straight off the departure end of the runway into an orange grove after a freak night touch-and-go accident. The ECMO (the guy in the right seat), my buddy David K. Werner, was awarded a medal for pulling the unconscious pilot (not me) out of the greenhouse to safety during the post-crash fire. Freak? On the ill-fated touch-and-go, the aircraft touched down precisely on the runway's single short-field arresting gear, which is normally always rigged. Short-field gear is very much like the cross- deck pendants ("wires," hence the terminology "an okay 3-wire" to denote the most desirable trap) on an aircraft carrier, but used ashore for simulated arrested landings or emergencies where a short landing run is dictated. It is raised slightly above the paved runway by short segments of rubber tires, to enable hook engagement. Anyway, that main landing gear touchdown precisely on the short-field gear set up a violent oscillation of the cable that whipped around and chopped off the ass-end of both engine nacelles touching off fires in both (!) engines. Not good. But enough about ejection seats, and the lack thereof.
Ah yes. The J34 engine. I've already mentioned that the Whale was a ground-lover, due to the questionable power of these beauties on take-off roll. Of course, you'll never meet an aviator who said his aircraft was over-powered, except perhaps the victim of an F-4U Corsair "torque-roll" on take-off which isn't due to torque in any case. But back to the J34. By the time I flew them in 1968, the Marine Corps had made it policy to run them on Av Gas, 115/145, in an effort to milk as much power out of them as possible. This, however, made the engine start a very delicate maneuver. You dared not just throw the throttle "around the horn" to the ignition position of the throttle quadrant, lest you over- temp the engines (exhaust gas temperature in the red), or worse, yet develop an engine fire. Oh no. You would veeery carefully edge the throttle around the engine start detent, all the time watching the EGT gauge as it hovered right at the edge of the yellow-red boundary. And that was on a cool day. Needless to say, power settings on take-off and in flight were always limited by the EGT. But the J34 seemed to hold up well under these conditions. The use of Av Gas gave the interior of the tailpipe an orange powdery residue and coloration (modelers please note).
The Whale did indeed have an illustrious Korean War record. Specifically, it was credited with the first ever night jet intercept, and the first ever night jet kill (MiG-15, I think). The article is almost correct in stating that the EF-10B was retired in 1970 (VMCJ-1 sent the last one out of the combat zone just after I got in country, in late 1969). But it resurfaced as a test aircraft at China Lake after that. I don't know how long that lease on life lasted.
You mention that the Czech kit is the first in 1/48 scale. I built two Aurora kits, decades ago, but cannot recall the scale. Those kits had molded squadron markings on the tail for VMF 542. Of course, I ignored that, and put on decals for VMCJ-2 (CY 5262 on the tail and 19 on the nose) and VMCJ-3 (TN 5133 on the tail, and 6 on the nose). VMCJ-1 was RM, as was noted. Incidentally, while at VMCJ-3, my radio call sign was "tango november two nine." Each VMCJ-3 squadron pilot had a unique number, irrespective of which of the squadron aircraft types he flew. At that time, VMCJ-3 flew EF-10B and RF-4B aircraft, hence the designation VMCJ, which translates literally as "Squadron, Marine, Composite Reconnaissance," where the RF-4, of course, was the photo ship. By contrast, call signs at VMCJ-2 in 1969 were "Playboy," and VMCJ-1 in country (Viet Nam) was "Pigment." I am reminded of something by my mention of the photo side of the house. You may not know this, but back in the day when VMCJ-3 flew RF-8s for the photo mission, a guy named John Glenn held the transcontinental speed record in a VMCJ-3 bird...And along that line, a friend of mine at VMCJ-3 named Fred Carolyn was awarded a classified DFC while he was at VMCJ-2 for the photos of the missiles in Cuba...
With regard to externals, one of the articles mentions the fuel tanks. This was not, however, typical of the ECM mission, whether stateside or in Viet Nam. Internal fuel gave you around 2 hours plus endurance as I recall. But you also had the capability of carrying two jamming pods (ALQs) on active ECM missions, which, of course, cut into your loiter time.
"Overlooked workhorse" indeed! Those of us who flew the Whale loved it. Oh yes. There may be some confusion here, as the A-3D has also been called Whale. But the EF-10B's full name was Willie the Whale. Or DRUT, as the one article cryptically mentioned. Which, I should explain, is simply "turd" spelled backwards. Smile when you say that.