Friday, February 25, 2011

Granddad and the Skyraider

I've already mentioned that I did some traveling this week. Well, last night I got back from California. I had made the unexpected trip due to the death of my granddad, whose memorial service was on Tuesday (it was only a few hours after that service that the PA unnecessarily panicked my wife). Between Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, we had known for a while that my granddad wouldn't last much longer, although he had already defied the doctors' predictions by several months.

I haven't called California home in over ten years (effectively my whole adult life), so I wasn't able to get to know my granddad as well as I would have liked. He wasn't a very talkative person, although he could tell the best stories when you asked him. Around the time I started to consider going into engineering, I found out that he was a member of the last generation of professionals that could call themselves engineers based on experience and on-the-job training rather than on a degree (I know plenty of people who hold engineering degrees that I would only reluctantly call "engineers"). My granddad had received much of his early training while serving in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War, where he repaired the electrical systems of AD Skyraiders on the USS Boxer (CVA-21). He eventually went on to become a highly respected "resident genius" at a company that specialized in chemical machining of aerospace and nautical components.

Although he was only in the Navy for a few years, it's his stories from that time that I most remember. My favorite story involved a Skyraider whose engine broke free when the plane crash-landed. The engine caught fire and hurtled down the deck, where my granddad found himself right in its path. He said that he "nonchalantly" headed towards a safety bunker just to find it full of pilots who were supposed to have gone below decks after landing. He crammed himself in and held the door closed while the engine passed just close enough for him to feel the heat from the fire.

Ever since I heard these stories, I've loved the Skyraider; an extremely successful medium attack aircraft. The plane saw service from the late 1940s to the early 1970s and was one of the last piston-engined combat aircraft. A few years ago I had the chance to see a flying AD-4N Skyraider and an A-1E Skyraider at an airshow put on by the Legacy Flight Museum in Rexburg, Idaho. The most memorable moment of the show was its finale in which the missing man formation was performed by the museum's three P-51 Mustangs and its AD-4N Skyraider. The Skyraider represented the missing man as it pulled out of formation. I'm going to guess that the AD-4N was used for that purpose since it was the odd airplane in a group consisting mostly of P-51s. Now that moment seems very appropriate to me personally.


  1. Please accept my condolences on the loss of your grandfather.

    Don't you just love those old military stories?

  2. Thanks for the thought, Darren. Although I've always been interested in the military, I've never served in it. My Granddad's stories were so interesting in part because they were so far outside of my own experiences.

    Incidentally, I've been reading your blog, "Right on the Left Coast", for several years now.



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