R4D-8 Crew Chief—Iwakuni

While with MARS-17 at Iwakuni in 1957, I was able to become a crew chief on one of the squadron's four R4D-8s. This was a good deal! Got to wear a leather flight jacket around the area, flight pay, etc. Not bad for a hash-mark Sgt. E-4 (i.e., this is the old Corps).

In exchange I worked long hours, often preflight at 0400, long boring flights — except when we went to Hong Kong and other exotic places — and hoped that I knew enough to fix the mechanical problems that invariably happened while away from home.

There where accidents and engine failures. Our plane crashed once landing at NAS Atsugi in a driving rainstorm. The runway was being lengthened and the dirt had been removed from the runway's end, leaving a lip of concrete that the plane's starboard landing gear struck on approach, collapsing it. We ground-looped but nobody was hurt.

Another time we lost an engine over the Sea of Japan while coming from Korea to Atsugi. It was during a violent storm at night, lightning flashing, rain and hail beating on the aircraft, and we were bouncing all over the sky. Not the best time to lose an engine. Our passengers were really scared. Good pilot. He got us into Atsugi and made a greaser landing on one engine. It was pouring down rain there, too.

Some of the pilots were NAPs (Naval Aviation Pilots — enlisted men). A couple of times the designated pilot for the flight, who is always in command of the aircraft, would be a master sergeant and the co-pilot a full colonel. This made for an interesting and unusual situation for the military chain of command. But, invariably, they had known each other for years and had many flying hours together.

At least twice I flew in the R4D when both pilots were enlisted, so we had an all-enlisted crew. I remember one time there were two master sergeants flying. We'd been droning along for some time and the Top had been staring out the window at the ground out.

"You know Jim," he said, "I'll bet you right now, somebody down there is getting laid." Master sergeants can be very philosophical at times.

Later at Quantico while crewing an R4D (now known as a C117) we were go- ing to fly Chesty Puller up to Philadelphia for a 1st MarDiv reunion. The CG of the base and his staff were all there to see the general take off.

Chesty had a deep, gravely voice, and as soon as he got into the aircraft he started telling sea stories. I asked him to sit at a table with facing seats that the other crew chief and I had built. Starboard side.

The general was engaged with his stories as we took off. On climb-out the starboard engine failed, right outside the general's window. I heard later that Chesty looked out the window, saw the feathered prop, and went right on telling his stories.

Of course, the Grunts on board were quite agitated at this turn of events. The pilot declared an emergency and he merely returned to base and landed. That aircraft could fly all day on one engine. All the Grunts were reluctantly transferred (herded?) to another C117 and we once again took off for Philly.

How I miss those days from long ago! 

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The author: Thomas Mix joined the Marine Corps in Sept. 1952 as a 16 year old. Served mostly with Marine Aviation. Vietnam in 1965 with H&MS-16, again in 1966-67 with HMM-165. Marine Security Guard with the American Embassy, Copenhagen, 1954-55. Married a wonderful Danish girl then; still happily married. Commissioned as a Warrant Officer 1962, retired with the rank of Captain, October 1972.

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Above: an aerial view of NAF Atsugi