Aviation History

Setting the record straight: The photo of the A-4 involved in this barricade landing does not show the Skyhawk then flown by John McCain when he was shot down over Hanoi

VA-163 went through 3 A-4 Skyahwk CAG jets on the ’67 cruise… 150132 was lost Aug. 20, 149959 went down over Hanoi, Oct. 26. 152003 took the barrier in in November.

On Oct. 26, 1967 VA-163 Saints pilot Lt Cdr John S McCain was shot down while flying A-4E BuNo 149959. He entered his dive toward a thermal powerplant near Hanoi. As told by Peter Mersky in his book US Navy and Marine Corps A-4 Skyhawk Units of the Vietnam War, he was quickly targeted by a SAM battery and its missile took off most of his Skyhawk’s right wing. There was little he could do to retain control and he ejected right into the heart of the city. Evasion was impossible, and thus McCain began five years of torture and barbarous incarceration. Indeed, it would be a long journey, from a filthy prison cell at the Hanoi Hilton to the halls of Congress.

We reported in a previous article that six days prior to McCain’s flight LT JG Denny Earl, with both legs shattered by North Vietnamese anti-aircraft fire, was forced to use the arresting barricade as he returned to land aboard the Oriskany flying BuNo 149959.

But as Scott Brown, an aviation expert, told to The Aviation Geek Club, ‘the jet McCain was downed in… wasn’t the one Denny Earl took the barrier in…. Earl’s barrier crash was NOV. 20, not OCT 20…

‘I found this shot…. you can see the BuNo…. 152003.

‘Oriskany has 3 CAG jets that cruise, McCain went down in the 2nd….the replacement was the one Earl was wounded in….

‘VA-163 went through 3 CAG jets on the ’67 cruise… 150132 was lost Aug. 20, 149959 went down over Hanoi, Oct. 26. Earl was wounded and took the barrier in 152003 in November… Later in the cruise, they put Earl’s name on it, although he had already been evacuated off the ship.

‘Every database on A-4s has this wrong… it’s weird…’

Brown continued;

‘Very interesting story about this… I’ve been a Firefighter / Paramedic for almost 30 years…very early in my career we used to carry a piece of equipment called a PASG…Pneumatic Anti Shock Garment. It was basically a G-suit, had inflatable rubber bladders on the legs and abdomen that you’d inflate in the hope that it would force blood out of the legs…like a G-suit. The PASG was a terrible idea, didn’t work at all, but it was useful for either stopping major bleeding or splinting a whole leg. Dr. Adeeb, VA-163’s flight doc, was also a pilot. They didn’t let him go over the beach, but they did let him fly local and tanker hops. He was aloft when Denny came back, it was his idea to have him inflate his G-suit and keep it inflated to try and stop the bleeding. It worked and absolutely saved his life.’

Dr. Adeeb

A claim confirmed by Peter Fey in his book Bloody 16 where he states: ‘When Adeeb landed following his tanker mission, he climbed down from the flight deck and proceeded to help operate on Earl. The ship’s general surgeon began preparing for surgery as Adeeb swapped his flight suit for surgical scrubs. With Adeeb’s assistance they repaired Earl’s leg with several pins. With his leg repaired, Earl was evacuated arriving in Pensacola, Florida, less than thirty-six hours after being wounded.’

Brown concluded: ‘So that Adeeb landed and immediately went into surgery, was amazing!’

A-4E BuNo 152003 artwork by Scott Brown. His decals are available at Sprue Brothers Models. The markings for Earl’s jet will be on an upcoming sheet covering Air Wing 16

Photo credit: U.S. Navy

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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