The approach speed of the F-4 was a little slower than the F-8, the view looking forward in the F-14 was better than the other two fighters.
The following is the second part of an interview with CAPT Bill Switzer about Carrier Landing in the F-8, F-4, and F-14, USN (Ret.) by Dave Baranek.
CAPT Bill “Striker” Switzer, USN (Ret.) was born in Illinois but grew up in rural West Virginia near the capital city of Charleston. His childhood sounds wild by today’s safety-conscious standards, but it helped form the fighter pilot who survived combat and excelled as a Blue Angel. When he was 8 years old the sight of two P-51 Mustangs crystallized young Switzer’s goal of becoming a fighter pilot. Nothing came easy, but this dream kept him going, and a Navy recruiter’s presentation in college set him on the path to Wings of Gold. He went through AOCS in 1965.
Switzer became a Navy fighter pilot and his experience includes more than 150 Vietnam combat missions in the F-8, two years flying the F-4 with the Blue Angels, and command of an F-14 squadron. He also served as an air wing commander (CAG) and later as one of the first “Super CAGs.”
Before fly-by-wire and digital flight controls came along, US Navy fighter pilots wrestled with heavy controls in turbulent air to bring themselves and their war machines home. Switzer has more than 6,000 flight hours and more than 1,150 arrested landings in three legendary fighters – F-8, F-4, and F-14. Let’s see what he has to say…
F-4 Phantom II
After more than 150 Vietnam combat missions in the F-8 Crusader, Switzer was selected for the Blue Angels because of his flying skill and reputation. After a brief transition at the F-4 RAG he “spent two years flying tight formations with minute throttle and control changes.” He then went back through the RAG before joining the “Screaming Eagles” of VF-51 aboard the USS Coral Sea (CV-43) for a deployment that saw the end of the Vietnam War as well as the Mayaguez incident. (note 1)
He has the fewest comments about carrier landing in the F-4. It was bigger and heavier than the F-8, but was well-designed and the two J79 engines provided ample thrust at low altitude for carrier landings. “The F-4 was the most honest of these three. It was responsive and reliable. I enjoyed it. It was the most predictable.” He said the approach speed of the F-4 was a little slower than the F-8, but that wasn’t significant – the F-4’s flying characteristics made the difference.
Adding to his comments about the F-4, Switzer said you could almost fly the ball by listening to the ECS (environmental control system). “It was loud and it had a distinctive sound at the right throttle setting.” On the other hand, he did not like the auto throttles (note 2): “The system wasn’t reliable. I tried it once and it really messed up my pass! Never used them again.”
Switzer received transition training at the F-14 RAG before serving as an air wing operations officer. He was then selected for squadron command and reported to the “Fighting Renegades” of VF-24 as executive officer before fleeting up to commanding officer.
Large and sophisticated for a fighter, the F-14A had a notorious weakness, its TF30 engines, and pilots were warned early. During CQ in the RAG, “Instructors emphasized that the TF30 would take longer to spool up. You learned to deal with it. Plan ahead. But you’re on a bigger deck, with more hook-to-ramp, so that compensated some for the engines.”
A positive attribute of the F-14 was good visibility – a result of Grumman applying lessons from the air war in Vietnam. Switzer said the view looking forward was better than the other two fighters.
He also commented about the F-14’s flight controls. “If you put in almost any control input, you had to add power because with the big wing and all the control surfaces, it would cause drag.” This was something Tomcat pilots got used to.
Switzer also said, “You could wipe out the cockpit and not much happened.” (Wipe out the cockpit refers to moving the stick around.) But an F-14 pilot could use this to his advantage: “If you’re high on glideslope and you don’t want to change the throttles, just slap the stick around and you’ll come down.”
The F-8, F-4 and F-14 qualify as “legends,” and CAPT Switzer is one of relatively few who has traps in all three types. When I arranged this interview, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was surprised that the F-4 was his favorite, and he has several good reasons.
I enjoyed talking to CAPT Switzer for this article, because it took me back to 1981-82 when we flew together in VF-24 and logged about 80 traps on the USS Constellation (CV-64). We also had a low-altitude ejection together – CAPT Switzer didn’t even get a parachute! – but that’s another story.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Striker. Keep it coming.
- 1. The American-flagged merchant vessel SS Mayaguez was seized by Khmer Rouge soldiers near Kampuchea (Cambodia) in May 1975.
- 2. Auto throttles: A system that works in the landing mode to regulate engine thrust to maintain optimum AOA for landing.
Author Dave “Bio” Baranek was a RIO with 2,500 flight hours in the F-14 Tomcat. He was commanding officer of VF-211 from August 1997 to August 1998. His third book, Tomcat RIO, was published in 2020 and tells this story and many others from his career, along with dozens of his photos.
After my first sea duty as a fleet fighter pilot with 200 missions on 2 WESTPAC cruises I received orders to be an instructor at VF-121, the west coast F-4 RAG. I was assigned to the Transition Phase to teach F-4 systems, normal and emergency procedures, flight characteristics, night and instrument procedures and air refueling procedures. The 4 or 5 of us rotated teaching about the F-4Js and the differences between it and the earlier F-4Bs that were still in the fleet so we had plenty of both models in the RAG.
It was my turn to teach the 2 week classroom ground school to the new class of recent graduates from advanced jet flight training with shiny new wings. Among the usual room full of baby-faced Ensigns were 2 more mature looking Lieutenants. We occasionally got an experienced Lieutenant Commander coming off a non-flying shore duty assignment who needed recurrent training in type or transition training if he had never flown the F-4 before. It was not unusual to train future squadron XO/COs, CAG LSOs, CAGs and even prospective carrier COs.
It turns out the two LTs were brand new selectees by the Blue Angels and it was privilege to teach them everything I knew about the F-4 in 2 short weeks. They were LT Bill Beardsley and LT Bill Switzer who flew the 1971 & 1972 seasons under CDR Harley Hall, “Boss” of the Blues. I was also very fortunate to get to meet CDR Hall while they were there. He was the finest Naval Officer I ever met. I fly a POW/MIA flag every day under Old Glory and I always think of him when I hoist or retire the colors.