|09-14-2005, 08:47 AM||#1 (permalink)|
MSgt USMC Ret
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: San Diego
Grim Reaper comes calling for F-14 training unit
By JACK DORSEY, The Virginian-Pilot
© September 14, 2005
VIRGINIA BEACH — While their nickname symbolized death and despair, the “Grim Reapers” of Fighter Squadron 101 were better known for the spirit and adventure they brought to naval aviation.
As the training squadron for the crews of F-14 Tomcats at Oceana Naval Air Station slips into history with its retirement Thursday, its bygone days are being remembered.
The Tomcats will all be retired from service by October 2006, replaced by newer F/A-18 Super Hornets.
“This squadron has been around for decades, and one piece of our history is that the original Grim Reaper was a World War II combat squadron, born right after Pearl Harbor,” Cmdr. Paul A. “Butkus” Haas, the squadron’s final skipper, said. Several of its pilots became aces.
One family of naval aviators epitomizes the squadron, having soared above its hangars for more than 60 years.
The Flatley family – three fighter pilots who at one time or another flew with the Reapers – typified the dogfighting dare devils the squadron produced, Haas said.
The late Vice Adm. James H. “Jimmy” Flatley Jr. established the first Grim Reapers in 1942 at North Island Naval Air Station in San Diego.
His son is retired Rear Adm. James H. Flatley III of Charleston, S.C., who will be the keynote speaker at Thursday’s retirement ceremony.
He flew with VF-101 on at least three tours at Oceana with F-4 Phantoms and F-14 Tomcats and commanded VF-33 and Air Wing 7, all at Oceana.
And his son, retired Cmdr. James H. “Seamus” Flatley IV of Virginia Beach, spent nearly his entire career flying out of Oceana in Tomcats and was an instructor with VF-101 for three years.
He retired in July after commanding the “Black Knights” of Fighter Squadron 154 in Japan.
A second grandson, Cmdr. Joseph F. Flatley, flew F/A-18s for 16 years as a pilot in the Naval Reserves.
When it was formed, the Grim Reapers flew the F 4F Wildcat and became the only squadron during World War II to deploy in Wildcats, Hellcats and Corsairs.
“Vice Adm. Flatley set the tone for fighters at a very critical time,” Haas said.
That came in his efforts to bolster fighter pilot moral and confidence in the F 4F Wildcat against the Japanese Zero. His letters went to the Navy’s top leaders, according to his son, James III.
Likewise, his reputation in tactical development and his penchant for safety were well-known.
It was the elder Flatley who designed the now-famous insignia showing the Grim Reaper as a skeleton, carrying a scythe, who cuts off people’s lives as though he were harvesting grain. He designed it, along with the motto “Mow ’em Down,” during a slow transit from the South Pacific.
Asked why his father chose such an emblem for the unit, his son said: “You have to remember, he was out there in this mess in the Battle of Coral Sea. I think he got five airplanes during that battle.
“Then they sent him home and two weeks later it was the Battle of Midway. They all had it in for the Japanese back then.”
While the squadron’s first plane, the Wildcat, was capable, it was less so than the best the Japanese were flying, Haas said.
“Vice Adm. Flatley made up for that by figuring out how to fly tactics and how to train his air crew,” Haas said. “The way they operated greatly made up for a lot of the weaknesses in that plane.”
It also was Flatley who conceived air training and operating procedure manuals that help air crews troubleshoot in- flight emergencies. He is credited with saving naval aviation because of his aggressive initiatives in safety.
He also came up with the concept of developing fleet replacement squadrons such as VF-101, where pilots who have just received their wings are trained on the plane they will fly before they enter fleet squadrons.
“You don’t send them to a squadron right away, you train them first, then you send them to a squadron,” Haas said. “That’s all him. So much of the work that guy did is recognizable today in our air wings.”
That’s how the Grim Reapers trained the 3,168 Tomcat pilots, plus a like number of radar intercept officers, or RIOs, since 1976. The squadron probably trained a similar number of Phantom pilots and RIOs, Haas said.
The elder Flatley, who died in 1958, was one of 13 Grim Reapers to become a fighter ace.
Rear Adm. Flatley became famous in 1963 when, as a lieutenant, he was the first pilot to land a four-engine KC-130 Hercules aircraft on the aircraft carrier Forrestal.
He went on to fly combat in Vietnam and to command Fighter Squadron 213 on the carrier Kitty Hawk, Fighter Squadron 31 on the carrier Saratoga, Attack Carrier Air Wing Seven on the carrier Independence, the oiler Caloosahatchee and the carrier Saratoga.
His son, Seamus, president of the Naval Academy class of 1983, flew combat over Iraq and earned his squadron of F-14s the honor of being called the top fighter squadron in the Navy.
Haas said that many of the tactics still used today involving “fighters and strikers” also were the work of the elder Flatley.
“Most treated them as separate entities where bombers went off and bombed and fighters went off to try to find some Zeroes to shoot down.
“He said it might be more efficient if we stick these guys together and protect them from all getting shot down. Well, we’re doing that today, escorting strikers and fighters.”
As VF-101 began flying jet aircraft, it moved to Oceana in 1961 to begin operations as a Replacement Air Group in the F-4 Phantom. In 1976, it began flying F-14s and became the East Coast replacement group for that aircraft.
In 1996, following the reassignment of all F-14 s to Oceana, VF-101 became the Navy’s only Tomcat training squadron.
While just 40 sailors and 15 officers care for the three remaining F-14s assigned to the squadron today, in its heyday in the mid- to late-1970s it was nearly bursting with 1,200 people and 60 planes while training Phantom and Tomcat air crews.
Students nearly lived with their planes for 44 weeks as their class learned radar, tactics, weapons, avionics and “such dry theory about Doppler shift and physics to make even a strong man’s eyes roll up in the back of his head,” Haas said.
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