XO ' 1970-71

Tail Code: "Hancock Pit Stop"
Recollections of a retired Naval Aviator, Tom Wimberly, Capt., USN

Fighter Pilot Capt Tom Wimberly
has a 'Brief' Encounter with the Fighting Hannah

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On the 1955-56 WesPac Cruise
of USS KEARSARGE (CV-33) - I was a "nugget" (first cruise) Lt. (Jg) flying the McDonnell F2H3 "Banshee" with VF-141. VF-141 was a "dual-mission" squadron, which meant we did night flying (which was still fairly new for jets in those days) and also "Special Weapons" bombing. (Special Weapons was how we referred to nuclear weapons then.)

During a special exercise, I was fortunate to get scheduled to fly a special mission to drop a T-63 "shape" on a little rock in the ocean somewhere between Japan and the Philippines. The T-63 was a full-scale dummy of a Mark 7 nuclear bomb. It weighed 1,600 lbs., which was a pretty heavy load for a Banshee.

My chase plane for the hop was flown by the squadron XO, Big Al Yesensky, a WW2 fighter pilot who used to love to embarrass the junior officers by challenging them to do a one-arm pushup (which he could do with no sweat.) I flew the flight profile, dropped the dummy bomb, and headed back to KEARSARGE, checking the clock and fuel gauge. It was apparent we had an unexpected high head wind for our return to KEARSARGE. Big Al was a couple of steps ahead of me in rank, experience, and thinking ahead (thank goodness!), he announced to me "You're not going to be able to make it back to the ship." Fuel was no problem for him, because he hadn't been lugging that 1,600 lb., 30-inch-in-diameter dummy bomb. As I was pondering over the significance of his message, and wondering how this could be happening to me, Big Al got on the radio and found there was another carrier - USS HANCOCK, CVA-19, and it was much closer than KEARSARGE. "You're going to the HANCOCK," says Big Al. And so I did, and thank goodness it was around, because I would have run out of fuel before getting back to my carrier. This would have meant ejecting and taking a swim. I landed aboard HANNAH with 700 pounds of fuel, which was much lower than we liked to have for a landing when operating off a carrier.

I don't remember anything about my stay aboard HANNAH, except that I was really very anxious to get launched with the new steam catapults. It was much easier than from a hydraulic catapult, which just hit you this tremendous blow the first instant. The steam started you off easier, and then took your breath away with the continued acceleration as you went down the track.

Thanks, Big Al, for seeing me safely aboard, and thanks, HANNAH, for saving me from a swim!

P.S. George Jarrett, Hans Grimm, James Ploor, Thomas Sena, Joaquin Garcia, Salty Gr'een, Rupert Castillo, Edgar Warriner, Ed Funderburk, Robert Larson: you were all in the Air Department at about the same time all this happened. Do any of you remember a strange Banshee coming aboard?

~ Tom Wimberly

Tom also related to the Yeoman his feelings about serving on Carriers and standing Bridge Watches...


"I did enjoy standing bridge watches, and when I was XO I was always up there for special sea detail for refueling, rearming, and going in to port. As an ensign, I was the Captain's talker on the JA circuit at general quarters and in CIC for regular duties (USS Kearsarge (CV-33)).

As a LT, I was Guided Missiles officer and stood bridge watches underway, eventually becoming Senior Watch Officer."

Submitted 08/09/2007
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See also...

Tom Wimberly's "Tail Code: John McCain"