Flight Journal



Lt. Cdr. Art Skelly and his RAN, Lt.

JG Joe Shevlin, survived one of the strangest events of the Vigilante’s career. In 1980, then Capt. Skelly wrote: “Of the 260 combat flights

I flew in the Vigilante, the most unusual had to be with RVAH-6 in July of 1966 aboard Constellat­ion. One dark, overcast Sunday morning, we photograph­ed an oil storage area that had been hit the previous night by A-6s. On our way out of the target area over downtown Haiphong, we took some severe AAA, automatic weapons fire and SAMs. Tracers were crisscross­ing over the canopy and the F-4 escort was going crazy calling out flak. I decided we had had enough so I pulled up into a nearby thundersto­rm to get away from the heaviest flak I had ever seen.

“It didn’t work. Not only did we immediatel­y encounter rain, hail and lightning, but the tracers were streaking around us and there were bright flashes from lightning and exploding shells. I couldn’t tell whether the turbulence was violent because of near misses or the storm. The attitude gyro didn’t look quite right, but that was the least of my worries then. We soon popped out of the storm cell and I realized the gyro was correct—not only were we upside down, but the F-4 was right there in position, also inverted!

“Joe recognized that the nose had fallen through and was telling me to pull out. I had rolled level and pulled hard because the water was awfully close. Joe said that the radar altimeter had gone to zero before we started to climb.

“There was a large merchant ship in front of us—turned out to be Chinese—and as we flew past, our escort Phantom called that a machine gun on the stern was firing down at us.

“Back on the ship I had maintenanc­e check the Vigi for overstress and battle damage. Despite some of the heaviest flak I had ever seen, there wasn’t a single hole in the airplane!

“The guys in the ready room threatened to mount a Brownie camera on top of my hardhat for future maneuvers.”

A fortnight later this same crew was again over Haiphong when three large flashes of AAA exploded in front of their nose. Shevlin lost his radar and navigation system, but got the photograph­s. Back on board Constellat­ion, a series of shrapnel holes was discovered from one side of the fuselage to the other inches in front of Skelly’s feet.

Another day, Shevlin got a ride in an open top Vigi. As they came off Constellat­ion’s bow catapult, Skelly heard a loud bang and looked in his mirror in time to see the rear canopy sail past his tail. The Air Boss thought that the RAN had ejected and rushed the plane-guard helicopter over. Despite wind noise and an almost comical exchange on the intercom, the pilot and RAN figured out each was OK. Fuel was dumped to reduce weight and a normal landing followed.

 ??  ?? Lt. Cdr. Art Skelley during his tour with RVAH-7.
Lt. Cdr. Art Skelley during his tour with RVAH-7.

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