NAVAL AVIATION NEWS

 THE 'PACEMAKERS' ARE HOME AGAIN

Published in the May 1956 Issue of Naval Aviation News
Author: Ltjg. E. A. Zeiner Photographer: Unknown

Majestic Fujiyama makes the perfect background for these ten Cougars flown by VF-121 pilots. Even during the winter when it is snow-covered, tourists make the climb to view the huge crater.

When the USS Hancock arrived in San Diego in March, it concluded VF-121's forth Far Eastern deployment. Aboard it carried with special pride the one and only Supersonic Duck.

The first cruise had been made aboard the USS Bon Homme Richard in July 1950 with the opening of the Korean hostilities. The entire squadron, the designated as VF-781 and stationed at NAS Los Alamitos, volunteered for active duty. This step won for them the nickname of "Pacemakers." Flying F9F-2 Panthers, they lived up to their name by making 1,925 combat sorties in eight months without a single loss of life.

The second Korean tour for the squadron opened in September 1952 aboard the USS Oriskany. It was as almost entirely new organization with F9F-5's replacing the old F9F-2's.

On the third trip to the Orient, the squadron was aboard the USS Boxer. This time the pilots flew the Navy's swept-wing F9F06 Cougar under the new squadron designation - VF-121. They ended their first peacetime cruise in October 1954 and officially started the present group of Pacemakers on their way to being a to squadron.

The new skipper, Cdr. R. E. "Dusty" Rhodes, former leader of the famed Blue Angels flight demonstration team, was one of four pilots who had had previous operational jet experience. The remaining 25 pilots were either fresh from Corpus Christi or from non-jet activities. The F9F-6 Cougars were replaced with the F9F-8's and it took 10 months to train a 150-man fighting team. Again the Pacemakers set records.

During one of three visits to NAAS El Centro, 1528 hours of gunnery and tactics were flown in a three-week period. Altogether, by the time of deployment in August 1955, the squadron had flown 8000 hours, including cross-country flights to Seattle, Miami, New York and Chicago. Pacemakers won seven "E's" in gunnery, used 100,000 rounds of ammunition, and became the first squadron to qualify 100% in in-flight refueling.

Aboard the Navy's first carrier with steam catapult, the Hancock, VF-121 made a Pacific Fleet gunnery record during an operational readiness inspection in Hawaii. Upon reporting for duty with Task Force-77, VF-121 pilots used the red-nosed Cougars in every type of job. They made long-range, high altitude simulated bombing missions over Japan and South Korea, conducted low altitude reconnaissance sweeps, provided photo escort, carried out high speed fighter strikes into Taiwan during air defense exercised, and flew close support missions on Iwo Jima. They also demonstrated in-flight refueling and foul weather operations with the Secretary of Navy as an observer.

Eve when the ship pulled into Japan for a breather and replenishment, the Pacemakers never stopped. They moved to NAS Atsugi to increase their skill in instrument flight and night operation. There was very little play, but they did manage sight seeing tours near Yokosuka, a visit to Dai Butsu and picturesque Nicco near Fujiyama.

In Southern Japan, Iwakuni was host to the Hancock for six days. This gave the Pacemakers a chance to visit and see the toriis and shrines of Miya Jima, and the remains of atomic devastation at Hiroshima. In Hong Kong, where the tailors outnumbered sailors, the main attraction was buying clothes. Upon a short visit to Manila, its perennial warmth drew sumbathers onto the flight deck. Then the Hancock turned back to Yokosuka before the trip home.

Flight operations concluded with the Iwo Jima simulated invasion. Ltjg. Robert Zube made the 10,000th landing on the Hancock.

To add a little humor to their operations the day before the shop reached San Diego, the squadron tied a rag model of Donald Duck to the nose of Ltjg. Ralph "Skeeter" Carson's plane. The Duck was then taken through the sound barrier to make it a "Supersonic Duck."

One achievement of which the squadron is particularly proud is the completion of a 60-sortie flight schedule one day with 13 airplanes - 12 scheduled and one standby. As it turned out, every one of the 12 scheduled aircraft successfully completed five consecutive flights, and the single standby, manned by Ltjg. Robert Van Arsdol, made five consecutive trips down the elevator. VF-121's maintenance crew stole the day.

In spite of this, Van Arsdol, along with Ltjg. Charles McConnell and CAG-12 Cdr. C. N. "Tex" Conaster, became members of the Century Club by making at least 100 jet landings on the Hancock.

A total of 11,700 hours were flown by pilots of VF-121 and 2,500 carrier landings were made before they disembarked from Hancock in San Diego.

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