Air Wingers

Air Wingers

Many of us air wingers had back seat passes but just as many never got a chance to use them.

My first look(up close) with an F-4B

Phantom was jaw dropping. A twin engine rocket with 12,500 pounds of thrust per engine. All the time I served this beast was with respect.

Our squadron was assigned TAD orders to MCAS Yuma. My MOS was 6361, Seat Shop. A bird came back from one of the sorties with an a/c gripe. Rare is the time you can get the heat exchanger to reset by running the engines to AB. The shop NCOIC told me to go to the flight line, meet with the pilot and take the bird to the end of the run way for an AB burn. Back in the 60’s, the civilian airport ran parallel to the Marines air strip.

I went to the flight line with nothing. No comm, no pressure suit, no helmet, no nothing. The bird didn’t even have a back seat, it had been removed.

I met the young LT at the bird. I knew most of the pilots in my outfit but I couldn’t place this guy. He saw my puzzled look and said, “ I’m an RIO but fully qualified, hop in.”

Now my bad feelings really started to turn up.

We taxied out to the end of the runway between the military and civilian strips. I could see the LT around the radar gear and could talk/shout at him.

I told him to go ahead and hit AB.

I should inform the 0311’s and other MOS’s that the F-4B Phantom is capable of vertical take off, if you could stand it on its tale. For this reason you don’t stay in AB long because with the power that the aircraft has no mere brakes can hold it. ie; When power plant runs this bird up for an engine check, the plane is chained to the tarmack. It has that much power.

Well, I saw the LT move the throttles into AB, both engines. (Oh boy) The whole bird is shaking with power. It doesn’t want to be on the ground. I yell up to the LT. “Take it out of AB.”

Now the bird is starting to move. Pucker power and oh shit happens at the same time. I see the LT pulling at the throttles hard but nothing is happening, we’re still in AB. We run over one runway light then another blowing a main tire.

I’m going to pause here for a little power plant 101 briefing; the throttles on a Phantom have a lock to prevent them from coming out of AB. The term used is “around the horn.” You must move the throttles to the right and then pull back. A procedure my “fully qualified” RIO must have missed in class or went to the head during this particular part of instructions.

Using my best drill field voice I kept yelling at the RIO to “go around the horn.” It worked and we finally stopped our forward movement. Even though I felt another movement. Someone asked me later, why didn’t I pop the canopy and “hop” out? The main intakes for the engines are on both sides of the bird. If I had popped the canopy I would have been hamburger at the tail of the jet.

S/Sgt James Clontz (Ret)

Sgt Grit wants to hear from you! Leave your comments below or submit your own story!


  • Fred Unsworth, SSgt, 1970-1978

    There were a number of air traffic controllers with combat air crew wings. While I served during Viet Nam I was too green to go as an air traffic controller. The story I heard from the guys I served with is that there were a lot of volunteers to be a door gunner. Since the air traffic control tower was a good sighting point for rocket attacks, they said they wanted to have the opportunity to shoot back. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like working the control tower at an advanced airbase in Viet Nam, no less Khe Sanh.

  • Msgt Dwight P. Harris Retired

    Bruce, Dwight Harris here Seat Shop All F-4’s F-8, A-4’s myself and I remember Both Seats fired off and stayed in Cockpit due to canopies were up and had to cut cable to release the pull on the ejection handle. Do you remember any of that? And by the way they incorporated that in the training program in all future classes. And we had to replace all lines and explosives. What fun it was,NOT!

  • Harry

    Hey Julian, Had a few front row seats during some air strikes near Liberty Bridge (ie. Go Noi just down river and Football less than a klic up river.It was easy to tell which “Phantoms” were MC,not just by the color of the aircraft,they always came in faster and lower than their AF and NAV counterpart. It always seemed so anyway, Harry 7th Engr 68-69 Semper Fi P.S. No disrespect to the AF &NAV aviators 🙂

  • Julian “Jay” Stienon

    F4 RIO 62-82. In 1962 then-SecDef Robert McNamara thought one fighter aircraft for all the services was a great idea and would be a save money. Congress, not known for its collective common sense or intelligence, agreed with him. So the two-seat F-4 was doled out to the USAF, USN, ,and USMC. USAF didn’t even want it, already having the F-100 thru 105. But SecDef prevailed. The USAF put flight controls in the back seat and having pilots up the ying-yang had no problem filling the back seats. We didn’t have that luxury. So a new MOS was born and suddenly a USMC need for some 1500 or so of them. Qualifications were non-existent (except height and weight) so if you were basically vertical and breathing, you could fit right in. So I did. A lot of the former single-seat fighter pilots who had egos to match the size of their wrist watches, if not their intelligence, didn’t take kindly to a guy in back (GIB) telling them what to do. But after a couple of trips to RVN in 513 (65) and 122 (68) they decided that maybe two pairs of scared eyes might be better than one. No shit. OK. Rick, you’re right about thrust–12,500 per engine at 100%, 17K in full a/b. Unlike the F8, which had a “bang-bang” a/b, the F4 a/b was modulated from min to max. Yes with 34K lbs. of thrust, you could accelerate straight up, but only if the total a/c weight was less than the thrust. It’s been a few years since I strapped on an F4, but I think at max weight of 34K lbs., you would only have six or seven thousand lbs. of fuel remaining. In full a/b burning maybe 100,000 lbs. per hour when you reached 50,000 feet you’d be urgently looking around for an aerial refueling a/c, or an airport to land at!! Cheers, and semper fi all!

  • GY,SGT Gregory White USMC ret

    I was a 7212 ( stinger Gunner ) and did many a WTI at Yuma. I remeber standing in the hangers and watching the fully bombed up F-4s getting the pins pulled on the ordinance , as the Pilots and Rios sat with the canopy up and arms out of the cockpit. Across on the civilian side the airline jets waited. You could see the faces of the passengers against the windows as they looked at the fighters. The crews were enjoying the looks they were getting from the civilian airline jets. Watching the mix of civilian and military jets taxing in was always fun. Watching everything from F-4s , F-18s, A-4s, AV8s in line taxing along the various runways mixed with civilian jets.

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