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John McCain, Accomplished Navy Pilot?

by John M. White |

We all know that John McCain was the son of an admiral and that he was shot down on a mission over North Viet Nam and was held captive for 5 1/2 years.  Certainly something none of us would like to have endured.  However, as aviators we are curious about his flying career in the Navy. Johnmccain

It turns out McCain managed to destroy more than one naval aircraft.  In fact, he lost four in accidents and one in combat!  Most of us would have had our flying career terminated at the end of one accident involving the loss of multi-million dollar aircraft, let alone four!

To be fair, though, flying military jets is dangerous work in the best of circumstances.  Putting that aside, however, here is the list of accidents:

  1. The first accident occurred in 1958 when he plunged into Corpus Christi bay practicing takeoffs and landings;    
  2. The second accident occurred while deployed to the Mediterranean while flying too low over the Iberian Peninsula. He took out some power lines [reminiscent of the 1998 incident in which a Marine Corps jet sliced through the cables of a gondola at an Italian ski resort, killing 20] which led to a spate of newspaper stories in which he was predictably identified as the son of a U.S. admiral.    
  3. Number three occurred when he was returning from flying a Navy trainer solo to Philadelphia for an Army-Navy football game when the engine flamed out and McCain went through standard relight procedures three times before ejecting at one thousand feet. McCain landed on a deserted beach moments before the plane slammed into a clump of trees.    
  4. McCain's fourth aircraft loss occurred July 29, 1967, soon after he was assigned to the USS Forrestal as an A-4 Skyhawk pilot. While seated in the cockpit of his aircraft waiting his turn for takeoff, an accidentally fired rocket slammed into McCain's plane. He escaped from the burning aircraft, but the explosions that followed killed 134 sailors, destroyed at least 20 aircraft, and threatened to sink the ship.    
  5. And, of course, the fifth aircraft was lost when McCain was shot down over North Viet Nam.

I have often wondered why McCain didn't continue to fly aircraft like so many others, but apparently he used up all of the good luck he had and wasn't going to chance any more flights on his own.

I met John McCain and his wife a number of years ago at Rapid Air Service in Grand Rapids, MI when he was making his first run at the presidency.  As I recall he was full of energy and quite charming and bright.

If he is elected President lets hope he stays out of the cockpit of Air Force One!

Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch!


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