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Near Misses: A Naval Aviator's Story

Near Misses: A Naval Aviator's Story

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Near Misses: A Naval Aviator's Story

5/5 (1 évaluation)
136 pages
2 heures
Mar 21, 2011


The book begins in a small town setting where aviation has earned a bad name because of an avoidable fatal crash. It is autobiographical only in the sense of the author's progression from non-interest to intense involvement in all aspects of flying. The title "Near Misses" describes close calls as well as choices that determined final outcomes. The highlights of an aspiring Naval Aviator's struggle to become a fighter pilot are revealed. Along the way, bits of historical and technical information are included The main theme is that anyone attempting the same task could benefit by either avoiding the pitfalls described or by being prepared to compensate for them in ways similar to those of the author.
Mar 21, 2011

À propos de l'auteur

LCDR Paul Riley entered the Navy in 1944 from his home state of South Carolina via the Naval Academy. He retired 23 years later (when required by law) with a BS Degree in Aeronautical Engineering, a MA, and a FAA Airline Transport Rating. As a Naval Aviator he flew 3400 hours with 267 arrested landings day and night, on ten aircraft carriers. He qualified in 16 aircraft, single and multi-engine, propeller and jet. After retirement, he earned all of the FAA's Certified Flight Instructor Ratings, including multi-engine and instrument. He also qualified for Commercial Pilot Ratings in seaplanes (single and multi-engine) and in helicopters. Paul spent over a decade in the maintenance and engineering departments of four airlines, flying as an occasional observer on their flight decks, and qualifying to fly the Beech B-99 commuter transport. On the side, he flew with the Civil Air Patrol as a Captain, and was allowed to handle the controls of the Goodyear blimp and to ride in a sailplane. In all, he logged another 400 hours pilot time. His final work was at the Johnson Space Center for 16 years as the Plant Engineer. Paul's family consists of his wife, the former Evelyn Vincent of Virginia, daughter Mary, and sons Miles, Jack, and William. All are married and have produced eight grandchildren and one great-grandson. His previous hobbies of skiing and sailing (in the 22-foot "Life of Riley") have been replaced by doubles tennis and swimming. Paul and Evelyn enjoy retirement at their home in Houston as adopted Texans.

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Near Misses - Paul Allen Riley


© 2011 LCDR Paul Allen Riley, USN (Ret). All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the author.

First published by AuthorHouse 03/15/2011

ISBN: 978-1-4567-3421-3 (sc)

ISBN: 978-1-4567-3423-7 (hc)

ISBN: 978-1-4567-3422-0 (e-b)

Library of Congress Control Number: 2011902168

Any people depicted in stock imagery provided by Thinkstock are models,

and such images are being used for illustrative purposes only.

Certain stock imagery © Thinkstock.

Because of the dynamic nature of the Internet, any web addresses or links contained in this book may have changed since publication and may no longer be valid. The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher, and the publisher hereby disclaims any responsibility for them. 

This writing is dedicated to my dear wife,Evelyn Vincent Riley, the most influential person in my life.

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings

Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth

Of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things

You have not dreamed of…

~ John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

High Flight

Table of Contents



Chapter 1. Introduction

Chapter 2. Childhood

Chapter 3. Growing Up

Chapter 4. The Naval Academy

Chapter 5. USS Salamonie

Chapter 6. USS Missouri

Chapter 7. Basic Flight Training

Chapter 8. Advanced Flight Training

Chapter 9. Instrument Flight Training

Chapter 10. Air Anti-Submarine Squadron VS-831

Chapter 11. Fighter Squadron VF-172

Chapter 12. Naval Air Station – New York

Chapter 13. Staff – Carrier Division Two

Chapter 14. Fighter Squadron VF-14

Chapter 15. Naval Postgraduate School

Chapter 16. Norfolk Test & Evaluation Detachment

Chapter 17. Retirement


Someone has said that ordinary people learn from their own mistakes, but that wise people learn from the mistakes of others. Here within is an opportunity for aspiring aviators and perhaps others to so profit. It is a chronicle of some of the more interesting parts of a Naval Aviator’s career and how it began. Family historians, at least, may appreciate it. Expect the phrase near miss to appear often.

Naval Aviation almost became relegated solely to anti-submarine flying during the Truman administration. Two foolish, high level political appointees, encouraged by supporters of the new U. S. Air Force, concluded that large, land-based bombers with atomic weapons could alone defeat any enemy. One result was the 1949 cancellation of the Navy’s first super carrier soon after keel laying. By their actions, Admirals Denfield, Radford, and Sherman ultimately restored Naval and Marine Corps Aviation to its proper place in our defense system.

The year 2011 marks Naval Aviation’s 100th anniversary, beginning with seaplanes and then followed by aircraft carriers in the 1920’s. This story is set in the middle of that period, primarily 1950-1967, and secondarily 1944-1949. It covers the first third of the Cold War with the former Soviet Union including the Vietnam era.

Many technological changes occurred. Some of those which affected the author included: jet engines with afterburners, cockpit pressurization, ejection seats, TACAN-DME navigation, trans-sonic flight, instrument landing systems (ILS), ultra high frequency (UHF) radios, angled carrier decks, mirror landing systems, steam catapults, air-to-air missiles, airborne refueling, and the automatic carrier landing system.

The tale about to unfold cannot truly be called a success story, except for four factors. These are: friendships made, challenges met, the beginnings of a happy family life, and, in the end, survival to write about the adventures.


Writing is easier than preparing a manuscript for publication. In the latter effort, I was aided initially by my oldest grand-daughter, Christy Wheeler, who typed the first draft. Then my brother-in-law, Dr. Walter Witschey, provided organization. I am also indebted to my wife, Evelyn, and my sons, Miles and William, for further refinement and proofreading. Friends Jack Hickey, George Schmidt, and Lee Stoiser provided samples of their publishing efforts along with sage advice on how to proceed. The National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, FL, provided half of the 16 illustrations included. Vince Sacco of the Staples Company was most helpful in preparing the images for transmission to the publisher. Last but not least, I also acknowledge the generosity of our Lord in letting me survive day and night aircraft carrier operations and other hazards so that this tale could be told.


When two small children are struck and killed by an airplane attempting to take off at a field outside a small town, it can put a damper on aviation interest for years. This happened on November 2, 1929 at Bennettsville, SC, to my small playmate, Arch Manning Breeden, and his baby sister. Air circus Pilot Langdon of Moscow, ID, survived with a broken nose and was arrested. I was told this story repeatedly by my parents. The gruesome details must have added to their aversion to flying. Despite the enthusiasm caused by Lindbergh’s New York to Paris 1927 flight, aircraft accidents and the graphic motion pictures in the early 1930’s added to the fear of leaving the ground. All members of my parents’ generation were born either before or just after the Wrights’ 1903 flight, thus their skepticism about this new technology was understandable.

Much of the local transport in 1929 was at the speed of a mule. Mules were auctioned weekly at a horse barn. A mule cultivated twelve acres of cotton, also known as a one-horse farm. Folks pitched the U-shaped mule footwear but called the game horse shoes. Mules received no credit for their contributions to this society. Aviation’s only symbol was a night-navigation beacon twenty miles away. In this atmosphere, it was natural that my interests did not include flying, as I later wished they had. Despite this negative start, I did eventually become almost addicted to aviation and had an interesting though unspectacular career. Near misses, real and symbolic, foiled all I desired to do.

Flying could occasionally be frightening, but there was always a challenge, which I usually sought. Once immersed in the art, I flew numerous aircraft in a variety of settings over a time period of significant technological improvements. A description of each aircraft, the environment, and any interesting experiences will follow. Judgment and luck, good and bad, and the acquired skills to avoid the bad things will be described. First we must develop an interest in aviation and then note some of the near misses and obstacles along the way.


What could be considered my original near miss was that I was born at all. Many persons are here by random chance, but my case is unusual. My maternal grandfather, Hope H. Newton, a 19-year old Confederate cavalryman, fought in his first major battle in Virginia in late May, 1864. He was severely wounded in the leg and avoided capture only by being carried off the field by the last ambulance wagon. After refusing amputation, he was sent home to South Carolina to recover. While still on crutches, a pig ran between his legs injuring him further. By the time he started to rejoin his unit, the war ended. Thus he was spared months of exposure to shot and shell, disease, and hunger. Afterward, he was thrice married and twice widowed. His third wife, Katie McCall (Monroe), a widow, became my grandmother and friend when I arrived in 1926. My Grandfather Riley survived combat as a 16-year old Confederate, but both he and his wife-to-be, Polly Barker, lost their Carolina Low Country family homes to the invading blue-clad arsonists.

My parents both had life-threatening crises as young people. My father had rheumatic fever and so was spared the World War I draft. He had one heart attack before I was conceived. My mother was a recovered smallpox victim. Both survived the 1918 influenza pandemic. Despite all this, I was born anyway, three years before the 1929 stock market crash and the onset of the 1930’s depression.

Needing an energy outlet, I joined my male friends in acquiring toy guns. Most desirable were cap pistols, but my family forbade these as noisy and dangerous. I was limited to a gun (with a half inch diameter barrel) that shot cork stoppers. We played games attacking Germans, Indians, robbers, or Yankees (the last two were mostly synonymous as our economy still had not fully recovered from Sherman’s pillaging and the carpetbaggers’ thievery). Having located a few live .45 caliber ACP bullets at my Grandmother Newton’s house next door, I loaded each round into the muzzle of my cork gun and test-fired it intact at my pillow. The third one exploded part way out the short barrel, a foot from my face, sending brass fragments and burning powder around the room with a sound equivalent to thousands of cap pistols. One fragment struck my leg, but instead of a Purple Heart for a self-inflicted superficial wound, I received a purple rear end and had my gun broken in half. I had probably nearly missed being blinded or killing myself, not good precursors for an aviation career. My next silly stunt was to drink gasoline. Having watched roofers siphon from the car to clean their hands of tar, I did likewise but failed to take the tube out of my mouth in time. There were two grades, regular and high test, the latter augmented with tetra-ethyl lead. I must have drunk regular, as apparently my brain continued to develop. Lead in any form is now considered poisonous. I collected it from discarded automobile wheel weights and then melted it to cast toy soldiers in my mold. I still have the soldiers but one family member has expressed concern if my grandson plays with them.

Growing Up

One of the anti-flying obstacles was the 1936 movie, Ceiling Zero starring James Cagney and Pat O’Brien. We listened in awe as the mail plane droned overhead in the fog until the ultimate fatal crash. Then another craft was beset by ice until

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