Edward A. Grube
Overview of the Start of the STRAAD Project
In mid-1965 LTV Aerospace received a request from Navy BUWEPS to send a representative to Washington D.C. to attend a meeting on the subject of reducing the repair cycle of damaged aircraft onboard carriers in WESTPACK. The Vietnam War was heating up and Navy aircraft battle damage was increasing. The Navy was looking at the feasibility of establishing a new structural repair team in the Philippines. Roger Ringham, Vice President of Engineering at LTV Aerospace, sent me to attend the meeting.
The meeting was held at Naval Air Systems Command (NASC) in Washington, D.C. Mr. Ed Ryan from NASC and Captain C. T. Froscher from RAAD gave me a detailed briefing of their recent trip to WESTPACK and the need to provide technical assistance in evaluating battle damaged aircraft onboard carriers operating off the coast of Vietnam. Damaged, grounded aircraft were taking up valuable space on the carriers and complicating operations. Their objective was to get the damaged aircraft off the carriers using special techniques and to repair the aircraft in the Philippines, instead of in Japan.
On the second day of the briefing, after telephone discussions with my supervisors at LTV and my family, I accepted the assignment as the engineer on the project. I was assigned to BUWEPS on about the first of October, 1965 and spent the month of October working full time in Washington during the week and flying home on the weekends. Commander Wallace C. Holton was assigned as STRAAD Project Officer during the later part of October, 1965.
I spent November, 1965 in Washington and on many trips accumulating structural information from all of the aircraft manufacturers that had operational aircraft in WESTPAC. Our main objective was to get and overview of primary structure required for a safe one-time ferry flight off the carrier.
In the first week of December, 1965 approval and funding for the project was given. A date for activation of the project was tentatively given as 1 January, 1966. This date was changed several times because of a briefing requested by the Pacific Command at North Island NAS in San Diego, and by briefings in Japan by the WESTPAC command. Commander Holton and I departed for Cubi Point NAS from Japan on about 8 January, 1966, with authority to start repair operations in the fleet on 15 January. We were also given authority to start building a small O&R at Cubi Point.
On a personal basis, I had been carefully briefed in Washington by two Navy Commanders on Navy dress, decorum, and the necessity to act always in a professional manner. To initiate the project it was recommended by the RAAD office that the Project Officer and the STRAAD Engineer function with equal status, but with different responsibilities. The STRAAD Engineer, as a civilian, would always be responsible to and under the command of the Navy Project Officer. The responsibility of the Engineer was to evaluate battle damage, make recommendations for one-time ferry flights, engineer and supervise repairs, and keep the Project Officer appraised of all actions made while onsite or offsite. The responsibility of the Project Officer was to report all STRAAD actions and needs to WESTPAC command, manage the O&R at Cubi Point, cover all Marine and Navy aircraft requiring STRAAD support in Vietnam, and be responsible for the functioning of the STRAAD project.
During my six months as STRAAD Engineer I primarily covered the four carriers on Yankee and Dixie stations. The STRAAD Project Officer, Commander Holton, covered specific Marine and Navy aircraft damage in Vietnam, setting up the new O&R at Cubi Point, and keeping WESTPAC current on our activities and needs.
The first aircraft I looked at was on the USS Kitty Hawk (after my first carrier arrestment). The aircraft was a Douglas A-1 that had 147 holes in the wing and fuselage. A big audience observed as I inspected the airplane. I also talked to the pilot as to how the aircraft handled during the return flight and arrestment. A close inspection revealed that no critical safety of flight structure was damaged so I recommended minimal repair and a ferry flight to Cubi Point.The holes were cleaned up and covered with lots of duct tape for the flight. The Captain of the Kitty Hawk approved, but recommended that I fly back with the A-1 in the accompanying COD aircraft. By the time we got to Cubi Point duct tape was flying in all directions! This was my first recommendation, and probably the easiest.
One of the most difficult damage problems we had occurred on Douglas A-3 tankers. One of the A-3’s had its nose gear collapse on catapult and the plane and crew were lost. The next day another tanker reported a noise during catapult, and that aircraft and all other tankers were sent to Cubi for STRAAD inspection. Time was critical because tankers were used to refuel fighters returning from long missions. I crawled into the “Hell Hole” beneath the cockpit and found the caps and web of the nose landing gear bulkhead cracked on two of six aircraft. The cracks were at the attach points of the wheel well keels.
We quickly fabricated external stepped aluminum “H” configuration straps. We installed the straps in less than twenty-four hours, test flew the aircraft, and returned two of the aircraft to the fleet. Engineers at Douglas Long Beach reviewed my repair. They concluded that the configuration was O.K. but insisted that steel straps be installed on the two aircraft released and on the remaining aircraft at Cubi. The steel straps from Long Beach arrived in a few days. One set of the new straps was installed, and during the test flight the Air Officer and Squadron Commander from the ship watched carefully as the aircraft took off and landed. Skin wrinkled in strange ways from new load distribution. Commander Holton and I were standing by, and the Air Officer said “put the aluminum straps on all of the tankers!” The local Douglas Rep was present and reported the incident to Long Beach. They later concurred with the STRAAD fix.
We carefully inspected the repaired area of the tankers on subsequent visits to the carriers, and the fix worked. STRAAD received its first commendation from WESTPAC for “a job well done”. On my return to the States my family met me in Los Angeles for a two week vacation. We stayed two nights in Los Angeles at the Hilton. On checking out I was pleasantly surprised to find that our hotel bill had been paid by our good friend Douglas Aircraft, for A-3 efforts.
During one of my flights we were on final approach to the new airport at Cam Rahn Bay when we looked down at three junks directly below us. One of the junks had a man on deck firing on us. On landing we found a bullet hole through the port engine nacelle, but on operational damage was done. The pilot was a full Commander, and furious! He sent a message to the carrier we were heading for after refueling. Upon arriving aboard they told us all three junks had been quickly sunk. We had the high “honor” of being the first COD aircraft that had reported being hit by hostile fire. Many experiences of bad weather during flights and a lot of turn-around trips occurred during my STRAAD tour. During one four day period I made three round trips to carriers in the Gulf of Tonkin. Finally, on getting back to Cubi Point, I slept off and on for eighteen hours.
During the six month tour I experienced fifty-six arrestments and catapults, four bolters, and six helicopter airlifts to a nearby carrier.
It is said that the STRAAD Project, during its first six months of operation, reduced the repair cycle of damaged aircraft aboard carriers by sixty-five percent. Aircraft specifically not flown from carriers during this period were RA-5C aircraft that had cracks in H-11 steel landing gear bulkheads. These aircraft required a special repair team from the States. Very few damaged aircraft were left aboard. Fire damage was difficult to evaluate, and recommendations were made very carefully.
In summary, The STRAAD tour was a great assignment for myself, and for all of the engineers to follow. Each one gave badly needed expertise and ability to a real need of the Navy, far exceeding the personal sacrifice of being away from family. I would also add that it was a great privilege and pleasure for me to work with a personal friend, Commander Wallace C. Holton. At the end of his tour he was promoted to Captain and given the assignment of Navy officer in charge of RAAD in Washington.
Edward A. Grube
Personal stories of their STRAAD tour experiences: