Mission: To Preserve the History of the Greatest Fighter Jet the United States Navy Has Ever Flown.

by Bob Belter

Here is a piece on an ‘interesting’ Tomcat buy which I had previously written for the Flying Midshipman Log.   

I was NavPro Bethpage ’71-’74, ---  Skipper of the Navy office at Grumman.  I have never figured out how to make money, but I really know how to spend it!!!.  Grumman was cranking out most of the airplanes for the Air Group --- A-6E, EA-6B, E-2C, F-14A.  (I only flew the A-6E while there  -- I had been Navair Design Officer for the A-6E --  and it turned out that I was  the first NavPro Bethpage in the memory of man to fly an airplane).  I had been one of the five guys who flew the ‘glide slope evaluation’ in the F111A and F111B while I was at Pax River, and we put the final coffin nails into that remarkable shitepoke.  I really wanted to fly that Tomcat, and make a full sweep of the sweep wing airplanes, but I was supposed to hang in and run the place, not suck up a lot of great rides.  I didn’t have time for the proper schools, and the Tomcat is not an airplane to casually strap on, so the Intruder had to nicely do the job for me..   

Building airplanes is not easy, and Grumman had trouble particularly in getting the Tomcats produced and ‘over the fence’.  They put out the word to the company that if ALL contract requirements were met for the year by Friday, Dec 21st, 1973, all plants would close down for a week.  Quite an incentive -----.  Along with that, Grumman was very proprietary with employees:  no union, and each year, a Christmas turkey, courtesy of ‘St. Grumman’.  The NavPro folk were cautioned to NOT get into the Grumman turkey line!!!!

We, of course looked at the contract status, and the impediment we saw was one Tomcat at Calverton which hadn’t even flown.  (Calverton was the final assembly and flight test center, 50 miles beyond Bethpage out on  ‘LungiLund’.  I talked to RIC --  Resident-in-Charge --  Cdr Jim ---, and the QA Head at Calverton, Joe Pic’ ----  about the ‘odds’ and also the need.  Jim and Joe were both very good guys.   Joe, a big guy with a wall eye --  about as sinister a character as one is likely to see, and very sharp.  Grumman was really scared of him, and he was known as ‘The Godfather’, (and may well have been).  Both were in total agreement that Grumman really needed to get a lot of the best guys some time off --  The same guys who were working the ‘slow’ Tomcat.  

The days went on, the airplane production # ??? flew a few hops, but not yet a Navy flight.  Friday morning, early, Jim and Joe called and said  ”Grumman offered us the Tomcat for a ‘buy’ flight”.  So I asked Jim “Can you fly it without risking your ass, or the airplane”?  “Yes, the airplane is OK, but not much of the system is in it and working.  They each one more time emphasized that the Grumman guys very badly needed a break, both for moral and even more for safety reasons.  ”.  Joe particularly observed that the Grumman guys were ‘jumping through their own butts’ trying to get airplanes out.   

So, I told Jim to ‘run it around the flagpole’, Joe, give them the DD250 acceptance document, and call me as soon as you do.  It should be entertaining, and I may be fired.  Jim did that, once around in max burner, Joe did the deed and they called.

In Bethpage, I grabbed Harold ----- my Contracts chief, told him what had transpired, and to bring ALL the documents to me, ready for me to sign.  I cautioned him to NOT sign them himself, (He was deputized) because if he did, I would be fired, and I’d take him with me.

Scarcely more than an hour later, (it was 50 miles from Calverton), a procession into my office, my guys and the Grummans, with the documents for me to sign, and on top, a check for me to sign.  I affirmed to them that Grumman had indeed satisfied ALL contractual requirements for the year.  With that, I signed what papers I needed to and returned them.  I tossed the unsigned check into my desk drawer, wished them Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, waved them out of my office, and then waited.

No more than five minutes, and Mike ---- Grumman VP---F-14 PM  -- called and asked if there was any problem with the paperwork on the airplane.  “No Mike, the stack was the correct height, the edges were all very nicely lined up  --  looked great”.  Mike said “Do you know where the check is?”  “Sure, it’s in my desk drawer.”   ”Bob, we haven’t been paid for that airplane!!!”   ”Mike, you have the requisite paper work which I have signed, and you have satisfied ALL contractual requirements for the year, so you can shut the plants down as promised.  I may have bought the airplane, but we both know that this turkey is NOT fit to pay for!!!  I’ll pay you for it when it goes over the fence to the fleet”.

Mike’s response was “Now I understand, thank you, and a Merry Christmas to you too”.

I immediately called RADM Swoose , F-14 PM, and told him the story.  I had not told anyone in Navair about the Grumman close-down plan.  (Washington tended to issue a lot of not understood or not needed rudder orders).   Another few minutes, and I received a call from VADM ---- Navair hisself, and I gave him the story, along with my. “I’ll pay you for it when it goes over the fence to the fleet”.

Good enough for Navair, I guess, because I was not fired.

BTW, there were virtually no fighter pilots in the Tomcat acquisition program --  mostly attack pukes.  I tried to endear myself to them by noting that it was really difficult to find one who knew how to read and write.

Enjoy   /s/   Bob Belter

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