Above and Beyond: Warner and the Whale
How we turned the A3D into a tanker.
- By Hadley Dixon
- Air & Space magazine, July 2011
(Page 3 of 3)
He told me later that before putting two feet on the doors, he used one foot to tap them. Nothing happened, so, holding fast to a structure, he started to stand with both feet when the doors popped open. Fortunately he had a good hold while staring open-mouthed at the lakebed 15,000 feet beneath us.
I told him I hadn’t even come close to the switch—“Must have been a glitch.” He didn’t answer. He was watching Edwards Air Force Base slide by below. Finally: “I’m going to chop the damned hose off with the axe and come forward.” I felt the hose and drogue release, and Warner slid back in the cockpit. He buckled into his parachute and said only, “Let’s go home.”
Chase reported another hose whipping through the air. “More junk for the lakebed.”
After I landed, we headed for engineering. Warner uttered not a word. He wasn’t even sweating. I was soaked. I tried to convince Warner I hadn’t touched the switch. No response.
Engineering found a short circuit in the electrical system that powered the hydraulics to operate the doors. The remaining test flights went off without a hitch. But there seemed no way to get Warner back on my side. I even gave him a bottle of Black Label.
The tanker program proved quite successful. A few dozen A3s were converted to tankers, and some of those were given jamming capability. The tankers served in Vietnam and flew until they were replaced by Grumman KA-6D Intruders. In addition to carrying bombs, A3Ds were also configured as VIP transport as well as radar surveillance aircraft.
With time, Warner softened, and even bought me a drink. But I always felt some sort of disconnect. I had to remember what it must have been like, coming that close to a horrible fall and certain death.