Due South of Key West
Flying fast and low over Castro’s Cuba.
- By Paul Hoversten
- AirSpaceMag.com, September 18, 2012
Courtesy Cdr. Peter B. Mersky
(Page 2 of 3)
Did you get fired on?
Yes, but not with missiles. We saw flak puffs in our rear-view mirrors, but we didn’t start taking fire until maybe the second or third flight. We flew the same targets, but we never flew the same ingress point or egress point. We never flew the same route. We would mix the targets up. There was no time to train radar on us, because we weren’t at 1,000 feet long enough. [The Cubans] were firing anti-aircraft guns and maybe small arms, but it all was behind us. We were kids having fun, and getting shot at was a big kick.
It doesn’t sound like the Cubans were good shots.
They might have been if we’d given them a good target.
What’s the story behind the dead chickens stenciled on the Crusader’s fuselage to represent completed flights over Cuba?
When [Fidel Castro] went to the U.N. [in September 1960], he was paranoid that someone would poison him if he ate food prepared by anyone outside his circle. So they actually cooked chickens in his hotel suite, and there was a big deal at that time about Fidel having the chickens butchered and cooked in his hotel suite. So that’s where that came from.
Was there any coordination between the Crusader pilots and the Air Force F-101 Voodoo pilots, who also flew low-level reconnaissance over Cuba?
We never saw any Voodoos. They were flying, I think, out of some place like Tyndall [Air Force Base, near Panama City, Florida], but they weren’t down at Key West. I don’t think we flew on the same days, or if we did, we didn’t fly at the same time. The only Air Force that was at Key West were F-104s that arrived about mid-way through our program to be our fighter escorts because the Marines had been doing that with F-8s out of Beaufort, South Carolina. Frankly, we saw the -104s, but we never had them join on us after we came out [from Cuba]. We would be in radio contact with them.