Posted by: Waring Hills | 30 March 2010

VF-14 Tophatters Land Onboard Yorktown!

VF-14 Tophatters squadron patch

Today a group of former VF-14 pilots from the 1950’s arrived at Patriots Point for a reunion on the USS Yorktown (CV-10). VF-14 is the Navy’s oldest active duty fighter squadron and is still in existence today as VFA-15. Most of this group of Tophatters had flown with the squadron during the 1950 to 1957 time frame (junior officer squadron tours are normally 3 years). VF-14 was flying the F-4U Corsair in the early 1950’s and transitioned to the F-3D Skynight in 1954.

F4U-5 of VF-14 flying from the USS Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) CV-42

Douglas F3D-2 Skynight

In 1956 the squadron transitioned to the F-3D Demon fighter jet.

F3D Demon in afterburner.

F3D Demon in afterburner.

From left to right, former VF-14 fighter pilots - Don Ross, Randy Moore, Gordon Flynn, Joe Conlan, Butch Hills (not VF-14 pilot), Rich Corbet, Clingen Peel, Jerry Benton and Russ Stearns. (not in picture - Harry Milner and Chuck Allen)

These gentlemen had alot of history and stories behind them and were still sharp ( Several commented to me that the Corsair in the picture above has the wrong size prop on it…True, but very few people know it).  Just a few examples, several of the pilots had served in VF-14 while it was part of the air wing on the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) CVA-42. The commanding officer of FDR while they were onboard was no less a fighter pilot than Captain Jimmy Thatch U.S.N., the originator or the “Thatch weave” in World War II and Butch O’Hare’s skipper in VF-3.

Tophatter  Chuck Allen ‘s son, Andrew Allen,  is an astronaut and has flown on three shuttle missions STS-46, STS-62 and STS-75.

Don Ross was the A-6 Intruder project officer and later commanded VA-35. I didn’t get a chance to talk with Don, but I suspect he was one of the members of VF-14 when they flew A3D’s which look very similar to the A-6 Intruder…

Pilots Joe Conlan and Jerry Benton were involved in the first testing of the steam catapult system in the early 1950’s. One morning Jerry was launched off the starboard catapult and his aircraft decelerated on the cat track as one of his engines flamed out. There was evidently alot of white smoke (steam?) coming out of his starboard engine on takeoff. He was able to continue flying…get the engine restarted and landed back aboard. Joe Conlan was not so lucky when later in the day he launched off the port catapult and losing both engines made a water landing 250 yards in front of the ship (F3D’s had no ejection seats!!!). Luckily he was able to climb out and was quickly picked up by the duty helicopter as he stood on his sinking aircraft canopy (only his legs below his knees got wet!). The engineers involved in the catapult design quickly came to the conclusion that the steam was condensing in the catapult track below the deck…as jets accelerated down the deck the catapult injected massive quantities of water into the jet’s engines and instead of water injection the jet turbines would unwind and bog down…flaming out! The engineers quickly modified the catapult system by drilling lots of holes in the bottom of the cat track to allow condensation to go elsewhere! Wow, what a way to earn a living…

Butch Hills and Harry Milner, squadron mates in VRF-31.

Butch Hills and Harry Milner, squadron mates in VRF-31.

When I was asking the Tophatters for their names in earlier introductions, one gentlemen who looked familiar said, “My name is Harry Milner!” Of course, I exclaimed, “Harry Milner!” (Not quite Harry Potter, but close). Harry and I had served together in VRF-31 back in the mid 1980’s when I was a young Lieutenant and Harry was a crusty old Lieutenant Commander. I was born in 1957 and Harry had carrier qualified on a straight deck carrier in 1957. I thoroughly enjoyed Harry’s educating stories as a young naval officer and flyer and I have known few aviators to have the plethora of stories or the style in which Harry could tell them (Harry you should write a book!). He worked for a short time in Isfahan, Iran, training Iranians to fly the F-14 Tomcat and what an amazing time he had in Iran… Perhaps another day, if Harry will let me, we’ll tell some of those stories…

Patriots Point salutes the service and legacy of VF-14, one of our nation’s oldest and premier fighter squadrons! Where do we get such men…



  1. What fascinating stories! I thank God for these men and others like them who have given so much……especially since I personally benefited from their brave tests of the catapults which insured their safely when a special young Naval Officer served aboard the USS John F Kennedy.


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