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Mohawk Memories

Thomas McKelvey Cleaver’s story about the U.S. Army’s Mohawk in your September 2012 issue was excellent. It certainly must increase the appetite among airplane lovers to know more of the plane’s history.

My recollection is that Grumman, famed for its rugged fighters built for the U.S. Navy, designed the Mohawk for the Navy, which for some reason decided not to purchase it. Grumman, noting that the Army was in a spirited argument with the Air Force about how much and what kind of aviation each service should have, decided to try to sell the design to the Army. It did, and with Grumman lobbying hard for the Army, an agreement was made that the Army would give up its twin-engine Caribou transport but would be permitted to have the Mohawk for recon work as long as it was not armed. Agreements made about the same time permitted the Army to put offensive ordnance on its helicopters. Regardless of how the Army gained the Mohawk, it proved itself, and Grumman received very nice orders for its product.

I visited the Army’s flying school at Fort Rucker soon after a defect in a Mohawk instructor’s Martin-Baker seat caused it to blast the instructor through the top of the canopy, leaving his student surprised to be flying solo. The instructor survived with painful back injuries, and the seat got a redesign.

Please keep up the great work with Aviation History. My September issue was in the mailbox today. When I arrived home, I sat down and started reading, continuing without interruption until I came to the back page, which featured Edward Shenton’s illustration of an autogyro in flight. I saw one fly overhead when I was 13 years old; the sight is still vivid in my memory.


Barrie Davis
Zebulon, N.C.

The recent article on the “Silent Warrior” brought back many pleasant memories of my association with the OV-1 Mohawk. In the early 1960s, I worked on this great little plane at Grumman Aviation in Bethpage, N.Y. I considered it the “little plane that could”!

My responsibility entailed the bench, hangar and flight testing of the autopilot system. I was somewhat mystified by Captain Max Corneau’s comments regarding what he had to do to overcome an autopilot system that wouldn’t turn off. I distinctly recall that the control surface actuators had shear pins installed within them. In case of problems with the system, force applied to the manual controls that surpassed the actuator force would break the shear pins, and control would once more be manual. I also recall that one had to be a contortionist to crawl into the airframe to replace the pins. These shear pins were in the Mohawks built in the early ’60s. Whether it continued later I do not know.

My best days at Grumman were those when I had to go aloft with the test pilots over Long Island Sound, testing the systems. My worst days were spinning the plane on the compass rose in the dead of winter.

Chuck Kircher
Fountain Valley, Calif.

Ensign Eliminator

The F7U Cutlass (“Extremes,” in the July issue) certainly had its downside, and the accident rate was indeed high. But the Cutlass was no more a threat to its aircrews than the renowned F-4 Phantom II, A-4 Skyhawk or A-5 Vigilante. Perhaps they are regarded more kindly because they had engines that delivered what was expected.

However, the F7U’s vaunted successor, the iconic F8U Crusader, was actually worse. According to Paul T. Gillcrist in Crusader! Last of the Gunfighters, a total of 1,266 of the “MiG Masters” were built for the U.S. Navy, of which 1,106 were involved in Major/Class A accidents (involving damage amounting to greater than $1 million and/or where the aircraft was destroyed and/or involving fatal injury and/or permanent total disability). There were 186 Navy fatalities (plus another 13 French Crusader aviators killed). Despite its appalling accident rate, it is regarded as a hero.

The enclosed illustration from Chance Vought Aircraft’s 1953 calendar shows that the company envisioned a bright future for the Cutlass. With decent engines, the Cutlass might have been regarded as fondly as the Crusader and its cousins.

Hank Caruso
California, Md.

JATO-Powered Duck

The May issue’s “Movie Stars With Wings,” which mentioned the use of a Grumman J2F Duck in the film Murphy’s War, triggered a memory from long ago. In January 1945, I was flying Corsairs in Navy Squadron VBF-83 at NAS Puunene, on Maui, in preparation for going into combat. One day, while taxiing to the duty runway for takeoff, I observed a Navy J2F on the runway starting its takeoff. It startled me with a sudden cloud of smoke issuing from a midway point on the fuselage. Eureka: JATO bottles! With that additional thrust, the pilot raised his nose to an outrageous angle of attack. That bird really climbed! And then the JATO was finished—and oops, the pilot rammed the stick all the way forward (and probably soiled his flight suit). At the last possible minute he got flying speed, just barely missing the runway, and off he went. It was a comedy, but I couldn’t laugh.

Great magazine!

David M. Jeter
Oak Harbor, Wash.

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