2 Generations Of Pilots Got Their Start At The Academy

Son Visits Alma Mater Dropping In On A Jet

October 09, 1991|By Michael R. Driscoll | Michael R. Driscoll,Staff writer

Retired U.S. Navy Capt. Richard Linnekin, former fighter pilot, commander of a squadron of fighters, and an ex-test pilot, watched his son, Marine Capt. Richard Linnekin Jr. bring his AV-8B Harrier jump jetfighter-bomber to a vertical landing Monday morning at the U.S. Naval Academy's Dewey Field.

"Actually, those things scare me," he said.

The elder Linnekin, by his own estimate, has flown some 70 different types of aircraft, from 80-knot propeller-driven biplanes to supersonic fighters.

The captain stood by as his son brought the aircraft in for a display of equipment and personnel, showing the range ofopportunities with the Marine Corps for interested Midshipmen.

Ina way, the Linnekin family could almost embody the growth of Marine Corps and Naval Aviation in this century, although the senior Linnekin, a graduate of the accelerated wartime Class of 1943, started his Navy career in the Pacific on a cruiser.

Afterward, he moved on to flight training, qualified on old biplanes with a top speed of 80 knots, and rejoined the fleet to fly off carriers during the Korean War.Subsequently, Linnekin commanded a fighter squadron, served as a test pilot and retired in 1967, after flying supersonic Phantom jets.

Linnekin also is the author of "From 80 Knots to Mach 2," a history of naval aviation to be published next month by the U.S. Naval Institute.

Linnekin explained that he wrote the book because most books about flying "tend to be 'wild blue yonder stuff' written by the guysthat flew, or histories that are supertechnical. I thought it might be a good idea to write something that the layman could understand, but still have it authentic enough so that it wouldn't disappoint someone with a more technical background."

He added that the title of his book could sum up the careers of many Navy fliers of his generation, an experience not likely to be repeated today.

"There were so many different types of airplanes around that you could jump from oneto the other pretty easily. These guys (today's fliers, like his son) are lucky if they see three or four types in a career."

He said the difference is due to the greater complexity and cost of today's aircraft.

"They're much more expensive and much more sophisticated.The training is (specialized) as hell. They're all high performance machines, and the Navy learned the hard way that when you let people jump from one airplane to another, you used to kill a lot of folks. Accident records today are incredibly low, compared to what they used to be," Linnekin said.

The younger Linnekin, Naval Academy Class of 1983, is a veteran of 33 combat missions during the Persian Gulf war. He is also a member of VMA-231, established in 1919, and one of the oldest flying squadrons in the Marine Corps.

Originally equippedwith propeller-driven Curtis JN "Jennys" biplanes, the squadron now flies the British-developed Harrier jump jet, so named for its ability to hover, land, and take off like a helicopter, or to take advantage of drastically shortened runway space.

When his squadron was transferred to the Persian Gulf from Japan to take part in Operation Desert Storm, the pilots made an almost epic flight of 35 hours. They flew almost three-quarters of the way around the world, refueling in the air and making only brief stopovers at air bases along the way.

This time, the younger Linnekin arrived at the end of a much shorter,40-minute hop from the Cherry Point Naval Air Station in North Carolina. The Harrier swirled gracefully twice over the city of Annapolis,in the company of another Harrier, which returned to Cherry Point.

After that, Linnekin settled onto a landing pad in a surprisingly awkward-looking and deafening vertical landing that sent leaves and blades of grass swirling over the spectators braced against the uproar.

When the engine died down, and it was safe to approach, spectators were able to see the words "Free Kuwait," in Arabic script, and thesquadron logo of an Ace of Spades, a punning reference to the unit being an Attack (fighter) Squadron.

Of his own wartime experiences,the younger Linnekin simply said, "I guess we must have been really well-trained. Because to be honest, there was a little bit of anxiousness, but there was never any real fear. It was almost like a training mission. We just went out there and did our job. Our targets were mostly artillery pieces, vehicles, and stuff like that. Everything worked pretty well, and the enemy was fairly cooperative, they weren't very good at using their equipment. We did have one guy in our squadron shot down, but we got him back. It wasn't nearly as ugly as it could have been."

Linnekin's visit took place in sight near near the mouth of the Severn, where "way back in the dark ages," before World War I, as the elder Linnekin put it, there was an old seaplane base near what is now the David Taylor Research Center. It was one of the earliest bases for Navy flying, before the current base at Pensacola, Fla. was established.

Another member of the family, the late James H. Mill of the Class of 1929, was a naval aviator between the world wars, the "incubation" period of the carrier.

The younger Linnekin,who has a daughter, said that his father never pressured him to choose the military life, or even the Naval Academy, but "it was someplace that I always wanted to go. If my daughter decides to come here, that's fine, and if she doesn't, that's fine too."

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