The AJ-2 Carrier BomberThe AJ 2 was the Navy’s answer to the Strategic Air Command, and was essentially a multi-engine, carrier based plane designed around a bomb bay large enough to carry the early fat “nukes.” Because of its multi-engines (two reciprocating radial engines and a single jet aft) and long range navigation requirements, the Navy decided to integrate a percentage of multi-engine gents, like me, who could contribute their experience in those two fields. After all, the theory went, the multi -folks wore wings of gold too and were therefore experienced in the ways of carrier aviation

The fact that this experience had been gleaned some years earlier, from six arrested carrier landings in an SNJ training aircraft at Pensacola did not diminish the enthusiasm for this idea. Anyway, as their part of the two way bargain the “hookers”, guys with lots of carrier experience, would pass on the lore of the carrier deck and all would be well. And now, to paraphrase Paul Harvey, let’s hear “The Rest of the Story.”

Following a tour flying four engine PB4Y 2 Privateers with Heavy Patrol Squadron Twenty Six (VP 26) and a tour at the Naval Air Training Command at Pensacola, Florida, I reported to an AJ squadron (VC 6) in San Diego in 1953. For the first half of the three year tour I served as a bombardier/navigator. This was standard practice then, but I finally qualified as a plane commander. Checking out the new pilots was done at the squadron. The usual familiarization flights were followed by bushels of Field Carrier Landing Practice (FCLP) and then on to final qualifications on the carrier. No big deal. Everything on the carrier was done at minimum weight to facilitate turnaround. All qualification landings were done during the day and, very often, to save time the planes were deck launched rather than launched by the catapult. However, we did do a few catapult shots just to learn the procedure, and the procedure was not difficult.

You were positioned on the catapult, the aircraft was hooked up to the big under-deck machine, the check off list was completed, and then, when your turn came the catapult officer would hold three fingers up, wave his hand in a circle and you would advance the throttle on the jet. Jets take longer to wind up than recips. When the jet was humming smoothly at full throttle, the cat officer would hold up two fingers, wave his hand in a circle and you would advance the throttles on the two recips. Now, with everything going at full throttle and with the instruments indicating that the engines were functioning correctly, you would salute with your right hand, again grab the throttles and a fixed bar in front them, and you would be catted off. The fixed bar was there so that your hand would not accidentally slip backward and reduce power because of the rapid acceleration. This could happen, the cat shot was a real kick in the tail.

Just prior to deployment, there was the operational readiness inspection (ORI) which required a simulated mission from the ship with a night launch, a full load of fuel and a “shape” in the bomb bay substituting for a real nuclear weapon. Total weight something just above 53,000 lbs. This was a new requirement something we had not had to do when I was flying as bombardier/navigator.

When our big day came there were two crews ready to qualify, and the other plane also had another ex multi-engine pilot as plane commander. The launch was set for 0300. To add to the fun the weather was stinko with about a 300 ft. ceiling, gnarly seas and light rain. The AJ 2 was a big bird and at launch time, when two of them sat on the catapults, the wings overlapped. I was on the port cat in the number two launch position and so I had a good chance to observe my opposite number in the other plane. The catapult officer gave him the three finger turn-up telling him to full throttle the jet, and then with that burning, the two finger turn up told him to full throttle the recips. So far,so good. I watched his bombardier point the red flashlight at his face, watched him salute and nothing! Once again, red flashlight at his face, salute nothing! Meanwhile sparks were shooting out aft, his plane was shaking, and he was ready. I wondered, why they didn’t cat him? Again, the flashlight, the salute, and no dice. Finally I heard him call on the radio, “I have saluted this guy three times and he won’t launch me What’s the matter?” The answer came down, “He wants you to turn on your running lights!” Well that made sense. We were just outside San Clemente Island and would have to transit the Los Angeles control area to the Salton Sea to drop our bomb. Of course we would have to have running lights. His lights came on and off he went.

I gave instructions to my bombardier, Karl Sams, to be certain to flip on the navigation lights as the last item on his check list. Now, with the first plane gone, attention was shifting to us. On board my plane all three engines were purring away in idle and the final check lists were nearing completion. The cat officer raised his arm displaying three fingers and began waving them in a circle. I pushed the jet throttle forward watching the instruments and listened while the jet wound up to max power. My hand dropped back to the recip throttles, and that was when Karl flipped on the navigation light switch. WHAMO! We were on our way. The lights were the signal that we were ready to launch!!! We still should not have gone until the catapult officer gave the signal, but I guess whoever pushes the cat button wasn’t watching the catapult officer and just reacted instinctively to the lights. No matter, there we were, heading for the blackness off the bow with the recips in idle and only the jet and the cat pushing that 53,000 pound aircraft to launch speed.

I slammed the recip throttles forward with my right hand while hanging on to the control wheel with my left and we were on our own. Forget about grabbing the fixed bar I was leaning into the throttles and watching the instruments to keep the wings level and maintain flying speed.

My pals who were watching from the bridge said that we dropped out of sight and all hands thought we were lost. But then out of the void came the trail of sparks from the engines and we went straight up into the overcast. I can now only conclude that we were launched at a peak upswing of the bow,but I’ll bet my landing gear only cleared the water by inches or perhaps even touched it.

I was still at full throttle on all three engines when I finally broke out on top at 6,000 feet. I really didn’t care, but boy, was I cussing that “happy hooker” squadron mate and Landing Signal Officer, who sneeringly told me, when I asked, that there was nothing different about night cat shots except “that you’ll be on instruments, don’t you know how to do that?”. That was helpful! Snotty bastard! I gave him a one finger salute. I had about four times the instrument flying experience that he had.

So much for the transfer of knowledge between the multi-engine pilots and the guys who flew the smaller aircraft. Now you know “The rest of the story”.


Many are called but few are chosen! You’ve heard that statement before, but how many of you have BEEN “chosen”? Well, I am one, and sometimes being “chosen” is not exactly the honor you want. Ouch!

Why the “Ouch”? Well, out of the multitudinous ranks of naval, and even military aviators, I was selected to train for, qualify and prepare to drop nuclear weapons. Yup, I was selected to drop a bomb that would eradicate 15-20-30,000 people. Some honor!The AJ-2 Carrier Bomber

At the beginning the U.S. Air Force was the only service with aircraft large enough to carry “the bomb”, but the Navy, fearing to be left out, began a crash program to build a special aircraft to do the job. North American Aviation was selected to design and build this bird, and they did this in about a year. The resulting bomber had three engines. Two radial 2800 HP prop engines and a J-33 jet back aft. All this horsepower was needed to enable it to carry the large weight of the bomb, (10,850 pounds) and also to climb to what was then an incredible 45,000 feet for the drop. It also had a Tailhook for carrier operation.This aircraft was designated the AJ (A for “attack” and J meaning “built by” North American.) It was named “The Savage”. In the photo above, I am the guy on the right without the flight jacket

For me this was the first complication. This was in 1953, and I had already flown multi-engine aircraft since 1947. I flew the four-engine kind that lands and takes off from airfields , and by now I was a fully qualified “Plane Commander”, so I was expecting to fly an aircraft of the same sort for the new squadron assignment, but this was not to be. Note that the new aircraft mentioned above WAS a “bomber”, and as such the navy needed plane commanders to fly it, so I qualified there, BUT this new flying machine had a tail-hook on it so that it could take off and land on aircraft carriers, and this left me on more shaky ground. Yeah, I had made six carrier landings in a small training bird on a jeep carrier in Pensacola before I receive my wings, but that was six years earlier. I hadn’t even thought about carriers since those initial qualifying landings. But this new huge “Savage” was an entirely new breed of cat, and I would have to learn to be catapulted off and then land it back on an aircraft carrier. This was hurdle number one. A hurdle I managed to clear after about six months of additional training and practice.

The Bomb
But hurdle number two was different. Hurdle number two was “The Bomb”. And this bomb was not some 500 pound chunk of iron full of high-explosives. I knew about that. This thing was huge AND its guts were nuclear. This baby was an updated version of “Fat Man”, the bomb used just eight years earlier in 1945 in the second atomic explosion over Nagasaki.

Now ‘Fat Man’ was a plutonium bomb, and it worked by placing a small empty sphere of plutonium inside a surrounding layer of high explosive. When triggered, the high explosive crushes the uranium ball into itself and brings it to critical mass. This causes the atomic explosion. The original Fat Man was five feet in diameter and10 feet 8 inches in length. Mine measured out the same, and as mentioned above, it weighed 10,850 pounds. No small bomb and no lightweight!

As stated, my updated version of Fat Man was similar to the original in size and weight, but it was also designed to be safer. In the original bomb, to make it operational, the nuclear core was placed in the bomb prior to loading in the aircraft,but in my bomb, the Mark 4, they introduced the concept of “in-flight insertion” (IFI), a weapons safety procedure designed to prevent a premature on-ground explosion

NOW let’s consider “In Flight Insertion”. We (the three man crew) had to haul the nuclear core aboard the aircraft and on the way into the drop area we had to insert the core into the nose of the bomb, then button-up the exterior casing for the drop. In a way I guess you could say it wasn’t too hard, once you learned the technique, but it was.

First, as mentioned, you had to lug the radioactive core up into the plane to the crew compartment. The core itself weighed about 14 pounds, but it came delivered in a lead bucket to shield everyone from the radioactivity, everyone on the ground anyway! I can’t remember exactly, but that combination weighed at least 50 pounds and the entry to the aircraft was up a fairly steep ramp from below. This meant dragging the bucket under the aircraft, hoisting it up the six foot chute to the flight deck for insertion into the weapon. Now, in flight, enroute to the target, the third crewman had to disassemble the front end of the bomb, position a long chute for the core to run down, then push the core into the bomb itself with a ramrod (presumably all the crew had received a heavy dose of radioactivity by that time), Lastly, the front of the bomb was reassembled, fuse set for the optimum explosive altitude, and then left hanging and ready for the drop. This was all done while wearing an oxygen mask and bulky high-altitude clothes.

Oh yes! There was also “pressure breathing” to contend with. The Savage was only slightly pressurized, and so, at altitude, there was not enough atmospheric pressure to push the oxygen down into your lungs where it could be picked up and redistributed to your blood. To overcome this, the oxygen mask “reversed itself” and forced air into your lungs. After each forced inward breath you had to literally “blow out” the oxygen-depleted air, to repeat the forced air exchange. This wouldn’t be hard if you did it all the time, but it is disconcerting when you are involved in a delicate and precise operation and have rarely experienced having air forced into your lungs..

Of course, this was not the only concern – in fact it was rather a small one compared to possibility that we would actually have to drop this bomb. It’s not every day that you have to contemplate the possibly that you would probably incinerate a city full of people if you made the drop. Further, most of us wondered if WE would survive the mission anyway. I don’t remember any of us who were maudlin or fateful about this, you get over that nonsense quickly when flying in the military, but enemy anti-aircraft and fighters aside, would the aircraft be badly damaged or destroyed by the blast and would we survive the split-S (a maneuver in which the aircraft is inverted and then goes into a dive), back to the aircraft carrier?

Also, would the carrier be there? It was policy to launch the attacking aircraft and then have the ship turn and run away from possible enemy counteraction. On one of my assigned targets I calculated the distance and fuel use and found that I would run out of gas maybe fifty miles offshore. When I mentioned this to the powers that be, I was informed that they knew this, but that they planned to station a submarine at some designated reachable spot and I was to ditch the plane there for rescue. Uh Huh! And the Easter Bunny really does color eggs and hide them around the lawn.

Soooo, many are called and few are “chosen”. If the time comes for you, I suggest that you reverse your direction, turn off your hearing aid if you have one, and casually whistle as you leave!

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May 1, 2016

5 May 1955 – NAS North Island – VC-6 Squadron, Flying the AJ-2
by CDR Don Hubbard, USN (Ret)

Now here was a risky operation that had to be conceived by a desk-bound theoretician at the Pentagon. I say “risky”, because at that time no one really knew what the blast would do to an aircraft circling nearby when the bomb went off. Radiation exposure, blast damage, intense heat damage. (Note: our aircraft were painted white to minimize the last problem. The Army Air Force aircraft that bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki where polished aluminum.)

In the AJ aircraft we had very sophisticated bombsight radar because our mission was to drop atomic bombs on hard-to-see targets from the then almost unheard of altitude of 45,000 feet. The Radar system was capable of picking up a reflective target, even a small one, from high altitude and we would be expected to drop the bomb based on its accuracy. This Radar even had a photographic capability that allowed us to replay the screen, after the drop, so that we could analyze the results later. It was great radar!

With that kind of accuracy and precision, someone thought that it might be possible to spot the exact moment that a bomb exploded and then follow-through to see what would subsequently happen. Bomb-damage assessment! The question was, could this sophisticated radar be used to do that?

In 1955 they were still testing atomic bombs at a facility somewhere about 65 miles north of Las Vegas. This was a reasonably short flight for our planes, and the decision was made to have two of our aircraft circling the site at high altitude, with radar on, to record the blast. The blasts were not done on a regular basis since they had to take into account myriad factors like wind direction and speed and upper air turbulence, etc. and they were always conducted somewhere around 0300-0400 hours when the public would rarely be awake and observing.

Our mission, then, was to await word of a pending explosion, launch two aircraft some time just after midnight, climb to altitude and circle at about 20,000 feet with the radar on to await results. 95% of the time this was a futile operation and the bomb would not be detonated, but on this one occasion, when I was involved, things changed.

On this occasion I had taken off a bit after midnight with my companion plane and headed out, crossing over Los Angeles, on heading. We arrived at the rendezvous point ahead of schedule and began our flight circle. But then my starboard engine began to act erratically accompanied but a decrease in oil pressure. Not good! I feathered the propeller, called my airborne pal and told him we were returning to base.

It took about an hour and a half to get back to the base, and even though there was really nothing to worry about, I was still flying on only one engine and prudence dictated that I get back on the ground soonest. NAS North Island has two runways. One is roughly oriented east/west and the other north/south, and since there was virtually no wind and the north/south runway was essentially a straight in approach, I elected to land that way.

Teapot Apple Two 29 KTI made a normal descent and passed over the end of the runway at about thirty feet and touched down quickly in the first third. THEN it happened! The sky flashed and lit up, and my immediate thought was that the starboard engine had somehow blown up. I couldn’t see the engine since the pilot sits on the left side and my bombardier/navigator was opposite me on the right side and in the way, so there was nothing to do but keep the roll-out straight and hope for the best. And then everything returned to normal. The sky darkened once again and happily I didn’t see any flames or see any of my instruments fluctuating. What had happened? They had finally detonated the bomb, and even though it was near Las Vegas, about 400 miles away, the explosion was so intense that it lit up the sky all the way over California. My God!!! And I was supposed to drop one of these bombs if I was called upon!!!

The final question. Did the radar on my pal’s plane detect the blast and reveal subsequent damage. NO! And the other question – never asked or answered – how much radiation did the other crew receive from this nuclear blast? We will never know, but I will take a night, single-engine cross country flight, and single engine landing instead, anytime!

After I wrote the above story, it occurred to me to see if “Operation Teapot” would mean anything on Google. To my surprise it did!

See below for Government “Teapot” information

Teapot was authorized by President Eisenhower on 30 August 1954. This series of fourteen shots proof-tested a broad variety of fission devices with low to moderate yields. As a group these devices combined several innovations – some previously tested, some introduced during this test series – to create a new pattern of fission device that would dominate the design of all later weapons. These devices used new compact, efficient, light weight spherical implosion systems; beryllium tampers; hollow cores; deuterium-tritium boosting; and the use of neutron pulse tubes as initiators to create light, compact, efficient, and reliable fission explosive systems.

These devices were tested for a broad variety of tactical weapon applications, including air defense (AD) and anti-submarine warfare (ASW). Several new primaries were tested for a new generation of lighter and more compact (Class “D”) thermonuclear weapons to be fired in 1956 during Operation Redwing.

Weapons effects tests were scheduled to develop information on the use of nuclear explosives against aircraft, and to gain more information about cratering.

My Teapot released some 24,500 kilocuries of radioiodine (I-131) into the atmosphere. This produced total civilian radiation exposures amounting to 41 million person-rads of thyroid tissue exposure (about 11% of all exposure due to continental nuclear tests). This was expected to eventually cause about 13,000 cases of thyroid cancer, leading to some 650 deaths. Chart of fallout exposures from Teapot (58 K, 539×577). From National Cancer Institute Study.

The name of the above test – my test – was: Apple-2
5 May 1955 (PST)
Location: Nevada Test Site (NTS), Area 1
Test Height and Type: 500 Foot Tower Shot
Yield: 29 kt Note: the Hiroshima bomb yielded 21 Kt


 In early 1961, VAP-62, the AJ-2P heavy photo squadron out of Jacksonville, had been flying almost routine high altitude mapping flights over the many south coast Cuban beaches. It wasn’t a surprise then to receive a top secret message ordering maximum photo coverage of a specific beach area on the south Cuban coast on 17 April 1961. Begin at first light – no further specifics. The mission looked  routine and was to be flown at 20,000 feet to obtain photos with a scale of 1:10,000. Ideal for identifying most routine items on the ground below.

The flight went off without a hitch and the film- about eight or nine cans of it, each about 10 inches long and 8 inches in diameter – was run through the huge automatic processing machine in the photo lab, dried and then turned over to the photo interpreters for read-out.

Almost immediately they discovered that this was no ordinary photography. These were pictures of a military action – a burning ship, small landing craft,  some ashore, some hung up on hidden reefs. a crashed B-26, a column of tanks sending up plumes of dust as it headed for the beach. It was the ill-planned and unsuccessful Bay of Pigs invasion. The pictures were important.

The film read-out went on for the rest of the day and a prelim report written. It was now time to get the film to Washington which was sending almost constant urgent messages regarding the results. The squadron had a Grumman jet fighter, an F-9, aircraft assigned to it and I was selected to fly the film cans and the written report to Andrews Air Force Base that night. The cans were bundled into the various ammo bays of the plane and I was off.

The plane was winging its way north on this moonless night when I received a report that Andrews was closed because of a thunderstorm there and they suggested that I go to the Naval Air Station at Patuxent River, Maryland,  instead. No problem, with one exception. Someone failed to realize that cumulo-nimbus (thunder)  storms are not static and migrate eastward as they develop. This one migrated to Patuxent River. It was there to greet me.

Welcome Don! I was being bounced around and tossed in every direction while lightning was flashing continuously, but I contacted the tower and received landing instructions. Landing or no I was practically doing all the flying on instruments since I didn’t want to be blinded by the lightning. I kept myself oriented by occasionally glancing out the side to insure that I was lining up with the landing runway. Suddenly the aircraft was slammed by a hard down-and-side draft which caused  a particularly severe lurch. Then I felt and heard it  – bang – -bang, bang – followed by a wild ratatatatatat. Three cans of top secret film had broken through the locked ammo door in the nose, hit the wing and disappeared. The door to the ammo compartment was left slamming up and down in the slipstream. Damn! But nothing I could do about it. Landing that bucking bird was the priority so I fought my way around the pattern, crossed the end of the runway, set her down and taxied into the ramp in pouring rain. A Washington intelligence guy, an Army colonel from the Defense Intelligence Agency, was there to greet me.

“Where’s the film?”

I smiled weakly. “There are five or six cans in those ammo bins.” Then I pointed at the black void in the pouring rain. “And three somewhere out THERE. They fell out.”

“What? They fell out?” He was practically shouting. “Exactly where?”

“I have no idea, I was trying to survive.”

“We gotta find them. They’re top secret and Washington is waiting for them.” (Waiting is hardly the word for that. President Kennedy was tied in knots about the invasion that he had authorized and that was showing signs of going bad.)

To the duty officer at the desk. “Call out the marine guard. Start searching the field.”

Long and short of it. Couple of hours of night search out on the runways and taxiways with jeeps and trucks and futility! The film was never found. Probably in the Chesapeake. Somehow I wasn’t courts-martialed. The preliminary written readout was undoubtedly sufficient to describe the disastrous conditions on the beach. This was a failed CIA operation. And I was thanking God for the intensive instrument refresher course I had just completed in the Jacksonville replacement fighter group.



Don with flight helmetIf you look at  Don Hubbard’s designation as a naval aviator you will notice that it was  made to him as a midshipman. Why?

World War II ended in 1945 and the military was rapidly downsizing. There were no new wars in sight, so it was reasoned that there really wouldn’t be any need for new pilots. Aviation Cadets in training were immediately given the option to leave the service, and many did, but those who remained were given two choices. Receive their wings and commissions and immediately leave the service and join the Navy Reserve, OR remain on active duty as midshipmen (at midshipman’s pay) and fly in the fleet for one year before commissioning. Aviation Midshipman’s pay then was $65 plus 50% flight pay or $97.50/month.

No one had suspected that the Soviets and their satellites would soon become hostile to the U.S. and require top-secret surveillance flights and even combat missions over Korea. Consequently many midshipmen, including Don, were flying combat missions at the non-commissioned rank and at the $97.50 pay grade. In Don’s case, the “combat” missions were top-secret “ferret” missions designed to discover Communist radar sites along the Baltic and Adriatic Seas. Altogether Don flew 21 of these missions out of the U.S. Naval Air Facility in Port Lyautey (now Kinetra), French Morocco.  In May, 1950, one of the Squadron’s  flights in the Baltic resulted in the death of ten crew members when their aircraft approached too close to the coast of Latvia, then under Russian control. This was the first aircraft shot down in the Cold War.



May 1, 2016

Don Hubbard was born in New York City on January 15, 1926. His upbringing was unusual. For eight months of the year he lived on the top floor of a five story walk-up apartment near Fordham Road, in the Bronx, but for the other four months he lived in a small two-room bungalow that his […]

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May 1, 2016

I wrote this in 1996 when I turned 70. I am now ninety years old. Was the forecast true???  A NAVAL AVIATOR TURNS SEVENTY  I turned 70 this month and I am sad No, I am not sad because I turned 70. I am sad because I am now a SEPTuagenarian For the past ten […]

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COGNAC – Elixir of Youth

April 8, 2015

I keep a bottle of cognac in my house all the time. No, I don’t keep it to get high, I keep it to return to my youth. Let me explain. In 1947 I was newly minted naval aviator. I was 21 and had just been attached to a stateside multi-engine bomber squadron. World War […]

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February 5, 2015

A Children’s Book For Older Kids Written and Illustrated by DON HUBBARD Dedicated to all the parents throughout the world who wouldn’t lay a hand on little Johnny for fear of damaging his Id – but finally did. Don Hubbard Coronado, California _____________________________________________________________________________________ This is the story about “Rotten”John, Who screamed and yelled and carried […]

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May 11, 2014

MONTEZUMA, HIS REVENGE They said, you really hadn’t oughta Drink anything but bottled water. And food, it must be cooked quite well. Otherwise, you just can’t tell. Montezuma waits, they say, To punish those who disobey. Well, I’ve traveled far to different ports, And eaten food of different sorts. So who should fear tortilla chips […]

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