Golden Gate Wing Guest Speaker Archive

Presentation Date: August 28, 2008

LT CMDR Terry Howell USN (Ret)

Speaker Photo

* Designated a Naval Aviator with "Wings of Gold" on September 1961 at NAS-Corpus Christi
* Sent to NAS-North Island, in a RAG, ready for assignment to the Fleet as a fighter pilot
* "Luck of the draw" led to assignment, instead, to P5M "Marlin" Flying Boats in Patrol Squadrons
* Flew five (5) combat tours in Southeast Asia during Vietnam War -- armed reconnaissance patrol
* 1st two (2) tours in VP-47, flying armed P5Ms -- bombs, rockets and guns -- in 1964 & 1965
* Took-off from Manila Bay (JATO Assist) to Tonkin Gulf, round trip; also squadron test pilot
* Next three (3) tours to Vietnam in P-3 "Orion" in 1966, 1971 & 1973
* Also, one (1) tour onboard carrier USS "Midway", handpicked as the CIC Air Warfare Officer
* Flew many years from NAS-Moffet Field in P-3s, anti-submarine warfare missions
* Flew T-28, S-2F, P5M, P-3, T-33 and other aircraft; over 6,000 flight hours, 3,000 in P-3s * Born 28 April 1936 in Prairie City, OR
* After H.S. graduation worked on a ranch one year, then entered Oregon State University
* Graduated with a B.S. in Food Science & Technology, minor in Business Administration
* Married college sweetheart, Barbara, 20 June 1959, then entered Navy Aviation Cadets
* Completed successful training at Pensacola and Milton, FL (OCS, primary, advanced, carrier qual)
* Designated a Naval Aviator with "Wings of Gold" on September 1961 at NAS-Corpus Christi
* Sent to NAS-North Island, in a RAG, ready for assignment to the Fleet as a fighter pilot
* "Luck of the draw" led to assignment, instead, to P5M "Marlin" Flying Boats in Patrol Squadrons
* Flew five (5) combat tours in Southeast Asia during Vietnam War -- armed reconnaissance patrol
* 1st two (2) tours in VP-47, flying armed P5Ms -- bombs, rockets and guns -- in 1964 & 1965
* Took-off from Manila Bay (JATO Assist) to Tonkin Gulf, round trip; also squadron test pilot
* Next three (3) tours to Vietnam in P-3 "Orion" in 1966, 1971 & 1973
* Also, one (1) tour onboard carrier USS "Midway", handpicked as the CIC Air Warfare Officer
* Flew many years from NAS-Moffet Field in P-3s, anti-submarine warfare missions
* Flew T-28, S-2F, P5M, P-3, T-33 and other aircraft; over 6,000 flight hours, 3,000 in P-3s
* After Navy, earned ATP (Airline Pilot Rating), VP & GM for several corporations, consultant
* Car enthusiast and restorer; early leader of Western Aerospace Museum (Oakland Air Museum)

LT CMDR Terry Howell, USN (Ret)

Naval Aviator, 21 Years Active Duty, ~6,000 Flight Hours


Serving your country as a Naval Aviator, whether before, during or after World War II, can offer a pilot a broad, colorful portfolio of experiences. In August, Terry Howell at least got started telling the Golden Gate Wing stories of his days piloting flying boats for the U.S. Navy.

Terry Howell was born in Prairie City, Oregon in April of 1936. Terry graduated from high school and worked in a sawmill before entering Oregon State University. He graduated with a B.S. in Food Science & Technology, minor in Business Administration before he married college sweetheart, Barbara Sokolik, in June 1959.

Then Howell became a Navy Aviation Officer candidate and headed off to pre flight training at Pensacola, Florida.

Howell told of his solo flight in the T-34B which was the primary trainer.

"We had all these ‘Yellow Perils’, we used to call them, going around and around Saufley Field. They had a dual landing pattern there. You came in at 1200 feet and you could drop down to the next pattern, and that’s how they worked this mass of airplanes.

"There’s always safety pilots up there—some Lieutenant or some Lt. Junior Grade who’s an instructor. And, they’re always watching. You could hear that dreaded sound, ‘Two-Sierra so-and-so, report to Safety when you get down on the deck…’

"You didn’t want to hear your number called."

Howell says towards the end of his primary training he had a super instructor named Ken Ahlgren, who had been a Navy F-8U Crusader pilot.

"You could not shake this man up. That suited me fine because I didn’t like screamers, or guys who, when I set the trim and had everything set right, when I turned around to look out the window to clear things, they’d be turning all the knobs and screwing you up. That was a typical VP-pilot type instructor.

"Ken was a fighter pilot. He taught me well and then told me I was ready to solo. I got my solo check ride with Lt. Agnew. This man had great faith in me, more so than I think I had faith in myself.

Howell remembers the Pensacola area having a great number of airfields built among swamps and mangroves. Down towards Bruton, Alabama there were two little hexagonal fields, one of which was the destination for Howell’s solo flight in a T-34B.

"I’d been sitting in the ready room all morning long, drinking coffee and sweating program stuff. Then the schedule officer would come up and say, ‘You’re up, Howell. Number umpty-squat.’ So you’d grab your tag and away you’d go.

"I run out there, hop in my bird, take-off and so now I’m searching this jungle looking for this field. I see there’s one over here and one over there… eeny-meeny-miney-mo. Which one do you want to screw-up on, Howell?

"Finally, I see this dual go in there and land in a T-34B. The other field was being used by jets, so I figure this has got to be the one. I go in there and I’m doing my landing and I think, ‘This is great!’

"So then they had what they call a ‘double recall’. When they have a double recall, that meant that whatever you were doing, stop what you were doing and come back home, quick!"

Howell says the reason for the double recall was a large storm coming in. He joined a melee of airplanes trying to get into the landing pattern without hitting each other.

"Meanwhile, old Howell’s bladder, due to the excitement and about a gallon-and a-half of bad coffee is trying to get the (relief) tube. He needs the tube real bad. We’re going around this circle in the landing pattern and I am performing maneuvers… The flight suit zips both ways for such emergencies. I up-zip and try to clasp this ‘gosport’ (relief tube), which takes care of your fluids in flight.

"So what happens to me, but this dual slides in and this guy starts flying formation on me. So now I’m really hosed, man. I’m going around, gritting my back teeth, around and around, and finally get down where I land, taxi in, and shut down. And I can hardly get out of this airplane. It was probably very comical to watch. But I was going to die before I wet my pants on my first solo flight.

"I don’t know how long it took me to get from that airplane to the head in the hangar, but I made it!"

Painful Lessons Becoming Aviators

"One of my roommates was a guy by the name of Steve Willard. Steve was an ordained minister, who wanted to be a chaplain in the Navy. But the Navy said, ‘We don’t want any more chaplains.’

"So he joined the Aviation Officers Candidate program. And he figured if he could get in the door, then he could get around and teach them some good things.

"Steve was older than the rest of us and became our mentor, a father figure of sorts. At Saufley field. we’d all had our solos and gotten our ties clipped. That was the tradition, along with giving a fifth of whiskey to your instructor. They must have lived pretty well, those guys.

"It was time for everybody to get their ‘B-18 check’—some guy comes out and beats you up in the airplane, tries to trick you and you do all these things and if you pass, you’re off on your way.

"Steve is handing out these graduation pictures to us all, and says, ’Here Terry, I might not see you again. I’m going on my B-18 check.’

"I said, ‘Yeah, yeah, Steve, see you later. I’ve got mine coming up, too.’

"In fact, he and this Marine 1st Lieutenant who was giving him the check ride, were at an outlying field. They had an engine failure, hit a stump, tore the airplane apart, killing Steve and making a vegetable out of the instructor… you think about the good dying young…

Howell says that wasn’t good preparation for his own B-18 check. He recalls having an instructor who challenged him in doing Immelmans.

"Of course, the T-34B doesn’t have a whole lot of poop, but if you keep it right on the numbers, you can do a nice job. So, we’re up there going head-to-head, first him then me, doing Immelmans. And I swear to God, my whole B-18 check ride was seeing who could do the best Immelman."

Howell progressed to transition, precision, aerobatics, formation, gunnery and carrier qualifications at Whiting Field, Milton, Florida, and was flying the higher-performance T-28 (1450 horsepower, with a supercharger). He carrier qualified on the USS Antietam CVS-36 September 20,1960. This was the end of basic flight school and each of the pilots got to meet the Admiral and go through the process of selecting where they would like to go and the type of aircraft they wanted to fly. Howell got orders to Corpus Christi where he thought he would be assigned to fly jets. But the Navy had lots of pilots in the pipeline, the carrier Constellation caught fire in the shipyard limiting the need for fighter pilots, so Howell was assigned to fly S2F’s for multi engine training.

Designated a Naval Aviator on April 10, 1961 at NAS-Corpus Christi, Howell was first sent to NAS-North Island on a "luck of the draw", and assigned to P5M "Marlin" flying boats.

Introduced to a P5M sitting on its beaching gear on the seaplane ramp, Howell thought it "unreal, because nothing this big and ugly can fly."

"They’re not all that slick on the beach. They’re not amphibians, they’re strictly seaplanes, and quite good, at that. You go up a ladder to get in the airplane. You’re in the hull and you go up another ladder to get to the flight deck. Then you go up a ladder to get into the cockpit.

Howell says that for a young hot-blooded aviator, the P5M wasn’t a lot of fun because of the minimal number of liberty ports: NAS Whidbey Island, NAS Alameda, NAS San Diego, NAS Jacksonville, NAS Norfolk, Elizabeth City in North Carolina. In other words, you couldn’t just land anywhere, hop out and go do things. Also, the rules of the sea apply, meaning that sailboats have right of way in harbors.

"I learned to fly the seaplane at North Island. Those of you who have been in San Diego know they have lots of sailboats running up and down between North Island and Pt. Loma. And guess where our sea lanes were.

"Sometimes you’re playing ‘dodge-‘em’, or you’re hoisting this thing off the water or someone’s mizzen is going by. And the same is true when you come back to land. So, as each one of these phases you go through, there all kinds of skull work you have to do. For the amount of flying you do, you do ten times the amount of work.

"When you get ready to go to the fleet, you have the pressurization chamber, the ejection seats, nuclear delivery pilot training, survival school, all the ASW (anti submarine warfare) training… the list goes on and on and on. Contrast that with guys flying the A-1s at Corpus, who were half-day students. If they got their flight in, it was off to drinking beer and having a good time, working out, or what have you.

"When we got done you were off doing your bookwork for classes, because it was constant."

Flying Boats in the Great Northwest

Howell was next sent to Whidbey Island, where he met navigator Dick van Gimert. In those days, Howell remembers that non pilot navigators were rare birds in what was known as the V-P Navy (patrol, anti-submarine warfare).

"Each patrol plane had four aviators, and it was kind of starting out like a poop-cleaner before working up to the head hen house. I checked in and was handed a nav bag, with a big grin from Dick, who said, ‘I’m really glad to see you.’

"In those days you carried around so much stuff—so many charts and all the sight tables so you could do celestial work. We even had drift meters, and we used them, believe it or not. Because, flying out of Whidbey you’re in crappy weather and could fly all day long and not see the sun.

"You’d stick this thing through the side of the airplane; it’s got a grid and you learn to line that thing up on the waves and you could actually read the waves. I got pretty darn good at flying out over the water and I could tell the wind direction and speed just by looking at it.And which way the swells are running.

"Those are all things you’ve got to know if you’re flying boats because if you go down there and hit that stuff, you’ve gotta’ hit it right, because that water’s really hard.

Howell vividly remembers the challenges all crews had flying off the water, challenges which ultimately led to the end of seaplane operations in Alameda and the San Francisco Bay.

"You don’t have lighted runways and stuff, you’ve got water. You’ve got dark places and sometimes those dark places have big saw logs and stuff. You never know what you’re looking at. You can imagine when you get up to about 100 miles an hour what a stick or log can do to those boats. It can be unpleasant."

One stormy night, the aircraft commander of Howell’s flying boat, bound and determined to take off, was fighting wind and rugged surf. He finally overcame the elements by fire-walling the engines to get the flying boat up on the step and then firing all four JATO bottles to get airborne. The flash and racket brought calls from coastal residents of Whidbey Island who thought they’d witnessed an airplane crash.

Howell says that once the flying boat got as far west as Port Angeles, the frigid, wet weather created icing conditions. The engines began bogging down, requiring carb heat, The pilots went full hot on the carb heat and added power, and the airspeed began dropping. Suddenly, the ice departed and one of the engines began overspeeding and they were having trouble with the propeller governor.

Back in the fuselage tube with the rest of the crew, Howell heard the plane commander voice a warning to standby to bail out, and naming Howell as the jumpmaster.

"I go aft, snap on my harness, open the hatch and I’m looking out at this black hole. I can see the snow and ice going by and I say, ‘I really don’t want to go out there.’ Because jumping, we would have landed in the water in the (Puget) Sound there, and it’s very cold. Then I hear this rrrrowwwwrrr and I say, ‘Well it might be better than that. I think I’m going to die either way!’ "

Fortunately, the pilots of the P5M did manage to control the runaway engine and piloted the flying boat to its destination and a safe landing.

Howell also told of another crew with a runaway engine during a submarine exercise. Ditching in heavy seas broke the flying boat’s back, but the crew was able to step off into a life raft before the plane went down. The submarine they were going to conduct exercises with just happened to have his periscope up looking around and saw the aircraft crash. They immediately surfaced and rescued the crew.

Howell’s crew had just returned to Whidbey from flying the same exercise and immediately prepared to launch on a rescue which would have been a really long day when word came from the submarine that all hands had been picked up. Howell says they all knew that someone would not last long in the cold water.

Howell says the Martin flying boat was roomy, much more comfortable and flew more smoothly than the P2V Neptune, which was also a major platform for ASW operations.

"But the nice thing about the P2V was it had these two jets out on the wingtips. We used to call them J-52D ‘defuelers’, because those things would gobble up a lot of gas but could get you out of trouble.

Howell continued to learn more about one Navy aircraft after another, and one crew position after another.

"I went through all the stages of the squadron: I became a qualified navigator, a TACCO on an Alpha crew (the highest level of USN aviator proficiency), a co-pilot and a plane commander. And I hated every minute of it, but it was training that made me a well-qualified aircraft commander and kept us out of trouble more than once."

One of Howell’s best friends in college, Mike Bouchard, was now flying A-3 Skywarriors. Howell says the two got together at Ault Field and would fly advanced trainer versions of the F9F Panther and "terrorize the countryside."

"You’ve got to understand that in those days, it wasn’t like it is now. If you had a checklist in your pocket and you were halfway checked out and there was no such thing as a ‘hard flight plan,’ you were on the flight schedule. Your flying area was how far your gas tank would take you and get you back. Or if you were cleared and had the right DD fuel chit you could pop into any military base and take on a load of gas.

That provided quite a play space for pilots like Howell and Bouchard…

"I have been on bombing runs of every bridge in Puget Sound. I have flown by Hurricane Ridge, right down by the Strait of San Juan DeFuca. There also happens to be a nice lodge up there where people go up to relax and eat. So we’d make sure we’d go by there at about the speed of heat, stand it on a wingtip and look in at the funny people sitting there eating and stabbing themselves with their forks.

"We’d done such a good job there we’d bend her back the other way and head to the beach. There’s gotta’ be some clamdiggers down there on the beach. We’d be right down there on the deck and going as fast as this thing will go. Well, you can’t hear ‘em when you’re going that fast. There’s these guys down there, digging clams and stuff like that, and whooom! We go over and turn around and they’re all over the place!"

Howell says the day did come when he and Bouchard expected comeuppance for this kind of ‘public relations’ work. It came when the two of them were flying about 40,000 feet near Mt. Rainier.

"We looked around and said, ‘Oh man, fresh meat! There’s an A-3, headed back to Whidbey! We can bounce him in good shape!’

The Panthers closed quickly with the Skywarrior, and Howell says the plans involved keying the microphone and saying ‘bang-bang’, then making a hard break to bump the carrier-based twin-engine bomber with some turbulent air.

"There’s only one A-3 at Whidbey Island that had portholes down the fuselage. That belonged to that big J.G. … the Admiral.

"So, this was another time the pole came back between the legs at full force, and the G-load was dragging the mast down. We pulled off and we stayed out until the red lights came on, which means you’re down to bingo fuel. We landed and strolled in saying, ‘This is going to be a sad ending to a happy story of two J.G.s who got suck in the eye as their wings were ripped from their chests.’

"But, guess what. The place was deader than a doornail. There’s nobody there. We didn’t get caught."

Braving Alaska

During the early 1960s, while the Cuban Missile Crisis flared and President Kennedy was assassinated, Alaska rode out a large, devastating earthquake. Through it all, Howell served two Navy cruises in that arctic state.

"Trust me, you really don’t want to fly a big old seaplane in Alaska. They’re conducive to attracting ice and they’re not conducive to getting rid of that ice. It was one of the prettiest places I flew out of and one of the most treacherous.

"The runway at Kodiak, on the land, runs right into Old Woman Mountain, and Old Woman Mountain is your overrun. When you’re flying an airplane with wheels in there, you best make sure you have it made by the time you’re at Puffin Island, or wave it off.

"I lost some friends there in a P2V. I don’t know what they were thinking. They got in there and tried to wave it off and just broke the airplane over the mountain, scattering guys all over the place."

Howell says Cold Bay, Alaska provided him a fair share of excitement, after landing a seaplane there.

"When you anchor them out you always have one qualified pilot and two crewmen out there, so if something happens and you have to get underway, you can do it. It just so happened I drew the straw to sit the buoy when we first landed in Cold Bay. While we were sitting there this 50-mile-an-hour storm comes in. We’re sitting on that buoy, and we’re sitting on that buoy, and we sat on that buoy for over 24 hours. "They service the plane, both fuel and food, from boats on the tender. And, it’s not bad service, when you can get it. We sat out there a long time, without the auxiliary power units, because they were having trouble keeping the things up on the airplanes.

"We had on long-johns, flight suits, ‘poopy-suit’ covers and sleeping bags. You can’t believe how cold it is there. It’s that damp cold. The fog will come down and sit that far off the ground, and the wind will be blowing 25-50 miles an hour.

"One of the boats broke loose and managed to make it all the way through the anchorage without hitting any of the airplanes. I could take the gust-locks off the airplane and fly it up on what we made the buoy line with, called a lizard line, a cable on the front of the airplane. You could take the gust-lock off and pull back on the yoke and actually raise the airplane off the water.

"That ceased to be amusing after a little while. We were tired of eating crackers. We wanted some food and wanted to be warm. A cup of hot coffee would be nice.

"The in the midst of this storm I hear this noise - - rrrrrrrr. It’s Reeve Aleutian Airline. I don’t know how those guys flew in that weather. They must have had some kind of special radar in their brains, because they didn’t have any visibility and not much for nav aids there. They came in pretty quick, and then they were gone again.

"I was sitting there in the freezing aircraft, in one of my thoughtful moods, and thought to myself, ‘You know, if some guy came along and offered me a job pumping gas at a Shell station, I’d go for it."

Duty in Alaska also meant opportunities to see many different types of animals, in the days before wildlife refuges, as well as historic and interesting sights. There were seals in the Pribilof Islands, glass fishing floats lying along the beaches on the Bering Sea, and rusting World War II materiel of the Japanese Navy at Dutch Harbor.

Howell recalls chasing Kodiak bears with the airplane and a movie camera.

"I had this Yashica movie camera with a pistol grip that ran little rolls of film. We’d get down real low, because it was just tundra. So, I’m taking pictures of these bears. Those guys run very quickly, and we had this big Kodiak and he’s running along. He got tired of running and he stops and stands up and (shakes his paw) at us, ‘Just a little close, sucker and I’m going to have lunch!’ "

Howell thought he’d captured the natural drama on film, but unfortunately while the camera was sitting on the aircraft’s glare screen the plane’s vibrations tripped the camera speed setting for the film and ruined all the film taken of the bear.

Howell’s two tours with VP-47 became five years of keeping an eye on Russian and Japanese fishing fleets in addition to tracking Soviet submarines. Anti submarine operations in that region, frequently involved joint work with Canadian teams flying P2V Neptunes, as Howell discovered while making an intelligence-gathering run down the length of a Soviet ship.

"We’d try to do it fast and close. I’m coming down one side and look up and here comes this P2 the other way, with the Canadians saying, ‘Tally-ho, Yank’."

A few years later when Howell was at fleet Airborne Electronics Training Unit Pacific, and running the tactics school, he told this story to a group of Australian ASW crews. One of them piped up, saying "I remember that. That was me." The Aussie had been on exchange duty with the Canadians.

In 1964, Howell deployed to WESTPAC for 7-1/2 months. When that tour was completed he returned in 1965, recalling the delight of picking up a brand new Lockheed P-3 Orion right off the assembly line in Burbank.

"Man that’s really a pleasure. It’s like buying a new car. Everything’s shiny, it works, and smells good . It doesn’t last long, but it was nice."

Vietnam and Beyond

Howell went to Vietnam to pilot flying boats in 1964, starting with one of the first squadrons to fly out of Danang. A seaplane tender’s help with logistics made a huge difference to operations, which also saw the Philippines as a base.

"Taking off out of Sangley Point, we usually carried a drop tank on one ‘beaver tail’ filled with fuel, and ordnance in the other one. You’d take off and be so heavy… Everybody had to develop their own system. Mine was to figure out the swells and get up to 65 knots on the upsweep hit the ADI for the engines and take them to over 60 inches manifold pressure, hold what you had and then fire all your JATO bottles. That would give you enough, after a few more bounces, you could stagger into the air."

With the heat and humidity at Sangley Point, Howell says the P5M was flying at a gross equivalent weight of 85,000 pounds, heavy for a boat. He says, over 70,000 pounds was marginal for a single engine.

Missions were typically 12 hours long. On one particular flight, a wind change challenged the fuel required to get home. Howell’s relief aircraft blew an engine and he was requested to remain on station as long as possible. He figured it very close.

Howell says we could usually bounce radar off a shipwreck on a shoal near Subic Bay. It was a landmark he could use to know how far out we were from landfall in the Philippine Islands.

"We’re looking at the gas gauges and doing figuring and more figuring. I’m right down on the deck with the flaps cracked just a little bit and the engines pulled all the way back to 1600 rpm–an old trick taught to me by World War II seaplane pilots. You could see the big blades go around ‘whoppity-whop’ out there.

"We made it in to Sangley Point and we had 500 gallons in each service tank. That’s not a whole lot of gas to feed two 3350s."

Howell flew his first tour August 1964 to February 1965 in the Vietnam War in P5Ms of VP-47, on armed reconnaissance patrols, Market time patrols, and ASW patrols, and "other missions" On many flights the flying boat carried ordnance. Then followed two tours there in the P-3 "Orion" (1966, 1973). In 1971, between those latter tours Howell did a combat cruise as CIC Air Warfare Officer on the carrier USS Midway.

On the P-3 alone, Howell totaled more than 3000 of his 6000-plus hours total flight time, many of them from Moffett Field NAS, but also including test flight time in every model of Lockheed’s Orion.

After his Navy career, Howell earned his Airline Pilot Rating and served in executive and consulting positions for several corporations. He was also one of the early leaders of the Western Aerospace Museum (Oakland Air Museum).