U.S. Naval Base Subic Bay and U.S. NAS Cubi Point, PI.
CVA-43 U.S.S. Coral Sea docked at NAS Cubi Point.
The Cubi "Cat"
Retired Cmdr. John L. Sullivan, presents the Cubi Point Catapult story to National Museum of Naval Aviation Director retired Capt. R.L. Rasmussen.
A Cat Story:
If you're old enough to have served in the Navy or Marine Corps during the Vietnam War and particularly if you were an aviator, chances are you've heard of the infamous Cubi Point Catapult. Cubi Point Naval Air Station and the adjoining Subic Bay Naval Base in the Philippines was a place where war-weary Navy and Marine Corps aviators, Marines and Sailors, could let off a little steam after flying combat missions over Vietnam or spending weeks on the gunline aboard ships on Yankee Station.
The managers of the Cubi Point Officers' Club, as well as their counterparts at the other officer and enlisted clubs, were forever tasked with devising new and challenging ways of keeping the warriors entertained. Enter Cmdr. John L. Sullivan and the now famous Cubi Point Officers' Club catapult. The catapult at the Cubi Point Officers' Club came into existence 1969 and immediately created a division within naval air among those who had ridden the cat and caught the wire, and those who had ridden the cat and missed the wire and gotten soaked.
The escapades of Navy and Marine pilots at the Cubi Point Officers' Club, according to Sullivan, is the stuff of legend. "These tale will be handed down and embellished as long as we have aircraft carriers in that part of the world," Sullivan said in an article he wrote for Wings of Gold magazine. One of these escapades, according to the retired commander who now lives in St. Mary's County, involved catapulting a squadron mate down a half dozen stairs in a chair from the bar upstairs onto the dance floor below. "The fact the chair had castors helped little on the stairs. Rarely did a pilot make it down the stairs and onto the dance floor in an upright posture. Most arrived on the dance floor in a crumpled mess. The practice often ended with disastrous results," Sullivan said. "There were broken bones, severe strains, small concussions and numerous other injuries that grounded crack combat pilots," former Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, Adm. Maurice 'Mickey' Weisner, said in a recent phone interview. Weisner said that he and Vice Adm. Ralph Cousins, commander, Task Force-77, suggested to Capt. 'Red Horse' Meyers, NAS Cubi Point, that the chair catapulting be eliminated because of the injuries. At the time, Sullivan was the Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Department (AIMD) officer. "I was called to the skipper's office and asked to come up with a solution," Sullivan recalls. "After a great deal of consultation with my maintenance officers we realized we had an excellent window of opportunity. A new lower club extension to replace an old bamboo bar was in progress. From that point on we let our imaginations run wild." Heading off to the surplus yard, Sullivan and his band of AIMD scavengers liberated a banged up refueling tank which was quickly converted by the metalsmiths into something resembling an A-7 Corsair II. The 'aircraft,' Sullivan recalls, was 6-feet long had shoulder straps and a safety belt and was equipped with a stick that, when pulled back sharply, released a hook in the rear of the vehicle to allow arrestment. Propulsion was provided by pressurized nitrogen tanks hooked up to a manifold. "This arrangement provided enough power to propel the vehicle to 15 mph in the first two feet," said Sullivan. "Acceleration of zero to 15 mph in two feet is the equivalent of the G force of World War II hydraulic catapults. "Beyond the exit from the club was a pool of water 3-1/2 feet deep. Each pilot had 6 inches to play with if he was to make a successful arrestment. "We named the vehicle 'Red Horse One' in honor of our skipper, Capt. Meyers. Successful pilots, according to the commander, were held in high esteem by their peers and their names were inscribed in gold letters on the club's Wall of Fame.
"Reaction time was short because the wire was some 14 feet from the nose of the vehicle. The downward curvature of the track had to be precise. The rollers would bind if the curvature were too sharp. "Since the pool water was the force that stopped the vehicle, we had to get the vehicle as deeply and as quickly into the pool as possible. Engineers from the Strategic Aircraft Repair Team used their 'slip sticks' to solve the problem. The vehicle was retrieved from the water by a mechanical wench and cable connected to an eye welded to the back of the A-7. Sullivan said that Rear Adm. Roy Isaman, (Naval Air Test Center commander, 1971-74), had a bronze plaque made in Hong Kong which was bolted to the wall next to the catapult with the inscription, 'Red Horse Cat-House.' "The first night the catapult was in operation it attracted a huge crowd. Rear Adm. Isaman was the first to ride the vehicle after it was declared safe by the BIS (Board of Inspection and Survey). No problem since I had recently arrived from the test center at Patuxent River and was declared the BIS representative," Sullivan recalls. "Rear Adm. Isaman manned the cockpit, saluted and was launched. He dropped the hook early and we awaited the hook skip but it didn't happen. Instead the hook caught the rubber we had attached to the steel bumper short of the wire. The hook tore the rubber from the bumper and caught the wire. To the howl of the disappointed junior officers, there was no wet admiral this time. Isaman became the first pilot to trap in the vehicle. "After being presented with a bottle of champagne, Isaman's name was enshrined on the 'Wall of Fame.' Some 40 pilots rode the Cat that night before another successfully trapped," Sullivan laughed. Word of the Cat quickly spread throughout Southeast Asia and even attracted Air Force F-4 pilots from Clark AB. "They would come swaggering in loudly claiming they were equal to the task. Each and every one of them failed to catch the wire, much to the delight of the Navy onlookers. "Enlisted men from AIMD operated and maintained the catapult during their off time. They were compensated for their work from funds we took in for the operation of the Cat. It cost nothing to ride the Cat," Sullivan emphasized, "providing they caught the wire. However, it cost $5 if the rider required rescue from the pool." Sullivan said that of the many dignitaries, who attempted to ride the cat, his favorite was Under Secretary of the Navy John Warner (now a U.S. Senator from Virginia). "After flying in from Japan the secretary was taken to the club for lunch by Rear Adm. Isaman and Capt. Meyers. The secretary had heard of the Cubi CAT and unhesitatingly requested to ride it. Capt. Meyers looked at me; I nodded and immediately took steps to get a crew ready. Word spread rapidly that Under Secretary of the Navy John Warner would try his luck. The club was soon packed with onlookers. "Before launch we outfitted the secretary in a set of white linen coveralls with 'Red Horse Cat House' embossed in bright red letters on the back. Amid the cheers of the onlookers, the secretary bravely launched and promptly landed in the pool. We catapulted him five times after that and each time he got wet. The skipper kicked the bumper plate back about an inch each time hoping he would catch the wire. While the official never noticed this, we all did. He told the skipper after his fifth trip into the pool, 'it can't be done.' "By this time the bumper was back some 12 inches from the wire and was an easy arrest for a pilot who had a launch or two on the CAT under his belt. So 'Red Horse,' in his tropical whites, strapped in. Before launch one of the junior officers kicked the bumper forward to its original 6-inch position. Meyers launched and to the delight of the visiting official, settled ignominiously into the pool. Secretary Warner wouldn't take off the coveralls. He and the skipper, both wringing wet, set down to lunch with dry colleagues. "Several hours later, still wearing the coveralls, the secretary boarded his aircraft. "The tale of his Cat adventures would be told at the Pentagon, he informed us and the coveralls would be testimony to the validity of his tale."
Sullivan completed his tour at Cubi Point in 1971 and returned to Patuxent River. "I am happy to say there were no injuries from riding the Cat during that period, only wounded pride," Sullivan says. Sullivan returned to Cubi Point in 1979, then employed by Grumman Aerospace Corporation as the Project Manager for the C-2 COD. Much to his dismay the Cat was gone. "The tracks were covered and the pool was filled with cement." Introduced to the new club manager, he asked if I could assist him in putting in a new Cat. I felt like a dinosaur whose time had passed. I believed that as long as there was a Cubi Point there would be a fun place for naval aviators to unwind. In the midst of it all would be the "Cat" and the 'Wall of Fame.' Now both are gone. What remains is my fond memories of the officers and men of AIMD whose ingenuity and hard work made the "Cat" a reality in 1969. "Today it remains a 7th Fleet legend."
VA-153 Pilots working out in the Cubi Pool.
Three VA-55 White Hats relaxing at the Cubi Point EM Club, 1967. Far right is D.A. Weber, one of this site's webmasters.
Olongapo Jeepnee, Main Steet Olongapo PI.
Cubi Point Revisited
Bud Taylor wrote an article (see below) about his visit to PI. Titled "The Budman's 1999 Cubi Point Visit".
I would like to reply to him with the following: Check out the web site at www.subicbaypi.com
Photo Galleries of Off-Base Girls of Olongapo: in the 1960's section. Five of the pictures belong to VA-163 folks. Lots of other good photo's in this web site. Mister Ed, VA-163 Saints SDO
The Budman's 1999 Cubi Point Visit Since the Navy left Cubi Point, Philippines in the early 90's, two factors have greatly influenced the area:
First, the Taiwanese have invested heavily in the building of computer component manufacturing and production facilities in the Subic area. It has included factories, resorts with casino's, yacht club with condominiums and improved recreational facilities.
Second, FDX has utilized the airport area as a major Far East hub for time-definite delivery to that part of the world. As such, let's start at the airport.
The area, previously known as VC-5, VRC-50 and Flag spaces, is now all FDX, which has numerous Airbus, DC-10 and MD-11 aircraft transiting Cubi on a daily/nightly basis. The runway is the same, and pilots have to be mindful of the mountain to the west and the terrain to the east.
The area toward the bay, known as 'The Air Wing Maintenance Hanger' is now deserted. There is a small racetrack in the lower aircraft parking area and a restaurant adjacent to Leyte pier. Not much activity down in that area.
Around to the south is the old ammo pier which is also deserted; however, the dungaree beach areas are still active for tourists, such as the Taiwanese. At the east side of the runway, there is now a commercial international airline terminal with 6 or so gates. That's about it for the airpatch.
Next, Cubi Point, and it's probably most fitting to start with the O'club. It is now an office building; no more club, however-the Catapult room is still functioning and is now known as the 'Flight Deck' with a disco.
I walked completely around the O'club and still marvel at the beautiful view of the bay and surrounding area. There are benches there for those inclined to rest and reminisce. Now, as I walked around the club, I did find a few old shoes, khaki shirts and smelly socks and if I was real quiet, I could here some sounds from the pass-like somebody calling "Main Gate" or something about a "Klondike" game. I also found an old pair of dogtags; but the name was hardly legible-there was a J, an e and a Sat or something. Anyway, it's not the same, boys. OK-as you come out of the club, in your mind eye and to the right would be the gym and bowling alley. There are now restaurants and stores. Facing up the hill toward the BOQ, you'll notice a new casino hotel and resort right in the area that used to be barracks.
That is some of that Taiwanese $. On up past the chapel, the BOQ is now a hotel with another hotel across the street between the Q and the A-5 which is still there.
I went into the Q and looked for a barber shop, and inquired about a Cubi Dog and San Maguil at the back bar. Also, wanted to buy some belt buckles and patches. Boy's (weep), it's all gone. Listening real hard, I could hear some splashes out back, pool is now part of the resort and, well-it's just not the same. By the way, the Cubi exchange with Martinez model shop is all closed and deserted. You can still, however, visit JEST; which still has a zoo, run by the Negrito's including a camp-out, if you so desire.
Well, that's 'bout it for Cubi-in many respects, it a ghost town. Some activity; but most of the activity is down toward Subic side; which will be the subject of page 2, later. Hope you enjoyed the tour, I did. I still in my mind's eye, see the carrier arriving pierside with transportation waiting-the exodus from the ship and the high speed pass to the club and BOQ and the aviator's blowing off some steam.
Bodies crawlin' around the jungle, tomorrow's duty officer meandering back to the ship, the XO wanting to know where everybody is and has ANYBODY read the message board in the last week. And, of course, the Skipper's leading the charge. "Binictican come in-Main Gate" Later, gentleman, the Budman.
PS. Maybe someone has a famous story about the "aaaaatttttddddmmminn car" or whatever to pass along.
Cubi...'Being There' I've been enjoying your travelogue of Subic and I've been meaning to add some of my own experiences for the guys who don't get out much but who remember those days of our Great Adventure. So here are a few words from the Turtle:
I spent a great day in Subic about two weeks ago having some great regression moments. Although I've flown through there a few times with Tigers and FedEx since my Navy days, this was my first actual layover in Subic since my last overnight there sometime in May 1973! So, naturally, sleeping took second place to the urge to revisit the scenes of the crimes.
I was raring to go up and have a look around Cubi. I had two choices, as always: Walk 5 miles up the hill in 900 degrees and 400% humidity (no damn way). Or take de bus. I took de bus. I hopped dis bus pull ob billipilos and blasted up the hill the Cubi Club and the old BOQ. On de bus, de radio was blasting and the air conditioner on de roof was roaring with the condensate dripping right on my head! It was great to be back!
As you go around the bay toward Cubi, right at the split in the road where you either go up the hill to the O'club or down to the pier, there is still that F-8 sitting there, painted sort of a dark Air Force blue from the tip of the pilot tube to the back of the tailpipe. Reminded me of the time when our beach Det was supposed to paint one of our F-8s (in full squadron colors, of course) but decided to hit the Po-town instead and pay the joes to paint the aircraft (no doubt the payoff was two cases of beer or some such). When they got back, the entire aircraft was painted all right, It was gray from pitot tube to titanium tailpipe, including the canopy, the wheel wells and the tires. All gray. Lots of yellin' and snortin' about that as I recall. Glad I wasn't working in Maintenance at the time.
Going up the hill takes you through lots of jungle trees and big bushes as always. It's very quiet up around the old Cubi club but the buildings are about the same with some actual improvements. They've built a few new structures (no high-rises, though) and added some nice features that make it like a tropical hotel/resort deal. There are some walking/sitting areas with views where there was once only jungle down below the O'Club.
You can meander around the grounds and enjoy the heat and the view. (The view is still terrific.) I walked past the Chapel (funny, I don't remember the Chapel at all) over to the BOQ. It's also a hotel/resort but not much in the way of guests. We walked through the place where the old barbershop and massage rooms were (they're gone-turned back into hotel rooms) and out back to the pool. Even though it was a beautiful sunny afternoon, there was not one soul at the pool. I stood there remembering that I never saw that pool with less than 300 guys laying around it. But it looks exactly the same. The cabanas (with grass underneath) by the pool are still there where we got out of the sun and asked the girls to bring us another cold one. The diving boards are low ones now, but I remember colossal buffooneries on a high diving board by many a star athlete/nasal radiator augmented by a few (more than a few...) beers.
The old O'Club is not in daily use now. But it's been maintained and is used on an as-needed basis for conference meetings and presentation meetings. The main dining room is set up with chairs and a big projection screen on the same stage where the Marines used to enhance the floor shows with their "Mushroom soup" routines or the F-8 guys used to give impromptu renditions of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," complete with raunchy gestures. Just writing this is making me laugh so hard, my eyes are watering and I can't see to type! I turned left inside the front door to go have a Cuba Libre at the bar, but, as we all know, the bar is GONE! It's in the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola.
As luck would have it, only 10 days earlier, I was having a Cubi Dog at the actual Cubi Bar in the Museum with 400 other F-8 pilots during our annual reunion. Having a Cubi Dog in Pensacola and nothing but a sweatburger in Cubi was a little strange. It was a quiet moment to stand there and think about the flow of incredible talent, wit and humor that flowed through that building. It was slightly sad to see all the touchstones of the past (the big tall windows were not as tall as I remember 'em, the club itself is not as big as I remember it being, and the slot machines are gone) but the place is the same place, just very quiet.
I stood out in the parking lot, remembering that we only had about two highly stylized cars/trucks per squadron and as JOs we were always stealing the Skipper's truck and blaming it on the XO from the other squadron as we piled in for the trip to the main gate. I walked to the right outside and remembered that facade of dark stone, perfectly fitted together on the face of the club. It's still there. If there was ever a stirring testament to the fact that PEOPLE make the difference in any enterprise, there it was. A building and no people --- nothing. Well, I slapped myself out of my trance and realized that, of course, no trip to Subic is complete without a trip into the 'ville.
So back on de bus to Po wit de billipino beoples, past the huge new Acer computer factory to pick up about a million Bilipino girls who assemble your computers and on to de "Men Gate." The liber (as in that well-known rock song: "Lolling on de Liber") is just as disgusting as ever, but no boys diving for coins. Big wall on the bridge to prevent you from even seeing the liber unless you work at it. On the other side, lots of jeepneys, dust, little shops selling electronics, pizzas, other stuff. No juke joints, dives, bimbos, guys with machine guns or other fun stuff. Just a grubby little third-world town. They did have a huge flea-market set up there, with lots of cheap stuff and the all-time BEST selection of flip-flops I've ever seen. And I've traveled over the years to some big-time flip-flop wearing cultures. This was the worldwide best. Well, what the hell did I expect?
It was so damn hot, I finally had to get the hell out of there, but it wasn't without a moment of serious reflection on what we all enjoyed there. All of us flying F-8s, F-4s, Vigies, Spads, A-4s, A-6s, Whales, and all the rest. The incredible effort of the ships, the squadrons, the shore effort, the beach dets, the liberty fun. Hell, once there were so many ships in port in Subic including two other carriers, we had to "anchor out" with the Oriskany and ride the Higgins boats to the liberty pier. It was a huge effort.. an incredible expenditure of the nation's capital.
As I sat in the MD-11, flying back across the Pacific, I looked out the window at the water and the clouds and thought about all those people, those places and those great days. We all miss 'em, but those days set us on the road to becoming effective people, they made us feel like true agents for our country and they taught us how to do big things in the world and not just root around in the pine trees of our little hometowns, screwing around with old Mary Lou Rottencrotch. As we get older, my friends on this list, you guys who were there with me, are the most valuable things in my life. We were huge, weren't we? Don't worry, Cubi lives.