Nancy Miller, Northern Neck-Middle Peninsula Chapter
In July, August and September of 2021 the NN-MP Chapter hosted recorded presentations on Igor Sikorsky, The Great Electric Airplane Race, and artist/aviator/photographer Gordon Campbell’s beautiful low and slow aerial photos of the Chesapeake Bay’s wetlands, shorelines and the water-based commerce and small towns of our region*. These recorded programs helped us cautiously resume our meetings after a very long Covid-19 suspension.
In our previous NN-MP Chapter report I expressed the hope that Al Carpenter, a local, living national aviation treasure (read on) might be a speaker at a future Chapter meeting. Well, wishes do sometimes come true!
On October 21, 2021, aviator and Mathews County resident Al Carpenter joined us in person to present just one compelling portion of his lifetime in aviation; a lifetime which has spanned decades in military, combat and community service in civilian flight (military time including 2,315 days as a POW in Vietnam). Al’s presentation filled the room, drawing the largest number of attendees that the Chapter has seen in several years. The following paragraph gives a little more detail about that demanding chapter in Al’s life which was the subject of his talk, and only hints at Al’s broader spectrum of an aviator’s life experience. For more information readers can use the link provided at the end of Al’s profile, below.
Al Carpenter “…began flying combat missions in the A-4 [Skyhawk] with VA-72 from the USS Independence in 1965 and the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1966. …[F]orced to eject on August 21, 1966 after taking heavy battle damage and making it back to the vicinity of the carrier… he was rescued by the ship’s helicopter and went back on flying status. Carpenter was shot down again over North Vietnam on November 1, 1966, while flying his 135th combat mission, and was taken as a Prisoner of War by the North Vietnamese for the next 2,315 days. After his release during Operation Homecoming on March 4, 1973, and hospitalization for 4 months afterward, Carpenter went back on flying status as an instrument flight instructor with VF-43 at NAS Oceana. This was followed by a tour in the College Degree Program at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, and his retirement from the Navy on December 31, 1978. Since his retirement, Allan has amassed almost 4,000 flying hours in ultralight and experimental aircraft. Al married Carolyn Malone in 1957 and they have 4 children.” [ Source: Veteran Tributes, http://www.veterantributes.org/TributeDetail.php?recordID=43 ]
On Thursday, November 18, 2021, the Chapter hosted an in-person presentation by James “Jim” Ruliffson, Fighter Pilot and TOPGUN Instructor (Navy Fighter Weapons School).
2019 marked the 50th anniversary of the Navy Fighter Weapons School, an advanced training program better known as Topgun, which dramatically increased the shootdowns by Navy aviators during the Vietnam War. The first four pilots invited to join Topgun as instructors included James “Jim” Ruliffson. Program Founder and Author Dan Pedersen (“Top Gun, An American Story”) describes him this way:
“Jim Ruliffson probably put out more pure intellectual wattage than any of us. No one understood the Phantom’s electronic and avionics systems better than he did. With his superb technical mind and training in electrical engineering, Ruliffson was a natural to spearhead our effort to master the Sidewinder and Sparrow missiles. In the subtle differences in performance between these high-tech weapons, not to mention the optimal parameters of their use, was the critical margin between life and death. “Cobra” Ruliffson distinguished himself with his superb gift for teaching this complex material to aircrews.”
Upon completion of his tour at TOPGUN, Ruliffson made his third combat deployment, then completed training at the Naval Test Pilot School before returning to TOPGUN as Commanding Officer in 1975.
Jim’s presentation moved quickly and was filled with stories and some humorous anecdotes that illuminated the rare world of a TOPGUN pilot’s experience. The large audience asked many questions and beamed their appreciation at the close of the presentation.
While the Chapter does not hold meetings in December, plans for 2022 begin with the popular “Show and Tell” session held each year in January, where attendees bring aeronautical possessions and their favorite flying memorabilia to share with the group. Beyond that, preliminary contacts have been made with an innovative AirCam builder, and a presentation of local UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) applications. Other potential topics include a recent Reno Air Race winner’s story and the racing modifications made to a Lancair Legacy, and a presentation about a beloved local “Ghost” airport now fading into history but alive and well in many local memories. As dates and details are confirmed, advance information on each month’s meetings and topics will be posted at the VAHS website and sent directly to all on the NN-MP Chapter’s e-list.
*Gordon Campbell has enthusiastically accepted our invitation to provide a follow-up in-person presentation at a NN-MP Chapter meeting in the Spring of 2022, with the exact date to be mutually determined. Watch for an advance notice at the VAHS website.