A-7A CORSAIR PILOT
ATTACK SQUADRON TWENTY SEVEN (VA-27)
USS CONSTELLATION YANKEE STATION, VIETNAM
Commander George T. Pappas, USN, was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1930. He was the son of the Greek immigrant Theodore Pappas and Ruby Pappas. Theodore came in the United States traveling from Pireus to New York on board a ship named Constantinople in 1923 while he was 28 years old while Ruby was born in Scotland about 1909. Like many Greeks, he started his own restaurant business. George entered the Navy in 1950 as a Naval Aviation Cadet after attending the Howard College and then the University of Alabama and he was a great football player He earned his Navy Wings of Gold in May 1952. He served his first tour of duty with VA-104 at NAS Jacksonville, Fla. flying the FG-1D Corsair and later the AD Skyraider. This was followed by two years of academic study in economics at the University of Alabama. In February of 1957, he reported to the Basic Training Command and became a flight instructor. After attending a year of school at the U. S. Naval Post-graduate School, Monterey he resumed his role as an attack pilot in VA-165 while performing as the Aircraft Maintenance Officer. His next tour of duty took him to the high seas as V6 officer on the USS RANGER. In addition to his regular duties, he gained valuable experience in Primary Flight Control and on the Navigating Bridge where he was the general quarters' Officer of the Deck. In September 1965 he reported to VA-122, the first attack squadron in the Fleet which received the Vought A-7 Corsair II, as Aircraft Maintenance Officer until he assumed duties as an Executive Officer on July of the same year. VA-122 became the Replacement Training Squadron for the A-7A and prepare members of other squadrons for their transition to the new attack plane. On 1 September 1967, with e handful of men and two officers, Commander PAPPAS commissioned VA-27 and proceeded to build the squadron into an effective, fully complemented combat unit equipped with the soon widely known SLUF (Short Little Ugly Fucker). During the extended Western Pacific combat deployment of the Royal Maces, onboard the USS Constellation (CVA-64), which ended 31 January 1969. The first combat flight was lead by the Greek American pilot on June 28, 1968, and resulted in the destruction of the Phuc Hoi Highway bridge in North Vietnam. During their first combat cruise, the Royal Maces flew over 2300 combat sorties, and during one 25 days operating period more than 1000 hours were flown in combat. For his service, he was awarded two DFCs with a Gold Star in lieu for the second one, 2 Air Medals and the Navy Commendation Medal for heroic action against the enemy. He has earned 11 strike flight air medals flying over 100 missions against the enemy.
Left Above: George T. Pappas official Navy portrait (US Navy)
Left Below: Cdr Pappas inside his A-7 Cockpit onboard the USS Constellation. (Dwayne Pappas)
Below Left: 1968 - Officers of VA-27. If you look closely, Lt Karp is sitting on the wing holding a Royal Mace over everyone. (Cdr. George Pappas via Bob Dorais - http://www.miyf27.com)
Below Right: 1969 - Vietnam - VA-27 Royal Maces A-7A Corsair II Bu.No.153252, NK-606, dropping bombs. (US Navy via http://www.miyf27.com)
A-7A Basic Information via Dr. William J. Armstrong Historian Naval Air Systems Command
In May 1963, the Navy began a design competition for a light-attack, carrier-based aircraft to replace the Douglas A-4E Skyhawk. The new aircraft was to carry a larger ordnance payload than the Skyhawk and fly a greater combat radius. Vought, Douglas, Grumman, and North American responded to the Navy’s invitation to bid. Vought was selected as the winner on February 1964. In March, the designation A-7A was approved for the new aircraft. The proposal by Vought engineers was based on their F-8 Crusader but without that fighter’s adjustable wing incidence. A-7A was a single-place, carrier-based, light attack, subsonic, medium-range aircraft, powered by the Pratt & Whitney TF30-P-6 engine and designed to provide high attack utility and flexibility for close support and interdiction missions by virtue of a large number of external store stations to provide ordnance loading capacity and freedom of ordnance choice. A large internal fuel capacity made external fuel unnecessary for most missions while retaining the maximum number of stations for armament. The A-7A’s combat range was not less than 1,180 nautical miles with an average cruising speed never under 390 knots. The aircraft had an excellent overload capability in terms of wind-over deck requirements, flying qualities and structural integrity. The A-7A was designed with a fixed-wing incidence and a high-lift system composed of leading-edge flaps and single slotted trailing edge flaps. Lateral control was provided by outboard ailerons and inboard spoilers.
A-7A Bu.No.154344/NK 601 of VA-27/CVW-14, USS Constellation, 1968 was the personal plane of Cdr George Pappas. Later the name of the Greek American VA-27 CO, added under the windscreen as shown in various photos in this tribute. This was the plane he flew during the famous September 14, 1968 sortie and for which he gained the DFC. As commanding officer of VA-27, flying from USS Constellation, Commander Pappas led a flight of three aircraft on a strike against the Linh Cam ferry crossing on September 14. Intense antiaircraft fire was encountered and his aircraft suffered a direct hit on the starboard wing. Despite the hit, he continued the attack and caused extensive damage to the target,' Then, although fuel was streaming from the burning wing and he was having control difficulties, he elected to proceed to Da Nang Air Base in an attempt to save the aircraft. The fire became more intense as he approached Da Nang but he elected to continue an attempted landing to avoid endangering any of the numerous ships in Da Nang Bay or life and property in the densely populated area surrounding the airbase. Commander Pappas landed the aircraft on the runway and when all directional control was lost he finally abandoned his efforts to stop the aircraft and ejected. Flames were engulfing his A-7 as he "punched out". The plane swerved off the runway and came to rest near a hangar. The photos above the profile show the Bu.No.154344 after the crash landing. The skipper of the "Royal Maces," also received a Gold Star in lieu of a second DFC for leading an August 16 strike against the Tam Da bridge in North Vietnam, the Air Medal for a July 13 attack on the Thuan Hy bridge, and the Navy Commendation Medal for an October 7 attack on the Xom Thai Xa highway bridge. (Copyright Jim Laurier and further info and photos copyright by Dwayne Pappas and Bob Dorais - http://www.miyf27.com)
On September 14, 1968, he flew his most memorable mission. The commanding officer of VA-27 was flying from USS Constellation in the Gulf of. Tonkin and leading an attack on a ferry in the southern panhandle region of enemy territory on September 14 when his A-7 was hit and its starboard wing set on fire. Attempting to save his crippled and burning Corsair II, hit by enemy antiaircraft fire over North Vietnam, Commander George T. Pappas made it to the airfield at Da Nang but was finally forced to eject from the blazing plane at the last minute as he set it down on a runway.
"I headed toward the beach. It got a little hairy knowing my wing fuel was streaming but I had no choice. I started to lose control but I executed a few emergency procedures and was able to regain some control. When I got over the water, I was able to breathe a little easier but watching my wing burning didn't help my morale any. I had only two courses of action. I could either put her down and hope the rescue forces reached me before the Reds or else try to make it to the airfield at Da Nang. I thought I'd try to make it. When I reached the bay I slowed down and the wing fire started to flare up. I thought about ejecting then but there were too many boats in the harbor. In fact, I've never seen so many boats at one time. Once I had committed myself to land I was going to take her all the way in but I had difficulty landing and as my speed decreased, the fire increased. I punched out and felt lifted into the air. The plane swerved off the runway and came to rest near a hangar, where the blaze was extinguished by fire crews. I don't remember my rate of descent or what happened to the chute. I landed on my feet on the runway and bounced and then came down on my head. I think I would have been a goner if I hadn't been wearing a helmet. The next thing I remember I was lying on the ground and a lot of people were running up to me. I don't think I had been unconscious but I remember lying very still in case I had broken some bones. There was no feeling of pain — only the happy thought that I was still alive."
Commander Pappas was rushed to an emergency ward where he was treated for cuts and bruises and X-rays were taken. The next day, he was returned to his squadron aboard USS Constellation. George T. Pappas served in various USN positions and after his retirement, he entered real estate business. However, he is remembered mostly for being able to get the squadron established, trained and deployed and jump right into the Vietnam conflict. The Maces led by Cdr. Pappas made a big impact on the war and didn't lose a single aviator. Cdr. Pappas set the standard for the Mace's and left a great legacy with a high level of performance and safety that is carried on today. This great Hellenic parentage SLUF pilot pass away on March 10, 2010, and he is considered one of the first Greeks ever flew the A-7 Corsair II, almost 10 years before it entered service with the Hellenic Air Force.
Right: The pilots of Attack Squadron TWENTY-SEVEN ‘Royal Maces’ flew their aircraft into NAS Lemoore from the deck of the USS Constellation after an eight-month combat cruise in Vietnam. The success of the first combat deployment of the squadron is especially remarkable in that the squadron only came into being on 1 September 1967 when it was commissioned by its first and present Commanding Officer, Commander George T. Pappas of Birmingham, Ala. The squadron was outfitted with the Navy's newest light jet attack aircraft, the A-7A. The first operational flight in the squadron aircraft was flown on January 10th, 1968 by Cdr. Pappas and Lt. Gerstel. On 28 May 1968, the new squadron departed San Diego aboard the USS Constellation to test the courage and mettle of its men and the sturdiness of its aircraft against the enemy in Vietnam. The first combat flight was lead by Cdr Pappas on 28 June 1968 and resulted in the destruction of the Phuc Hoi highway bridge in North Vietnam. The squadron participated in many highly successful strikes in North Vietnam. panhandle region. The results of the ‘Royal Maces' first combat deployment were impressive. Over 2.300 combat sorties were flown and over 10 million pounds of bombs dropped on the enemy. Twenty of the twenty-two pilots assigned flew over 100 combat sorties during this period of time. During one period of twenty-five days, over 1000 hours were flown in combat. All told it was an extraordinary achievement for a squadron that was less than one years old. On the photo above Lt. Karp flying a VA-27 Royal Mace A-7A along the coast of Vietnam (Rodd Karp viaBob Dorais - http://www.miyf27.com) and on the one below a great picture of the first Royal Mace's with Cdr Pappas on center. (Rodd Karp via Bob Dorais - http://www.miyf27.com)
Above: Cdr Pappas, between operational missions, on the carrier deck. He had more than 100 combat missions to his credit. (Dwayne Pappas via Bob Dorais - http://www.miyf27.com)
Above: Telegram sent by G.T. Pappas to his wife after his succesful ejection from his fighter on Sep. 14, 1968. As his son Dwayne cleverly commented, that was before emails! (Dwayne Pappas)
Above: The ejection handle of ESCAPAC 1C2 ejection seat, used from Cdr Pappas in order to escape from his damaged plane, during his force landing on Da Nang. (Dwayne Pappas)
Above: 1968 - VA-27 #601 A-7A Royal Mace leaving the deck of the USS Constellation CVA-64 with a full load of MK-82 bombs for a mission over Vietnam. (US Navy via Bob Dorais - http://www.miyf27.com)
Above: A-7A's Corsairs II of VA-27 fly over the aircraft carrier USS Constellation CV-64 in the Gulf of Tonkin after a combat mission over Viet Nam in December of 1968. (Dwayne Pappas)
Above: Great shot of the VA-27 pilots possibly during 1968 before VA-27 first deployment onboard USS Constellation. Cdr George T. Pappas is standing in front pointing at the cake. The cause of the celebration is unknown. (Dwayne Pappas via Bob Dorais - http://www.miyf27.com)
George Pappas pose happily in front of SLUFs massive air intake, after his retirement. The A7-E was notorious for swallowing people on the carrier deck. According to another USN Veteran who served both as an enlisted sailor on deck and later as a pilot: "There is no “most dangerous” job on the flight deck. At any given time, any of us working up there could have encountered a similar fate and it didn't have to be the spinning death props, (which coincidentally, I went on to fly in my career as a pilot). There is a good reason they call it one of the most dangerous 4.5 acres in the world." (Dwayne Pappas)
1. Dimitrios Vassilopoulos correspondence with Dwayne Pappas, Cdr. George T. Pappas son.
2. Bob Dorais and his wonderful site http://www.miyf27.com
3. Kyriakos Paloulian mails with US Navy Heritage and History Command
Special thanks to
1. Dwayne Pappas and Bob Dorais for the permission to use the pictures for this tribute
2. Jim Laurier one of the most talented aviation artists and profilers, for giving us permission to use Cdr. Pappas A-7A BuNo 154344/NK 601 profile and his continues support to our research.