NAVAL AIR & DEVELOPMENT CENTER
US NAVY R&D TEST PILOT
AIR SAFETY INVESTIGATOR
Myron P. Papadakis is the son of Phillipos and Helen Papadakis. Phillipos was born in Voutais Crete and immigrated to the United States alone at the age of 16 inboard SS Invernia in 1912. He lived in harsh conditions and worked in Mason city cement factory while attending school. Through hard work and study, he completed school and entered the University of Cedar Rapids, studying Chemistry. Halfway through his studies, he joined the US Army to fight in WW1. Although applied for the United States Army Air Corps he wasn’t accepted because he wasn’t yet an American citizen. He was appointed a drill instructor and also as a recruiter of young Greeks to join the fight. He was given an award for being the best recruiter of this nature in the Country. Myron P. Papadakis graduated from High School in 1958. He won a United States Navy NROTC scholarship to attend the University. Each summer he went on Navy Required training. The first was onboard the Destroyer USS Osborne DD-846. The second summer was split between Aviation indoctrination in Texas and Marine indoctrination in California, while the last summer was aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ranger CVA-61. In 1963 he completed studies at the University of Nebraska and in 1963 he graduated as a Mechanical Engineer. Upon graduation, he has commissioned a USN Ensign and began his service in the Navy. In September 1963 he began his flight training as a Naval Aviator in NAS Pensacola. He took his preflight training on T-34s of the VT-1 (Training Squadron 1) in Saufley Field Pensacola, Fla. He then progressed to VT-2 and VT-3 flying T-28 “Trojan” Trainer in Milton Fla Whiting Field. In the summer of 1964, he assigned to VT-5 and completed Carrier Landing qualifications with the T-28. Thereafter, he was assigned to the VT-27 for S-2 “Tracker” Advanced Training in Corpus Christi, Texas. During April and May 1965, he was posted to the VS-30 Replacement Air Group for S-2 Operational training. Then he was assigned duties with the VS-32 squadron as a carrier qualified Pilot operating from the decks of USS Lake Champlain and USS Essex as well the shore base in NAS Quonset Pt. Rhode Island. After completing his tour of duty in VS 32 he was assigned to the NADC Naval Air Development Center, Johnsville, Pennsylvania as an R and D test pilot. He was required to the A 4 aircraft. They sent him to VA-44 where he trained and qualified in A-4 Skyhawk single-seat jet attack aircraft. During his qualification flights with the Skyhawk, Myron wrote us about a terrifying incident which he entitled "A look in the tailpipe of hell".
"Sometimes when you do totally incompetent things. I was a second tour Naval Aviator. That job created an opportunity for me to check out in the Jet A-4C Skyhawk. I had 2,000 hours in props and not a minute of jet turbine time. The advanced training command squadron for such aircraft was VA-44 located at Cecil, Field Jacksonville Florida. I could fly formation in the lumbering multi-engine S2E tracker but jets? During the A-4C jet training, I had more flight hours than my instructor. My instructor thought because I had a Navy R&D Test Flying billet, he assumed I had a clue about jet formation flying. Jet formation flying is very different from prop formation. I was too proud and I would never tell my instructor I was clueless. He assumed, since I had a test flying billet, I was competent for today’s hop. The flight was an introduction to four (4) plane tail chase formations. Tail chase is a specialty formation different from the normal 4 planes (1) left (3) right echelon that is so common. In S-2Fs we never ever did tail chase which is simply each aircraft flies behind and below lead in a straight line. Basically, each aircraft is looking up and forward into the tailpipe of the aircraft in front of him. No hill for Pappy, who thought he was a high stepper actually he was clueless about the real world of Jet flying. To make matters worse, I was number two of four, meaning, lead in front and two others were immediately below and behind me. No hill for a high stepper. I took the position and edged ever closer to lead, I kept inching up and forward at over 300 kts, airspeed. It was a calm day as I edged ever closer. Soon I was feeling some turbulence as my vertical tail was being hit by Lead’s jet exhaust. Silence on the intercom, by damn I was not going to ask for help. I edged ever up and ever closer. Soon enough, I was looking directly into the Leads tailpipe. I saw orange, yellow and white heat, the perfect vision of the rear end of a jet engine that was producing that inferno. It was terrifying and mesmerizing at the same instant. I was looking at temperatures equivalent to hell. Worse, my nose touched/hit the lead aircraft. My nose was touching the Lead’s aircraft with no distance between us. My eyeballs were looking directly into the center of hell. The aircraft was buffeting, in a rhythmic cycle, unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I stayed frozen in that position because of fear and no knowledge of how to escape. I was too scared to say a word. I was worried about dying not simply soiling my underwear, I hoped someone would save me from the disaster I was creating. How I lived through that, I have no clue. I wanted the instructor to take the airplane., It never happened…Yet we both lived. And on the ground, my flight instructor's debrief was complimentary. "Lt. Papadakis…I know you have a test pilot billet and I know you wanted to prove you could fly tight formation. You are not a Blue Angel. Worse as an instructor I am responsible for you, bending the pitot tube on your nose. That is a little difficult to explain, Lead's aircraft was OK, don’t ever fly that close again." He was very wrong. What I had wanted an instructor to show me how to fly a loose, safe, formation..."
Left Colored Photos: Excellent colored photos of Myron P. Papadakis with his A-4C Skyhawk while serving in NADC (check profile below), the aircraft he enjoyed most to fly after qualifying to the type in the VA-44 Squadron. In 1944, the Navy acquired the Brewster Aircraft Corporation which consisted of production shops, administration spaces, and the adjoining airfield and hangar spaces. The Navy designated the plant the Naval Air Modification Unit (NAMU), a branch of the Naval Air Material Center (NAMC), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The task assigned to NAMU involved quantity conversion and modification of newly produced aircraft prior to delivery to the fleet for combat use. With the end of WW II, the need for NAMU vanished and in 1947 it was redesignated as the U. S. Naval Air Development Center (NADC). Expansion of NADS activities necessitated another reorganization along more functional lines as the U. S. Naval Air Development Center (NADC) in 1949. NADC became part of the Naval Air Warfare Center command in 1996 and was closed on 31 March 1997. It was his service in NADC that boost Myron's interest regarding Air Safety forcing him to study law and become an Air Safety investigator with over 450 cases solved during his career. (Myron P. Papadakis, further info from https://www.skyhawk.org/)
Left Bottom: A S-2 Tracker of VS-32 at Quonset Point, showing the various loadouts it could carry during his Anti Submarine Warfare missions. Myron P. Papadakis flew for many years with the VS-32, operating from the decks of the USN aircraft carriers and its shore Naval Air Stations. The Grumman S-2 Tracker (S2F prior to 1962) was the first purpose-built, single airframe anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft to enter service with the United States Navy. Designed and initially built by Grumman, the Tracker was of conventional design — propeller-driven with twin radial engines, a high wing that could be folded for storage on aircraft carriers, and tricycle undercarriage. The type was exported to a number of navies around the world. Introduced in 1952, the Tracker and its E-1 Tracer derivative saw service in the U.S. Navy until the mid-1970s, and its C-1 Trader derivative until the mid-1980s, with a few aircraft remaining in service with other air arms into the 21st century. The Tracker was eventually superseded by the Lockheed S-3 Viking. (USN via https://laststandonzombieisland.com/)
Above: During his time in NADC, Myron usually flew with BuNo145062 which was the first A4D-2N (A-4C). Note the "Snoopy" nose art, Charles Schultz cartoon dog that imagined he was fighting the red Baron while sitting on top of his dog house. The A4D-2N was powered by the Curtiss-Wright J65-W-16A engine, with many upgraded to the more powerful J65-W-20. The "N" designation represented the "night" capability delivered by the addition of a radar. This resulted in a slightly longer nose; and pushed the aircraft length from 39 feet, 4 inches to 40 feet, and one inch. With three external stores station, it could deliver weapons utilizing an improved weapons delivery system. Improvements included an auto-pilot and all-attitude gyro system; a low-altitude bombing system; terrain clearance radar; and angle of attack instrumentation. The first A4D-2N (A-4C) flight occurred on August 21, 1958, and the first fleet delivery was to VMA-225 in February 1960. BuNo145062, the first A4D-2N. In 1961, two A4D-2 Skyhawks (BuNos 148490 and 148483) were borrowed by the U.S. Army and modified by Douglas for evaluation in competition with the Northrop N-156 (predecessor of the F-5) and an Italian Fiat G-91, for operations from unimproved airfields near front lines. Modifications of the Army Skyhawk included large dual wheels on beefed-up main landing gear mounts; a heavier wing to house the larger landing gear; and installation of an A-3 Skywarrior drag chute. Flown by Douglas test pilot Dru Wood, the modified "Army" Skyhawk won the competition, but the project was canceled when Army funds were diverted to helicopter procurement. The A4D-2N was re-designated A-4C in September of 1962. At that time, the A4D-2N was still in production and the production line was moved from the El Segundo plant to the Long Beach plant. The final assembly was done at a government-owned plant in Palmdale, CA. In 1969, Douglas was contracted to modify 100 A4D-2N (A-4C) Skyhawks to the A-4L designation. (Tom Cooper, further info from https://www.skyhawk.org/)
As a Research and Development Test Pilot, he flew S-2 Tracker and A-4C Skyhawks and he logged co-pilot time in DC-3, P2 Neptune, P3 Orion, and SH3 helicopter. He was a member of the Joint Services Search & Rescue Committee speaking for USN and became Program Manager (R&D) for Search and Rescue. His secondary duty was as assistant base Communications Officer and he was also Cryptology qualified. "Pappy" while a pilot at NADC he completed various test flight projects including "Project Igloo White", "Circling Wire Delivery Concepts", "Cesium Vapor Magnetometer tests", "Low lite TV and IR gear tests", "25,000 ft Silver wire LF antennae tests" and Egress development projects called: "Fly Away Ejection Seats", "Para Wing Glider", "Goodyear Inflato plane" and "Project Aercab Gyrocopter". He also wrote Two NADC reports.
1. "SAR in South East Asia" - Classified Secret – August 1969
2. NADC report -Unclassified Report No. NADC-AM-6906 30 Sept 1969. "Rescue Systems and Support Elements…Search and Rescue SAR - A Conceptual Study", Air Task W4518000 /91-AO5-510-156/2021.
Papadakis Left Active service on October 31, 1969. His total time counting NROTC September 1958 through 1972 was 14 years of which 6 years 4 months active duty. After leaving the Navy he became a pilot for Delta airlines. He was a line pilot from January 1970 through age 60 retirement in 2001. He accumulated 23,500 + flight hours and type ratings in the B737, B727, B757, B767, B767NG-400, and L1011. He has flown domestic and international flights. By flying every weekend and holiday for the airline he was able to attend Law school graduating with a Juris Doctorate degree in 1974. Pappy has published extensively including two reference Legal textbooks and over 40 professional journal articles. In his lifetime he has evaluated, investigated, or helped litigate over 450 separate aircraft accidents. The International Society of Air Safety Investigators awarded him their yearly 2013 Jerome Lederer Air Safety Award signifying technical excellence in Aircraft Accident Investigation. In his spare time, Papadakis has taught Aviation Law and Product Liability Law from 1980 through 2016. Pappy was a very active member of the Airline Pilot’s Association he worked in safety-related matters for over 22 of his 31 years. He was incident investigator, Houston Local Executive Committee Safety Chairman, Operation USA member, All-Weather Flying committee alternate, and Master Executive Council Contract Negotiator. He was involved with the Safety Committee for over 20 years. He attended innumerable safety conferences and also the (DOT) NTSB accident investigating training course in Oklahoma City.
Sometimes investigating, often evaluating, and occasionally litigating. His diligent work has resulted in corrections in accident reports in the USAF, USN, and NTSB. Myron's helped further expose wire bundle chafing and Kapton wiring Insulation flash-over problems in USAF F-16 well before the civilian world got concerned and cleared his fellow Greek American pilot record Cpt. Harduvel when he was blamed for crashing his F-16 in South Korea in an accident that took his life. Pappy’s other legal work on a K.I. Sawyer B-52 explosion showed what a fuel vapor exposure and a dry-running air pump would result in. Strangely the Air Force had forgotten the need leave unused fuel because of potential ignition sources in totally dry tanks. Unfortunately, it took the TWA 800 tragedy to remind this industry of the requirement for fuel to remain unburned in tanks. The USAF Had learned this in a 1970 B-52 dry run fire. He also pointed out a minor error NASA in their Challenger Presidential Commission report. He has co-authored the 800-page referenced book, “Aircraft Accident Reconstruction and Litigation,” which is now in its fourth printing and is recognized as the definitive text on this subject. The book serves as an investigation manual for laymen while providing an introduction to legal procedures for consultants and expert witnesses. During his lifetime Pappy his logbook shows 23,500+ accident-free flight hours in 40 different aircraft. He has landed over 200 times either as a pilot or co-pilot aboard aircraft carriers including USS Lexington, USS Shangri La, USS Lake Champlain, USS Essex, and USS Wasp.
Top: Nice portrait photo of the Greek American naval pilot and air safety investigator taken aboard an aircraft carrier on 1967 North Atlantic Med Cruise. (Myron P. Papadakis)
Middle: Myron Papadakis receiving a Letter of Commendation from the Miami District of the United States Coast Guard because he had volunteered his plane copiloted by Lt. Merril with Ensign Swartzel in an aircrew radar seat. They volunteered to supplement an ongoing Coast Guard Search and Rescue operation. By luck or by Navigational fluke the crew found the sole survivor of a plane crash 40 miles off the Bahamas. That rescue got him assigned to Program Manager Search and Rescue at NADC and I was the Navy member of the joint services SAR committee. That committee coordinated plans and procedures of all US military ever involved. It was commanded by 3 star USAF Gen. Stulken. We had USCG, NAVY, AIR FORCE, ARMY, NASA, and Cover Intelligence Agency members. In that capacity, he authored Rescue Systems and Support ELEMENTS SEARCH AND RESCUE (SAR) AT W4518000. According to his words: "Single the best job I ever had the honor of being associated with". (Myron P. Papadakis)
Bottom: NADC A-4C Skyhawk BuNo 147680, NADC Warminster, May 1973. July 24, 1974. Lt. Kenneth R. Wetzel, 30, was killed when his A-4C Skyhawk crashed yesterday in a cornfield, slid across a road, and skidded upside down to a halt inside NADC Warminster after his routine flight developed trouble on take-off. (https://www.skyhawk.org/ via Gary Verver)
Below: Various photos from Myron's USN career. Note the middle photo in which his proud father pins the USN Golden Wings on his son's uniform. A great moment for a man who left Greece with nothing and became a great scientist to see his child move forward in his life without facing the difficulties he had. (Myron P. Papadakis)
MYRON P. PAPADAKIS
"My life can not be described as one destined for greatness, Instead I was born with a relentless curiosity, and indefatigable energy that would not quit. This perseverance gave me the strength to continue and forego normal rest. In that aspect I am unique. I was always expanding my horizons doing more and more things while excelling at nothing. I started to fill my life with experience, but without a dedicated purpose. That was true throughout college and through my early Navy flying. Only when I was chosen to become a Research and Development Test Pilot and a Search and Rescue Project officer at NADC did I Become focused. The purpose of enhancing Safety was instilled and Law school helped me decide to dedicate myself to Aviation Safety and Aviation Law. In my Journey, I lucky enough to meet USAF investigator Sam Taylor and investigators Ira Rimson, Jerome Lederer, and Alan Diehl and they instilled in me this concept that aviation safety is best enhanced through active and perceptive field investigations that find and illuminate the true causes of Accidents. The Law aspect gave me a perspective that made me aware that there were investigators with agendas not always interested in truth but rather in protecting a position. It was my father, Professor Phillipos E. Papadakis example of studying and doing research on anti Cancer drugs every night at the dining room table that instilled a lifelong understanding that difficult problems are not impossible, they just take long hard work to solve. In retrospect, flying for fifty years as a Navy carrier pilot and then an international airline pilot, while simultaneously studying, practicing, and teaching law for 46 years, while investigating -evaluating, or helping litigate 450 crash cases is unique. I hope I did an adequate Job".
Above: Three generations of Papadakis family serving their duty in the US armed forces. On the left Phillipos Papadakis during WW1, in the middle, Myron P. Papadakis, naval and airline aviator, test pilot, and air safety investigator, and on the right Myron's two sons. Above is Nick Papadakis a Navy Lt. during his tour in Kabul Afghanistan and below US Army SSGT Wade Papadakis 22 years of service veteran with 2 tours in Iraq. (Myron P. Papadakis)
Top Left: The last family picture was taken in Crete, Greece before Phillipos Papadakis age 16 decided to come to America alone and begin a journey through WWI to becoming a Ph.D. professor doing anti-cancer research with Organic Chemistry compounds. This is where he got his family values and sense of right and wrong. (Myron P. Papadakis)
Middle Up & Down: "I have left out that the junior year was interrupted for us by World War One. We served and came back a year later. It was a big thing and I relate it now. In the junior year, many of the students volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army. I tried to Join the Army Flying Corps but a general from The War Department wrote back:
1. Returning herewith your application for a commission in the Aviation Section, Signal Officer Reserve.
2. It is noted that you are not yet a citizen of THE UNITED STATES. You are advised that all men who become flyers in the Aviation Section are Commissioned and no men who are not citizens of THE UNITED STATES can be commissioned in the Aviation Section, Signal Officers Reserve Corps. Regret, therefore, that your application can not be considered.
Later I was in the U.S. Army, at first, I was utilized as a recruiter. I made speeches to Greek men and I urged them to join up even though they too were not citizens. It was said that those who served for America were the same as serving for Greece and if they went home they would be veterans for having served here. In a Park in Cedar Rapids military band, with a U.S. Senator from Iowa, the Mayor of Cedar Rapids, and I gave speeches to enlist these immigrant Greek men. I was given an award for being the best recruiter of this nature in the Country. At the time I was in the Army I was chosen to make a poster with my picture... not because I was the best soldier but because I was exactly the size of the average American fighting man. I was 5 feet seven and 3/4 inches and 148 lbs. At my age today I can still wear the same uniform. A Full Colonel was supervising as well as our own Lt. Albert. The Colonel called to me and I saluted him and stood at attention. The Colonel knew my name and he appointed me Corporal on the spot and gave me the first demonstration squad, made up of the tallest. Two weeks later all those men got squads of their own and were promoted to sergeant. I have left a corporal. I was angry. I did not know it but I was not promoted since all sergeants were to go to France and the Colonel wanted me to remain as drill instructor to help train. During Basic Training in Night School for non-commissioned officers, I got the highest grades. In the field, I was the leader of the Demonstration squad. In company drills, I was the Right Guide for the company. I felt very badly when my company and Friends were sent to France and I was held back. I asked to go, but I was held back because I was a very good drill instructor". (Phillipos Papadakis Memoirs via Myron P. Papadakis)
Left Bottom: When Phillipos Papadakis finally achieved working his way through Columbia University to a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry. Under his Cap and Gown, he donned the traditional Cretan warrior outfit. The picture was taken on the front steps of Columbia University in 1929. One semester he was so broke he slept in a subway trash bin and showered under a cold chemical lab shower and kept changes of clothes in Columbia Broom closet....an immigrant Ivy Leaguer! His perseverance and study habits made him PROF EMERITUS- anti Cancer research Chemist(Myron P. Papadakis)
Our team would like to express their thanking to Myron P. Papadakis for his invaluable help and his continued correspondence he had, both with George Chalkiadopoulos and Dimitris Vassilopoulos. Furthermore, he provided us with great photos from his family and his service, as well as excerpts for his father Phillipos Papadakis Ph.D. memoirs. Lastly, we would like to thank Gary Verver of the https://www.skyhawk.org/ for his contribution in photos and information regarding the venerable "Scooter". We urge you all to visit his website.