A call from my squadron, VP-91, in Moffatt Field, CA, offered me the first right of refusal to fly a mission from Hawaii to Tahiti. We are stationed in California, and my squadron is a Reserve squadron. Why is this mission not assigned to the active-duty navy?
I never found out why and it does not matter. I was the Mission Commander on the first flight of many to come that would study the temperatures of the equatorial currents north and south of the equator.
A Litton 72 Inertial Navigation System was installed in our P3A aircraft (150527). The LTN-72 might have been in later models P3s. The Litton representative told us that this was the first time in a P3A model.
He asked me about an appropriate location for a circuit breaker. Since the nav system was bolted to the railroad tracks between the navigator and the tactical coordinator’s stations, I suggested running the wiring over to the main load center, where there were many open slots.
Years later, this navigation system was standard in the P3A and B models, and the circuit breaker location remained the same as was suggested on the first flight. On October 27, 1977, a minimum crew flew a test run with the LTN-72 and the Litton representative. Two hours later, we landed, and the accuracy was measured in single-digit feet. We were impressed!
The big day was November 4, 1977. The scientists and flight crew were on board and ready to fly to Hawaii to spend the night before heading to Tahiti. The plan was to drop SSQ-36 bathythermograph sonobuoys every 60 miles from latitude 10N to 5N, the drop sonobuoys every 30 miles to the equator, and reversed the drops in the southern hemisphere. We would be doing the same mission on the return to Hawaii from Tahiti.
Like all good plans, something went awry. The LTN-72 navigation system refused to operate after we took off. Base operations called the Litton factory, and thirty minutes later, we were en-route to Van Nuys Airport to offload the broken LTN-72 and install another one. The old system was removed within an hour, the new system uncrated and installed, and the preflight checked good on the ground. Off we were, finally, to Hawaii. The LTN-72 performed the entire time flawlessly from Van Nuys Airport to Tahiti and back to Moffatt Field.
Tahiti is almost as far south of the equator as Hawaii is north of it. Our flight took just over eleven hours before landing at Papeete’s Fa’a’ā International Airport in the late afternoon of November 5. We had four days off before our return to Hawaii. Many years earlier, I had been told by a friend if I ever landed in Papeete to get on the next plane and go to Bora Bora. I did!
I spent two days at Club Med on Bora Bora and returned to Tahiti in time to help load sonobuoys for the return flight to Hawaii. Once that was completed, I jumped on another flight to Moorea for one night. I returned to Tahiti plenty of time to preflight and began our mission of dropping more sonobuoys for the scientists to study more of the equatorial currents.
We were told later that this mission probably provided about ten percent of all the knowledge accumulated on equatorial currents in the Pacific to date. Air France provided flight rations for our return flight – great food and a case of wine that we did not open until we landed back in Hawaii on November 9. The following day, we would depart for Moffatt Field.
My wife and I spent two weeks at Club Med in Bora Bora and Moorea a year later. The flight from Papeete to Aéroport de Moorea was a first for us. We shared the main cabin with a dog and about a half dozen chickens. The eleven miles was done in a few minutes. The flight to Bora Bora was much longer (135 miles), and then the trek took on a new mode of transportation.
We landed on the atoll surrounding Bora Bora. A boat picked us up and delivered us to Vaitape, the capital, and a bus took us to Club Med. We had a bungalow over the water with just enough electricity to keep the one or two lights lit at night—no telephones, televisions, etc.
The first time at Bora Bora was rushed. An Australian television station was filming manta rays in the lagoon at Bora Bora. Several of us got a chance to watch the action through the glass bottom on the boat. After that, I took a boat to the atoll for a couple of hours.
On my second trip to Bora Bora with my wife, we noticed several sailboats available for guests next to our bungalow. They were first-come, first-serve. I have sailed with others, but never by myself. I know the mechanics of sailing but never did it alone. My wife joined me, and we went sailing in the lagoon for a couple of hours. It was not until we headed for the dock that I realized I had no idea how to stop the sailboat at the dock.
I ran a few scenarios around in my head and must have guessed right because when I lowered the sail and turned the rudder, the boat snuggled up right next to the pier. Beginner’s luck, I am sure! We walked to Vaitape in the late afternoon for a great meal. I did a little mountain climbing on the prominent peak of Bora Bora – I never made it to the top, but about halfway up, the view was spectacular.
Moorea’s Club Med was five or six times larger than the one on Bora Bora, with electricity and other amenities – nightlife! Nude body painting (we were spectators only for that event) was an entertaining experience, as was the nude beach on a small island about one hundred yards from our dock was a leisurely swim.
There are few times when a vacation is enjoyed for doing next to nothing – this was one of them. We had no plans but to do what happened in the spur of the moment. The food was excellent. The people were fantastic. We had more fun in a short time than any other two-week period that I can recall.
Live Longer & Enjoy Life! – Red O’Laughlin – RedOLaughlin.com