12 July 1999

The Flight Of Lance Corporal Foote

Richard Hardin 

Major, United States Marine Corps, (Retired) 

I was an enlisted air traffic controller at EL Toro back in the early/mid 1980's. Due to my artistic skills (and the lack of PowerPoint) in those days, I was selected to help put together a "noise abatement" presentation for the Orange County Commissioners. I know all too well how we were weaseled out of the hole. I suppose that's "progress." 

I think the most interesting story was one of the night of 04 July, 1986. It was about midnight when I heard an A-4 depart the field. I was wondering who had the "huevos" to do a "closed field departure." Must have been someone really important I surmised from my base-housing quarters located off the departure end of "7 duals."

About two hours later, I was awakened by an A-4 circling the field (what turned out to be four times). All I could think of was that someone must have been called in to turn on the field lighting.

Well, this turned out to be the famous/infamous LCpl Foote, an A-4 mech, part-time Mercury refueling employee, and honest-to-God-world-class glider pilot.

As he was a part of the same parent squadron, Station Operations and Maintenance Squadron. I got some of the "good gouge" on his story.

Apparently, he had befriended some "important" folks on station who were also glider enthusiast. Being a celebrity of sorts in the glider community he managed to wrangle unlimited time on the A-4 simulator. Rumor had it that he had more time on the simulator than any "school-trained" active duty aviator.

He had been trying to acquire a high altitude suit for another altitude record. Before this happened, he got a form of high altitude (hypoxia) sickness similar to the bends. The flight surgeon informed him that he would never fly for the military. His dreams shattered.

So after some deliberation, he decided that he would have his flight with the military even if it was "just one." So on the night of 04 July, LCpl Foote reestablished the enlisted flying program by taking an A-4 out for a taxi test and took off from El Toro - closed field. No one had raised an eyebrow.

He flew out over one of the restricted areas for about an hour and a half then returned to make four passes over NZJ then landed on 36 left without the benefit of any airfield lighting or control.

The M.P.'s apparently did not have there attention drawn until a second or third pass in the pattern had been completed. If he could have made a straight-in, full stop no one would ever have known . . . but then no one would ever believe his story . . . He had already taxied to the flight-line and was in the process of securing the aircraft before the "officials" figured out exactly where they needed to go to greet and question the arriving "aviator."

While in the brig, LCpl Foote was somewhat of a cult hero among officers and enlisted alike. Many officers made comments in jest that, " . . . they should just let him out and pin some gold bars and wings on him . . . he just save the Corps million of dollars in flight training . . ." There were book contracts and movie rights signed while he was incarcerated there at El Toro.

(There is more to this story - but I don't feel that I am at liberty to divulge anymore particulars.)

Where is he today? . . . I would REALLY like to know.  There was a rumor that I heard while I was in TBS (1987) that he was flying for the Israeli Air Force.

Then there was the day that "we" made the Orange County Register headlines by allegedly "buzzing" the black tie, ground breaking ceremony for the heart attack out-patient recovery center (with two sections of F-4's). They "conveniently" built this on the very edge of the (25 duals departure end) noise abatement footprint. That's another story.


30 June 2009

It's funny how the Internet makes for a small world. I was just chatting with a former WM via email and was relaying my Lance Corporal Foote story when I got the bright idea of actually doing a Yahoo search to see if anything was out there on it.


I came across your posting on the topic and added the link to my email sent her way.


BTW - I was an MP on El Toro for 3.5 years from 84-88.


Here's my version of that night as relayed to the WM:


Did you ever hear the story of the Lance Corporal who actually took off in a A 4 Skyhawk? True story! It was a holiday and I was off-base working a security job and I heard a plane take off around midnight. I thought, that's odd they never fly on holidays. My room mate was on the main gate when an F-18 pilot came screaming past on his way to scramble El Toro's version of the alert bird (they never left one armed so I don't know how alert it was). but this guy took off after the A-4 to shoot it down. The E-3 came back and landed, apparently damaging the landing gear.


Lance Corporal Foote was his name and the story was that he was the base CG's son in law and had been getting his degree, was about to go to OCS to become a pilot. He'd been granted simulator time so he kinda knew how to fly. He had just flunked a medical exam and was washed out of becoming a pilot. He supposedly was so overwrought that he did what he did. We were in Seps at the same time - although mine was honorable - his, not so much LOL. End of email to the WM.


So, in your posting you hinted that "there's more to the story" and I am wondering if my recounting of the F-18 and the CG's son in law are accurate or is it urban legend?


I know someone came screaming through the main gate at 90 miles an hour because the dispatcher called my roommate who was standing the gate that night and told him to get out of the way and let that car through. The dispatcher said it was an F-18 pilot.


The MP who was at the check point of the MAG area was a WM and she saw Foote drive a piece of GSE gear up to the plane and start it up. She thought it was just normal maintenance activity. NOT!


Anyhow, it was funny stuff to read your version of this strange and true tale!


Semper Fi!