McDonnell Banshee Pilot Addreses McDonnell Aircraft Retiree Group

The weekly luncheon of a local McDonnell Aircraft/McDonnell Douglas retiree group included a special guest speaker this week – Mr. Bill Hunsicker.  Mr. Hunsicker served as a U.S. Naval Aviator during the mid 1950s, flying the McDonnell-built F2H-3 Banshee fighter/bomber during the critical years after the end of the Korean War fighting and the emergence of China as the Pacific threat to the U.S. The attendees this week were eager to hear a first-hand account from a Banshee pilot on what it was like to fly an aircraft that some of them designed and built.
They were not disappointed with what they heard.
Bill Hunsicker enlisted in the U.S. Navy NAVCAD program in 1953.  The Naval Aviation Cadet Program was used in various forms from 1935-1968 to train enlisted candidates with some college credit as Naval Aviators to increase the number of air crews during times of crisis.  The NAVCAD program from the 1950-1955 period was replaced by the Aviation Officer Candidate School at NAS Pensacola for college graduates.  Mr. Hunsicker was commissioned in May 1955 and assigned to the VF-213, an “All Weather Night Fighter Squadron.”  He was deployed in August 1956 aboard the USS Bon Homme Richard CVA-31, newly re-commissioned for the second time in September 1955 after receiving a major conversion to accept jet aircraft. He later transitioned to fly the Douglas F-4D Skyray for a short time before returning to the United States in March 1957 and leaving active duty in August of 1957 to complete his Engineering degree at Washington University in St. Louis.
Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum Collection
Mr. Hunsicker was very complimentary of the Banshee, describing it as a stable weapons platform and overall very reliable and easy to maintain aircraft.  Although it was not by then considered a “high performance” jet fighter due to its subsonic speed and less sophisticated avionics, the Banshee was still a valuable asset for night fleet defense, ground attack and “special weapons delivery” missions through the 1950s.  About half of his squadron’s aircraft were specially outfitted with taller landing gear, special bomb rack, bomb delivery avionics and aerial refueling probes to accommodate the potential delivery of atomic weapons.  Following the transition to the Skyray, the squadron’s Banshees were sold to Canada, where they served from land bases and the HMCS Bonaventure aircraft carrier until 1962.
Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum Collection
Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum Collection
The typical night fighter mission involved several Banshees, armed with four 20mm cannon, establishing an orbit fanning out at about 200 miles from the carrier.  For the ground attack mission, the Banshee carried 500 pound bombs and/or 5-inch HVAR rocket packs.  In order to fly the nuclear mission, specially-trained crews carried the 1800 pound Mk 7 tactical weapon delivered in the climbing toss method.  During the toss maneuver, the approach was made at high speed and very low altitude.  Pressing the weapons delivery button engaged the computer that then prompted the pilot to begin the 2-G pull-up and automatic weapon release at the top of the arc.  The pilot then reversed course and retreated at high speed to avoid the gamma ray and nuclear blast effects that soon followed.  It is no secret that China was the new Pacific threat at that time, especially on the heels of the hot war in Korea, and the crews practiced nuclear attack missions during their cruises in the region.  Following each cruise, the carrier returned to its home base, NAS Moffett Field, near San Francisco, CA.

It was indeed an honor to visit with Bill Hunsicker and the McDonnell Aircraft/McDonnell Douglas retirees this week.  Special thanks to Mr. Hunsicker for sharing his experiences, and also to Mr. Mike de Garcia from the McDonnell Aircraft/McDonnell Douglas retiree group and Mr. Mark Nankivil from the Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum for producing the event.

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