McCain The Flying Ace (Updated: Almost)

Updated below with a clarification on one of the documented incidents.

I have been doing some research on John McCain’s time in the military, for the obvious reasons of course, but also because I am a fan of naval aviation having spent over 5 years serving on aircraft carriers.

Much of what I found is the standard stuff that McCain himself likes to discuss including his 5th from the bottom of the class graduation at the Naval Academy and his being shot down in North Vietnam but I did find out a few more interesting tidbits. The most intriguing of which being the fact that McCain is an ace, a reverse ace that is, meaning that he destroyed 5 aircraft during his military service, all of which were his own (4 in accidents and 1 in combat). This fact supposedly earned him the nickname “Ace” from his Vietnam flight buddies.

I was previously aware of 2 incidents, the most obvious being the one he had shot out from under him in Vietnam and the second which would be familiar to any sailor that has ever been to firefighting school, happened during the USS Forrestal fire in 1967 that killed 134 of McCain’s shipmates. McCain was temporarily trapped in his A4 Skyhawk on the flight deck when an errant missile hit either his plane or the one next to his while preparing for flight ops. The unarmed missile knocked off a fuel tank that consequently started the deadly fire.

But of course an ace has to destroy 5 aircraft and McCain crashed 3 other times to get his 5. His first incident happened in 1958 when his engine quit while doing practice landings causing him to crash into Corpus Christi Bay. He was very lucky as the impact knocked him unconscious and the plane settled to the bottom of the bay before he came to and made it to the surface. A subsequent investigation found no engine problems.

McCain’s second crash occurred while he was deployed in the Mediterranean and he took out power lines while flying too low which was similar to what happened in 1998 when a Marine Corps jet hit the Italian ski resort gondola cables.

And McCain’s 3rd crash prior to the Vietnam and Forrestal incidents happened when the trainer he was flying from Philadelphia after the Army-Navy game flamed out and crashed into a row of trees. He was able to eject before the plane went down.

So there you have John McCain’s flight record. 20 hours of combat flight and 5 planes destroyed. But considering McCain’s flight instructor said that he was “positively one of the weakest students to pass our way“, what else would one expect?

Other than possibly being our next commander in chief that is…

UPDATE 9/7 9:45am: There is some question as to whether the incident with the power lines ended up with McCain’s plane crashing. So in fairness he is only credited with being in the cockpit of 4 planes that were destroyed plus taking out some power lines which would leave him 1 short of being a reverse ace. Also to clarify, McCain’s incidents never led to any disciplinary action being taken against him nor did he lose out on any promotions due to these issues.

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