A-1 Skyraider Pilot to Present at Museum Speaker Series

Retired Lt. Col. John Larrison, a pilot of some of the first A-1 Skyraider missions over Vietnam, is the next speaker in EAA’s Aviation Adventure Speaker Series. John, EAA 23138, will share stories from his missions in Vietnam and give the nitty-gritty of flying an A-1E in his presentation at the EAA Aviation Museum on Thursday, March 21, at 7 p.m.

John always dreamed of flying and loved building model airplanes in his youth, so he found it to be a natural step to study aeronautical engineering at Purdue University in his home state of Indiana. Following graduation in 1957, he got a job at Boeing as a flight test engineer for the B-52.

After a year at Boeing, John joined the United States Air Force and completed pilot training in 1959. He subsequently served as an instructor pilot in T-33s and T-37s until his deployment to Vietnam in December 1964.

John flew with the 602nd Air Commando Squadron in Bien Hoa, South Vietnam, providing close air support. The 602nd was also the first A-1 squadron deployed to Thailand for the “Sandy” search and rescue escort operations. In total, John completed 225 missions in the A-1E from 1964 to 1965.

 “The question always comes up,” John said, “Why were you flying that old Korean War propeller airplane?” It’s a question he’ll dive into during his presentation, though here’s a hint: the Geneva Accords.

The politics of the time also required the squadron to hide what their assignment really was. “The first six months [in Vietnam] we weren’t supposed to be flying combat,” explained John. “I was not flying combat illegally, they said, but I was. My cover story was I had a Vietnamese airman in the right seat – I was just training a pilot. Although, he was not a student pilot at all.”

Following the Vietnam War, John joined the Air Defense Command flying the F-101 Voodoo supersonic jet fighter, and also completed a two-year exchange tour in Canada flying the same aircraft. He eventually retired from the Department of the Air Force Inspector General in 1979.

John looks back fondly at his time flying the A-1E. “It was a lot of fun. I considered it one of the best airplanes,” he said. “When I retired, I didn’t fly for almost 15 years because I didn’t want to fly a light airplane.” After retirement, he started working with jewelry and casting metal. A local WWI aircraft restorer and builder came to him when he needed some aircraft parts cast, and that’s when the flying bug bit John once again.

“I bought an RV-8, and that’s my little A-1,” John joked. “The RV-8 is fast and fully acrobatic, which is what I wanted. It flies at the same speed that the A-1 did at about 155 knots, and it’s a taildragger!” After 15 years of recreational flying and doing his own maintenance, he sold his RV-8 only just a couple months ago.

John is currently a key member of the A-1 Skyraider Association, hosting reunions, organizing communication between group members, and preserving stories from the Vietnam War. “When I first came back from Vietnam, all the anti-war stuff was going on,” he explained. “My good friend and I took an oath: We will talk to any group that wants to hear what we really were doing and why we were doing it. It really wasn’t as bad as you think it was.”

Thursday’s presentation is free for EAA members and youths, and just $5 for nonmembers.

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