My Story – David Wilson

Member's Bio

A4M – Skyhawk

David Wilson – A4 Skyhawk

Wikipedia Link

David Wilson has been a member of the museum since 2000, and a member of the Board of Directors since 2018. 

David first joined the Marine Corps in 1968 while a student at Illinois Wesleyan, thus his call sign “Titan”.  

He completed OCS at Quantico, Virginia during the summers following his sophomore and junior years. David reported to NAS Pensacola to begin flight training in August, 1970.  He received his “Wings of Gold” on January 18, 1972.

My Story

David received orders to fly the new A-4M Skyhawk, a single seat, single engine light attack jet aircraft. He reported to Marine Attack Squadron 331 (VMA-331) at MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina in late January, 1972.

On Friday, July 14, 1972, 1stLt Wilson, accompanied by another A-4M Skyhawk, departed MCAS Beaufort on a weekend cross-country flight to Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix, AZ. 

On Saturday morning, the two A-4M’s were joined by a third aircraft, a two seat TA-4F Skyhawk assigned to a maintenance squadron at Beaufort (H&MS-32). 

1stLt Wilson was scheduled to fly a low level navigation training flight.

David was the lead aircraft flying the “Phoenix 304” low level navigation route across the north central part of Arizona.  The flight profile called for an altitude above ground (AGL) of 500 feet and airspeed of 360 knots (414 mph).  Navigation was to be “out of the cockpit” using landmarks on the ground pre-marked on a topographical map carried in the cockpit.

At the 52 minute point in the flight, the TA-4F, following in trail of the two A-4M’s, crashed during a lead change maneuver about 12 miles northeast of Williams, AZ.  The pilot of the TA-4F was killed instantly.  The backseat pilot was able to eject at 50 feet and received major injuries, but survived.

Almost 43 years later, David and his wife made a trip to Arizona during February, 2015.  Shortly before leaving on the trip, David did research to determine if it would be possible to locate and visit the site of the 1972 crash.  With the help of numerous resources, including the Kaibab National Forest Service, David and his wife were able to hike into the site and pay tribute to the Marine aviator who lost his life on that Saturday morning in July, 1972.

Following the visit to the site, David initiated an effort to have the crash site named in honor of Marine Captain Dennis Vickery.  Senator John McCain, a former Navy A-4E Skyhawk pilot during the Vietnam Conflict, was instrumental in helping to name the crash site as “Vickery Ridge” in 2017.

The Prairie Aviation Museum proudly displays an A-4M Skyhawk almost identical to the aircraft flown by 1stLt Wilson on July 15, 1972.

A4 – Armament (Wikipedia Link)

Practice Carrier Landing:
Actual Carrier Landing:

David has 12 carrier based landings, primarily on the USS Lexington.

Flight School Training:
Mark 4 Gun Pod:

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Catch Wire at Chu Lai Vietnam

The runway at Chu Lai Vietnam was so short, the Marine’s A4-Skyhawk used the catch wire systems similar to those used on aircraft carriers.  

This YouTube starts towards the end of a video, but illustrates the use of the catch wire system.

Use of JATO rocket assist at Chu Lai Vietnam

The runway at Chu Lai Vietnam was so short, the Marine’s A4-Skyhawk used the JATO rocket assist system.  This video excerpt shows the JATO in action.