If you're old enough to have served in the Navy or Marine Corps during the Vietnam War and particularly if you were an aviator, chances
are you've heard of the infamous Cubi Point Catapult. Cubi Point Naval Air Station and the adjoining Subic Bay Naval Base in the Philippines
was a place where war-weary Navy and Marine Corps aviators, Marines and Sailors, could let off a little steam after flying combat
missions over Vietnam or spending weeks on the gunline aboard ships on Yankee Station. The managers of the Cubi Point Officers' Club,
as well as their counterparts at the other officer and enlisted clubs, were forever tasked with devising new and challenging ways
of keeping the warriors entertained. Enter Cmdr. John L. Sullivan and the now famous Cubi Point Officers' Club catapult.
at the Cubi Point Officers' Club came into existence in 1969 and immediately created a division within naval air among those who had
ridden the cat and caught the wire, and those who had ridden the cat and missed the wire and gotten soaked. The escapades of Navy
and Marine pilots at the Cubi Point Officers' Club, according to Sullivan, is the stuff of legend. "These tale will be handed down
and embellished as long as we have aircraft carriers in that part of the world," Sullivan said in an article he wrote for Wings of
One of these escapades, according to the retired commander who now lives in St. Mary's County, involved catapulting
a squadron mate down a half dozen stairs in a chair from the bar upstairs onto the dance floor below. "The fact the chair had castors
helped little on the stairs. Rarely did a pilot make it down the stairs and onto the dance floor in an upright posture. Most arrived
on the dance floor in a crumpled mess. The practice often ended with disastrous results," Sullivan said. "There were broken bones,
severe strains, small concussions and numerous other injuries that grounded crack combat pilots," former Commander in Chief, Pacific
Fleet, Adm. Maurice 'Mickey' Weisner, said in a recent phone interview. Weisner said that he and Vice Adm. Ralph Cousins, commander,
Task Force-77, suggested to Capt. 'Red Horse' Meyers, NAS Cubi Point, that the chair catapulting be eliminated because of the injuries.
the time, Sullivan was the Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Department (AIMD) officer. "I was called to the skipper's office and
asked to come up with a solution," Sullivan recalls. "After a great deal of consultation with my maintenance officers we realized
we had an excellent window of opportunity. A new lower club extension to replace an old bamboo bar was in progress. From that point
on we let our imaginations run wild."
Heading off to the surplus yard, Sullivan and his band of AIMD scavengers liberated a banged
up refueling tank which was quickly converted by the metal smiths into something resembling an A-7 Corsair II. The 'aircraft,' Sullivan
recalls, was 6-feet long had shoulder straps and a safety belt and was equipped with a stick that, when pulled back sharply, released
a hook in the rear of the vehicle to allow arrestment. Propulsion was provided by pressurized nitrogen tanks hooked up to a manifold.
"This arrangement provided enough power to propel the vehicle to 15 mph in the first two feet," said Sullivan. "Acceleration of zero
to 15 mph in two feet is the equivalent of the G force of World War II hydraulic catapults.
"Beyond the exit from the club was a pool
of water 3-1/2 feet deep. Each pilot had 6 inches to play with if he was to make a successful arrestment. "We named the vehicle 'Red
Horse One' in honor of our skipper, Capt. Meyers. Successful pilots, according to the commander, were held in high esteem by their
peers and their names were inscribed in gold letters on the club's Wall of Fame.
"Reaction time was short because the wire was some
14 feet from the nose of the vehicle. The downward curvature of the track had to be precise. The rollers would bind if the curvature
were too sharp. "Since the pool water was the force that stopped the vehicle, we had to get the vehicle as deeply and as quickly into
the pool as possible. Engineers from the Strategic Aircraft Repair Team used their 'slip sticks' to solve the problem. The vehicle
was retrieved from the water by a mechanical wench and cable connected to an eye welded to the back of the A-7.
Sullivan said that
Rear Adm. Roy Isaman, (Naval Air Test Center commander, 1971-74), had a bronze plaque made in Hong Kong which was bolted to the wall
next to the catapult with the inscription, 'Red Horse Cat-House.' "The first night the catapult was in operation it attracted a huge
crowd. Rear Adm. Isaman was the first to ride the vehicle after it was declared safe by the BIS (Board of Inspection and Survey).
No problem since I had recently arrived from the test center at Patuxent River and was declared the BIS representative," Sullivan
"Rear Adm. Isaman manned the cockpit, saluted and was launched. He dropped the hook early and we awaited the hook skip but
it didn't happen. Instead the hook caught the rubber we had attached to the steel bumper short of the wire. The hook tore the rubber
from the bumper and caught the wire. To the howl of the disappointed junior officers, there was no wet admiral this time. Isaman became
the first pilot to trap in the vehicle. "After being presented with a bottle of champagne, Isaman's name was enshrined on the 'Wall
of Fame.' Some 40 pilots rode the Cat that night before another successfully trapped," Sullivan laughed.
Word of the Cat quickly spread
throughout Southeast Asia and even attracted Air Force F-4 pilots from Clarke AFB. "They would come swaggering in loudly claiming
they were equal to the task. Each and every one of them failed to catch the wire, much to the delight of the Navy onlookers.
men from AIMD operated and maintained the catapult during their off time. They were compensated for their work from funds we took
in for the operation of the Cat. It cost nothing to ride the Cat," Sullivan emphasized, "providing they caught the wire. However,
it cost $5 if the rider required rescue from the pool."
Sullivan said that of the many dignitaries, who attempted to ride the cat,
his favorite was Under Secretary of the Navy John Warner (now a U.S. Senator from Virginia). "After flying in from Japan the secretary
was taken to the club for lunch by Rear Adm. Isaman and Capt. Meyers. The secretary had heard of the Cubi CAT and unhesitatingly requested
to ride it. Capt. Meyers looked at me; I nodded and immediately took steps to get a crew ready. Word spread rapidly that Under Secretary
of the Navy John Warner would try his luck. The club was soon packed with onlookers.
"Before launch we outfitted the secretary in a
set of white linen coveralls with 'Red Horse Cat House' embossed in bright red letters on the back. Amid the cheers of the onlookers,
the secretary bravely launched and promptly landed in the pool. We catapulted him five times after that and each time he got wet.
The skipper kicked the bumper plate back about an inch each time hoping he would catch the wire. While the official never noticed
this, we all did. He told the skipper after his fifth trip into the pool,'it can't be done.'
"By this time the bumper was back some
12 inches from the wire and was an easy arrest for a pilot who had a launch or two on the CAT under his belt. So 'Red Horse,' in his
tropical whites, strapped in. Before launch one of the junior officers kicked the bumper forward to its original 6-inch position.
Meyers launched and to the delight of the visiting official, settled ignominiously into the pool.
Secretary Warner wouldn't take off
the coveralls. He and the skipper, both wringing wet, set down to lunch with dry colleagues. "Several hours later, still wearing the
coveralls, the secretary boarded his aircraft. "The tale of his Cat adventures would be told at the Pentagon, he informed us and the
coveralls would be testimony to the validity of his tale."
Sullivan completed his tour at Cubi Point in 1971 and returned to Patuxent
River. "I am happy to say there were no injuries from riding the Cat during that period, only wounded pride," Sullivan says. Sullivan
returned to Cubi Point in 1979, then employed by Grumman Aerospace Corporation as the Project Manager for the C-2 COD. Much to his
dismay the Cat was gone. "The tracks were covered and the pool was filled with cement." Introduced to the new club manager, he asked
if I could assist him in putting in a new Cat. I felt like a dinosaur whose time had passed. I believed that as long as there was
a Cubi Point there would be a fun place for naval aviators to unwind. In the midst of it all would be the "Cat" and the 'Wall of Fame.'
Now both are gone. What remains is my fond memories of the officers and men of AIMD whose ingenuity and hard work made the "Cat" a
reality in 1969. "Today it remains a 7th Fleet legend."
U.S. Naval Air Station Cubi Point was a United States Navy aerial facility located at the edge of Naval Base Subic Bay and abutting
the Bataan Peninsula in the Republic of the Philippines. It was the home of the Cubi Point Officers Club and the infamous "Red Horse
Bar" and home of the "Cubi Point Catapult."
For nearly 40 years, the NAS Cubi Point Officers’ Club was a
marvelous mix of American efficiency and Filipino hospitality. The club was especially famous for its Plaque Bar, where transiting
squadrons retired old plaques and commissioned new ones to commemorate each WestPac tour. The tradition of placing plaques in the
O’ Club bar was started during the Vietnam Conflict.
On June 15, 1991, Mt. Pinatubo, only 20 miles from Subic Bay, erupted and blanketed
the facility in ash 1 foot deep. Dependents were evacuated and the Navy began an intense clean-up effort to return the station
to normal operations. Within two weeks, they returned the station back to limited operations. Within four weeks, the Navy had restored
almost all services to most of the family housing. By September, most dependents had returned to Subic Bay and Cubi Point, but in
the same month the Senate of the Philippines voted to require the United States to withdraw from all of its facilities in the Philippines.
The withdrawal was completed in November 1992 and shortly after NAS Cubi Point became Cubi Point International Airport, later renamed
Subic Bay International Airport.
The following article was submitted by a former "Mud Marine" who tried to ride the Cat and
failed. It outlines the history and details how and why the Cubi Catapult Ride was built.
We would like to thank Commander John L. "Sully" Sullivan and his son John L. "Sully" Jr. for submitting the pictures and sharing
their amazing story with our website