Black Lion ONE - Synopsis

The historical biography of John Monroe “Hawk” Smith, Navy fighter pilot, is a gripping account of valor, sacrifice, and adventure during one of the most tumultuous periods in carrier aviation.  Roger Ball!, the first work, takes the reader on Hawk Smith’s wild ride.  Black Lion ONE, the sequel, continues the odyssey of “Hawk” Smith with the same white-knuckle intensity and on-scene story-telling narrative as its predecessor.

Through the brutal war in Vietnam, U.S. tactical aviation forces suffered horrible losses— stagnation of air warfare doctrine, strategy, tactics, training to real world air threats, and the very restrictive Rules of Engagement—these were instrumental in the debacle that was the Vietnam Air War. When they needed it most, Navy leadership saw a handful of innovative and courageous fighter pilots with the steel resolve to fix the problem.  Commander John Monroe “Hawk” Smith was one of those.

Hawk was a charismatic visionary and a natural leader—an idea factory connected to a dynamo.  He had consistently demonstrated an impressive drive to revitalize fighter tactics and doctrine to engage emerging world threats. It was a surprise to no one when Hawk, having completed a stunning tour as the commanding officer (CO) of TOPGUN, received orders as Executive Officer and Commanding Officer to a front-line F-14 Tomcat Squadron—VF-213, the Black Lions.

Hawk joined the Black Lions at the beginning of their turn-around cycle in preparation for their deployment in March 1979 aboard the USS America (CV-66).  Several critical factors portended to a most arduous work-up period and deployment—they had only eight months to complete the training ordinarily crammed into twelve months, America was an east coast ship headed for the Mediterranean, and VF-213 was based at NAS Miramar, California.

Officially, from 13 March 1979 until America returned from the Med deployment in September 1979, America performed all assigned tasks.  But the conditions of the ship—supply department, ship’s habitability, crew moral, and overall discipline and leadership— were things nightmares were made of.   In short, the 1979 deployment proved to be a slow speed train wreck.  Hawk saw nothing to indicate that the next turn-around cycle and the deployment would improve.  But Hawk was a man who did not shy away from a challenge.  With renewed vigor and reinforced resolve, Hawk committed himself to resurrecting the Black Lions in the image of the consummate fighter squadron—TOPGUN.  He brought the full energy of his experience, the full strength of his convictions, and the full belief in the worthiness of his people into grand design.

The turn-around clock ticked away.  The Lions by now had a schedule, a plan of action, a motivated team, and competent leadership.   Signs of improvement were slow initially, but the Black Lion team continued to show their colors during a series of training events in preparation for the deployment, chief among them was the first-ever Fighter Derby at NAS Miramar.  This was the “World Cup” for Naval fighter squadrons and would establish the pecking order and stature of each.

There were two crucial events masterminded by Hawk which would greatly enhance the Lions fighter skills and improve their performance during the Fighter Derby. Constant Peg a highly classified, black program which exposed U.S. tactical aircrews to the capabilities of Soviet fighters in simulated combat and the, by-invitation-only, tactics exercise against the 65th Aggressor Squadron at Nellis AFB, Nevada.  Although the lessons were rather sobering, the results of the training added greatly to their fighter warcraft.

The Black Lion crews sharpened their claws during the Fighter Derby.   They flew skillfully and tenaciously.  When all the smoke had cleared and the scores were tallied, the Black Lions had taken first place by a wide margin.

The Fighter Derby cleared the decks for all that that followed.  It hailed a victorious conclusion to a long, sometimes torturous climb from chaos and impossibility to recognized supremacy.  Every Lion, from the greenest airman, to the most salt-encrusted chief, to the most combat-hardened officer shared the load.  Hawk’s boys had risen to the occasion—they had built the consummate fighter squadron—

the Black Lions!