Paul Gillcrist's pilot log documents over 6,000 flying hours in 71 different types of aircraft, many of which were flown from 16 different carriers! Gillcrist was born in 1929 in Chicago, Illinois. At 17, he entered Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, but after his sophomore year, he entered the United States Naval Academy. He was commissioned in 1952 and received his Wings of Gold in December 1953. He embarked on his first fleet tour on board the USS Oriskany and flew the Grumman F9F Cougar in Fighter Squadron (VF) 191. Next, he was selected to be a weapons delivery instructor at the Fleet Aerial Gunnery Unit, the predecessor to Top Gun.
In the fall of 1957, he moved to NAS Patuxent, Maryland and became a test pilot in the Carrier Branch of the Flight Test Division. There he flew most of the tactical jets in the Navys inventory. After three years as a test pilot, he reported to VF-62 and deployed on the USS Lexington. From her decks, he flew the Vought F-8 Crusader during the Cuban Missile Crisis. In 1963, Gillcrist attended postgraduate school and then was chosen to command VF-53. He completed three combat deployments to the Tonkin Gulf, and flew 167 combat missions from the USS Ticonderoga, the USS Hancock, and the USS Bonhomme Richard . He was awarded 17 combat decorations. Gillcrist then reported to Washington, D.C. for a tour in the Pentagon.
While there, he was tasked to command a very unusual 31-aircraft squadron. These Japanese aircraft were actually modifications of Canadian-built T-6 Harvards and flew from the USS Yorktown during the filming of Tora, Tora, Tora. During his next tour, he was Commander, Carrier Air Wing Three on the USS Saratoga. He flew the McDonnell F-4 Phantom II, Vought A-7 Corsair II, Grumman A-6 Intruder, and North American RA-5 Vigilante. In 1975, Gillcrist became Commanding Officer of NAS Cecil Field, Florida. During a base air show, without telling his family or friends, he decided to try his hand at something new when he went wing walking on a vintage biplane.
In 1977, he became Assistant Chief of Staff (Operations) for the Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet. Later, as Commander, Fighter Airborne Early Warning Wings, U.S. Pacific Fleet, he flew the Northrop YF-17 and F-20. In 1985, Rear Admiral Gillcrist retired as Assistant, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Air Warfare) and was selected Aviator of the Year by the Tailhook Association. He now heads his own aerospace consulting firm and lives with his wife, Nancy, in California. He has written several books, including: Feet Wet, Reflections of a Carrier Pilot; TOMCAT! The Grumman F-14 Story; CRUSADER! Last of the Gunfighters; and recently, Vultures Row.
There comes a time in every carrier pilots career when the inevitable must come true. That last feeling of hanging in your torso harness as your jet comes to a stop with the aid of the three wire is indeed a sad day. For Rear Admiral Gillcrist, that day was 21 October 1980 onboard the USS Kittyhawk . During his last tour, he had flown over 400 hours in the Grumman F-14, so it was only fitting that his last trap be in a Tomcat. It was also appropriate, as he made a little history, when he became the first flag officer to land the big fighter on a carrier!