Jet Fighter Joyride

On the 4th of July, 1986, Lance Corporal Howard A. Foote Jr., USMC, unofficially became one of the last enlisted fighter pilots to have flown in the United States military. Now, when I say “unofficially”, I mean that he wasn’t actually authorized to fly a fighter aircraft… but he did so anyways.

Already halfway through his enlistment in the Marines as a flight mechanic and plane captain, Foote was an accomplished glider pilot before he enlisted with dreams and ambitions of becoming a military pilot. Sadly, an aerial embolism sustained in one of his record-setting glider flights ended that dream and he was denied acceptance into the Marine Corps’ Enlisted Commissioning Program, preventing him from going to flight school. Crestfallen but undeterred, Foote took matters into his own hands.

In the early-morning hours of Friday, July 4, 1986, Foote donned a flight suit and drove up to a parked A-4M Skyhawk at MCAS El Toro. The aircraft belonged to VMA-214, The Black Sheep of WWII fame. Having received close to 100 hours of training in a simulator, Foote felt prepared to fly. Already knowledgeable of the start-up procedures, he quickly fired up the unarmed fighter, closed the canopy and taxied over to a nearby unlit runway, pushing the throttle forward and executing a textbook takeoff. At 2:00 AM, Foote was living out his dream, albeit very illegally.

VMA-214 Skyhawks, similar to the one Foote flew. USMC photograph.
VMA-214 Skyhawks, similar to the one Foote flew. USMC photograph.

More than 50 miles away from base, Foote was flying loops and rolls over the Pacific. After nearly 30 minutes of flight time elapsed, he aimed his nose towards El Toro. By now, crew on the ground were fully alert and quite aware of Foote’s “appropriation” of the Skyhawk. With the runway lights now on, he made a few passes before he was able to land, whereupon he was summarily arrested and imprisoned in the brig, charged with wrongfully taking a government aircraft. Normally, a charge like that carries a sentence of 2 years of confinement and a dishonorable discharge from the military, but by November, the charges were dropped and Foote was give an other-than-honorable (OTH) discharge from the Marine Corps. Unbeknownst to our unauthorized pilot/dreamer, the Skyhawk he borrowed was in severe need of repair. Issues with the ailerons and landing gear had previously grounded the aircraft. This came to light during the court hearings convened to determine Foote’s future with the military.

After his stint in the Corps, Foote became an aeronautical engineer after attending the Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, and immediately set to work on a number of aviation projects, including a microwave-powered aircraft. Also qualified as a test pilot in 20+ different military and civilian aircraft, he now contracts privately to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and holds a number of patents in aviation design and engineering technology.

All’s well that ends well, right?


A clipping of an LA Times article outlining the incident.
A clipping of an LA Times article outlining the incident.

21 thoughts on “Jet Fighter Joyride

  1. I worked with him at SOMS MCAS Eltoro. He was also my roommate for a short while. I would like to get back in touch with him. So Bud if you are out there it’s Duddy. Look me up on Linkedin


    1. I just ran across this as I was telling a friend this story! Hey Dubby it’s Mark Copeland here! Remember that get out jail party we threw for footy pebbles with Kia, Morales, James D Lawrence (chicken hawk) and others I can’t name right now but I still have the pictures we took that night. Hey bud get in touch with me 352 538-3579


      1. Hey Mark, it’s Steve Kea. What a small world. I remember that party… good times!


    1. Ever lied on your tax returns? Ever lied to a cop (No officer, I don’t know why you pulled me over)? Ever gone faster than the posted speed limit? Ever broke any law? Committed ANY crime? Maybe you didn’t get caught, but if you’ve ever committed any crime then you’re a criminal. Granted, some crimes are worse than others, but most people have committed a minor crime or two, even if they didn’t get caught.
      Stop being so judgemental. Hypocrisy is ugly. Those who spend time judging others usually have some skeletons hidden in a closet that they don’t want anyone looking inside. The guy shouldn’t have done what he did. But his lifelong dream had been crushed thru no fault of his own. He was young. Young people do stupid things. He was punished and did his time. Looks like he got his life together and became successful. Don’t be jealous.


      1. I met him at his welcome home party. We dated for awhile. Had some awesome times doing crazy things. Buddy I think of you always!
        I made the biggest mistake of my life letting him go. Sweetest, gorgeous gentle soul man. A love story of its own. Gorgeous eyes and they twinkle when he’d smile and his teeth perfect.


  2. It wasn’t a 214 bird, it was an OMD plane. Jeez. The way this thing gets blown out of all proportion in the telling. And he didn’t have “100 hours in the simulator”, he had plenty of ACTUAL flight time with Gen Bloomer in that very same 2 seater aircraft, which is ALSO why the charges against him went POOF. Too many stars would go down with him if it went to a courts martial.


    1. I was his roommate when the event happened and for almost a year after he got released from the brig. I was with him a at least 10 sim sessions at the A-4 simulator at MCAS ElToro. I only know of 2 flights he got in the backseat of the OMDs airplane. He took off in a single seat Mike model because it has a Aux power unit and didn’t need someone to help him plug in a GPU/start cart. He also flew gliders and participated in the altitude record against the Air Force and had the record for almost a year. I think it was 43,000 feet, then his pressure suit failed. I drove home to the hospital where they took him to a decompression chamber because he got altitude sickness pretty bad. Gen. Bloomer washed his hands of him because he could never get a military flight physical and fly for the military. That’s what sparked the whole “Joy Riide” event. I was visited my the MPs and questioned for quite some time about the whole thing. He always joked about doing it but never in a million years would I have thought he would act on it?

      Jut curious, How do you know him?


      1. I may have deserved a speeding ticket in my life, but I’ve never bilked investors (or women) like this consummate BSer makes his living doing.


  3. Hey …. Mr Anonymous,
    Sounds like maybe we knew each other at one point.
    If it’s who I think you are you used to drive me home and pick me up for Buddy when he had to jet…lol


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