NORCO, Calif. (NNS) -- The Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Corona hosted retired Rear Adm. Allen E. "Boot" Hill, a highly decorated fighter pilot, Feb. 7, as the Southern California base commemorated the centennial of naval aviation, which kicked off with ceremonies in San Diego Feb. 12.
The 82-year-old retired two-star admiral, who resides in nearby Riverside, met NSWC Corona Commanding Officer Capt. Jay Kadowaki and his staff to record his personal recollections of a 34-year career for the base that will observe its 70th anniversary in December. Hill was born not far from the naval base when it was a famed resort, later to be converted to a naval hospital after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Hill last visited the base 30 years ago, but said he had always kept an eye on the work being done, beginning when it was called the Naval Ordnance Laboratory before becoming the Navy's premiere assessment center. During the base's history, NSWC Corona has played an integral role in naval aviation through research and development, analysis of weapons systems, and by providing critical technical support to Navy and Marine Corps aviators.
He said the air-to-air Sidewinder missile was the brainchild of Dr. William McLean while at Corona in the 1950s, which the Navy later perfected at its weapons center at China Lake, Calif. Generations of aviators are indebted to McLean for delivering the Sidewinder to them, Hill said. As the first admiral in charge of the Navy's tactical readiness, he said he has valued Corona's science and engineering capabilities, and kept projects flowing to the base before retiring in 1984.
Hill grew up about 15 miles from the base, in a town dominated by Army aviation at March Field. He said that as a teen he loved hot rods and speed, and he wanted to join the Navy. Hill was commissioned a Flying Midshipman and sent for pilot training in Pensacola, Fla., as part of a special Navy recruiting program.
Rushed into combat as the Korean War broke out, the 20-year-old ensign would be in the historic, first all-jet dog-fight where four U.S. planes engaged eight Chinese MiG-5s at 34,000 to 38,000 feet, the highest altitude ever recorded for aerial combat. In another engagement, Hill and three other fighter pilots, low on fuel, were dispatched to help an isolated Marine Corps company surrounded by the enemy until a Marine force could break through and rescue them.
In addition to his two combat tours in Korea, Hill flew combat missions during three tours in Vietnam, and served another two tours as a senior staff officer and commander of the carrier USS Ranger (CVA/CV- 61). He was the first carrier pilot to never have a carrier deployment during peacetime. On Thanksgiving Day in 1966, he was shot down and wounded by enemy fire, and eventually rescued and returned to combat duty.
Flying more than 400 combat missions, Hill logged 620 carrier landings - most of which were in combat. Much of his 6,000 hours flying 35 different jets, were mostly 90-minute "hops" to and from the carrier.
The admiral has been awarded 50 combat medals for valor, including four Distinguished Flying Crosses, and his wings hang on the Flyer's Wall at the historic Mission Inn, in Riverside with other distinguished aviators including Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart and former astronaut Buzz Aldrin.
Looking back over, Hill recalled the first year of his aviation career.
"All I ever wanted to be was the best wingman," said Hill. "We were professionals. Nobody could do a better job than what we did."
His career highlight, though, was when he took command of Ranger and opened the ship's safe to find a commander's custody log of every Navy vessel to bear that name. First among those was Capt. John Paul Jones, one of the founding fathers of the U.S. Navy and the very first skipper of the original Ranger during the Revolutionary War.
"Euphoria, I guess that's how I felt," said Hill, who coincidentally shares the same birthday as Jones.
He was one of four aviators who helped establish the "Top Gun" school at Miramar Naval Air Station, now located in Fallon, Nev. NSWC Corona operates and manages the "Top Gun" tactical aircrew combat training system used to record air-to-air exercises for evaluating pilot training.
Hill also created the Tactical Training Groups, Pacific and Atlantic, which continue to train 2,000 senior officers annually. Through all his command assignments until retiring, the admiral has always taken great pride in being a naval aviator and in the Navy base near his hometown.
"Corona was indispensable," Hill said. "We couldn't have done our mission without Corona. All the fleet analysis, all the ordnance, (and) all of that was extremely important."
Since the first pilot flew in 1911, the Navy has trained nearly 200,000 aviators, some rising to the highest ranks, accomplishing legendary feats in combat, and some even became astronauts - of whom one, Alan B. Shepard, was the first in space, and another, Neil Armstrong, was the first to walk on the moon.
Today, NSWC Corona is the Navy's premiere independent assessment agent, responsible for gauging the warfighting capability of Navy ships and aircraft, as well as analyzing missile defense systems.
"It was an honor to host Adm. Hill and fascinating to recount how Corona helped make Naval aviation better," said Kadowaki. "He's an amazing person, and his story perfectly illustrates the synergy where every Navy command, every Sailor (and) every civilian works closely together to support the vital defense mission for our country."
For more news from Naval Surface Warfare Center, Corona Division, visit http://www.navy.mil/local/nswccorona/.