The Tale Of When A Marine Mechanic Stole An A-4 Skyhawk For A Joyride
In the early morning hours on July 4th, 1986, 21-year-old Lance Corporal Howard A. Foote Jr. climbed a ladder leading into the cockpit of an A-4M Skyhawk. He started the jet up, taxied to one of Marine Corps Air Station El Toro’s runways—which was unlit at the time—and pushed the throttles forward. Moments later, the Lance Corporal would realize his dream to fly a tactical military jet, albeit just once and illegally.There is, of course, more to the story, including his friendship with the Marine general who commanded MCAS El Toro (hit the link to read the backstory). Regardless, however, it was an incredibly dumb and dangerous stunt. For his trouble, Foote received 4 1/2 months brig time and a less than honorable discharge - much less than he would have received for Grand Theft Auto.
As news reports at the time recount, Foote flew out toward San Clemente Island, executing loops, rolls and high-speed maneuvers before turning back to MCAS El Toro after about 45 minutes to attempt a landing. This time, the runways were all very well lit and the base was buzzing with activity due to his “borrowing” of the jet.
After several landing attempts, the Skyhawk maintainer put the A-4M down safely and was quickly detained after exiting the cockpit.
In spite of that, Foote went on to have a successful career in aviation. As Paul Harvey used to say, "And now, the rest of the story."
Howard Foote Jr. went on to become a civilian test pilot and engineer, working on various projects over the years, including a microwave airplane concept and projects for NASA.
Not bad for a guy who stole an operational fast jet from the Marine Corps.