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Retired Lt. Col. Jay N. Bibler, a former F-4 Phantom pilot and a San Jaquin Valley, Calif., native, admires displays at the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum, Dec. 18. Bibler flew in the first Marine F-4 Phantom squadron, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314 Black Knights.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Melissa Eschenbrenner

Pilot takes off on adventure leading to first Phantom squadron

12 Dec 2012 | Lance Cpl. Melissa Eschenbrenner

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. – When a freshman in college heard all of the great opportunities for Marine officers who join the platoon leadership course by a Marine major in his dress blues, he could not resist. He signed the papers on the spot and knew the Marine Corps was where he belonged.

This was in 1954 and he was ready and excited to finish college and begin his career as a pilot. He dreamed of having an adventurous lifestyle, but he did not know yet if it was all going to fall into place. He was unaware at the time that he would later have the opportunity to fly in the first Marine F-4B Phantom squadron.

Four years later, in 1958, Jay N. Bibler pinned on his first set of second lieutenant bars.

Prior to his commissioning, one of his instructors sat him in the backseat of an airplane for the first time.

“He was doing everything he could to see if I was cut out for it,” said Bibler, a Santa Cruz, Calif., native. “He was doing flips and things to see if I got sick and I didn’t. In fact, when we landed, I asked when we could fly again.”

Bibler began his training in a T-34 plane, and 18 flights later he flew solo at last.

“It was exhilarating,” said Bibler. “You’re finally in control and you’re by yourself. It’s all up to you.”

Bibler then went to Pensacola, Fla., and Kingsville, Texas to finish his flight training. Bibler earned his wings in 1960 and received orders to Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, Calif.

He began flying the A-4, until he was offered to join the first Marine F-4B Phantom squadron, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314, Black Knights.

When the opportunity arose that Bibler could fly Phantoms, he decided to stay in the Marine Corps. Bibler spent the rest of his career flying them.

“I was able to serve in Vietnam twice,” explained Bibler. “The first tour was a 13-month-tour, which was a typical length of time to be deployed. But, the second tour was only 11 months; it was cut short.”

During the Battle of Khe Sanh, he took enemy fire. This left one engine on his aircraft useless and broke many instruments necessary to fly. After unsuccessfully trying to drop attachments on the aircraft to lose excess weight, Bibler and his co-pilot were forced to eject.

“Luckily, We learned how to eject in school, you have to make sure you lean your head back and sit up straight because the pressure could break your spine,” said Bibler. “When we were going down, we were looking at our surroundings like we were taught and didn’t see anyone we were concerned about. They spoke to us but of course we couldn’t understand. There were Army helicopters in the area so they got to us and picked us up in what seemed like ten minutes.”

Often, the Russian enemy forces would test the new Phantom’s response time. They were interested in knowing the capabilities of the new aircraft because they had not seen it before, explained Bibler.

“We would start the aircraft and look over the aircraft and read magazines as we waited for the sound of the gong or a phone call to send us out,” said Bibler. “There would be times when [we’d go to intercept them] and they’d just carry on, and we’d sort of wave at each other. There was no hostile intent from either side. You’d see them taking pictures of us as we took pictures of them.”

Before retiring after 25 years in the Corps, Bibler earned the rank of lieutenant colonel, turning down the opportunity to become a commanding officer. He lost his eye sight and could no longer fly toward the end of his career; Bibler never lost the camaraderie of his fellow Marines in the Squadron.

“We were professionals at what we did,” said Bibler. “We enjoyed the flying but, it was the camaraderie that you couldn’t beat in our squadron.”