Reynolds, a captain who was the wing commander for 14 squadrons, describes McCain as "a very good" commander. But he doesn't recall McCain's management initiative and says the squadron was well-run both before and during McCain's command.
If more planes were in the air under McCain's command, it didn't translate into a higher level of activity under McCain, according to records at the Naval Historical Center in Washington, D.C.
Flight hours, a key measure of operations, declined by 27% from 1975 to 1977. And the squadron trained fewer pilots, dropping from 117 to 98 over the same period, according to annual histories of VA-174. McCain's tenure as commander ran from July 1, 1976, to July 28, 1977.
A statement issued by McCain's office said any decrease in performance during his command "is explained by factors unrelated to the senator's performance as the commanding officer of that squadron."
The squadron history for 1976, also kept at the naval center, mentions a number of programs, milestones and official communications but does not note McCain's spare parts program.
A Meritorious Service Medal later awarded to McCain does cite the unit's morale, training and his spare parts effort. It was signed by longtime McCain family friend Adm. Isaac C. Kidd Jr., who had worked under McCain's father in politically sensitive matters.
A success at safety
Without question, McCain succeeded in one top priority: safety. The squadron went the entire 13 months without a loss of life or a loss of aircraft, and the squadron won its first Navy commendation for safety.
"He put the fear of God in us," recalled Bob Stumpf, who trained under McCain and went on to lead the Navy's Blue Angels flight demonstration team. "He told us, 'As long as I am here as commanding officer, you are not going to deviate from the book and you are not going to lose any planes.' "
Said Jim Weatherbee, who trained under McCain and later flew into space six times as a NASA astronaut, "It was definitely a well-run ship."
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