Local Realtor shares stories as Vietnam War pilot


Local Realtor Jake Piatt shared stories from his time as a pilot during the Vietnam War as the guest speaker at the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors quarterly breakfast meeting March 14.

He talked about his experience spending eight months flying airplanes over Vietnam in 1969 as a 23-year-old in a squadron of 17 pilots.

Both the missions and the technology of the aircrafts proved to be dangerous and challenging at times.

“One out of every three pilots would die in action during those days,” Piatt said. “We were dealing with primitive technology back then, compared to today with the F-18s.”

Piatt and the rest of his squadron were taken over to Vietnam on the USS Kitty Hawk, which was a ship that served for 48 years before being retired in 2009.

“For eight months we lived on the carrier and would take off on missions concentrating on bombing the truck routes and supply chain along the Ho Chi Minh Trail,” Piatt said. “We helped a lot of ground forces, especially to marines in Shau Valley that needed close air support.”

According to Piatt, the flights were not routine and there were many factors that came into play, including being fired upon and even landing on the carrier was an adventure of its own especially during night runs.

“You wouldn’t even see the carrier until 15 seconds from landing,” Piatt said. “You were led by radar, which was all that was guiding you.”

Piatt flew an A-7 Corsair during that time and wound up having a 20-year military career and retired as a U.S. Navy commander before eventually venturing into real estate with Country Club Real Estate.

He reminisced about how the A-7 Corsair cockpit was very tight and left just enough room for the pilot and the hatch to close.

“When you were flying it was like being a bird,” Piatt said. “You didn’t even see because it closed in so close to the pilot’s head.”

During his time in Vietnam, he had a pair of “close calls,” the first of which came on a day mission during a fifth bombing run he started feeling violent vibrations and he was about 10 seconds from ejecting from his plane when the engine began responding.

However, the close calls continued and the very next day his tail hook, which is used to catch a wire that helps slow down the planes on the carrier, had issues catching the wire during a night landing, and after five passes it was realized that his tail hook had broken and was missing.

So instead of landing on the USS Kitty Hawk, he had to fly another 20 minutes away to land, but wound up being on fumes during the extra trip and had to perform an in-flight refuel procedure just to make it the rest of the way.

Even with the close calls, Piatt said fear was not the first thing that came to his mind during the 100 combat missions he took part in.

“We didn’t have time to be scared,” Piatt said. “Everything was a mental task, and it took all of your attention.”

He also told a quick tale about how he started selling at a new place at the time called The Plantation shortly after getting his real estate license.

“When I started with The Plantation in 1987 there were no homes,” Piatt chuckled. “It looked just like the Guana (research reserve) does today. The first fives homes were not built until July 1987.”