A Marine Corps Mechanic Stole a Fighter Jet So He Could Take it for a Spin

Lance Cpl. Howard Foote originally joined the Marines in hopes of attending flight school. After he suffered an aerial embolism “while flying at 42,500 feet in a glider,” his dreams appeared to be dashed. Foote then became an enlisted aircraft mechanic. But, when an opportunity to fly presented itself, he simply couldn’t resist.

On July 4, 1984, Foote, who was 21, managed to take a joyride in an unarmed A4M Skyhawk, a plane that cost approximately $18 million at the time the incident occurred.

“Foote joined the Marines to go to the Corps’ Enlisted Commissioning Program, hoping to attend flight school,” said Lt. Tim Hoyle during an interview not long after Foote’s flight. “However, while flying at 42,500 feet in a glider, he suffered an aerial embolism, similar to the bends suffered by divers.”

The embolism, caused when the human body fails to adapt to a quick change in pressure, meant Foote would be unable to fly with the Marines.

However, Foote remained undeterred, deciding he was going to make his dream of piloting a fighter a reality while at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro.

“I had worked my entire life for this flight,” said Foote during an interview, four years after his joyride. “There was nothing else.”

The Marine donned a flight suit, hopped in a vehicle used to transport pilots to their aircraft, and drove up to the plane. Foote climbed into the cockpit, stealing the aircraft.

Sentries tried to stop Foote while he was taxiing down the unlit runway, but he managed to take off.

In total, Foote soared through the air for about 50 miles, a flight that lasted approximately half an hour. He performed barrel rolls and loops, cruising over the Pacific Ocean.

During the incident, no one attempted to track the plane, and no fighters were sent up to intercept Foote. Ultimately, the young Marine returned the aircraft on his own accord, requiring five passes of the runway before successfully landing.

Foote was taken into custody after the flight, facing a charge of wrongful appropriation of a government aircraft. He was also punished for his actions, being sent to Camp Pendleton, serving a four and a half month sentence in confinement, and receiving an other-than-honorable discharge.

While the incident could have easily ended his flight-related career, Foote later qualified to be a test pilot on more than 20 different aircraft, including military planes, according to a report by We Are The Mighty. He also worked as a contractor at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and holds multiple patents related to aviation design and engineering technology.