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In Memoriam: Rear Admiral John C. Weaver, USN (Ret.)

Jan. 18, 2023 | By Sam Cox (Rear Adm. U.S. Navy Retired) Director, Naval History and Heritage Command
It is with deep regret I inform you of the passing of Rear Admiral (upper half) John Clark Weaver on 5 January 2023 at age 89. John entered the U.S. Naval Academy in July 1951 and served as a naval aviator and materiel professional until his retirement in 1990 as Commander, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command. His other command was of the Pacific Missile Test Center, Point Mugu, California. He played key roles in the development of the F-14 Tomcat/AWG-9/Phoenix weapons system and of the F/A-18 Hornet. 

John Weaver took the oath of office at the U.S. Naval Academy on 2 July 1951. Described in the Lucky Bag as “a quiet, conscientious fellow,” Midshipman Weaver nevertheless excelled at football, earning three varsity letters and playing in the academy’s 1955 Sugar Bowl win over University of Mississippi [21-0, had to memorize that when I was a plebe]. He was also selected to the 1955 College All-Star team, beating the Cleveland Browns 30–28. In addition, he earned really good grades. He graduated on 3 June 1955 with a bachelor’s degree in naval science and was commissioned an ensign. 

In June 1955, Ensign Weaver reported to the Naval Aviation Basic Training Course at Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola, Florida, for initial flight training. In August 1956, he reported to NAS Memphis, Tennessee, for additional training. In October 1956, he returned to NAS Pensacola for advanced flight training in Advanced Training Unit TWO ZERO SIX (ATU-206), flying the F9F-2 Panther straight-wing jet fighter and the T2V Seastar carrier-capable jet trainer. He was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade) in December 1956. He was designated a naval aviator in January 1957 and reported that month to Fleet Aircraft Service Squadron TEN (FASRON 10) at NAS Moffett Field, California, for training in advanced jet aircraft. 

In March 1957, Lieutenant (j.g.) Weaver was assigned to recently commissioned Fighter Squadron TWO ONE THREE (VF-213) “Black Lions” at NAS Moffett Field. Flying the F4D Skyray (the first Navy fighter to exceed Mach 1 in level flight,) VF-213 deployed to the western Pacific in June 1957, embarked on attack carrier Lexington (CVA-16.) Lexington, with VF-213 embarked, deployed again on short notice in July 1958 due to the second Taiwan Straits crisis, for which Weaver earned an Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal. After transitioning to the subsonic AIM-7/Sparrow-equipped all-weather interceptor F3H Demon, VF-213 deployed again on Lexington to the Far East in April 1959, this time in response to the Laotian crisis. Weaver was promoted to lieutenant in July 1959 and made 218 carrier arrested landings on this tour, half of them at night. 

In July 1960, Lieutenant Weaver reported to the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, earning a bachelor of science in aeronautical engineering in 1962 and a master of science in Aeroelectronics in 1963, while also conducting proficiency flying in the T-2 Buckeye. This was followed in July 1963 by a short training period as a Bureau of Naval Weapons’ representative in Columbus, Ohio. 

In November 1963, Lieutenant Weaver reported as strike operations officer to attack carrier Ranger (CVA-61), homeported at NAS Alameda, California. Ranger came out of overhaul in February 1964. In May 1964, Ranger conducted the only operational mission by a U-2 spy plane launched and recovered by a carrier; this mission was in order to monitor French nuclear weapons tests at Mururoa atoll in French Polynesia (Operation Seeker.) Weaver was promoted to lieutenant commander in July 1964. In August 1964, Ranger commenced an accelerated deployment to the Far East in reaction to the Gulf of Tonkin incident with North Vietnam. Ranger aircraft conducted strikes, mostly in support of operations in South Vietnam, until a major fire broke out in no. 1 machinery room, resulting in one fatality, in April 1965. Ranger returned to the West Coast and following repair at San Francisco Naval Shipyard deployed again to the Gulf of Tonkin in December 1965. Ranger was awarded a Navy Unit Commendation for this period. 

In February 1966, Lieutenant Commander Weaver was assigned to the Aeronautical Systems Division, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, as avionics and armament systems manager in the Joint Service F-111 Systems Program Office. In July 1968, he then reported to Naval Air Systems Command as class desk and deputy project manager for the F-14/Tomcat and Phoenix/AWG 9 Program. He was promoted to commander in July 1969. 

In July 1973, Commander Weaver began the Top Level School at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces in Washington, DC, graduating in 1974. In June 1974, he was assigned to the Naval Missile Center, Point Mugu, as associate laboratory officer. Weaver returned to sea in March 1975 as assistant chief of staff for materiel readiness on the staff of Attack Carrier Striking Force, Seventh Fleet, participating in Operation Frequent Wind (the evacuation of Saigon during the fall of South Vietnam) and the Mayaguez crisis (the seizure of American-flagged merchant vessel SS Mayaguez by Cambodian Khmer Rouge forces following the fall of Cambodia and the subsequent rescue mission, during which 41 American servicemen—almost all Marines—were killed in combat or related helicopter crashes). Weaver was promoted to captain in July 1975. This tour earned him a Meritorious Unit Commendation, two Armed Forces Expeditionary Medals, and a Humanitarian Service Medal. 

In May 1976, Captain Weaver assumed duty as vice commander/project management group officer at Pacific Missile Test Center, Point Mugu. In October 1977, he assumed command of the Pacific Missile Test Center. In August 1979, he reported to Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIRSYSCOM) as assistant commander for research and technology. In December 1979, while still at NAVAIRSYSCOM, he became project manager for the F/A-18 Hornet (PMA-265.) In February 1982 he was designated a rear admiral (lower half) for duty in a billet commensurate with that rank. He was promoted to rear admiral (lower half) on 1 April 1983. 
In October 1983, Rear Admiral Weaver reported to Command Naval Air Forces Atlantic as assistant chief of staff for materiel. In 1983, he also received the Department of Defense Honorary Value Engineering Achievement Award. In June 1985, he reported to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations as director of Naval Aviation Maintenance Program Division (OP-51.) In 1985, he was designated a materiel professional. He was promoted to rear admiral (upper half) on 1 October 1986. 

In December 1986, Rear Admiral Weaver assumed duty as vice commander, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWARS), and in June 1988 he assumed command of SPAWARS. He retired in 1990. 

During his career, Weaver amassed 4,100 flight hours and made 224 carrier recoveries. 

Rear Admiral Weaver’s awards include the Distinguished Service Medal; Legion of Merit (four awards); Meritorious Service Medal; Navy Unit Commendation; Meritorious Unit Commendation; China Service Medal; National Defense Service Medal (two awards); Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal (three awards); Vietnam Service Medal (three campaign stars); Humanitarian Service Medal; Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation (Gallantry Cross Color with Palm); and Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal. 

Following retirement from active duty, Rear Admiral Weaver served as president of Hughes Radar System Group, corporate executive vice president of Hughes Electronics, president and chief operating officer of Hughes Aircraft, executive vice president of Raytheon Corporation, and chairman and chief executive officer of Raytheon International, retiring in 2000 to consult and play golf. He also served as president of the Los Angeles Country Club and was a Golden Eagle Emeritus. 
John Weaver began his operational Navy career flying the fastest jet fighter in the world at the time, the F4D Skyray. It was also a dangerous period of very high operational loss rates for Navy carrier-based jet fighters. He subsequently transitioned to the notoriously troubled F3H Demon, an aircraft that crashed so many times it provoked a congressional investigation. Both aircraft were designed to counter an anticipated threat from long-range anti-ship missiles from high-altitude Soviet bombers, but were considered unsatisfactory because they lacked the versatility to do anything else. The rest of Rear Admiral Weaver’s career might be characterized as a determined quest for a better carrier fighter and missile system. Following his first tour, he was assigned to the TFX (F-111B) program, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s misguided attempt to force the Navy and Air Force to design, build, and operate a common aircraft. From the Navy’s perspective, this was a complete fiasco, but some aspects were salvageable and incorporated into the F-14 Tomcat program, including Weaver himself when Congress cancelled the TFX-program and he shifted to work on the F-14/Tomcat and the long-range Phoenix air-to-air missile and the highly capable AWG-9 radar system. Using the experience of his first tours, he was instrumental in ensuring the Tomcat was multi-mission capable (i.e., could dogfight and drop bombs too), although due to the very austere budgets of the 1970s, the Tomcat’s air-to-ground capability would not be realized until many years later. Much of his career was devoted to testing Navy missiles and aircraft at Point Mugu, leading to much progress. He also played a lead role on the design, development and fielding of the F/A-18 Hornet multi-role fighter-bomber. In fact, much of naval aviation’s capability and success from Desert Storm onward has John Weaver’s fingerprints on it somewhere. His impact was truly profound. His Naval Academy Lucky Bag entry stated that John “could always be depended on and would go to great lengths to do a favor for one.” He certainly did that, not only for individuals, but for naval aviation and the entire U.S. Navy. We are truly grateful for the sacrifice his family made so that he could serve. 

Rest in Peace, Admiral Weaver.