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Chapter 3 - Flight Test  click on the links below for more of the story...
i. It's Academic - ii. New Horizons  - iii. Sun n' Fun: Weapon Systems Test - iv. Clipped Wings

Air Force Armament Center, Eglin AFB, Florida, Jul 1956-Dec‘59

Upon arriving at Ft. Walton Beach we encountered the worst housing situation we ever faced in the service.  We were permitted to stay in visiting quarters for a week, and it was the worst I have ever seen.  Martha considers cockroaches the filth of the earth and the place crawled with them.  If we turned on a light at dark, they would scurry across the walls and floors.

No permanent base housing existed and rentals were scarce, low quality and expensive.  We lived in ‘squatter’s quarters’ the first year but spent most of our free time on the beach anyway.  A group of very small and old houses, called New Shalimar, was privately owned and rented by the owner, with some sort of a loose deal with Eglin wherein the base’s only authority was assignment of residents. The owner set and enforced rules.  Our next-door neighbors, with 5 kids, had repeated problems with the septic tank in their yard and complained to the base, about the odor and health risk.  The owner sent a man over to break the main drain from the house to “fix” the backed up drainage, with a warning of eviction on the next complaint to the base, and he meant business. When government owned, Capehart housing, was completed on the base, about a year later, it was heaven to us. 

Our first action, after getting settled in our shanty, was to buy a ski boat, so we could join the practice of spending weekends on the beach, morning till night.  Skiing was done on the Chocktawhatchee Bay and its inlets and there were innumerable beaches, mostly unoccupied.  The bay led through Destin Pass directly to the Gulf of Mexico, the source of excellent fresh fish, and a beautiful beach.

Our Air Force Armament Center test guys and families spent entire weekends on “AFAC Beach” on the bay.  Mile after mile shoreline were undeveloped so we could chose and named our spot.  The new lifestyle was especially good for the four of us from the outset since we lived in that little home, happy to have a roof, but relieved to be out of it often. We went through our first hurricane in it and the eye of the storm passed directly over us.  How small was it?  Martha kept a little clothes washer, no luxury with two kids, in one of our rooms and extended a drain hose out the window on washdays.  Probably helped to cleanse the neighbor’s yard after the owner’s sewage modification.

Martha and I made the most expensive purchase of our lives, a beautiful new African mahogany speedboat, with Evinrude motor.  Every weekend with our AFAC group, we would borrow cooking pots from the GI mess hall, and fry the catch of the day and hushpuppies, after some of us took a run out on the gulf for fishing, usually king mackerel.  Or, we’d boil crabs, which we caught in the bay.  There was a communal atmosphere sharing the watch and protection of the many kids so the adults could enjoy the activities as well.  It was a wonderful place for the entire family, from early morning till dusk, and that lifestyle resulted in a few of the families being there on extended tours.  It certainly enhanced lifelong friendships.

AFAC Beach

During that first year after we arrived a young helper in a boat storage facility, lit a welding torch and accidentally destroyed the entire facility and our boat, motor, skiing, safety and fishing equipment.  A boat was too much of our recreation to go without and I bought a replacement, which was capable of skiing, fishing or cruising. It was equipped with two bunks and a head, below deck. 

One weekend when Ellen Chaplin’s Dad and Mom were visiting, Chappie and I, took his father-in-law, out on the Gulf for some fishing.  Ellen’s Dad, Robert D. “Ark” Newton.  I learned in recent years that he was a famous football player in the history of the University of Florida Gators, a member of its Hall of Fame and the Southeastern Conference Champs in 1923, as well as establishing a longest punt record to this day.  He was a record setter in field events, as well, earning Golds in broad jump at 22 feet and discus with over 133 feet, and was all Southeastern champion in the Pentathalon and he ran second in the 220.  Check out the size of the leg and shoulder pads for a running back and its clear those old dudes were tough!

"Ark" Newton

We, three, were caught in an unusual storm and my boat went down in the Gulf of Mexico.  I actually came closer to dying twice that day than in years of flying excitement.  Beside coming close to drowning, the safety glass windshield was shattered by the huge waves that swamped us, and we were badly cut and bleeding in an area that was always loaded with large sharks, as we were reminded as we flew over, especially when the tide flowed out with bait fish into the Gulf, and the tide was running out fast.  As we were going down I realized one of my flying buddies, “Red” Snyder, had borrowed all but two life vests.  Without letting them know, I instructed Chappie and Bob put them on. Moments later we were washed overboard as the boat, with its heavy inboard engine went quickly under, providing no sanctuary for us.  We were in the pass between the bay and the Gulf of Mexico and were quickly washed out into the Gulf, but as the boat went down, a wooden cover for the inboard engine popped up and I clung to it.  I had removed that cover only weeks before and the screws were so tight I had to drill them out, but the grip was fortuitously weakened!

My two passengers, more buoyant, were quickly washed away from me and passed out of sight away from shore, except momentarily as the giant waves peaked with them.  There was a single light buoy in the Gulf outside the Destin Pass and I could see that and seemed to be floating toward it, but like me friends, saw it only when each wave lifted me. I had one chance for survival and that was swim to it with the help of the outward currents, but with the infrequent views and no background but the sea, I had great concern about swimming on line to the buoy. Suddenly, I was swimming with the shore ahead and knew I now had to swim against that strong current, me not a strong swimmer .... I was being swept to sea.  I knew that was my only hope of survival, and started swimming with all the speed I could muster, but I had been released from hospital with pneumonia the week before.

I truly I had taken my last possible stroke against the current, when I reached that small sanctuary, and had swallowed so much water, I regurgitated before I could climb aboard.  When I recovered enough to climb a few steps on the ladder, I could see my friends bobbing southward and getting very small.  At that moment I was really panicky for them, when I saw how I much I had been cut by the broken safety glass shards of the windshield.  They also had to be bleeding, and faced a night among the sharks.  It was getting late in the afternoon and from the beginning recovery before the next morning seemed dim, but a tourist had seen us through a telescope and reported our plight. A base helicopter was there in a while, but our brush with death was not at an end.

The helicopter didn’t have capacity to make a rescue so a courageous commercial fisherman with his son standing and tied on the bow, picked us up, and very nearly had a fatal capsizing, while returning on the great waves over shallow shoals.  He could only use the boat like a surfboard to come out and return over shallows, since the pass was too severe even for his large boat.  As we got to the critical shallows his son visually searched for the deeper point while his dad maneuvered to catch a wave. At the critical moment over that sandbar, the prop was lifted out and the boat swung sideways, out of control, and was rolling over with no more that a foot of water between us and disaster.  Suddenly, the giant wave caught up, the captain regained control, and those two very brave fishermen saved us.  That sea journey met the highest level of risk that Chappie or I ever faced flying and was far worse more disturbing, out of our element.

There were two distinct flying organizations at Eglin, the one we joined, Air Force Armament Center (AFAC), under the Air Research and Development Command (ARDC), while the other, Air Proving Ground Command was a Tactical Air Command   test unit, which performed operational tests of fire control systems and weapons, and tactics for flying units.  My first assignment was to the “Gun Section” of the Engineering Directorate. I was assigned as a test engineer/pilot on improved 50 caliber machine guns for the F-86, which involved a lot of ground firing and quite a bit of rather boring firing without targets   over the Gulf of Mexico, with the usual test reports etc. The actual amount of firing against a banner target, something I never tired of, was very limited.  Fortunately, in short order, I was transferred directly to test operations where flying duties not only became primary, but more interesting and variable, but not immediately.

One of my earliest tasks was in support of an electronic dive-bombing “harp” to replace manual ones. These were ground-based devices to accurately measure the dive angle of fighters in dive-bombing tests to better assess performance of weapons and sights.  Sensing dive angle was a precious art for dive bombing, since it was an important parameter for accuracy.  The ground observers would report my dive angle to me continually and I developed an uncanny judgment of my true dive angle.  At that time and until later years in Vietnam, dive-bombing skill was not on my list of priorities, still dreaming of air combat, hoping that if I ever returned to combat it would be to complete an unfinished job that was nobody’s fault but my own! 

I doubt if many pilots ever heard of the harp.  Even the manual version would have saved flying time and money and trained dive-bombing faster, better and cheaper. I would discover as a commander in Vietnam, the schools never did learn how to effectively and efficiently teach that most difficult art to pilots.  I was able to set the accuracy record in abbreviated training primarily because I had the experience at Eglin, even though I never had a project there that allowed me to actually dive bomb.

Different weapons tests were conducted on one of the many ranges scattered around the huge base area, large and uninhabited tracts.  I would find ways to spice up a dull mission with small air shows for the ground test crew.  Once, after completing a test, I flew away at low altitude, out of view.  I had not flown this particular range before but made a surprise high-speed pass, up-side down at less than 20 feet, in an F-86.  Unlike the F-100, which had a small reserve for inverted flight, the earlier jets had none.  You’d just better not overextend yourself while inverted.  The F-86 would spit out puffs of black oil smoke, as if the engine had quit, which made the show more spectacular.

The range was clear of trees and I was so low I would have to climb inverted to gain enough wing clearance with the ground to roll out, but I had not noticed a line of telephone poles, crossing the far edge of the range until it was too late to make that inverted push-up, being still upside down, and miss the wires!  I stayed low, heart in mouth, hoping I was below them, but the poles were old, abandoned and unwired.  Having lucked out there was no reason to miss the finale, which was a continuous string of fast barrel rolls on my steep departure climb. I suspect those range operators saw more air shows than anyone else on base, and we had a lot of formal demonstrations there.

Around that time the Air Research and Development Command was designated Air Force Systems Command (AFSC) and our AFAC was combined into the new Air Proving Ground Center, with all test operations consolidated.  For those of us from AFAC, our command level was elevated from Colonel Arthur Cruikshank, a celebrated member of Doolittle’s Raiders of Tokyo bombing fame, to Maj. Gen. Joseph Kelly and his deputy B/G Ernest Warburton.

A moment of tribute to Art Cruikshank, is in order!  On the Doolittle raid he had to bail out in Japanese occupied China.  He was captured by a Japanese soldier, but then overpowered and killed the man.  He dragged the head with him as he entered a Chinese village, in hopes they would hide and protect him.  It worked, and their underground got him to safety and he finally made it home.

Very shortly after joining these new commanders, I arrived at work one Friday morning, I was instructed to fly an F-86H, which was the final, biggest and most powerful version of the famous Sabrejets, to the Air National Guard at Bradley Field, Connecticut.  The aircraft would have short legs, without external fuel tanks, normally used for cross-country.  What a misfortune, considering Martha and I had invited about 50 people to our new home on the base for our biggest party, ever, that night.   I rushed to the base airline ticket office and I could get the only airliner home that day, if I made a non-stop flight to Bradley, and wasted no time departing.  I was unfamiliar with that destination but one of the guys said that Bradley Airport was on the south bank of the river directly across from a large airport of the Pratt & Whitney jet engine factory.  Couldn’t miss it!  During a quick stop at base operations to grab a map, check weather and file clearance, I determined the distance and headed for the airplane. I was so hurried that I didn’t even unfold the map when I saw the factory and the river, right across from it was BRA... the remaining letters truncated by the fold line of the map. The fellow knew what he was talking about!

I calculated that a cruise-climb to maximum altitude and the forecast winds would allow me to make it if I shut down my engine for a long dead-stick glide after I passed New York city to my right, then an air start with just enough fuel to land, and I could catch the commercial flight at Bradley.  In event of failure to restart, I was absolutely confident in my ability to make a dead-stick landing.  My plan was practical because weather en route was beautiful, and I was experienced in dead-engine gliding for range extension, something I learned the hard way my first real dogfight.

Things went well and visibility from altitude was unlimited and my progress showed it would be tight but I could just make it with power-off glide.  I made all the necessary radio calls on route, shut down the engine and began my long glide.  About 50 miles out in the glide, I tried to call Bradley tower and got no response.  All calls radios were dead, and so were my options, so I continued to an initial point for a power-off 360 landing approach, starting the engine at the last minute to save my 30 pounds of fuel for glide extension, if required.  I was pre-occupied by a lone private aircraft, appearing to be on very extended downwind for my runway. I had only this chance at landing, without enough fuel for a second one.  I easily cut well inside and turned on a short final approach to my first real look at where I must land, an unbelievable view.  There was a high earthen dam immediately at the approach end of a runway, which seemed more like a short country lane.  This dike effectively reduced the landing space available.  It was extremely narrow and proved to be only 2000 feet to land and stop, one-quarter the length of an average military runway.  I had given up all options, when I descended from above 40,000 feet, but I landed successfully, on the shortest runway I’ve ever heard of a jet fighter landing on, before the days of VSTOL, with grass growing at points, through the blacktop.  Having often practiced short-field landings with the more difficult F-100, stopping proved to be no problem, especially without fuel weight. 

Before I could dismount, an Army National Guard jeep pulled up and I hollered with amazement, “Bradley Field?”  “Nope, this is BRAinerd!  BRAdley is 30 miles up the river.”  The kind lieutenant was the pilot of an Army Bell H-1 utility helicopter and only military aircraft based there.  As soon as I grabbed my airplane’s documents out of the gun compartment, we headed for Bradley.  I was determined to make the party. There was nothing to be done with the airplane but leave it on the end of the runway; there were also no traffic problems or paved taxiways at Brainerd.  I hurriedly got the Air Force Guardsmen at Bradley to sign the receipt for the airplane, optimistic that the guard would retrieve that fine airplane and forget the matter.

Not so!  The regular Air Force liaison officer to the ANG at Bradley was a friend of Colonel Szeniewski, another of my new superiors, and had called him over the weekend.  Being unaware of what would await me on Monday, the party was a great success, and a catharsis to my faint, lingering concerns about consequences for that days adventure. 

Early Monday morning I was summoned to B/Gen. Warburton’s office and learned first hand about an American Indian on the war-path, And How!  Under the circumstances, my story was that the runway looked OK and I thought it was Bradley.  The truth until I had no option and the little runway looked real good when I got my first peak at it, Bradley Field or not.  The general stuck with his point that I should have noticed the small size and reconsidered the landing.  He would definitely not be sympathetic to the answer that I was in a dead-stick glide with too little fuel to go anywhere, and was so busy looking at the light airplane trying to land there for me to even look at the airport. I didn’t want to disturb him further!

I contend that my answer was close enough to fact that I have never downright lied to a superior officer, and my first question to the helicopter pilot confirmed it.  As I approached that landing, I was too damned busy to unravel the puzzle!

Shortly after my chewing-out from the general, Captain Alonzo J. “Lon” Walter Jr., a fine friend and smart-ass, presented me a nameplate for my desk, properly including my correct initials, “Rong Way SMITH”, a slick or sick joke, referencing an infamous early pilot dubbed Wrong Way Corrigan who, in a bid to emulate Lindberg illegally took off in New York, flew to Paris and claimed he lost his way to California.  The friendly abuses picked up even more when someone posted a clipping from a Connecticut newspaper that bragged about the first jet to land at Brainerd field and how they took the wings off to truck it to Bradley.  At least I gained celebrity, near Brainerd, though never returned to enjoy it.

The dead stick experience I gained, first in the Korean war, and then in my assignment at Albuquerque made it possible for me to make it to a great party including good friends, Lon and Doris Walter, Howard and Madonna Leaf, Ed and Ellen Chaplin, Bud and Stacey Gallup and others who in spite of my extreme efforts to be a good host, tormented me about that, my only mistake in 20 years of flying ....... except for a few tiny goofs

Just before that occurred, I had been designated as the alternate pilot for an air-show feat that had never been performed before.  At the upcoming Joint Civilian Orientation Conference, JCOC, the pilot of an F-100 fighter would attempt to shoot down a very small towed airplane/target with 20 mm cannon, in front of the grandstands.  The JCOC was an important occasional event, which included a firepower demonstration for a special list of American business, government and celebrity guests of the Defense Department.  Flying as the alternate, I would merely take off and later breakaway, out of sight, before approaching the stands filled with 20,000 or more spectators, unless the primary had to abort for mechanical problems, which very rarely happened.  This was to be a first time for an aerial “kill” for the crowd and would be very difficult, especially in the F-100, against a target with small wings, vertical tail only, and a 20 inch diameter fuselage, which had to be directly hit, precisely in front of the crowd and with enough angle off to avoid hitting the towing B-57 bomber.  Since failure was a real possibility, I had mixed emotions about the risk of my having to shoot, after my cross-country fiasco, especially when I was flying an event that was getting top billing from General Warburton, but the odds were near zero I would be called on.

The big moment arrived and we two took off in formation. My lead, a senior major, could not get his landing gear up, with repeated tries, the one time in my thousands of flights for that to happen.  He had no choice but to abort the mission, returned to base and I was it!  To be in position for the event it was necessary to fly high above and behind the target, to be able to make a diving S-turn down on the target at the proper point to shoot the target and destroy it directly in front of the stands. Even in shooting a full size enemy airplane, you don’t have to worry about exactly what point in the sky you get him, but that too was vital for this, plus the target was miniature compared to the size of a Mig-15.  At least it was not going to evade, which was scant encouragement.

Only the lead had actually practiced.  If I reached firing range from the target at the right time in front of the stands, but my angle off of the target’s path was too great I would have to pull high g’s and be very unlikely to hit that target.  High g’s induced sighting errors and caused the bullets to drop drastically below the sight line.  Reduced probability compounded with the small target, almost assured failure.  On the other hand, if I adjusted too much to avoid that failure, I could end up driving right up the tail of the target, providing an easy kill; most likely of the bomber also. There would be no chance to shoot, with such great risk of shooting down the B-57.

Another consideration, even before starting the firing pass, was the difficulty to remain in position for my high-side gunnery pass, while the bomber was flying his continuing racetrack holding pattern well ahead and below me.  And to be in position to discern when to dive down from my perch because the target was so small, it lacked real perspective.  Starting down at the wrong place could get me the kill, but not in front of the audience.  The stigma of complete failure would have come from anything but a shattered target and been devastating for me.  All of that and I had General Warburton on my mind as I waited to start my firing pass.  It seemed an eternity waiting our turn, the big sweat!  I blasted the target to pieces right in front of the grandstands. 

At the traditional flying-suit beer party in a large hangar, General Warburton happily approached the major and gushed praise on his “kill”.  Finally, when lead was able to get a word in, he pointed to me and told the general what happened.  The general’s smile abruptly disappeared, as he wheeled about and walked away, without a word, but thereafter he treated me as if nothing bad had ever happened.  I suppose that was his way of saying my slate was wiped clean for a new start.  Because of that success, this mission became standard for the JCOC and was later included in a far more important show.  After this, I was always primary pilot. I never went in with absolute certainty about the result, but I never had a failure.  And I discovered in time that General Warburton was really and kind and fair gentleman.

The firepower demonstrations had inherent risks. One of our guys, Captain Jerry King, paid the dearest price.  He was to dive bomb with a thousand pound live bomb load and timed fuses.  Those fuses had a small propeller on the nose, held still during flight by a piano wire attached with two redundant metal ‘Fahnstock’ clips.  When the bomb was released the wire stayed with the airplane and the propeller turned an exact number of times to explode a calculated distance above the target. For some reason, human or mechanical, the wire withdrew while in flight and the bomb exploded, still attached to the airplane wing.  After the funeral, his family moved away and sold Jerry’s speed boat which Ed and Ellen Chaplin, Bud & Stacey Gallup, and Martha and I purchased, with a buy-out handshake between us for whenever one or the other transferred.  Reading that now sounds very callused, even though life must go on after death.  It reminds me that as the years passed and I saw more acquaintances, comrades and friends die doing the work that we all chose and desired, just how one’s mind adjusts to resist the temptation to consider the thought, “I could be next.”  It almost never crossed my mind and when anyone lost the ability to control that thought they were generally future casualties or veterans who had resigned. 

That boat was big, very old and beautiful.  It was a classic: A Gar Wood speedboat, with a big Chrysler marine engine.  It was double planked and we spent months re-caulking it, refurbishing the engine, repainting it, and Martha, who has long been a skilled seamstress, upholstered the interior.  When we would ski behind that hummer we really had some wakes to jump.

Lon Walter had arrived at Eglin in 1953, after returning from flying Sabres in the Korean war, at about the same time as my comrade, Bob Ronca of the 335th in Korea had also arrived.  Between Korea and Eglin, Lon had gotten his Master of Science in engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology, and he too then went to the Test Pilot School.  Lon was assigned as the program manager on a new and improved fighter gunsight, the K-19, under development for future fighters.  He and Bob Ronca, along with a British RAF pilot, Bruce Cole had the fighter pilots dream of shooting aerial gunnery on a typical banner target for months.  As a result, they contributed to the perfection of a sight that was to see important combat service on the F-101, 104 and 105, and that would prove effective against real vehicles in my future, in that case ground vehicles.  Squadron leader Cole returned home to England and died in the crash of a Canberra bomber that lost controllability in bad weather.

Bob Ronca and I were competitive and began a series of challenges in the F-100, literally by coincidence. We both liked to hotdog the take-offs in the F-100, an airplane not too blessed with acceleration and lift at take-off, so required some effort for spectacular effect. Shortly, we were being scored by all of the F-100 crew chiefs on the line, agitating for a contest. Their ratings of us were based on the sharpest rotation and steepest sustained climb immediately on take-off.  Holding it low to gain speed before climb was routine but these guys were expert and discerning critics and were looking for immediate climbs at lift-off.   But the ground crews could not judge our speed on the ground and we each began to hold our airplane down to achieve higher ground speed and a faster rotation and steeper and longer climb before we had to push hard over before a dangerous steep stall.

My fortune was that I ended the contest, and maybe it was both our good fortunes.  On my last attempt, unbeknown until I landed, I had rotated so rapidly that I literally rubbed the afterburner vanes on the runway, without serious damage to them and without scraping the tailpipe or even the tail-skid which was extended, with landing gear down on take-off, but its purpose was to protect the tailpipe on landing.  This required one devilish fast rotation and wheels high enough off the ground before the A/B dragged in order to miss everything else on the airplane and clearly established the absolute limit of safety, ending the contest. I got one hell of a steep and sustained climb, and good score, it was really miraculous that I did no serious damage, which could have spelled disastrous power loss at that critical point. 

Bob and Millie were a gregarious couple and great friends.  He was a real competitor and a hero to the end, which occurred in South Vietnam when he continued attacking a ground target in spite of significant damage to his airplane because of the dire need for his help, by ground troops.  He was the recipient of a posthumous Air Force Cross, one of the first of that medal, which was second only to the Medal of Honor.  Millie, a very lovely and kind lady, and mother of their children survived Bob only briefly before she was overcome by cancer.  Martha saw Millie in Maryland for a last time, shortly after Bob was killed, when they had dinner before Martha sold our home and with the kids, joined me in my training for Vietnam.  Millie was so attached to Bob that his passing had taken much of the joy from her own life. 

One of my closer calls while flying fighters was in a rat race with Bill Haynes. It seems we kept running into each other throughout our careers, even going to work for the same company after we retired, but this run-in was nearly final.  We began a series of very violent scissor maneuvers in an effort to get on the opponent’s tail and win.  Suddenly, we passed very closely in high g turns and at the second we passed, we both reversed in the blind with a max 180-degree roll and high ‘g’ pull to gain ultimate victory. We found ourselves with a split second to avoid a crash directly on top of each other, cockpit to cockpit and we reactively both rolled left.  Not worth explaining, but it’s a 100% probability that a fighter pilot will instinctively roll left in crisis, especially if he ever flew behind a propeller.  My wing passed between his wing and tail and missed his cockpit by a couple of feet.  My claim is as winner since my wing passed just behind his, but I can assure you he would refute a verdict, because neither of us made that next roll-and-pull necessary to prove victory!

On another occasion while we were still at Eglin, Bill and I had made a long journey, landed at Tinker A.F.B. to visit his Mom in Oklahoma City, and then continued to another base to refuel.  It had been a long day and after midnight we departed from Scott Airfield, Illinois into a cloudy rainy sky, just plain ugly, for a long flight home.  I was in the back seat, since we were alternating on each leg, and was nearly asleep as we climbed out.  I was suddenly awakened by a very unusual sound in jet flight — Complete Silence!  Almost before I was fully awake Bill had already hit the air-start switch and turned on the main fuel switches, necessary for flight, but prohibited on the T-33 during take-off.  I guess Bill was a little sleepy, also----But he was Quick!

Everyone that ever spent much time in fighters has stories to tell of the near misses.  And Bill was no exception. Here are two he related to me recently, from his time at Eglin, typical of what we faced.  He had encountered a transient interference when he tried to pull back on the stick for a heavyweight take off in a F-100, as he tried to rotate the nose.  He stop-cocked the throttle and applied the brakes twice, didn’t blow tires.  Lon challenged his shut down of the engine, as a risk of losing brake pressure, but Bill reminded him that the system was good for 3 braking cycles, after shut off.  Bill never forgets a thing he has read.   In the other incident, he had the engine of an F-86H runaway to 105% rpm, drastically high, so shut it down, the only practical response.  He tried an air restart but got a lot of threatening noises so shut it off and made an excellent dead-stick landing. That proved to be a very wise decision.  It turned out that the compressor had been breached, a very high probability of rupture and explosion had he continued to operate it.  I am hoping that Bill will get to make a flight of the full size Wright Flyer airplane, which is being tested for a flight on the 100th Anniversary of Flight at Kitty Hawk.  Heck, I would vote for him to get the first flight.  After all he almost started flying with Wilbur and Orville, as a recent picture of him displays. 

Haynes in cockpit

On a Friday morning, I was dispatched to fly a T-33 to Oakland, California for an upgrade at a contractor’s facility.  I would pick up one that had completed its mod, and was told I must get it off the ground by 12:00 noon Saturday or they would charge storage fees.  I had gone to high school in nearby Alameda CA, attended University of California and my best H.S. buddy, Phil Thormahlen, lived there.  I hadn’t seen him for years.  We went to a bar to celebrate, where the bartender was also our H.S. chum.  Fortunately, I left a wake up call at the hotel or I’d still be there, but I had to order buckets of ice to put in the bathtub just to be able to get out of there that morning.

Complete immersion in ice water proved very effective for recovery, though quite painful. I was exhausted by that torture treatment, but had no options.  As I dressed, I discovered an empty wallet.  A panic search of my clothing came up with bills in every pocket, more than I started with.  I’m sure my buddy’s, equally smashed, had stuffed some in a pocket every time I tried to pay.

I got to the airport and filed clearance to land at Albuquerque, where my parents lived, knowing I was only good for one leg of my journey home.  I would sleep for as long as it took, then fly to Florida.  I was climbing west toward ABQ at about 20,000 feet when something happened that we only read of in Emergency Procedures, it never happened to my knowledge, to anyone!  The procedure said, “In event of a Forward Fire Warning Light:  Shut down the Engine and Bail Out Immediately”.  Explosion was imminent, it concluded.  Suddenly the Forward Fire Warning Light was ON

I felt so bad that I unscrewed the little cover that was over the light, took out the bulb and put the parts in my pocket, so I could ignore it. After all, Emergency Procedures are advisory and the final decision is left to the pilot.  I feel sure the writer never considered a pilot who felt as bad as I did having such an emergency. I assure you it was the forward and not the aft light, the latter being rather frequent and unimportant, because the ground crew was astounded when I gave them the parts and wrote the aircraft up. I never was so happy to get in bed and slept like a log.  The failure proved to be an electrical short, and I proved to be a genius although never so recognized until now, Thank You very much!

Startling occurrences like that one are not unexpected.  Another time I was flying in the front seat of a T-33 out of Eglin with another pilot in the back heading into an area of heavy thunderstorms, not unusual going north from Florida in the summer.  Fighter aircraft, with rare exception had no radar to avoid storms and were being buffeted around.  Suddenly we were struck with the heaviest hit of lightning that I ever encountered, accentuated by the back-seater’s simultaneous scream amplified by the intercom which rattled my cage. He had actually been struck by the lightning to the extent of light burns on both arms, fortunately most of the charge stays on the outer shell of a closed metal object, like an airplane.  Imagine the surprise for him of that shock, perfectly timed with the bang and momentary blinding flash.  He must have conjured Hades in that flash.  He had both arms up on the metal canopy structure, which was the most comfortable position for a passenger, especially in such turbulence. 

One of my most frightening moments occurred when I was chasing my greatest and most enduring friend on an early F-105 test flight.

Early Model F-105

Capt. Howard Leaf, now retired Lt. Gen. and ex-Air Force Assistant Vice Chief of Staff, had a control failure going extremely fast on the deck, bailed out and miraculously survived.  He is, beyond doubt, the most dedicated but stubborn man I’ve known, bar none.  ASAP, I went to see him, in his bed at the base hospital.  His body was black and blue, literally, even the whites of his eyes were bloody-red.  As I walked in, one of his legs had slipped off the bed, adding to his pain, but he was struggling in spite of the pain to interlock the toes of the other foot trying unsuccessfully to help lift it.  He refused to summon a nurse as a matter of “pride”.  I can’t remember whether I put the leg up or left him to reconsider his decision and pride.  After all pride goes before a fall, even if it’s only one foot! Howard and I fought (verbally only) many times when flying together. Smart move because I knew he boxed at Colorado School of Mines, if not St. Louis University where he got his Masters Degree. He was a rule maker and I a rule breaker.  Our careers present a comparative lesson for young folks, who aspire to careers at the top echelon:  Follow the rules! He worked his way to general while I played and neither of us would change things, I am sure.  He is one of the most honorable and conscientious officers I ever knew and missed a chance at his fourth star because he would not succumb to pressure from the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Senator Sam Nunn, on a matter of principle and integrity, at the peak of his career.

Of course, I knew much earlier that he was a man of deep principles, but a self-styled ruler at home, in his own mind.  He had profound rules for the family.  One was that it was always appropriate to use the public library.  He used to sit at my house reading our Encyclopaedia Brittanica, while denying that his kids needed them at home.  Howard was not cheap, just stubborn and here was the clincher.  He was adamantly opposed to television for his kids. Please recall that in 1980’s kiddie shows were really that.  Mary Beth, the eldest of the 6 Leaf kids, was 5 years old or so, at the time she disappeared. It was nearly dark and we were all frantic. We searched the neighborhood, until a neighbor noticed a youngster watching T.V. with his kids.  The only difference was that Mary Beth was the one outside, peeking in.  The Leaf household got its first television set, and I became aware for the first time that Madonna, not Howard was commander!

If you were a dyed in the wool fighter pilot, you never stopped working at becoming more competitive.  I always thought there were advantages to a fighter pilot who could get the most performance from his aircraft, even at the lower speeds, so I practiced it.   I was able to do loops starting level at landing speed, for example, starting pull-up for a loop without exceeding 115 knots in a T-33, which was about minimum final approach speed.  There was a measure of necessary risk because these low speed maneuvers were only possible at low altitude where the air is dense, so the altitude and speed were gradually reduced together in the learning process.

We were taking the Nation’s premier celebrities on T-33 flights during their visits to the firepower demonstrations, since commercial jets were not yet in operation.  It occurred to me that a brief solo demonstration, before they were taken for their flights, would add to their excitement of flying in the same airplane.  I felt it was possible to take off with minimum fuel weight, immediately starting a climbing slow-roll while the gear was still retracting, adding to the intrigue of viewers.  Then continuing into an extended Cuban 8 to a landing in the direction of takeoff, nearly staying over the airport runway the in whole maneuver, with a second slow roll thrown in for good measure.  My plan was that immediately after the slow roll on takeoff, the Cuban 8 would begin with a loop and 180-degree rollout, and then diving to pull-out at 20+ feet and a low pass for the viewers, with a slow roll, followed by another loop and half roll to land straight in at the point on the runway I started take-off run. There was purpose to the second slow roll because it would extend the upwind run enough to make room for the last half of the Cuban 8 and landing in the take-off direction. The celebrities might not recognize the degree of difficulty, but would be impressed.  The jocks would recognize it and that’s the hardest group to satisfy and the ones a fellow pilot cared most about impressing.

I had completed a local flight in a T-33 with a pilot from one of the labs in the back seat. We were nearly ready to land, so fuel weight was low, a necessity for slow speed max performance. I usually practiced low speed stuff at about 4000 feet for a margin of safety, even though dense air of lower altitude increased the ability to complete maneuvers so there was a risk tradeoff. I did one low speed loop, which brought great surprise and delight that it was even possible, from the guy in back. I decided to simulate a roll on take-off, which I felt real casual about, expecting it would be the easy part though I’d never tried it. After that I could put it together with the Cuban 8, and do the complete routine. 

I had made enough low speed loops to know the Cuban 8 would be an easier and much safer maneuver, without necessity of the full pullout from a loop and I anticipated no trouble with this low speed slow roll on take-off.  I extended gear and flaps and slowed to take-off speed then “began take-off” by adding full power and started the roll.  A slow roll is most difficult at the two 90 degree points when one wingtip is pointing directly down to earth.  It demands that the lift holding the airplane in the sky comes from the lower side of the fuselage acting as an airfoil, since the wings are vertically aligned at those points, which makes rudder the only usable controlling surface to keep the nose up and aircraft under control. At 4000 feet, I was overly demanding of the airplane, making sure of a climb for a truer simulation of a take off presuming a runway was just below.  I would know I was successful only if I ended higher than the ‘start altitude’.  Everything went well until point of the roll, when the speed was slowing from my climb and the high drag and I needed maximum rudder.  Suddenly, we snapped into a full-fledged spin.  I was concerned the other pilot might bail, so I kept repeating, “ It’s O.K., I’ve Got It”, as nonchalantly, as possible.  The spin training in TPS served me well.  My partner in this adventure seemed very calm about it then, or at least afterwards, and I suppose he thought this was intentional.

In the actual take off it would be possible, by delaying the take-off roll, to gain a little altitude and higher airspeed to provide safety margin, compared to my trial.  I chose to test in the extreme in an airplane not too trusty with heavy sideslips. After finding that this margin was not available, I decided the thing was too risky around an airport full of people and that ended my thoughts on it. 

We had some fantastic weapons delivery pilots for the JCOC, like Maj. “Krop” Kropenick who had more jet time than any pilot in the Air Force in 1958 and surely must have dive-bombed more, also.  Bill Haynes passed along this story to me about Krope:  “He flew everything with wings in the 36th Tac Ftr Group at Furstenfeldbrueck, Germany, when I was there in the early 50's.  He was famous for having flown a Douglas B-26 by a San Diego air show with both props feathered, turned behind the stands and came by with them feathered … again!”  Krope flew so much and he was single and flying was his life and his wife.  It was ironic that some 5 years later he visited Martha and me at Edwards for dinner at our home and pulled out a huge pile of pictures of his kids and spent most of the evening describing them for us.  He had become a family fanatic.   

Some of the pilots who were almost fixtures at Eglin were show masters, where we are talking live weapons, 500 lb. bombs, napalm, rockets and cannon fire, delivered directly in front of grandstands for tens of thousands of visitors.  At each show one of our F-101A pilots would come in on the deck in front of the stands, nearly supersonic and do an attack on a target using the Low Altitude Bombing System (LABS) designed for nuclear tactical delivery. He would complete the Immelman (half loop to inverted, then roll out level) to exit in the opposite direction, providing maximum distance away at bomb impact.  At the exact vertical in that maneuver, the system released a 500-pound bomb, with a smoke trail for visual tracking by the crowd, and the bomb trail would rise above 20,000 feet and then fall straight down.  The only safety margin, it wasn’t explosive, but from anywhere in the area, the smoke trail made it look like the bomb was coming straight down at every viewer and it almost was.  And, by the way, ever bomb dropped previously in front of the stands were fully explosive.

The grand finale was a fireworks show that no one ever forgot.  The huge B-52 bomber would begin a pass toward the front of the crowded stands and miles short would start dropping individual 500 pound live bombs in a string which formed a perfect visual pattern to the ground and exploded on impact, one by one, until the proper point to salvo the many, many remaining bombs in a single cluster in front of the viewers.  The sights and sounds were memorable to everyone who ever saw that. 

I had flown my first JCOC in a F-100 on the wing of Capt. Bob Brinkman, early in my tour.  Bob was a fine pilot and hero who, along with his ECM Operator, Vince Sciangio, gave their lives while flying Wild Weasel (F-105F) attacks at low level on a Surface to Air Missile site, near Hanoi.  In the early days of the Weasels it was not uncommon for crews to risk such suicidal dangers to try and protect the strike force, without even the minimal benefit of the standoff missiles, which were used later.

A couple of us were sent TDY to the Pentagon to work in the highly classified Air Force Operations Center.  Those of us who were versed in planning and flying the air shows were to plan a fabulous fly-by, highly classified until the scheduled day, that it would be flown down Pennsylvania Avenue in D.C. for a special honor on behalf of the President of the Republic of Germany, Willy Brandt. As much as the planning was of interest, I hoped I would never return to the Pentagon.  The good part was that I worked directly with Col. Jack Bradley, who had been our 1st Fighter Group Commander.  For that brief period, I got a chance to know him and appreciate how fine a man and great leader he was, besides being a fighter Ace, with 15 kills in Europe.  I had missed the opportunity to know him as a 2nd lieutenant in the 27th squadron at Rome NY, and this made up for that loss. 

Near the end of my tour of duty, three of us went to Las Vegas NV, to perform two shows in successive days, projected for 100,000 attendees from Los Angeles and surroundings. Our Commander of Test Operations, Col. Bill Colgan, Lon Walter and I were there for practice, then the shows.  I was to perform the shoot-down of the towed aircraft target, but with attendance predicted to reach 100,000, and Nellis, the base of the Air Force Fighter Weapons School, home of TAC’s best, it increased pressure.  I decided to fire closer than usual to the target to reduce risk of missing in front of such crowds.  Closer range demanded a more precise attack, but I had gained experience in this mission and I could not fathom facing the thought of a miss, knowing that what the spectators would see would be the impression of Air Force capability that they would take home.  I was successful and totally destroyed the target aircraft for both shows, however on the first day its severed wing flew up and luckily hit just over my engine air intake and slid up the windscreen, which propelled it high enough to miss the rudder, creating no damage, only red paint marks on the airplane.  I knew it could have been disaster had it impacted a few feet lower, on the engine air-intake.  The next show, my reactions were honed. When I saw the target ‘explode’ I pulled up sharply, to avoid ingesting debris in the engine. It hit my fuselage, at a steep angle of attack, just below the jet intake.  The result this time was quite damaging since it tore gear doors, damaged the fuselage ribs, bent and tore the skin in front of many fuselage ring-frames, but the gear came down, the airplane was repairable, and everyone was so happy with the results that I never heard a word that wasn’t complimentary, even the folks from whom I had gotten the airplane.  In fact, their C.O. loaned me two 100’s a few days later, for an important personal request.

Nellis AFB is the home base of the Air Force Thunderbirds and the team was there for the show, and being compared to other teams of the free world flying also.  One of the Thunderbird pilots was finishing his tour of duty so I asked the T-Bird leader, Maj. Robbie Robinson for a try out.  I knew that team members were chosen from Tactical Air Command, but it was worth a shot.  He acquiesced, but couldn’t use the team airplanes and that’s when the Fighter School C.O. came through for me with loan. 

We flew to Thunderbird Lake, their practice area, and I went through all the formation maneuvers a couple of times on his wing, varying my flight position for him, wing and slot. Robbie told me he would request my transfer and, since I was outside Tactical Air Command, he urged me to make a formal request for transfer, which I did as soon as I got home.  My request for transfer was endorsed and forwarded to Systems Command by APGC commander, Major General Kelly, with his recommendation for approval. He felt it an honor to Systems Command for one of us to be the first outsider from Tactical Air Command to break into the T-Birds.  I learned that Robbie was about to finish his tour also, but was unaware that the new leader would be Hoot Gibson, on whose wing I saw my first enemy Mig shot down when Hoot became an Ace at that moment.  Had I known that, the outcome may have changed.  In the meantime, I had been authorized to travel with the team for their next show at Daytona Beach Speedway and got to fly practice shows in their airplanes with the full team, so felt I was on my way to satisfy another dream.

My luck ran out!  Shortly after returning home our General received an unusual response, a rebuke from Systems’ Headquarter, whose Deputy for Personnel and only a Bird Colonel, just happened to be the brother of AFSC Commander, General Bernard Schriever.  The general is arguably the most recognized of the commanders of Systems, even to the present, because of his accomplishments with ballistic missiles and space systems.  His brother, the colonel, refused APGC sending a graduate engineer to move outside the command, “to play around flying” and he ordered me to report to Vandenberg AFB, as a Titan Missile Test Officer.  If that wouldn’t have been my last wish for my career, I don’t know what could have seemed worse. In those days, with the growing interest in missiles, it usually became a new career path, not just a few years.

It was not unusual that after a couple of years, even in a fine flying assignment I was getting anxious to move on to a new challenge.  That had begun to be the case at Eglin, for me and a couple of years with the Thunderbirds, would have been just the cure, even though I faced more time away from Martha and the kids than I preferred. 

But Missiles, Woe is me!  Off to the land of wingless, pilotless missiles ….. Space Artillery Officer, Captain Smith, Reporting as Ordered, Sir!

Well, at least I later received a nice trophy of these events, in an autographed photo from the new team.

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