Boom operator forwarded this to friends from 46 ARS, who forwarded to me. I don’t remember the incident. But the report is instructive in a drone world.
[INTROs WITH THE EMAIL]
I graduated UPT at Laughlin on 3 Sep, 1967 in class 68-B. This accident happened in front of the next graduating class 68-C. Later in my AF career I ran into several of the guys from that class that I knew. According to them a couple of the graduates, after witnessing the F100 come apart, took off their wings and refused to ever fly…I received this article from the guy that was the Boom Operator on my KC135 crew ’69 – ’70. His comments are below…………….. “Don’t hold back Jimmy”… ;o))]
[“This is the asshole that started the AF on it’s death spiral. nothing against fighter pilots, but fighter pilot thinking was the only way he new how to move his brain. when he became chief of staff AF he started changes even fighter pilots could not understand. he didn’t even like the uniform he wore. officers were charged with and thrown out of the AF on charges that had not been used since the civil war. he was on a crusade to revolutionize the AF and remake it in the thunderbird fighter image. bombers and their crew were scum, tankers were grudgingly only slightly better. don’t get me started on this bastard. jim ]
Del Rio could be the movie set of a West Texas border town. It’s windy, and the weather tends toward seasonal extremes.
A large U.S. Air Force Base 6 miles east of town is named after Jack T. Laughlin, a pilot and Del Rio native killed over Java within a few weeks of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Our Thunderbird’s Team flies into Laughlin on Oct. 20, 1967, for an air show the next day, honoring 60 or so lieutenants graduating from pilot training.
We go through the standard pre-show routine. Lead and 5 do their show-line survey routine, while the rest of us walk the rounds of the hospital and school and give interviews. Next day, proud parents watch as new pilots pin on wings.
At noon, we brief at Base Ops. As usual, an inspection team comprising base and local dignitaries joins us for a photo session before we step to the jets.
The film Bandolero ! is in production near the base, and its stars, Jimmy Stewart and Raquel Welch, show up in the inspection team. Jimmy’s a USAF Reserve brigadier general, a founder of the Air Force Association and a big hero to all of us. Raquel Welch is . . . well, she’s Raquel Welch.
We’re wearing white airshow suits, my least-favorite outfit. Lead can choose from among gray, blue, black or white. But today, we look like Good Humor ice cream men dressed in white.
Plus, I work hard during the demonstration and sweat deep soaked my collar. This would not matter much, except we do a lot of in-trail taxiing. And with only 6 ft. between the end of my pitot boom and No.5’s afterburner, I take a load of black carbon engine ex-haust in my cockpit. Soot clings to the dampness, leaving a noticeable ” dirty ring around the collar ” when I wear white.
At Del Rio, I follow my usual routine and I roll the collar under once we have taxied away from the airshow crowd. After the show, I’ll roll it back out again, the chimney-black dirt still there, but now underneath and out of sight for the picture takers.
We taxi short of the active runway for a ” quick check ” pre-takeoff inspection by a couple of our maintenance troops. I’m flying my soon to be acid-etched memory . . as No. 6 Super Sabre F-100 D . . # 55-3520.
We take the runway, the 4 aircraft Diamond in finger-tip and Bobby Beckel and I in Element . . 500 feet back.
At precisely 1430 the Diamond releases brakes. Bobby and I run up engines, my stomach tightening against the surge of singular isolation.
And thrill that comes before every air show takeoff.
By this time in the season, the Thunderbirds’ Team is really ‘ clicking along.’
We have a lot of shows under our belt. And know what we are doing. Twenty-one minutes into the event, it’s going well–a nice cadence and rhythm of a favorite song.
We approach the climax, the signature Bomb Burst. My job is to put “pigtails” through the separating formation, doing elevator-unloaded, Max-rate vertical rolls.
The vertical rolls require establishing a perfect up-line. And more than a few rolls requires beginning the rolls with a ton of entry airspeed.
I grab for altitude as swap for diminishing airspeed as the Diamond pirouettes into their entry for the Thunderbirds’ well-known ‘ Bomb Burst.’
And at just the right moment, dive after them, hiding behind their smoke trail.
The steep dive builds airspeed quickly after clicking in the afterburner.
The Thunderbirds had switched to the F-100, making us the world’s first supersonic flying team. I have to be mindful of a hard-and-fast rule : DO NOT GO SUPER-SONIC DURING THE AIRSHOW.
No booming the crowd. So, I want to be subsonic. Just barely. Let’s say . Mach Point = 0.99.
However the biggest mistake I can make is to be early in this ultra-coordinated maneuver. The Diamond is about to break in all four directions, so if I get there too soon, I don’t have an exit strategy.
Today, my timing looks good, so I light the ‘ burner and start a pull into the vertical. We don’t have a solo pilot’s handbook on board. But if we did, the handbook would say this maneuver at this high rate of speed would be allowed a 6.5 G pull.
If I get it right, I’ll hit the apex of the Bomb Burst  five seconds after the Diamond separates, snap the throttle out of ‘ burner, ‘ turn on smoke, then go perfectly vertical . . moving the ailerons to full detent . . as the Diamond pilots track away from each other to the four points of the compass, I’ll put on those lazy, lovely pigtails. Then I’ll click off the smoke and figure out how to do a slow-speed vertical recovery to that quick upward move.
But at Del Rio, it doesn’t turn out as planned.
I made the aggressive pull into place the Super Sabre in the vertical. And the aircraft . .EXPLODES ! F-100 pilots are accustomed to loud noises. Even in the best of circumstances, the F-100’s afterburner can bang ‘ pretty hard when it lights up. It’s also fairly common for the Super Sabre’s engine compressor to stall, sometimes forcing a violent cough of rejected air back up the intake. A dynamic flame belches forward from its oval nose . . and definitely gets your attention. The resulting shock can kick your boots right off the rudder pedals.
Any F-100 pilot who feels/hears a loud ” BANG ! ” automatically thinks : ” compressor stall.”
And he unloads elevator pressure to get air traveling down its oval mouth . instead of the other way out. So, instinctively, the explosion causes me to relax stick-pressure to unload the airplane’s centrifugal G load.
But now, I’m fully into one of those fast-forward mental states where seasons compress into seconds . . and allows Fall colors to change . . as you’re watching. Fairly smoothly, I move the stick forward. I even have time to think” HEY ! THIS IS NO COMPRESSOR STALL ! ”
In retrospect, the airplane had already unloaded itself . . making my remedy superfluous.
But there was some pilot lore and wisdom at work here : No matter what else happens . .FLY YOUR AIRPLANE . .ALL THE WAY . .INTO THE DIRT !
Forget all that stuff about lift and drag and thrust and gravity, just fly the airplane until the last piece stops moving.
The good old Super Sabre F-100 # 55-3520 . . . has QUIT flying !
But I have not.
Now flames envelop the inside of the cockpit. I have to eject or ‘ get fried.’ I grab the seat handles and tug them up, blowing off the canopy and exposing ejection triggers on each side of the handles.
I yank the seat triggers and immediately feel a no-nonsense kick in the rear out into into an almost ridged slipstream.
Seat separation is automatic. Too fast to track, the ejection seat was disappearing as I curled into a semi-fetal posture to absorb the parachute’s opening shock. Jump school helps here . . and I nod in agreement to my brain on good body position.
Then the chute snaps open. But at a very high speed. The parachute harness jolting me back to real time . . short-circuiting the transition from borderline terror ‘ to giddy elation . . the evil Siamese twins of leaping out of an airplane without a secondary chute.
My helmet is missing. Where did it go? I look up and see a couple of chute panels are torn, several shroud lines snapped. And there’s one large rip in the 28 ft. canopy. I’ll come down a bit quicker than necessary. Going to land in the infield . . near show-center. Have to figure out the wind, get the chute collapsed fast so as not to be dragged.
I’m on the ground and being dragged already. Get the damn chute collapsed ! Pick up handfuls of shroud lines as you roll right side up and begin running on to the yet inflated canopy.
Finally, I stand up, unhook and perceive I’m in one piece. And here comes a blue van with several of our wide-eyed people in it.
Then it begins to sink in. In 14 years and 1,000-plus air shows, the Thunderbirds team has been ‘ clever ‘ enough to do all its metal-bending during its training sessions.
This is our first accident in front of a crowd. And that dubious honor to have thousands of eyeballs watching. . is mine.
I gather my gear and climb into the van. Somebody wants to take me immediately to the base hospital. But I say : ” I don’t want to do that right now. Let’s go over and tell the ground crew I’m OK.”
So we stop, I get out of the van, shake hands, toss the Thunderbird’s crew chiefs an insincere thumbs-up.
Jimmy Stewart is still there and comes over to say nice things, but Raquel hasn’t stayed for the show, so no air-kiss. As I’d given our narrator, Mike Miller.
That’s when I learn that I’d jerked both wings off F-100 Super Sabre.
Of course, I had been watching the Diamond, ahead and well above me. I hadn’t seen the wings come off. All I knew was . . it blew up.
The F-100 has a large fuselage fuel tank, on top of the wing center section and forward of the engine.
When the wings folded, a large quantity of raw fuel from that fuselage tank dumped into the hot engine. Then exploded.
The shock wave from the fuel blast blew off the Super Sabre’s nose. And as the fuselage separately fluttered down, many in the awed crowd thought I was inside.
The engine instantly shot flames through the cockpit-pressurization system. Conditioned air enters the cockpit at the pilot’s feet and also behind his helmet.
My flying boots, ordinarily pretty shiny for an ROTC grad, were charred beyond repair. I never wore them again. Above where I had rolled my collar underneath, my neck got toasted.
I have no idea how fast I was during ejection. I was barely subsonic when the wings failed. But with the nose blown off, the F-100 is a fairly blunt object and would have slowed quickly. On the other hand, I had remained with the aircraft no more than a second or two after it exploded. So there wasn’t much time for me to decelerate. When I came out of the jet, the near sonic wind blast caught my helmet, rotated it 90 degrees and ripped it off my head. It was found on the ground with the visor down, oxygen mask still hooked up and chin strap still fastened. As the helmet rotated, its built in neck protector scuffed my burned neck causing substantial bleeding. The Thunderbirds keep a zero-delay lanyard hooked up during airshows, giving us the quickest possible chute deployment. And that explained why my chute opened fast. Too fast, as it turned out. The parachute’s immediate, high-speed opening was much harsher than normal, and as my torso whipped around, the heavy chute straps did further damage to the back of my neck.
Walking into the base hospital, I was startled by my image in a full-length mirror. Above it . . a sign says :” Check Your Military Appearance.”
The white show suit is a goner, the flaming cockpit had given it a base-coat of charcoal gray accented by blood . . with a final dressing of dirt, grass and sage-brush.
Being dragged along the ground accounted for this camouflage. I looked like the main scene in a slasher movie --‘ The Solo Pilot From Hell.’
After I jumped out, the F-100 continued on a ballistic trajectory, scattering parts and equipment. The engine and the main fuselage section impacted 2 miles away.
All the bits and pieces landed on government soil with no injury or property damage.
My aircraft was destroyed–I signed a hand-receipt for $696,989.
On the other hand, if there is a good kind of accident, this was it. Nobody was hurt, and all the scrap metal was collected for ‘ post-game ‘ analysis.
When my aircraft’s wing center box was inspected, the box was found to have structurally failed.
North American Rockwell, the manufacturer, tested the box on a bend-and-stretch machine. And a section recently off Rockwell’s assembly line also broke under
an equivalent load of 6.5 G wing loading. It shouldn’t have happened, since the F-100’s positive load limit is 7.33 G. But my F-100’s wing center box broke along a fatigue crack . . and there were about 30 additional fatigue cracks in the vicinity.
Some then-recent F-100 losses in Vietnam looked suspiciously similar. The recovery from a dive-bomb pass is a lot like my high-speed, high-G pull-up into the Bomb Burst.
In the Vietnam accidents, the pieces had not been recovered, and the aircraft were merely written off as combat losses.
Later, specialists discovered considerable fatigue damage in the wing center boxes of other Thunderbird Super Sabres.
Immediately, the Air Force immediately put a 4 G limit on the F-100 and initiated a program to run all the aircraft through depot modification to beef up the wing center box.
My accident almost certainly saved lives by revealing this serious problem.
Merrill A. (Tony) McPeak
Note : USAF General Merrill A.McPeak flew F-100, F-104, F-4, F-111, F-15 and F-16 fighters, participated in nearly 200 air shows as a solo pilot for the Thunder-birds and flew 269 combat missions in Vietnam as an attack pilot. He commanded the Misty FACs, 20th Fighter Wing, Twelfth Air Force and Pacific Air Command, and completed his career as the 14th USAF Chief of Staff. -30-