15th Tactical Reconnaissance/Fighter Group at Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina
Pope Air Force Base is located at Fort Bragg, North Carolina near Fayetteville,
North Carolina. In 1948 it had two 5000' runways which were more than
adequate for RF-51 Mustang fighters. For radio navigation aids it only had low
frequency outer markers for the main north/south runway. Our RF-51 aircraft
only had a low frequency radio range receiver and and a crude automatic direction
finder for navaids. VHF VOR (visual omni range) receivers and ILS (instrument
landing receivers) were not yet implemented in most Air Force aircraft. The
reason for my assignment to an RF-51 fighter Group rather than a jet fighter
Group was due to the fact that at that time there were very few jet fighter
squadrons in the Air Force.
THE THREE HIGH LIGHTS OF MY TOUR WITH THIS FIGHTER GROUP WERE:
1. Flying out to Tinker Air Force Base and then doing artillery fire
adjustment from my RF-51 at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, home of the Army's Artillery
School. The Army was using 105 millimeter howitzers for our training missions
which made a pretty BIG splash when the shells landed and exploded. I had the
RF-51 slowed down to about 150 miles an hour and in a fairly constant tight
circle over the artillery range at 1000 feet altitude. The targets were
easy to spot though it took some practice to radio down to the gunners' accurate
adjustment information such as: up 100 yards, down 200 yards and left or right
500 yards and so forth. After a week of practice, it usually took only two or
three shots to drop the shell right on the target. Fort Sill had a little
1500 foot landing strip for their liaison planes. One day, I cannot recall
for what reason, I landed my RF-51 there with no problem. Half the Artillery
School came out to see the fighter parked amongst their Piper Cubs and
Stinson L-5 little liaison planes.
2. Our Fighter Group moved bag and baggage to one of Keesler Air Force Base's
auxiliary landing fields out in the Mississippi swamps for a month's
temporary duty. We pilots flew our aircraft down there and all our crew chiefs,
armorers and maintenance men drove down in a 40 truck convoy with their
equipment. The purpose of this 30 DAY visit was to give us a good dose of air to
air gunnery practice, air to ground gunnery and rocketry practice, and lastly
a bit of dive bombing practice. The A-26 medium bomber tow target planes
flew out of Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. Our air to air gunnery practice
area was about 5 miles off shore in the Gulf of Mexico in a restricted area.
Most of the practice was at 10,000 feet altitude. We started out parallel
to the tow target aircraft and then reversed course setting up a classic
pursuit curve to the tow target. Firing was all done at about a 30 degree
angle to the target at 100 to 150 yards range. Anything less than a 30 degree
offset had the tow plane drop the target to avoid being shot at. I recall
this being done only once. Each of us had his 50 caliber machine gun
bullets dipped into a different colored hot wax. After each flight of 4
was finished firing, the tow plane flew over our auxiliary air field and
dropped the target over the runway. The crew chiefs dashed out, brought the
target back to the flight line and began counting their pilot's score. I
was lucky enough to earn the sharpshooter rating. Air to ground gunnery,
rocketry and dive bombing was just as much fun though not as challenging as
air to air gunnery. Being the most junior officer in our group I had the
pleasure of being the Officer-In-Charge of the 40 truck convoy back to Pope
Air Force Base, North Carolina. It took about 5 days to get that motley crew
home in old 6 by 6 trucks.
3. With a flight of four RF-51s we flew to Logan Airport at Boston,
Massachussetts to visit my future bride then attending Wellesley College near Boston.
We flew up there on a Saturday morning and then back to Pope on
late Sunday afternoon. A marvelous time was had by all. Shortly thereafter
your Grandmother and I became engaged to be married the next summer.
During the spring of 1949 I bought a little light plane, a Culver Cadet, to
commute up to Washington, DC to visit my family. It was the very first
light plane to have retractable landing gear. With only a 75 horsepower
Franklin engine it would cruise at about 105 miles per hour which was
remarkable. A Culver Cadet is illustrated below.
Later that spring the 15th fighter Group was disbanded as more jet fighters
were delivered to the Air Force. I was assigned to the 20th Jet Fighter
Group at Shaw Air Force Base near Sumter, South Carolina.