20th Jet Fighter Group at Shaw Air Force Base near Sumter, South Carolina
I was assigned to the 79th Jet Fighter Squadron and after a few days of ground
school/aircraft familiarization made my first flight. The F-84A was a very easy
airplane to fly. With its straight wings its top speed was limited to about
585 miles an hour and its service ceiling was about 35,000 feet. It was the
first aircraft in service in the Air Force with an axial flow jet engine. The
incoming air flowed straight through the multiple compressor blades, was mixed
with a kind of kerosene fuel, then was ignited and then continued straight
through the turbine blades which drove the compressor stages.
Each pilot was limited to 25 hours flying time per month due to Air Force budgetary
considerations. I became an instructor pilot in the F-84 after 75 hours of
flying time. When checking out a new pilot, the instructor pilot flew formation
with him to keep him out of trouble. One day while flying formation with a new
pilot, my aircraft had extra fuel drop tanks on, we leveled off at 20,000 feet and
lo and behold as I pulled the throttle back, nothing happened. The engine was
stuck at 103 percent full power. I told the new pilot to do whatever he wished
and head for home when he had 10 minutes of fuel remaining. By this time my F-84
was approaching its maximum mach number, 550 miles per hour plus, so I went up vertically until slowed down to
about 250 miles per hour and popped down the dive brake. I got on the radio and
told the tower my problem. The tower got my Squadron Commander up in the tower
and the conversation went something this. "Bob, you can bail out of that rascal
if you wish since if that engine comes apart you may not be able to get out."
I replied, "no thanks, let's see if I can get back to the field in one piece."
Going from 23,000 feet to 1,000 feet at 103 percent power is no fun at all. The
dive brake stayed down even descending at 400 mph even though it was rated
only to about 250 miles per hour. Once back at Shaw Air Force Base at 1,000 feet I
started circling the field to burn off fuel at about 350 miles an hour. When
my fuel remaining was down to 300 pounds I lined up with the 8,000 foot
runway about 3 miles out, pulled up and dropped the gear and flaps at 290 miles
an hour. I then turned the engine main fuel valve off and crossed my fingers.
The spinning down turbine still gave me enough hydraulic pressure for control.
Fortunately, the F-84 slowed down to about 225 miles an hour when I touched
the runway. 8,000 feet at 225 miles an hours is not very long. I managed to stop
at the very end of the runway. We did not have drag chutes to help slowing down in those days.
A few seconds after stopping both of the main landing gear tires blew out from the excessive
heat from the disk brakes. End of war story.
Our Squadron practiced dive bombing and air to ground gunnery/rocketry at
nearby Fort Jackson's firing range which is on the east side of downtown
Columbia, South Carolina. The F-84 was a very poor dive bomber since it
accelerated so quickly when pointed straight down. As such bomb release was
at about 2,000 feet altitude which does not necessarily yield down the smoke
Its advanced gun sight was a giant step forward compared to the old P-51's
gun sight. I shot 'expert' level on my first try.
Grandad and Gram were married July 16, 1949 in Meadville, Pennsylvania. We
spent part of our honeymoon at my Grandmother's summer home at Lake
Chautauqua, New York and part of our honeymoon racing C-scow sailboats at
Skaneateles Lake, New York where the New York State Championship C-scow sail
boat races were being held. My partner and I won. After the honeymoon we returned to a rented
duplex in Sumter, South Carolina. Our next door neighbor was Doc Blanchard
and his wife. Doc Blanchard was a fellow F-84 pilot who was one of the most
famous of all time West Point football players.
During the fall of 1949 our fighter Group put on a firepower demonstration
near Fort Knox, Kentucky. The demonstration was for senior NATO officers from
all over Europe plus senior military officers from all over Central and South
America. There were a number of old Sherman and Panther tanks setup in the target area
along with a number of cinder block buildings for us to destroy. We had HVAAR
(high velocity anti-armor rockets), 500 pound demolition bombs and 50 caliber
machine guns. Needless to say our fighter Group destroyed everything in sight
of the viewing stands. It was a fun two hour show that we put on. A 500 pound
bomb makes mince meat of cinderblock buildings and 4.7 inch diameter HVAAR
rockets turn Sherman and Panther war surplus tanks into erector set pieces.
One discouraging note. Our Squadron operations officer who was leading our flight of
twelve F-84s on the way home made a turn directly into another flight of twelve F-84s.
When you are flying tight fighter formation you only watch the aircraft that
you are flying on. Through some miracle and the grace of God both flights passed
through each other with no mid-aid collisions. I lost my cool when we got back
to Shaw Air Force Base and applied for Radiological Defense Officer College. In
all my flying experience I had never personally witnessed anything so stupid.
It turned out that the SOB was blind in one eye and never reported it.
Though entrance required a B.S. degree in physics I had enough credits from
Princeton University and my Air Force flight training programs to qualify. So
off I went to the U.S. Air Force Radiogical Defense College at Keesler Air
Force Base, Mississippi. No matter where I went or what I did it seemed like
that I always wound up at Keesler Air Force Base near the Mississippi swamps.
Actually, Keesler is adjacent to the town of Biloxi, Mississippi which many
southerners consider a resort town on the Gulf of Mexico. On my previous visit
to Keesler our fighter Group managed to drop enough empty brass cartridge
cases from our .50 caliber machine guns on shrimp boats who were illegally
fishing in the Gulf of Mexico restricted area, so that they quickly departed.