1ST LT. JOHN BAILEY—1957
In 1957, I was a first lieutenant in the USAF going through Advanced Interceptor Training at Perrin AFB, Sherman, Texas, after earning my wings in September 1956. I had about nine hours in the F-86D at the time, and the curriculum called for one flight dedicated to aerial acrobatics—this flight was it. It was a clear March day, warm and blue.
It was my second flight that day and I was probably a little fatigued. Over the practice area, above Oklahoma, I got off a few rolls and then tried a loop. I dove into the loop at perhaps 400mph, began pulling up but not aggressively enough. The plane stalled at the top of the loop—upside down! The plane began violently shaking and turning. I had incorrectly been using trim to keep my controls neutral, something my flight instructor in basic training should never have taught me.
The plane was totally out of control, shaking and spinning violently, and I was upside down. I realized that I could never recenter the controls using my trim tabs, and that I was falling faster than I had time to recover. So I decided to eject. I managed to pull myself up into the seat snugly enough that the explosive launch of the ejection seat did not ram into my spine. I left the plane, seat and all. Chute deployment was textbook, meaning I later had black bruises across the inside of my thighs; at the time, though, I didn’t feel a thing. I even smoked a cigarette on the way down. Based on time of descent, I think I must have ejected at ten thousand feet. I later learned the plane crashed in a pasture, panicking a horse that had to be destroyed.
My parachute landing was uneventful. The slightly rolling terrain was covered with light scrub and thin saplings. I nervously kept my ankles overlapped to hopefully avoid straddling a limb. As it happened, it was a relatively gentle touchdown with a textbook roll to break the fall. After wading through a deep creek, I got to a road and hailed a passing school bus full of third- to sixth-graders who giggled and stared. The school bus took me to the first farm that had a telephone. The owners raised Pekingese dogs. I had never seen so many Pekingese. Calling from there, a rescue team picked me up and I returned to the base. There was a routine accident inquiry and after analysis of the wreckage, Flight Safety Magazine ran an article about the accident, with disguised participants to protect the innocent. The article warned against the habit of routinely using the trim tabs to keep flight control pressures neutral, especially during violent maneuvers.
Except for a bitter complaint from one of the flight instructors who claimed I destroyed his favorite airplane—the one with the best radar set—I had almost no comment about losing a Sabre Jet. I got more grief because of my erratic formation flying.
Copyright © 2011 by James Cross