by Bob Railey
Back in the '50s. the Air Guard conducted an annual air race from point to point with the winner being the one with the shortest elapsed time. Initially, the race was flown with all the aircraft types in the Guard, from F-80S to F-86s - w ith a handicap computed for those types that needed it. After all, a Sabre was much faster than any of the other types. Later they selected one airplane type, the F-86 Sabre.
I participated in the race in 1956 in an F-86F, flying from Hamilton AFB, Calif. to New Orleans International Anpart. I was Commander of the 121st FIS, D.C. Air Guard at the time. There really weren't any rules or restrictions for the race. Each pilot could plan his own refueling stops, and the maintenance people could "soup up" the airplane as they saw fit. I solicited the advice of the best maintenance man I knew - Warrant Officer Leo Cleary. Leo selected the airplane with the hottest engine and proceeded to add mice' (small metal plates) inside the tailpipe to increase exhaust gas temperature, thus increasing thrust.
By 1956, I'd been flying the '86 for three years and was fairly well versed on the climb and cruise performance by race day. I elected to depart Hamilton with a stop at Kirtland where I'd drop the wing tanks; proceed to FL Worth for fuel, then on to New Orleans.
At Hamilton, we were all towed out to the runway for the Start. All were supposed to have identical ballast and whatever configuration the pilot selected. I was no. 2 in the lineup, with Maj. Dave McCallister from the Delaware squadron as no. 1. Dave had a turtle soup business in civilian life and used turtle soup as ballast!!! in his six ammo cans. Prior to our departure, I saw Dave passing out samples of the soup to visitors and realized that each sample' was reducing the weight of his airplane! Not being one to be taken advantage of, I advised him to collect all his 'samples' and return them to the ammo cams. The judges agreed wholeheartedly.
Dave took off first and ten minutes later I blasted off into the blue. I made a fast climb to 42,000' and headed for Albuquerque. I bent the throttle past the firewall and the EGT (Exhaust Gas Temp) was indicating about 702º - 120º above maximum. About 100 miles from my first stop, I let down at full throttle, crossed over Kirkland at 300' at over 600 knots heading southwest. I figured I'd kill off my airspeed with a high G pull up and a left turn heading west for landing. However, when I pulled up and turned, I blacked out from the high Gs and held the stick back until I thought I was in position for base leg and gear down- When I released the back pressure and could see the airspeed indicator, I was still doing over 250 knots. I threw the gear ]ever down to help slow up, hoping the gear doors stayed on.
I landed to the west where two fuel trucks waited for me with enough room for me to make a 180º turn, and pull between the two tankers. Two mattresses were on the ground for me to drop my external tanks on. I took off to the cast and headed for Carswell. Total time on the ground w as two minutes and forty live seconds!
All was going well at altitude with the throttle still bent when, over Reese AFB, TX, I heard aloud thud and a very high pitched whine, followed by some severe vibrations, I knew some of the buckets had deputed the engine and throttled back to make an emergency landing at Reese. The airplane was vibrating so badly that the radios didn't work. My race was over even though I knew I was in the lead.
After landing, I coasted off the runway and shut down, waiting for someone to come out and pick me up. After no one came, I turned the radio back on and called the tower. They were unaware that on this bright Sunday afternoon, an airplane had even landed on their runway! A short time later the fire trucks and Duty Officer came out and took me to Base Ops.
I didn't want to miss the post-race party so I called Lt. Wayne Icenhower at Kirtland to come to Reese in his trusty T-33 and pick me up. When he arrived, I had a flight plan already made out. We gassed up, took off and headed for New Orleans. Lt. Larry Horton met me with a change of clothes and we got to the hotel just as the party started. We lost but the partying went on well into the night.
No portion of this article may be used or reprinted without permission from the President of the F-86 Sabre Pilots Association or the editor of Sabre Jet Classics magazine.
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