FLYING THE RCAF SABRE: MARK 6

by George L. Schulstad

Some experiences you never forget. Such was the case in 1956 when I reported for a NATO exchange tour with 414 Fighter Squadron, #4 Fighter Wing, RCAF Station Baden Soellingen, FRG. Because some military pilots may find my indoctrination into that great organization some-what unusual, I'd like to share the story with fellow F-86 Sabre pilots.

ARRIVAL: My orders stated: Arrival 1200 hours - via [USAF L-20 Beaver from Landstuhl Air Base. I was met planeside by the OOD (Orderly Officer of the Day), who "jeeped" me to the Officers' Mess. There I was welcomed at curbside by 4 Wing C.O., Group Captain B.C. Christmas, C-OPS-O (Wing Chief Ops Officer); the 414, 422, and 444 squadron commanders, and pilots of the group who lined the path to the bar and dining room for lunch and introductions. After this, my new squadron commander ("OC", or Officer Commanding in Canadian par-lance), Squadron Leader Lloyd Liggett, took me in his jeep on a scenic base tour en route to 414 Fighter Squadron. He pointed out "important" places such as Wing Headquarters, the procedures training building, and so forth, commenting that my checkout in the Sabre 6 would be in strict compliance with NATO and 4th Allied Tactical Air Force (4ATAF) regulations and directives! My thoughts turned to dreary days of ground school and a long delay before I would fly the vaunted Mark 6 Sabre, which dominated the "busy" skies over western Europe during those tension-filled times of the Cold War.

CHECKOUT: As we continued our tour, we came upon the sleek camouflage-painted Sabres of 414 Squadron, dispersed among the trees. Suddenly we heard the powerful crescendo of Orenda 14 engines. We looked up to see the flashing shapes of sixteen Sabres in close formation directly overhead. I was thrilled! Then - speed brakes open! - and the sky was filled with falling, unfurling rolls of white toilet tissue which wafted toward the ground' - some snagging on tall pines. What a sight!

The OC went to "war emergency power" on the jeep and called to all within earshot, "Scramble the squadron!" As we approached the door of the squadron ops building (And I must say I wasn't sure if the jeep would stop or we'd drive right in.), pilot Bob Little emerged - just in time to duck away from the charging jeep. "Scramble the squadron" the OC shouted again, "and take him (meaning "moi") with you!"

Fly that one", Bob said, pointing to the nearest Sabre! Grabbing my helmet and g-suit from the jeep I raced to the Sabre, asking the ground crew to start the engine and help me with the unfamiliar cockpit harness. Sabres were already taxiing, and Bob and I became numbers 15 and 16. Engine fumes and wake turbulence hung on the runway, but we joined up smartly, and minutes later we were 50,000 feet above the vineyards of western Europe. What beautiful Sabres and terrific fighter pilots! A perfect checkout. Take that, 4ATAF!

"Two sorties later a sort of "quid pro quo" had been visited upon the "toilet paper raider's" from #2 Air Wing, and rumor held that a "Cease and Desist" order from Air Division resulted from a few shattered window panes and some cracked concrete accompanying the sonic booms and "white stuff" showered on their base at Gros Tenquin, France.

DEBRIEFING: Later, the O'Club buzzed with chatter about the day's events. I, "The Lieutenant from Landstuhl", was totally unaware that my REAL initiation to #4 Fighter Wing and the RCAF was about to begin. The chaps from Wing, 4-14 and 422 introduced themselves amid a noticeable accumulation of drinks on the bar in front of me. Suddenly, "Squirrel" Davidson leaped onto the bar shouting "Magic HHour!..Magic Hour!" and the doors to the courtyard burst open. All the chaps hurriedly assembled around the lily pond, and began trying to raise the water level while taking careful aim at one of the decor swans, painted in the colors of another squadron.

As we reassembled in the bar minutes after this precision exercise, a new friend, Ed Lowery, coached me to an end position near the courtyard doors. He directed my attention to a chap who was allegedly buying a round of drinks for the entire wing because he had been "last out". My new friends cautioned me to avoid this fate - and thereby suckered me in for part two of the little drama.

Because I was in a high state of readiness, when the next "Magic Hour" sounded, I was first into the courtyard, taking a position so as to spray the swans! Moments later, the press of dashing fighter pilots eased me into center pool! The swans remained unscathed this time because I was the sole target!! Finally, I was pulled from the pool and cleansed with a garden hose. The subsequent brandy toasts let it he known that I had truly been initiated into a rarefied and select group of fighter pilots - The Sabres of Canada's superb contribution to NATO's air umbrella, whose mission statement was "TOP COVER FOR NATO!". The very best of the best! And to this day I remain truly impressed and deeply honored!

Ed: Brig. Gen George Schulstad. USAF (Ret), logged 6250 hours during twenty-three years on active flying status. Ile was a flight commander, squadron commander, and wing commander.


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