Cotonel Robert F. Baldwin received his wings in 7940 and soon undertook a multi-faceted career with the Air Force in both engineering and flight test as well as combat flying. He flew P-40s before the Second World War. During the war, after being an instructor and working in flight test, Coonel Baldwin flew P-38s over Gerinuny and Austria on air-to-ground and bomber missions as the commander of the 71st Fighter Squadron. He was flying F80 with the 56th Fighter Group by 1950. He first flew F-86As at March Field In 1952 he was transferred to the Air Defense Command in Colorado Springs as an operations officer. Colonel Baldwin was transferred to Korea in December 1952 and became the group commander of the 51st Fighter Group where he flew thee F-86E and "F". On June 22, 1953 he shot down his fifth and final MiG-15 to become the 35th jet ace of the Korean War.
Sabre Jet Classics interviewed Bob Baldwin on two occasions about his Sabre experiences. Our first discussion about flying the day fighter Sabres and becoming an ace will be presented in a future issue. Colonel Baldwin was later interviewed about his F-86D flying days, both during and after the war. Here we present our second discussion with him about his experience with the all-weather F-86D Sabre...
Q: In an earlier interview, we discussed your Sabre experiences in Korea, but I understand you had more flying time in the F-86D than the "E" or the 'F". Did you fly the earliest F-86Ds at Edwards Air Force Base?
A: Yes. I was assigned to headquarters at Colorado Springs, Colorado in 1952 when this occurred. These were testbed F-86Ds. It was a developmental effort. The aircraft was recently out of factory flight test. We were doing operational testing for the requirements of the Air Defense Command.
Q: When did you fly a production F86D after the Korean War?
A: I was reassigned to an air base in Japan at Kisarazu in 1953. One of our functions was to de-cocoon, flight test and deliver aircraft to the Far East that were too short legged to fly the Pacific. This was prior to inflight refueling. One major aircraft we delivered the Far East was the F-86D to SEATO (South East Asia Treaty Organization) countries as well as to our forces in the area. The Factory had removed wxternal pieces from thhe Sabres, such s fairings and antennas, and packed them inside. They then sealed the F-86Ds in a plastic cocoon. They sent the Sabres to Japan on the decks of aircraftr carrieres if tye could not put them inside, or sometimes on large freighters We tood the plastic off and reassembled the minor parts that had been removed. We then flight tested and delivered them. I spent six to eight months delivering F-86Ds
Q: Any memorable flights?
A: Yes. In fact, I flew the first F-86D reassembled at Kisarazu.
Q: Did you have more h ours flying the F-86D than the day fighter models? A: Yes. I flew the F-86D until 1958 in Yuma. Arizona. It was the basic instructonal aircraft used at Yuma.
Q: What was the F-86D's mission?
A: Its purpose was to shoot bombers down. It used a highly organized attack. F-86Ds were under the direction of a ground controller. The pilots frequennntly never saw outside the canopy of the F-86D when flying. Our training was done under a hood, and the pilot flew on a mission guided by a ground radar controller. The pilot eventuslly picked the target up on his onbord radar and completed the approach using his own equipment. The attack was a beam shot set up by a ground controller and completed by the F-86D's electronics. It wa a one-pass attack, known as a "lead-collision course attack"
Q: To what extent did the F-86D fallow its target?
A: The pilot followed his on board radar well before he saw the target.
Q. Did the fire control system control the firing of the rockets?>/i>
Q: Did you have to lock-on to the tar get?
A: Yes. The pilot locked on by fixing the radar search mode on the target. He identified the target on his radar scope. There was a sighting "ring on the radar scope. The pilot guided the F-86D to keep the target inside the ring. He steered left, right, up or down to give the fire control system the right information to fire. The pilot kept the target indicator inside the fire control ring. As he got closer, the ring shrank. When the ring got down to the target's blip, the system fired. When the system fired the unguided 2.75-inch rockets, it was like firing shotgun. Once he fired the missiles, there was no guiding them. The fire control system fired the missiles automatically if the pilot did not give it too much of a problem. The system monitored everything the pilot did. If the tracking on the scope was too erratic the system would not fire.
Q: Was flying the F-86D an easier or tougher assignment than the day fighter Sabres?
A: It was a tougher mission because we were at the mercy of the fire control system. If the pilot did not supply the right tracking parameters, it would not fire the missiles. In the day fighters, we aimed the aircraft, which also aimed our guns.
Q: Were you a smoother flying pilot with the F-86D?
A: Yes. We had to keep the tracking ring very smoothly around the target. If we let the target out of the ring, the system did not fire. It started about the size of a half dollar. As we got closer, it shrank to the size of a pencil eraser. If the target was not inside the ring, the missiles would not fire.
Q: How did you practice the F-86D's mission?
A: We had a ground control system at Yuma where the Air Defense squadrons practiced. We also had F89s, F-94s and F-102s, but most of the Air Defense squadrons flew the F-86D. They flew a classic "blind" mission under the hood. We had a chase plane flying with each F-86D. The Sabre pilot took off. As soon as he got his wheels up and hit 500 feet of altitude, he pulled a hood over his head. Now he was on instruments. The chase plane was low and directly on his tail to advise the F-86D in an emergency so it avoided obstacles or other airplanes. The chase plane only went on the air to give evasive instructions and clearance to fire.
Q: Being "under the hood" was a means of practicing for flying in all forms of weather?
A: Yes, because the F-86D was an all-weather interceptor. As soon as the "D" got off thel ground, the ground-controlled radar vectored the pilot. It saw both the target and the F-86D interceptor. They used a traffic pattern and sent the Sabre 30 or 40) miles out for a beam approach. The interceptor then turned toward the target. The ground controller steered the Sabre to the target until he locked-on with his onboard system. Then the ground controller went silent, and it was all given to the F-86D's pilot.
Q: How did you practice the last part of the training mission? Were there drones?
A: We had different targets. Initially we attacked a big metal impregnated nylon banner, about six feet tall by thirty feet long, towed by another airplane. We used B-29s for towing and later B45s and B-57s because they were faster and much more realistic as a target. The F-86D pilot was under the hood, following his scope. A chase plane followed the practicing pilot. The chase plane cleared the Sabre pilot to fire to be certain he was not locked onto the towing airplane. Both, however, showed on his scope as two blips, the tow airplane and the target. The chase plane gave the final approval to fire if the pilot was on the target. Then the pilot tracked the target until the system fired.
Q: How did the central rocket tray work?
A: It was controlled by the fire-control system. It dropped and fired the rockets. The timing for when the rack dropped out of the belly of the airplane, the rockets fired and the rack retracted was about three seconds.
Q: Was the ventral tray difficult to maintain?
A: No. It was electrically controlled but strictly mechanical. The firecontrol system lowered the tray and ignited the squibs on the rear of the rockets, and away they went!
Q: Did the tray remain open only for as only as it took to fire the designated missiles?
A: Yes. Up, down and back up was three seconds.
Q. Did you fire them in blocks of six?
A: We dialed the number we wanted to shoot. We fired 6, 9. 18, or the whole 24.
Q: Could you single-shot the missiles?
Q: Was tis? is considered a good attacking system?
A: Yes. It was state of the art. We had not developed guided missiles. Later in 1957, we had infrared missiles. That was where my patented target on a tow reel came in. It put a target out on five miles of wire and recovered it. We used that system as a target for the infrared missiles because we did not want the missile seeking the wrong target. Prior to 1957, it was all 2.75-inch rockets, which were unguided. The Air Force started using those in World War Two.
Q: Prior to 1957 was the 2. 75-inch rocket considered "state of die art"?
A: Yes. They were was as good as it got. We later had a requirement at Air Defense Command to develop guided missiles, both radar and infrared. They came in 1957. Eventually, this led to the sophisticated missiles in use today, such as firing a long-range missile and never seeing the target.
Q: Was one hit by a 2. 75-inch rocket sufficient to knock down a four-engine bomber?
A: Yes. The 2.75-inch rocket carried a heavy charge approaching the impact of a 75mm shell. It was lethal, and one hit would probably disable a bomber.
Q. Was the F-86D the first plane you flew with an afterburner?
Q: Was there a tremendous kick when you added the afterburner?
A: Yes. The F-86D wide open without afterburner at 25,000 feet probably did .85 Mach.
Q: Were there any specific maintenance problems with the radar?
A: I do not recall any. We had a high level of talent at Yuma. Earlier in Korea, we had the radar-ranging gun-sight which was a combination of a gyro-stablllzer and radar-ranging. It was difficult to maintain because it was the first radar installation on fighters. When the "D" came, this was old hat and there were no serious problems maintaining the radar. But then with the "D", we did not do acrbatics. We were fairly delicate as far as the treatment of the radar system.
Q. Did the F-86D have more pmblems with fuel regulators than the day fighter sabres?
A: Yes That was a problem. I had one fail that put me down in the desert. There were a series of chronic problems with them for awhile. They went to a different contractor to solve the problem. The F-86D's regulator had the additional problem of providing fuel for the afterburner. Q: Did you feel you were flying a different airplane when you flew the "D" from the "E" or the "F"?
A: Yes. It was heavier, but it was not a doglighting airplane. It had an "F" model's basic wing, but it flew faster. It was not an aerobatic airplane.
Q: Were the F-86Ds nicknamed "Sabre Dogs" or 'Dogships"?
A: I never heard them called anything but a "Sabre Dog"!
Q: Was it a temi of affection?
A: Yes, but we called them mostly the "D model". I imagine the guys maintaining them called them all sorts of horrible things! Particularly In Yuma where they did not lay down their tools in the sun. It burned their hands! It was rough in the summer for a mechanic working with gloves because things got terribly hot.
Q. Did any of your "D"s use a drag chute?
A: Yes. Every one we had. Even the ones in Japan.
Q. Were they routine to service?
A: Yes. That was one area that caused no trouble. Q: What was specifically excellent about the "D"?
A: It was a different machinee designed and built for an entirely different purpose. With ground control, we started our attack a hundred miles from the target. The ground controller directed us to the target until we were close enough to lockon with our onboard radar. The attack was straight and level. There was little maneuvering. If we did too much on the approach, we lost it. The fire control system would say, "Tilt!"
Q: Was there a specific selection pr cess for F-86D pilots as opposed to a day fighter Sabre pilot?
A: They all had a shot at the F-86D. Some pilots did not adapt to it because the pilot had more to do. The pilot not only flew on instruments, but also managed the information the flre-control system showed. That took more concentration. Some day pilots never adapted to flying a smooth interception under the hood.
Q: Did the pilots either love the F-86D or hate it because of that?
A: Yes. The ones that managed the F86D loved It; the ones that could not hack It hated it. The F-86D was the for-runner of the single place interceptors we now have, such as the F-15
Q: Did you ever fly a "'K"or "L" which were similar to the F-86D?
Q: What did you fly after the F-86D
A: In the Air Defense Command, we flew the F-102, F-104 and F-106. They were more sophisticated.
Q: Do you have a favorite F-86D Sabre story?
A: Yes. There was the time at Yuma. I deadstlcked an F-86D Into the desert at an old abandoned air field which they said could not be done! I did not realize that at the time! The F-86D was a very heavy airplane, but It had the advantage of a dragchute which got me safely into that place. I landed on a badly decomposed, abandoned air strip. It had 3,500 feet of runway, and I used It all!
Q: How did you get that airplane out?
A: We went back the next day. We burned some fuel off, removed the wing tanks, and I flew the Sabre out.
Q: Do you have any final thoughts on the F86 in general?
A: It was a great airplane. It was easy to fly, maneuverable and very forgiving. It was a tough bird. I probably owe my life to it.
Thank you, Bob!
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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