I was in the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing in Korea when we converted from F-5 is to F-86Fs. Af ter Korea, I was assigned to Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida where I flew the "Dog" with the 3627th Training Squadron. Our job was to train replacement F-86D pilots for the Air Defense Command's mission.
The F-86D's "hey day" was in the mid-Fifties. The "Dog" was called an all-weather interceptor because of its E-4 weapon control system and a pod of 24 "Mighty Mouse" 2.75-inch folding fin aerial rockets. Each missile had a small warhead which relied upon a contact fuse to detonate. The 2.7 4 inch rocket was a lethal projectile, and firing all 24 at once covered an extensive area. It was interesting to watch a full batch of missiles fly en route to their target. Of the 24, a significant few had minds of their own! Some spiralled wildly while others did crazy rolls or goofy loops. On the positive side, however, a good number did behave properly, and occasionally they hit their intended target, whether a towed object or a drone. That happened when all four folding fins opened correctly coming out of the rocket case. Then they flew fairly straight.
My own memorable "learning" experience in the "Dog" occurred once shortly after a take off. I really learned flying the "D" from that. My close encounter dealt with the autopilot.
It was a typical gulf coast winter day, with a low ceiling and visibility to match, and solid clouds up to eight to ten thousand feet. I was scrambled after a target that required continuous afterburner for my climb. With the afterburner on, that old "Dog" would really accelerate rapidly.
Shortly after I raised the gear and popped into the overcast, I nonchalantly flipped my autopilot switch on, when WOW! WHAM! #$~#! happened! My head slammed against the canopy, and thank God for hard helmets and heads to match! My eight-ball altitude gyro was spinning, telling mel wa I doing the fastest series of rolls I had ever done, but I could not get my hand on the autopilot disconnect. I came out of burner and instinctively pulled back on the stick to gain altitude. Slowing the airspeed by coming out of afterburner helped a little. I finally disconnected the autopilot. Hooooeeee!
By then, I popped out on top of a dazzling white undercast with clear blue sky above, but my head was still spinning! I called control and aborted my mission. I then returned for an uneventful but very welcome landing.
What had happened was a full over aileron signal malfunction when I engaged my autopilot. This caused the rapid rolling. Of course, the faster I went, the wilder my ride; but when I came out of burner, things got a little more manageable. For a while, I had a tiger by the tail.
What did I learn, and what do I preach to this day? Just this: Never, EVER, engage the autopilot unless another finger is on the quick disconnect button, I have had other autopilot malfunctions since then, and in other birds and other scenes, but always with NO significant disturbances!
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