It is an exciting event when a squadron receives the first of its newly assigned aircraft. Of course, considerable effort has already been expended in preparation for the Big Day, including receiving spare parts and implementing new training programs for both the maintenance and flying personnel.
The same was true for my squadron at George Air Force Base in early 1953 when our first F-86D arrived. Most of our pilots had been through the instrument flight training, and all had received instruction from the North American technical representatives on the systems in the "D". Each of us soon had our turn at our first transition ride in the new model Sabre.
As those with perceptive memories will recall, the F-86D was an advanced weapons system, but it was perhaps too advanced for its time. It featured an electronically-controlled turbojet with afterburner, a state of the art radar detection and fire control system1 and armament consisting of 24 2.75-inch Mighty Mouse rockets. It was relatively difficult to maintain as well as being a complicated system for single-pilot operation. In total, the F-86D was a challenging entity in the Air Force's inventory.
The 24 rockets in the "D" were contained in a package within the fuselage between the main landing gear. When all firing parameters were met, the package extended down into the airstream, and the rockets were fired. The nose gear, which was located directly forward of the rocket package, had a microswitch installed as a safety measure. This prevented the package from extending when the nose gear was down and none of the aircraft's weight was on the strut. To load the 24 rockets, the armorers pulled the circuit breaker that prohibited the package's deployment. Next they manually pumped the tray down. After following the loading procedure, the package was then pumped back up again, and the circuit breaker was reengaged.
One of the rewards for our being qualified in the F86D was helping to satisfy the Air Force's commitment to deliver these new Sabres from the North Amican plant in Los Angeles to oerational units following the aircraft's formal acceptance. I was selected to assist in this program. delivering F-86Ds provided us an opportunity to escape the daily routine around our home base. It also required us to complete flight plans and check weather briefings in other parts of the country. In short, it was a welcome break from our usual chores. We quickly realized while ferrying these fighters, however, that the aircraft's designers ignored one thing: there was no baggage compartment! Where were we supposed to stow a civilian suit, a pair of shoes, a shaving kit and a change of underwear?! There was only one way. With the rocket package in its down position, there was approximately a six inch area between the top of the rocket tray and the aircraft's fuselage. It was an area just large enough to lay a clothing bag without having to stuff our clothes among the new Sabre's black boxes. To access the area, the crew chief pumped the rocket package down, carefully placed our clothing bag in between the top of the rocket package and the fuselage, and then pumped the package back up.
I eagerly received my first preflight briefing before my initial F-86D ferry mission out of LAX. I was to deliver a new Sabre to a squadron at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. After completing my preflight chores and inspections, I started my engine, closed the canopy, taxied to the active runway, and completed my pre-take off checklist. After being cleared into the take off position, I performed my emergency power check. I then informed the tower I was ready for take off. Los Angeles tower next replied that I was cleared to go.
I advanced my throttle into the afterburner. When I felt its surge of power, I released my brakes. The aircraft pulled forward nicely, and it rapidly accelerated to the nose wheel lift off speed. I then pulled back on the stick to get airborne. As my F-86D rotated to its initial climb angle, I felt a deadening thump. I checked my cockpit gauges, but everything was normal. I felt the Sabre continue to accelerate, and so I completed my take off and climbed out of the traffic. I next checked around the cockpit to see what had caused that loud thump?
I soon learned it was my rocket package. As my F-86D rotated to its climb attitude, its weight was removed from the nose gear's microswitch, and the circuit breaker that should have prevented the package from extending had not been reengaged. To my chagrin, the rocket package had dropped down into the windstream. This quickly scattered my clothes bag, shaving klt and my underwear all over the southern California countryside!
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