by Bill Dunbar

I flew 100 missions in F-86As and "E"s from Kimpo Air Base with the 336th Fighter Squadron, from May to October 1952, with one damaged MiG15 credited. I next reported to Tyndall Mr Force Base in Florida, after a month on leave, where I taught gunnery in F80s for six months. I was then transferred to the F-86D All-Weather Interceptor program until I was discharged eighteen months later.

I was not very impressed with the performance of the "D". Maintenance was poor, and consequently we got little flying time as instructors. Most of our flying time was allocated to our students, and instead we flew in T-33 trainers as targets for them. I never fired rockets from a "D" as an instructor. That was reserved for our students.

Our F-86D cross country trips were restricted to flying into F-86 bases because of the frequent problems we encountered. Only three of us took "D"s on weekend trips, and most of those were with -1s with their E-3 fire control systems removed. These were used for transition flying only, as the later models had EA systems. My home was 90 miles east of Chanute Air Force Base in Illinois. Because that was an F-86 maintenance base, I was able to fly there several times in the "D". I managed to accumulate 180 hours flying the F-86D in my eighteen months. Frequently another pilot from the Chicago area would fly to Chanute with me, so we often had a two ship flight. We stopped at McGhee-Tyson Air Force Base in Tennessee for fuel on the flight north, but usually we made it back non-stop (about 640 nautical miles).

The F-86D almost cost me my life once when I was going through transition training in June 1953.1 had about eight hours in the aircraft before taking off on one particular training hop. I was climbing through 8,000 feet at 475 knots when I realized my seaat positioon was too low. I tried to raise it like the seats in the "A" and the "E", but it did not work. I decided that adding a little negative "g" would do the trick. I promptly unlocked the seat, and then I nudged the stick forward. My "D" immediately started on one of the infamous "JC" overcontrolling maneuvers, and the seat and I were thrown to the top of the seat rails! The slam threw my armrests up about four inches in the process, and that unlocked the canopy, which instantly departed. Remember that the right armrest is linked to the canopy locking lever, which is on the floor by the pilot's right foot. Pulling the amrests up releases the canopy and cocks the ejection lever in the armrest handles!

I quickly found myself half way out of the aircraft, with my right arm behind me pounding up and down on the fuselage. My helmet and face mask were gone. I could not see anything because a of the rushing wind. Fortunately, my left hand was still inside, and I yanked the throttle out of afterburner and opened my speedbrakes. I next hunkered down as best I could and dragged my sore arm in behind me. I could not pull it around my side because of the wind. Once completely inside, I got down away from the force of the wind, and I could now see through the windscreen. What I saw was half sand and half water, which told me I was in a vertical dive It looked too close to bail out, so I hauled back on the stick and levelled out at about 500 feet. The "D" continued to pick up speed even though I had the throttle back and my speedbrakes out. The wind poured over the windscreen and blew in from behind, flapping my ears until they hurt like they would be torn off.

As I slowed to 220 knots, I was finally able to get comfortable. I climbed back to 1,500 feet and next returned to base. With my helmet and mask gone, so was my microphone, and therefore I used no radio initial approach. After parking and checking the Sabre, we found that the safety pins could not be inserted in the seat and canopy actuators, so ordnance specialists disarmed them. We also found that the headrest assembly on the seat was bent straight back! The Air Force later modified the ejection systems to prevent accidental unlocking of the canopy until the armrest was almost completely up to the ejection position, instead of in the first few inches of travel.

This episode occurred just southeast of Tyndall at Cape Sanblas, south of Port St. Joe, Florida. I was very fortunate to come through this with only a cut thumb and a badly bruised arm. That evening, I checked my eyes in the mirror and found a ring of dirt around each eyeball! Two weeks later, my helmet washed up on Mexico Beach, ten miles away. It was discovered by a couple who returned it to Base Ops.

When I was at Tyndall, the F-86D was a highly classified aircraft, and no pictures were allowed. We worked six-day weeks without leave as the Air Force was on a crash program to train "D" pilots. They ordered 2,500 F-86Ds for the Air Defense Command and wanted enough pilots qualified to fly them. I had some excellent students in our F-86D program, and I enjoyed my work even though I thought the "D" was a pretty sorry airplane. It was, however, the world speed record holder at that time. I flew every model of the "D" we had at Tyndall, from the -1 to the -55. If I had stayed in the United States Air Force, I would have entered the Interceptor Weapons Instructors School, and I probably would have flown the F-102 and the F-106. But I needed a college degree, so I opted out.

In January 1955, I joined the 113th Fighter Interceptor Squadron of the Indiana Mr National Guard at Terre Haute, and I returned to Purdue University. I graduated in January 1958 with a degree in Mr Transportation and continued flying with the IANG until October 1964. During those ten years, I flew F-80s for a year, F-86As for two years, and F-84Fs and RFs for seven years.

During my first two years in the Guard, I managed to "finagle" three flights in F-86Ds. In November 1955, one of my cadet classmates visited from Texas, and he let me fly his "D" for an hour. Next, when we received our F-86As in 1956, an Ops officer from the F-86D squadron at McGhee-Tyson Air Force Base,who had previous "A" time, was sent to Terre Haul to help us transition. He brought a 'D" from Tyson once and let me fly it. Finally, we flew two "A"s to Tyson one weekend so he could check out a squadron mate in my "A". He sent me out with another pilot to fly a ground-controlled interception (GCI) mission in two F-86Ds. When we arrived in the practice area, the other pilot made one intercept on me hut found his radar was out. He asked me if I would like to fly some intercepts rather than abort the mission, and of course, I wanted to. It had been eighteen months since I had run an intercept in a "D", an I was anxious to see how this would work. I selected 2 rockets on my missile selector. I reached down to the right side to push the fire control circuit breaker in so that I coould get a pod drop if my run was perfect. It then occurred to me that this "D" was an actice Air Defense airplane, and that it might be loaded! We always set our "D"s up for a pod drop at Tyndall as we were never loaded with rockets. I decided not to push the breaker in and turned my rocket selector off. My first run was a perfect splash!

When we returned to Ops, I asked the other "D)" pilot if our aircraft were loaded? His reply was, "Yes. We got them from the alert hangar. Your airplane is a rocket team airplane with a peaked set."

I never said a word.

I have mellowed over the years becanse I look back and am glad the F-86D was a part of my experience. My all-weather training and flying experiences helped me when I began flying for American Airlines in 1965. 'l'he "D" simulators were the finest in the business in 1953 and 1954. They prepared me for every simulator I encounter with American, and I flew the DC-6 and 7, the Boeing 707, 720 and 727, and the D-10. I flew as a Captain on the 707, 727 and the DC-l0 before retiring on December 27, 1989 at age 60.

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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