by Jerry Eldridge
In 1964 I was based at George AFB, California, in the 431st TFS. We had been a F-102 Squadron based at Zaragoza, Spain, when the base was shut down to caretaker status. The squadron was moved to George AFB without any planes. But that soon changed quickly enough as we were to be one of the first units to get the brand new McDonnell-Douglas F-4C Phantom II. We checked out in the new F-4C at Davis-Monthan AFB, and then went to pick up our brand new Phantoms at the McDonnell factory in St. Louis.
In the Fall of 1965, on very short notice, the squadron went TDY to Ubon RTAB, Thailand. The Vietnam War was heating up and we would be flying missions into North Vietnam and Laos. Ubon was still fairly primitive at this time, and we were sleeping in open air hooches. There also wasn't a club, which came later - just a chow hall.
You can imagine my surprise when I discovered that base air defense was being handled by Sabre Jets! Australian Sabres no less. The Aussies had a small group of Commonwealth Aircraft Company CA-32 Sabres, which flew top cover for us both going to and coming from the war. It was no. 79 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, and they would remain on alert at Ubon until August 1968. (see SabreJet Classics, vol. 14-1 for the full story of the CAC Sabre)
Since we had no club, the Aussies would invite us to cross the runway and visit their very informal club. It was always well supplied by a cargo airplane that flew up from their homeland. Often it was a Hastings, which looked like a C-54 but a taildragger. I'm pretty sure that it's main cargo was mail and beer, Australian beer! Darts was a popular game with the Aussies, and they obviously had more practice. They would often distract the American shooter by placing a dart very close to his boot just before the critical time of release.
One of the more memorable things about this TDY was "hassling" with the Aussie Sabres. And they wouldn't play fair at this game either. Often when we were returning from a mission, the GCI site would arrange for the Aussies to meet us for a little dissimilar ACT or Air Combat Training. The Aussie Sabres had altimeters thatweren't very accurate since they would always be a bit higher than they said they would be, giving them an altitude advantage.
The "hassling" was always encouraged for the purpose of a little dissimilar ACT, since the Aussie Sabres had a lot of flight characteristics similar to the North Vietnam MiG-17s. At least that was the `official' excuse to have a lot of fun. When fuel was running low, we would join up in one large mixed flight and return to Ubon. And like any fighter pilots, the Aussies enjoyed buzzing the base, and would often fly in right over the heads of the F-4 ground crews.
I guess that wouldn't be very politically correct any more. The Aussies would come screaming down the ramp in 2-ships, 4-ships, 5-ships, diamonds, you name it. It was always a thing of beauty. And when it came to looks, the Sabre and the F-4 were't in the same league. Right off the bat, the Sabre is a beautiful airplane. The F-4? Well you have to be around the F-4 to appreciate that it's just different. But then, the Sabre couldn't do twice the speed of sound, which is a thing of beauty in itself.
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