A Christmas Story


by Donald J. "Beetle" Bailey

I'm probably the lowest time F-86 pilot in the Association. But I really did fly it and it is the most outstanding two flights in my 6000 hour flying career that includes 118 different planes, including the F-100F and F-104D. Here's how it happened.

I was a T-33 instructor in Del Rio. It was Christmas 1956 and I was home on leave in Peru, Indiana, which is near what was Bunker Hill AFB. My Dad was friends with many base people including the 323rd Fighter Bomber Wing Commander, (then) Col. Joseph H. Moore, who died recently as a retired Lt. General. Col. Moore was in Dad's living room with us and said to me, "I recently let my son Joe (also a T-33 instructor in Laredo - I knew him.) check out in the F-86F here." Before I came straight up out of my chair, he asked, "Would you like to do that?" Well yeeaahh!!!

It was the middle of winter in Indiana and the weather sucked. I waited three weeks, sitting in the airplane every day checking it out. I had it down cold! Finally, on December 29th, three days before my leave was up, it was clear and beautiful. I'm sitting in the airplane ready to go, with chase pilot Amos Leighton beside me.

Col. Moore came up to my airplane and told me the runway was clear but the taxiway was iced and he was going to have me towed out. I said, "No sir. If I'm going to fly this airplane, I'm sure as heck going to taxi it. I'm used to differential braking for steering and the Sabre has a steerable nose wheel. I can do this." He looked at me for a second and said "All right, but don't you hurt my airplane!"

The first flight was about 40 minutes and we did all the basic maneuvers and it was fine. Also, Col. Moore asked me if there was anything special I wanted to do. Now what do YOU think I said? I said I wanted to go through the Mach. Well, I couldn't do THAT. The turkey farmers would go berserk. "Okay", with a disheartened tone.

So on the second flight I was having a ball rolling the airplane - what a thrill - and the chase called me and asked where I was because I had run away from him and he was unable to find me! I told him my location, at 20,000 feet, and he said stay there until he could catch up. Several minutes passed and he called again. He still couldn't find me. "Oops, sorry about that, I'm at 10,000 feet, not 20!" He replied, "So stay there and when I pass you, follow me."

Pretty soon he whizzed by off my right wing and headed upstairs. I'm trying to catch him but not doing a very good job of it. Finally he leveled off at 35,000 and asked where I was. I'm off your right wing and coming up on you fast."

"Okay, leave your throttle wide open and follow me." And then he rolled over and started straight down. Just before I caught up, he said, "Just go right past me off the right wing." OH YEAH! WAHOO! I watched the needle jump just as I got a little nose dip on the stick and I went through the Mach! The rest of the flight was uneventful. We said nothing to Col. Moore. I got a total of 1.8 hours in the F-86F in my log book, and like I said, it was the most exciting two flights I have ever had.

Forty nine years later, it finally dawned on me that the only reason I got to go through the Mach was because Col. Moore told Amos to let me do it. So I told (now) General Moore about it in March 2005. He didn't even remember that he had a squadron of F-86's at the time, because they were in the process of transitioning into the F-100. So I told him this whole story all over again and showed him my form 5 and I think he finally believed me. Joe was a great guy and a great officer. He is sorely missed.

At 76 years old I'm still having a ball. Today I fly an L-29 Delfin (a Czeck fighter-trainer) in air shows. I do a full aerobatic routine that lasts about 8 minutes. With any luck I'll keep doing it for a few more years.

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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