by Paul Dickens
Our unit was the 11th FIS at Duluth, MN. They were flying F-51s when I was assigned in the Fall of 1953, but we soon transitioned into the F-86D. We went to Yuma in early 1955, flying from Duluth to Colorado Springs to Yuma. This was during the period that the Dog was blowing up in the air due to the fact the fuel control hadn't been perfected. As such, our afterburners were restricted, which certainly made for some exciting take-offs from the mile-high runway at Colorado Springs.
A group of us went to dinner that first night, in a very nice restaurant. In the group were John Ward, a lawyer and considered to be THE intellectual of the unit; and Billy Singleton, who looked and sounded like what he was - a product of the Deep South. However, he was an exceptional pilot and very smart. When the waiter asked John for his order, he explained in detail what he wanted and how he wanted it cooked. Billy stared incredulously at John. When the waited got to Billy, he said, "Ya'll got 'ny peanut butter `n jelly samiches?" We cracked up.
As you can see from the photos, conditions at Yuma were rather primitive. The `old heads' (the Talkers) still espoused the old fighter pilot image; and the young troops (the Listeners) did our best to emulate them. Fortunately, the locals took a liberal view of our antics and except for a couple exceptions, we lived in harmony.
The bars in Winterhaven, California, closed a couple of hours later than Yuma, so on occasion we adjourned to Winterhaven. There was a very talented young lady in one of the clubs who did an exotic dance. She was so good that you couldn't consider her as pornographic even though she was rather scantily clad. We convinced her to attach our squadron patch, a raging bull, at about the only place with enough cloth to attach it. The 'pay-back' was that one of us had to sweep the floor before her `Spider Dance' so she wouldn't abrade her back and shoulders. It was worth it.
None of use had any transportation so took up a collection and bought an old car. The biggest problem was getting through inspection and get it on base. I think we paid $150 for the `gem'. We six proud owners accompanied it to the MP for inspection. With some reluctance and much harrassment, he passed everything except the brake lights, which just wouldn't work.
Finally, one of us told him they were fixed, and had him watch while we drove away and skidded to a stop. Sure enough, the tail lights were blazing. Actually, the driver had pulled the emergency brake and turned on the head-lights, which appeared to be working taillights. We had to promise the major in charge of the MPs that we wouldn't abandon the car on base when we left.
However, we had a problem with the gears and had the gear shift partially disassembled. And we were a little slow getting the required part for repairs. One day the car just turned up missing! We were about to report it stolen when someone noticed the Fire Department was using it for training. We decided to just forget it.
The gym at Yuma had a trampoline. Considering myself somewhat of an athlete, I decided to teach myself how to use it. After a few good days, I decided to combine several maneuvers and promptly came down on my head, causing my neck to pop and stars flew. That night I had a terrible `crick' in my neck and was afraid it would affect my flying. Charlie Collins, had a year in chiropractic school, said he'd be glad to `adjust' it. He took my chin in one hand, and the back of my head in an-other and told me to "Just relax!" - I've had trouble with my neck ever since.
But the flying at Yuma was great. We had B-45s towing the targets. A T-33 chase ship would fly behind us to make sure we weren't locked up on the tow ship, which did happen. Precise terminology was used between the tow ship, chase, and us. If positive clearance wasn't given for every phase, we did not fire. A single rocket was fired on each mission.
After the mission, a pilot was very anxious to know if he'd gotten a hit. Each F-86D had a camera under the wing. A team of judges assessed the film, which was then projected onto a table top. If the rocket came within proximity of the target, a silhouette of a B-36 was placed in a position so that the target juxtaposed an engine. I did get a hit. The 11th did win the Meet. And the boss did get promoted to full Colonel. It was a successful trip, and very enjoyable.
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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