by Jerry Burton

The following incident is recalled by Jerry Burton, a crew chief with the 526th FIS at Landstuhl AB, Germany.

It was a nice Spring morning in 1958 at Landstuhl. We had finished pre-flighting the birds and were waiting for the pilots to come ambling out of the Ops shack. Suddenly the door came crashing open and pilots, lots of pilots, started running toward the airplanes all over the ramp.

Wien I asked the captain that was flying `my' bird - "What's going on?", he appeared a little shookup and said he couldn't (or wouldn't) tell me anything. We got the birds ready for takeoff as fast as we could. Suddenly, a green flare (flare!) went up from the tower and the pilots started cranking up the engines - all of them! All of the flyable airplanes in the squadron area were manned, started, and running.

Then just as suddenly, the signal to shut them down was given and the pilots stop-cocked the engines and began screaming for fuel trucks. We called for the fuel tankers but then the green flare went up again! This time they taxiied out and were cleared to go. Seeing all the airworthy birds snaking down the taxiway to the active runway was like watching a World War 2 movie. We heard them go into AB (afterburner) and take off heading east. We were only 7 minutes from the border with East Germany, and with that in mind, we always flew `hot' with live rockets.

They were no sooner out of sight when the Line Chief came down and told us to get our field packs out of the shack and inspect them. Fifteen minutes later an Air Police van pulled up and began issueing all of us Ml carbines and two 30 round magazines! The hanger maintenence troops were running around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to cram engines into engine-less birds and close up the panels for inspection.

Needless to say, the joking abruptly stopped as everyone realized that something very big was going down! No one knew a thing of course, or wouldn't tell us, and we all felt like the proverbial mushroom. But then it started to hit home. The start of World War 3 was a distinct possibility in everyone's minds.

So aside from having an Ml in our hands and our field packs nearby, we simply stood around and waited for the airplanes to return - IF they were coming back! About a half hour after the mass takeoff, someone shouted "Here they come!", and the first flight hit the pattern. Immediately, we all noticed that none of the airplanes had their drop tanks. When they banked and showed their bellies, we all strained to look for rocket burn indicating the rockets had been fired. But they hadn't. Fuel trucks were al-ready in the area waiting. We didn't even have to call for them like we usually did. We turned the birds around quickly and got them ready without tanks.

I asked my pilot "What the hell was happening!", but again, he declined to say anything and simply wrote up the jettisoning of the tanks and vacated the cockpit. The pilots all went back into the Ops shack while we set about getting the spare tanks down from the racks and checking them for leaks. It was frantic, frantic, frantic! Finally we had all the birds reconfigured and sitting Ready Alert.

Hours went by and we kept all the airplanes ready to go. But the urgency seemed to dissipate and we mainly stood around waiting for something else to happen. Suddenly the APs returned and reclaimed our carbines and ammo, and the brass told us to stand down but have the air-planes ready to go.

The next day we heard that the communists had staged a massive military exercise along the border and threw hundreds of MiGs into the air, flying up and down the bor- der taunting us. NATO and USAFE had to counter it, so every serviceable fighter in Europe took to the air and flexed their muscles in return. We were told that to keep up with the latest Russian fighter aircraft (MiG-19s), our birds had to drop their tanks! Those of us in the 526th FIS weren't tasked with retrieving the dropped tanks so I assume another organization picked them up. Either that or some German farmer suddenly became the owner of an aluminum mine!

Such was the day that will live long in my memory.

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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