The 120th FIS,"Tigers"

by Stephen Pahs

During World War 2, Buckley Field, near Aurora, CO, was an auxilliary field for Lowry Army Air Field. It was named for Lt. John Buckley, a Colorado National Guard pilot killed in France on 17 September 1918. In August 1946, the Colorado ANG acquired space thereon as tenants. It was the first dedicated ANG base in the United States.

Early in 1956, the squadron replaced their ageing F-80Cs (flown 1953 to 1956), with F-86Es, then to F-86Ds in 1958. These rejects were soon appropriately called "Dogs". We soon realized the new mission signalled the end of `fun flying' - no more dog fights, acrobatics, uncoordinated flights, etc.

The F-86D Tech Order said that it was capable of super-sonic flight. I tried it with burner in level flight - NO GO! It took an afterburner climb from Takeoff to as high as it would climb, a roll over into a Split-S, and straight down in full burner. BANG! It worked! But a short time later the Dog would back out of supersonic.

Apparently, the powers-that-be sensed our feeling about the F-86D. One Sunday during our weekend training, Bob Hoover just happened to drop by. He picked a Dog from the flight line for a demo flight. As is his usual demo, after Take-off and gear-up, he did a perfect and very smooth roll!!!. Showing us that the D was indeed an good airplane.

The D had an interesting innovation for a fighter air-craft - an Auto-pilot. But upon engaging same, there was a 50-50 chance it would decide that straight and level was really upside down!

We went on Alert status with Air Defense Command. Pilots stood 5 minute Runway Alert for 14 hours a day, in conjunction with Early Warning GCI sites, Pairs of pilots were scheduled for `alert' 5-10 days each month. Active duty was on a voluntary schedule.

I checked out in the D in 1958 and transitioned to the F-86L in 1960. The time in Ls was short however as we changed airplanes and missions, to a tactical mission in F-100Cs.. Now that was a fighter!

Interesting sidelights. One of the pilots was delagated to bring an F-86D back from IRAN. Several miles west of Denver, over one of the huge national forests, i.e. no cities or even farms, he decided to do some acrobatics. No one would see him, right? WRONG! The Wing CO and Ops Officer were bow-hunting for deer in that very same area. A call to Base Operations quickly gave our hero a name.

Meanwhile back at the air patch. During an early morning practice intercept mission out of Wendover, Utah, a T-Bird was towing the DELMAR (radar target) on a low level course across the sunrise. The lead interceptor reported a target blip on his radar screen. His wingman, the Safety Observer, verified he was tracking the `drone' and signaled - "Cleared to fire!" The T-33 crew immediately saw 24 inert 2.75 inch rockets coming directly at them! Unable to evade the attack, they flew straight and level, assuming the fetal position and prayed. The rockets all missed.

We did have one fatality. Lt Chuck Foster was on a night low-level practice intercept over Eastern Colorado. Af-ter radar `Lock-on' to the bogie, he put his face into the scope hood, flying the aircraft using the gyro horizon on the scope. But apparently the gyro was failing. In following it, he rolled the bird over and flew into the ground. His wingman was yelling at him but to no avail.

History has proven that no communst aircraft were ever allowed to penetrate Colorado airspace!

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.

Return to Classics Page