by Neil Fossum

Early in 1954 while I was going through F-86 gunnery school at Nellis Mr Force Base, a group of us stood down one afternoon to watch George Welch and Joe Lynch, both respected test pilots from North American Aviation, put on a couple of flight demonstrations for all us young jocks. Most of us had flown a mission that morning, and we were still in our flight suits as we stood on the ramp to watch these two famous flyers.

George Welch flew first. He showed us what we could get out of a T-28B trainer with its Pratt & Whitney engine and a three-bladed prop. His flight was very impressive, but most of us felt that props were a thing of the past. We were instead looki ng forward to Joe Lynch's flight in the dual-seat TF-86F Sabre.

Prior to Joe's arrival at his TF-86F, I was leaning against its wing and watching George do his stuff. When Joe arrived, if he had asked me if I wanted to go with him, I would have climbed nght in. As he approached the bird, however, his mechanic said, "Joe, they topped off your tanks before I could stop them". Joe replied, "That's okay, but I don't want you to go with me today. Would you just secure the backseat straps and stuff?" in the meantime, George was ending his show with a perfect double lmmelmann off the deck.

Joe taxied his TF-86F out while George parked his bird. George and the Airdrome Officer next headed off toward Base Ops in the AO's Jeep. Joe was out of our sight as he started his takeoff roll. There was a slight tail wind, but using this particular runway would put his first aileron roll after takeoff right in front of the crowd which consisted of maybe 150 young pilots like myself. We spotted Joe on his takeoff roll when he cleared several buildings that had been obstructing our view of the first few hundred feet of the runway.

After rotating, Joe pulled the nose up. He quickly began a roll to the left. While in an inverted position, the roll stopped momentarily. Joe then started to roll back in the opposite direction, as if in a half roll and reverse. The TF-86F, however, remained in a steep left wing-down bank, and the nose started to the left. My first thought was, "Is he going to try to come back over the ramp?" I had only eleven hours in the F-86F at that moment, and I was not sure if the Sabre could do that. A moment later the nose started down, and the flight ended with the nose and left wing tip hitting the ground at about the same time. We next heard the whoomp sound of the impact. The TF-86F's fuel ignited and black smoke billowed up.

The ramp went completely silent. We could have heard a pin drop as our GI pilots stood there in stunned disbelief. There was nothing to say and nothing we could do. We slowly turned and quietly walked away, knowing we had just witnessed the last flight of a great pilot. As I walked, I wondered what business did I have in the super hot F-86F. For the next few days, we noticed the roped off crash site out of the corners of our eyes as we took off, and most of the guys loosened their traffic patterns a little.

During a recent conversation I had with Dan Darnell, a North American test pilot who knew Joe Lynch well, Dan told me that the TF-86F had a rudder travel restriction installed and that a 300 pound rudder pressure was required to break this restriction. The accident investigation revealed that the restriction in the TF-866's rudder travel had been broken indicating that Joe Lynch desperately wanted more rudder for that last maneuver. Dan also confirmed that Joe had a full fuel load.

Over the years I have often wondered why Joe was so explicit in securing the TF-86Fs back seat rather taking someone along...

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