AN EXPERIENCE TO REMEMBER

by Joseph Radoci

The Day was Thursday, July 11, 1963 and I was preparing myself for a flight in the F-86H Sabre Jet from Martin State Airport. The weather was warm with lots of son and a scattered deck of clouds at 10,000 feet.

As I entered the Flying Operations Office, I was told to expedite my takeoff. Colonel Mitchell, the commanding officer of our Air National Guard unit, the 175th Tactical Fighter Group, was in trouble and was orbiting at 20,000 feeet over the (Chesapeake) Bay Bridge. He had lost all of his flight instruments. The safest procedure in a case like this is for the aircraft to be accompanied back to the home air field by another aircraft so that proper approach altitudes and landing speeds maybe maintained. I took off a little after noon and turned south, climbing at 350 knots, passing up through the cloud deck My position was abeam of Sparrows Point and the altimeter read just above 13,000 feet when everything seemed to go wrong.

The fire warning light went on and the aircraft began to vibrate violently. There was an explosion and fire in the engine compartment I immediately retarded the throttle, doublechecked the fire warning lights, and tried to level the aircraft. I discovered that the right rudder cable was severed and the controls were frozen, indicating that the hydrauliclines were severed (the controls for the ailerons and elevators are hydraulically actuated).

The engine RPM was declining below idle, indicating engine flameout.

I immediately radioed Colonel Mitchell and advised him of my problens and position. He answered that he had me in sight and that I was trailing black smoke.

"Get out, you're on firel", he ordered.

I had received classroom training in emergency procedures and had read thoroughly all the details of ejecting from a disabled aircraft. Learning about it and doing it are not quite the same! But I knew the time had come and went through the prescribed drill: position body, fed instirrups, elbows . Lift handles on each side of seat to fire explosive charges that jettison canopy squeeze triggers on handles to eject seat. The canopy flew off with a bang, the seat blasted upward as the charge - equivvalent to a 37mm shill exploded under me.

I was out, still on the seat, falling and gyrating like ice cubes stirred around in a glass.The timed delay of the seat belt charges elapsed and the seat blasted off and pulled the ripcord.

The seat was gone and the parachute opened-everything worked flawlessly to my great relief When the noise subsided, I looked up and saw the chute deployed; I checked for torn panels or other damage. There was none. A moment later I foated down through the broken deck of clouds and located the burning aircraft in the water south of the Bay Bridge. I prepared myself for a water landing, inflating the underarm life preserver and raft.

At this point there was nothing left to do but enjoy the ride down and enjoy the view. Looking down on the water, there must have been at least a hundred boats in the water, in viciiinity north of the Bay Bridge. But after surfacing on thewater I could not see one boat. I entered the raft and began to look for the emergency flares when a fishing boat pulled up alongside of me. On board were two off-duty policemen, troopers Dave L. Cook and Bruce White (how lucky could I gets?) They took me to shore at Sandy Point were I called the base that I was alright. Moments later, a helicopter from Andrews Air Force Base picked me up and rdurned me to Martin State Airport.

As we got airborne in the helicopter, it shook tike blazes. I asked if this was normal vibration? The pilot said that it was. I remarked that I had ejected from a disabled F-86H just moments before that vibrated that badly!

The flight back went quickly. As we landed the Martin crew was glad to see me and was thankful that I was back, though I was thoroughly wet and sorry that I could not save a wonderful airplane like the F-86H.

Colonel Mitchell was able to return to base and land safely without his instruments, quite an accomplishment in a jet aircraft on a short runway.

The account is reprinted with permission from the Baltimore Area Soaring Society's March 1989 newsletter
-- THE EDITORS


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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