MY FAVORITE F-86H STORY

by Harold Speer

By December 1958, the AirForce was turning F-86H Sabres over to Air National Guard units along the west coast. These Sabres were overhauled at a depot in Ontario. California, just east of Los Angeles. I was fottunate to fly several of these F-86Hs to their destinations. I delivered two or three weekly. Once I delivered them, I flew back via commercial carrier. I began by delivering an F-86H to Boston. I then flew a few more to Martinsburg. West, Virginia. Then 1 was scheduled to fly an "H" to Andrews Air Force Base near Washington, D.C.

I planned my flight in two legs. The first would take me to Hensley Naval Air Station at Dallas Texas. The time enroute would be two hours and three minutes. The second leg would be to Andrews. The time enroute for this would be two hours and six minutes The big F-86H had a limit of about two and a half hours. I would have twenty minutes reserve after I reached each destination.

On this day the F-86H I was to deliver was not ready until around five p.m. I checked the weather. There was overcast in Texas, and Dallas would be under visual flight rules when I arrived. I pre-flighted the aircraft and saddled up. The F-86H climbed like a homesick angel. I levelled off at 45,000 feet and set my cruise. My first check point was Phoenix, Arizona. Although the sun had set. I was still in daylight. Darkness caught me over El Paso, Texas, and 1 was flying over solid overcast. The top was at 37.000 feet. I did not know where the bottom was. The air was smooth and the stars sparkled brightly I tuned my navigational automatic direction finding radio to the Abilene, Texas radio beacon. I would track both inbound and out from Abilene until I picked up Dallas. If 1 was lucky, I might find a hole in the overcast and let down visually.

About five minutes before I arrived over Abilene, I felt the Sabre shudder for a second like I was passing through turbulence. I pulled the throttle back a few notches for a smoother setting. Everything then seemed fine.

Suddenly, the unthinkable happened. The engine blew up. I jerked my feet from the rudder pedals. I could not believe this! My first reaction was that those missile launching White Sands technicians must have shot me down!

My thoughts returned quickly to the task at hand. Many things were happening. The jet engine spool, which was rotating at 10 000 rpm, must have now been out of balance. The vibration was so severe that my canopy danced on its rails. The rubber seals had deflated from the loss of engine pressure. Cabin decompression resulted. The cockpit quickly filled with bluish-gray smoke-like condensation as the -60 degree outside air invaded the cockpit, displacing that comfortable 72 degree temperature I was enjoying minutes before. I lowered my head in case the canopy flew off. It might dish as it departed and catch my helmet. I did not want that, especially while my head was still in it!

I did some fast planning. I cut the throttle to prevent gas from pumping into the combustion chamber which was hot and might explode. I trimmed the air craft for a 180 knot glide. I knew the F-86H's battery was only good for about eight minutes without the generator. I called Abilene with a normal position report. If I declared an emergency, the channels would squawk like Donald Duck with people trying to help. I then stated my intentions. I told Abilene I had flamed out and would attempt a dead. stick landing. I further asked them to notify all traffic on Green 5 Airways within one hundred miles to avoid Abilene for ten minutes. I then turned the radio off to conserve my battery.

I had never landed at Abilene. I found my Westem Letdown Book and opened to the Abilene plate. This gave the location, f requencies and the direction to the field from the Abilene beacon as well as the elevation. The big Strategic Air Command field, Dyess Air Force Base, was located eight miles west from Abilene end its elevation was 2,275 feet. Their runway was 11,000 feet long. This was all I needed.

I entered the weather as the needle swung on my radio. I turned the Sabre45 degrees right from my easterly course. I opened the speed brakes and began my descent on the outbound leg. The slow rate that my speed brakes opened reminded me that my hydraulic pressure was down.

I made rapid calculations to cope with my dead engine approach. I modified my let down. I figured I must pass over Abilene on my inbound leg at 8,000 feet. This would allow my arrival over the runway at 6,000 feet. Then I could make a 360 degree approach to the runway or bail out if I had not broken out of the overcast. I would have 3,000 feet to separate from the aircraft and deploy my parachute if needed.

I made my penetration turn and was inbound to the low cone of the Abilene beacon. I noticed my instruments were fogging inside their glass covers! The canopy was also fogging. That -60 degree temperature from 45,000 feet had cold-soaked the aircraft. The warm Texas air at low altitude was condensing on my canopy and instruments! I passed the low cone a tS..000feetand was still in the soup. A, bail out decision was coming. Then at 7.000 feet. l sawthe airstrip lights through a hole in the overcast. I would attempt a landing in a few more seconds. I broke out at 5.800 feet over the middle of the runway. 1 made a 135 degree left turn so I could stay close to the runway while planning my final turn. My canopy was so fogged l thought 1 might jettison it if I could not wipe it with my gloved hand. It was like looking through Coke bottles filled with smoke. 1 thought 1 might drop in), external fuel tanks if 1 came up shorten final. Fortunately I could see lights on both sides of the runway .As 1 made my turn. 1 realized my landing gear was up. It was risky to restart an exploded engine. 1 did not have time to execute the emergency procedure and put my head in the cockpit this close to the ground to look for switches. I lit the spark and opened the throttle. The engine warbled and cranked up. lreached 58% and 1 had hydraulic pressure. 1 dropped the handle and heard the landing near lock down. Then the engine exploded again. sounding like a potbellied stove coming apart. I turned final and put the flaps down. The electric motor put a load on my weakened battery. so 1 pulled the randle back up. I wanted to use my anding lights, but 1 was afraid the baterv would die. The stick was already ieavvThecontrols are electricallvconrolled and hydraulically actuated. If my battery died, the stick would freeze. Adead battery would have prevented me from raising the nose, and 1 would have pranged the bird. I bent my head to see from the canopy. I levelled my wings and landed between the lights without seeing the runway. I hit the runwav on my left wheel and bounced. The mains the mains then smacked the runway. I held the nose off. and then it also touched. I opened my canopy which raised slowly. I must have had an excellent battery because that was an awfully long eight minutes! Something suddenly flew by- my lett wing. 1 thought I was seeing things'. I turned my radio on and asked the tower what passed me'. They- said that when they did not see any landing lights, they dispatched affretruck to find the wreckage'. 1 coasted until I was slow enough to turn onto a taxiwav. 1 then asked the tower to send a tug. The operator said that Dyess was a bomber base and they did not have a tow bar for jet fighters! 1 suggested they send a tug with a rope. The runway was slowly fogging. 1 asked the tower to tell the tug not to To n into my aircraft! The tug towed my Sabre to a parking apron. l buttoned the aircraft up and thanked evervone. The officer of the day then furnished me with a ride to the civilian airport at Abilene where 1 caught a commercial airliner. I slept like a baby going back to California that night! The next dap 1 picked up unwher F86HanddelireredittoAndrewsAirForce Rnxa


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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