by By Curt Burns

The F-86F Sabres we flew at Williams Air Force Base in 1956/57 were terrifically fun to fly and very forgiving, but they did not have some of the automatic features that were taken for granted on later jet aircraft. For example, they did not have seat belts that opened automatically upon ejecting, and this led to this unusual ejection experience:

An instructor pilot returning from a training flight at Willie Air Patch pitched out with the usual bank and yank technique. The problem was that the aileron was stuck and the airplane wanted to continue rolling to the right. He found that with all the left stick he could get and full left rudder, the airplane stabilized in a 45 degree bank/skid to the right. With full power, the aircraft held a climb attitude heading south. He was able to get up to about 8.000 feet. and he figured it was enough for a safe ejection since the airplane was going to corkscrew as soon as he released the controls, and there was no assurance of ejecting upward. He ducked his head, released the controls, pulled the armrest up and squeezed the trigger. The canopy jettisoned and the seat ejected normally. After ejection, he manually unfastened the seat belt and kicked the seat away, reaching with his right hand up to his left chest for the D-Ring. He got a hand full of flying suit. No D-Ring! Looking back, he saw the parachute pack attached only by his two leg straps. In those days with the non-automatic configuration, we clipped the aircraft oxygen hose to the parachute chest strap. plugged the hose to the oxygen mask into the hose connector, and wrapped a short piece of cloth tape around the chest strap to keep the oxygen mask hose from stretching out like a rubber band until it broke its connection and slammed back into our face. What happened was that the restraining tape had unfastened his parachute harness' chest strap buckle during seat separation. Anyway, our calm and collected pilot reached back and got both arms through the shoulder straps, but seeing the desert coming up fast, he figured he did not have time to refasten the chest strap buckle, so he pulled the D-Ring. After the parachute opening shock, he found himself hanging head down from the leg straps, with the desert floor even closer. He only had time to pull himself up and get one arm through the shoulder straps before he hit the ground. After collapsing the chute, our pilot sat down on a boulder to catch his breath. Looking over, he realized he had come down only a few hundred feet from the main PhoenixTuscon highway, and quite a few cars had stopped along the road. About this time, a fellow ran up to him from the highway with a pint of whiskey in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other. He said, 'My wife and me saw you comin' down in that there parachute upside down, and she told me, "Now there's a man whos gonna need a drink and a cigarette!"

Epilogue: Our intrepid fighter pilot failed his blood alcohol test which was taken after the accident. but the flight surgeon allowed as how he had a good reason for it. After the accident, we pilots were warned to always wrap our oxygen hose restraining strap around the parachute chest strap either to the left or the right of the buckle. but not over it.

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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