My Favorite Sabre Story "There I was, flat on my back at 30,000 feet..." How many times have you heard a fighter jock start his war story with those words?! Well, here is another one! But first, a little background is in order.
After graduation from advanced flying school at Nellis in April 1955, I said good-bye to my instructor, Hank Buttelmann (I waxed him once, but he will not admit it!), and traveled to Denver where I was one of 70 Lieutenants selected to be Air Training Officers (ATO) for the first Air Force Academy class. As an inducement, the powers-that-be promised us we could have F-86s to play with. Of course, the fact that Bill Yancey and Ben Cassidy, my bosses, also wanted to fly Sabres lead nothing to do with it!
After an agonizingly long time, we got our (Canadian) slat-winged F-86Fs, and we proceeded to continue the training we had picked up at Nellis, such as the fluid four, one on one, start at 30,000 feet and end up on the deck over Limon, Colorado, and so forth.
On one particularly memorable flight, I was in a tight, climbing right turn at the five o'clock position at about 30,000 feet. We all remember the tricks we used to stay behind the other guy, such as sneaking down some flaps, cracking the speed brakes open, and max power with drag. Well, I used them all, and naturally when we were flying against another '86, our relative performance was about ' equal. Our speed on this one-on-one was down to about as low as it was going to get, but I had to get this guy!
Even though I was not really going to shoot, I wanted to pull the lead and get my nose out in front of him (that is why Hank said I did not get him). Can you see this one coming? You guessed it! In my zeal, I put in a "skosh" too much bottom rudder, and then, "Oh, shoot!". The next thing I knew, 1 was flat on my back, but up against the canopy, in an inverted flat spin. As near as I can figure, my right slat must have come out but the left one did not, and it flipped me over!
As I flopped through the sky out of control, I tried all the standard spin recovery techniques, but none worked. By this time, I was probably through 20,000 feet, still on my back, and still on the way down. My buddies, seeing what a mess I was in, were yelling for me to eject, but again you guessed it, I could not. Since I was up against the canopy, I could not reach the handles. Lucky thing, though, because as you will recall, the canopy ejected straight back along its rails if we blew it. Had I accomplished the first part of the procedure, I would not have been able to do the second, because my head would have gone off with the canopy.
By this time, I was down to about 15,000 feet (time and altitude fly by when you're having funn) and I remembered one last thing to try. Since the stick was ineffective no matter what I did, I used my trim button. You guessed it again, earlier I had trimmed all the way back during the rat race. I then found the solution to my problem: trim to neutral (yellow light on), throttle to idle, and hands off. My trusty of '86 flew itself right out. When I got flying speed again, I did a low "g" split-s and then limped home. When I calmed down enough to look at my "g" meter, I was amazed to see +9 and -3 locked into the dial! Surprisingly enough, however, upon examination, the ground crew could find no damage to my trusty Sabre. The same, though, could not be said for me. For the next month, I was sporting the flashiest pair of red and blue eyes. There just was no white to be seem?
After I retired in 1977, I went to work for Cubic Corporation, the makers of the Air Combat Maneuver Range (ACMR) system. Once on a commercial flight from Europe in 1984, I was talking with some Lockheed engineers. During the course of our conversation, we got around to our military histories. When I mentioned I flew F-86s at the Academy, they said, "You're the guy that was in that inverted flat spin!" They could have knocked me over with a feather! As we came to find out, their boss, Frank Drew, was in that gaggle of Sabres with me, and he had told them my story! Frank is now a retired Brigadier General who worked for Lockheed in Austin, Texas. Small world, isn't 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.
Return to Classics Page