As cadets, we were ingrained with certain responses to specific questions, such as the correct answer to the age old question - "What kind of pilot are you?!" I never had the opportunity to answer that question after I graduated from flight training until I met up with the F-86L.
My greatest thrill with the F-86L involved two intertwined sorties with the 13th FIS at Sioux City, Iowa. After I had flown the 86D for five years with the 469th FIS and 26th FIS, I was re-assigned to the 13th FIS at Sioux City. The 13th was scheduled to move to Glasgow, Montana and transition into the McDonnell 101B Voodoo. But when I arrived, the 13th still had their F-86Ls. I was only 25 then, wearing one whist bar. But most of the other young pilots assumed I was reporting directly from Perrin AFB and newly graduated from pilot training.
Our squadron comander was LtCol Robert M. Bell. He took me into his office on my second day to discuss my flying experience. During our conversation, I told him about my marksmenship streak of 19 consecutive sorties where I fired on every pass and scored a hit on every pass. I was proud but not bragging. Just about then he poped that timeless question - "How do you rate yourself as a pilot?" I thought for a moment and then answered - "Colonel Bell, you now have the finest F-86D pilot in the Air Force assigned toy your sqauadron!" This response not only caught him off guaard, but also startled him into action. He then asked what size flying boots I wore, and when he heard that his boots were my size, he handed me a spare pair from behind his desk, saying - "Go get yourself a flying suit, helmet, jacket and chute. We're going flying RIGHT NOW!"
I got my equipment and went off to fly my first F-86L. Colonel Bell chased me through the sortie and evaluated my wire recording after landing. It was only a practice mission, but I did manage to bury the dot. And my Instrument approach and landing were good. The only comment I heard from the good Colonel was what I overheard as he passed our Operations Officer folowing the evaluation of my recording. "Call Division and schedulea check pilot for Van Dine as soon as possible." I guess I backed up my boast!
I flew with the check pilot, but we had to land at an alternate field hecause of a snowstorm. We returned the next day and I received my EXPERT dedignation! Such was my introduction to the F-86L It had the updated systems and was equipped with SAGE, but handled the same as the D model. I never truly considered the F-86L to he a different specie.
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