The klaxon got you again, didn't it! You hit the floor running with the unwanted extra shot of adrenalin you've just gotten. As you slam into the 'fire pole' at full tilt, the loudspeaker starts squawking "SCRAMBLE! SCRAMBLE! SCRAMBLE!" Down two full stories you go spinning around the fire pole, and faster than you want to go because you didn't get a good grip on the pole in your haste. SPLAT, your feet hit the rubber pad on the floor as you bottom out and almost turn your ankle. "Ha, Ha! Beat you again Sam!", you yell at your wingman coming down the pole right behind you.
Through the door and into the Alert Barn , you run to find your crew chief already at the bird starting the MD~3. 'That kid always beats me', you think, 'But then he didn't have as far to go, did he?' Up the kick steps you go, over the sill, and into the seat. The crew chief is right behind you and helps you into your chute, reminding you to make sure the lanyard is hooked. As he leaves, you finish strapping yourself in, don your helmet, and make a quick trip around the cockpit to check all the switches you had set earlier. Satisfied you nod to the chief, give the crank up signal and receive an "All Clear!"
The MD-3 starts cranking the engine and when the tach indicates 10% you mash the ignition button and move the throttle around the horn. Eyes glued on the fuel flow gauge, you park it at 100 pph and watch for ignition. With a loud WHOOM, the J-47 lights off. Playing with the throttle to keep the temp within limits, you watch her begin to wind up. 'Good old manual start, it always works!'
"O'Hare Tower, November Kilo 11 with two for taxi. Standing by for scramble instructions." TWO checks in and the tower replies "NK 11, taxi runway 17, GCI departure, gate angels 34, vector 360, contact PAN FISH on primary, winds 345º at 10 knots. You're cleared for takeoff." You give the chocks-out signal, cob it out of the barn, turn 45º to the left, and cover the 75 yards to the runway as you read back the scramble instructions. Another 45º left turn puts you on the runway. You check the windsock and stop downwind waiting for Sam to catch up.
Sam gets the runup signal and you both go to MIL and check the gauges. You give Sam the BURNER signal and you go outboard, checking the cockpit once more, with one last check that the LOCK OUT BOX is off. You nod at Sam, release the brakes, and start rolling, giving Sam 1%. That's all he gets because he can cut it. Gear up, screens open, starboard to 360º, you enter the ragged overcast Steady on 36 º, you're climbing at 350 knots and you check your watch. 'Three minutes forty six seconds, not too bad!'
"One Two, go primary!", and you both switch to the GCI frequency. "PAN FISH, NK 11", "Two!" (Sam checks in). "NK 11, this is PAN FISH, go ahead." "PAN FISH, NK 11 with two, heading 360, climbing gate angels 34, ten north of Home Plate", you report as you pop out of the clouds and shake Sam loose. "Roger NK 11, PAN FISH 15 has contact, starboard 045 and report level." As you begin your turn, your attention centers on the radar. You turn all the shiny knobs off and all the dull knobs on, slowly coming up on the gain and down on the contrast. This 'tweaking' is a futile attempt to maximize the radar contact range, which usually doesn't work but makes you feel good because you've done it
"NK 11, your bogey is 45 port at 125 miles, heading 180, speed 320 knots." You acknowledge and attempt to visualize the coming intercept "This will be a level, 900 beam attack, with the target passing starboard to port Final attack heading 270." You report level at 340, come out of A/B, and set your speed at BUSTER. Several minutes later GCI turns you to 360 and tells Sam to go trailer. At this point, Sam drops five miles in trail and will begin to get seperate instructions from another controller for his intercept
A short time later your controller calls you. "NK 11, turn port 315. You have a heavy 15, starboard at 25. Set speed at 350 knots." "Roger", you reply as you steady out on the new heading and begin to look for the bogey on your radar. No contact yet, as expected, but you could hope anyway. Shortly you are turned to 270, putting you on your final attack heading. Time to arm it up!
You select 24 for the full pod of rockets. He did say it was a Heavy, remember, and you check your switches are HOT "Target 45, starboard 15 miles, check switches." You come heads up and realize you've just gone popeye in a layer of cirrus. "No joy!", you reply and go back into the scope looking for the target, but paying more attention to the radar horizon now. Nothing! You go to right sweep. 'Is there really something up here or has the controller mis-identified YOU?' No, you know better. He has YOU, it's just you don't have the target
"Target 45 starboard, 10 miles and level." Noth... WAIT! Is that it? There's a paint at 60 º starboard, about 8 miles out It has to be. Boy, am I hot (ahead of the line), you think as your eyes check the speed. 425 knots! Nice going Ace, got yourself into a fix not watching the airspeed. Now all you've got time is a hard check turn. "Contact!", you transmit as you pop the speed boards and make a hard 90 º right turn. Boards back in, you make another hard left turn back to the attack heading.
"Judy!", you say as you roll out and attempt to lock on. Darn, he's still 500 to starboard. Throttle to IDLE, turn right There, he's locked up at 5 miles. Put him on the left side for as long as you can stand, throttle to MIL, now center the dot HOLY COW! What a squirrelly dot! It's all around the circle as you yank and bank, trying to center it Two miles now.
The circle is shrinking but the B is sweep-jumping back and forth, making the steering dot jot along with it. Just average it out you think, and get the wingslevel. It's almost FIRE time. There, got it almost centered, heading 315, still hot, a quartering head-on attack! Now FIRE time. Wings level, dot passing through center right at the X (FIRE signal).
Suddenly out of the clouds appears the biggest airplane you've ever been this close to in the air! And it's on a collision course and level! Yes, you now remember what the controller said - LEVEL! "Alpa...." Stick in the gut, throttle to A/B, hard right! WOW, that was close! Up and over the huge B-36 you go. That thing realls is an Aluminum Overcast! No wonder the dot was so erratic. The radar couldn't decide where on the airplane to lock on - the nose, tail, props, or evenwhich prop! "Splash, breaking starboard, steady on 360.", you finally finish reporting. Even if the dot wasn't in the center at FIRE time on the radar, the ORI evaluator will have to give you a kill There's no way that 24 rockets could have missed something that big as close as you were. And I'm sure the bomber crew will also attest to that!
"NK 11, PAN FISH copies Splash One. Good work! Go starboard 120 now, Home Plate 120 at 65. Descend angels 20. This will be vectors for a GCI/GCA approach. Home Plate weather reporting ceiling 200 feet, and visibility 1/2 mile in snow and blowing snow, winds 345 º at 16 knots, gusting to 25, with deteriorating conditions. What are your intentions?
"PAN FISH, NK 11. I believe I'll give it a go", you calmly reply as you get ready for another northern tier, white-out approach and landing. But that's still another story!
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