The war in Korea was winding down. A lot of fighting was yet to be done, but you could see a real desire, in both the North and South, to end it. The negotiations at Panmunjom were in full flower, and had been for six months. Our life was quick. Flying F-86Fs in the ground attack role was fun! You took your load North, made the prescribed strike, then hoped to hell you got into a fight with the MiGs before you left the target area. Which seldom happened. The 18th FBG had the 12th and 67th FBS assigned, plus 2 Squadron from South Africa, It was a unique operation in which the South Africans put themselves under US operational control, leased their equipment (the F-86Ps) from the USAF, but furnished their own flight and ground crews. They were a great outfit, dedicated and capable. (No downed South African pilot ever gave in to the Red interrogations.)
Enter Bob Hoover
Bob Hoover, a test pilot from North American, was peddling a gadget called the Moving Pipper Target Indicator, a device designed to increase bombing accuracy. It was very effective if one knew the wind direction and speed, plus the target altitude. Bob was convinced (had been?) that this would be helpful in the F-86F ground attack role in Korea. His arrival was a welcome relief from the monthly visits of the headquarters 'weenies' needing a flight to get their combat pay. Our kids looked forward to Hoover's famed demonstration of the F-86 flight envelope. He didn't disappoint! His show was a confidence builder and an eye opener even to me! After all, we knew how to get all their was from an 86!
However, I viewed his sales pitch for the MPT! much more skeptically, finding several holes in the logic behind its design. We seldom knew the winds over the target, and never the target altitude. I suggested strongly that Bob demonstrate his gadget under combat conditions. "Strongly to the point that I wouldn't endorse it unless I saw it in action. He was ecstatic, not having been invited to fly combat before in his role as civilian test pilot (he had an outstanding WW2 record). We selected a flight and suited up. I remember it well. I was Red leader, Bob was #2, Harry "The Horse" Evans was #3 and Elelment lead, and Stan Wells, 2 Squadron CO, was #4. The target was the Haeju Peninsula area for a strike-recce mission (targets of opportunity). After take-off, I shook a tight finger formation into a wide fighting formation, and called for a gun check much to the delight of friend Robert!
Our goals, Bob's and mine, were dissimilar. Mine was to show that his gadget wouldn't work. Bob's were to show that it would. And to have some fun! (Or maybe it was vice versa) With the cloud deck a few thousand feet above us and about 2,000 feet thick, I saw a concrete bridge running east to west below us. My best estimate was some three minutes flying time.
Climbing into the overcast with a careful watch, I broke out on top, defined the target to the flight, called "Tally Ho!", and rolled into the clouds. Red 2 (Bob), in a great agitated Georgian accent, queried, "Red Lead, whar you goin'? Which way you gonna break? What's that target again?" I came barreling through the overcast lined up perfectly with the bridge. Red 2, 3, and 4 were right behind me. Arming my bombs, I centered the pipper, tracked the target, and hit the pickle button. I thought I felt a little 'bump', that one feels as bombs leave the pylons. Breaking smartly left and up, I heard Red 3 report, "Bullseye Red leader!"
With the calm, controlled voice of one trying to pretend he never missed, I responded, "Rog, reform on Red lead." Red 2 again questioned my position and identity, "Whar are you? Waggle yo' wings.", then he joined up with the rest of the formation. Then he said, "Red Lead, waggle yo' wings." Doing so, I heard him say in a small, quiet voice, "Mahtie, you still got yo' bombs." That son-of-a-bitch had hit the target! To my dying day, I will remain convinced he did it with chewing gum on the windscreen. Red leader flew home with a face that has never lost its blush. I understood later that between Mr. Wright, head of engineering at North American, and Bob's insurance company, Bob had a little trouble explaining the flight.
But that was Bob Hoover, up for anything, and the best damn stick-and-rudder man I've ever known. By the way, I never did endorse his damn "Moving Pipper!"
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