Gabby was promoted to Lt Col that spring, and he began building the squadron into tigers. The men needed more than just a motto. Gabby wanted his squadron, to be recognized wherever they went. He authorized a flamboyant paint job for the airplanes. The squadron color was Medium Blue; and Gabby, Tom Dozier (GE Tech Rep), and Bud Sherman designed a paint scheme. The tail, canopy rail, wingtips, and scallops on the drop tanks would be blue with white stars. The star pattern on the tall was 9 stars shaped like an 'N', which stood for 9th Air Division. This was repeated on the canopy rail. On the nose was a fierce looking tiger mouth, a natural for the F-86D. Now the squadron aircraft looked like tigers - GEIGER TIGERS!
COL 'Gabby' gave the squadron an attitude of cocky professionalism - very cocky! When the Tigers deployed to Yuma for their first rocketry training in 1955, they did it in style. Taxiing in, the pilots opened the canopies and donned black 'derby hats' and blue scarves. Attached to the wingtips of each airplane was a plywood cutout of a Geiger Tiger, complete with black derby and blue scarf blowing in the breeze. It was quite an entrance. And one not appreciated by the other squadrons deployed to Yuma.
The other squadrons, not too impressed with the 'entrance', promptly made it known that the Tigers better be able to back up the show. The Tigers wore their derbys wherever they went, even the NCOs. When the NCO Club manager asked them to remove their derbys, the Tigers calmly replied - "The Geiger Tigers don't take their hats off to anyone!" That promptly got the entire squadron banned from the club. SGT Flynn rapidly organized a venture across the border for booze, returning with literally gallons of rum. The Tigers set up their own 'club' in one of the squadron tents, which was soon out-selling the bar at the club they were banned from!
It was about this time that a short black and white movie entitled "The F-86s Are Here!" began circulating through the bases. It was a neat little comedy effort made by the members of the 86th FBG at Landstuhl AB, Germany. The film, about 20 minutes long, in black and white and with no sound, used stop action and speeded up film for certain scenes. "The F86s are Here!" was a satire on the daily routine at Landstuhl when the F-86s arrived.
Upon viewing the film, the Tigers, led by CAPT Bud Sherman, said they could do as good a film as any fighter-bomber outfit. All the Tigers were asked for input regarding the script, characters - right down to producfion and editing. Bud Sherman was the project officer. The script was written around a 'typical' deployment to Yuma - and how the Tigers blew away the competition.
The main characters included COL Gabby as Papa Tiger' and the Coach, MAJ 'Bing' Crosby was the Ops Officer, 'Kelly' Marinkovich was the Engineering Officer on the scooter, and Bud Sherman was the eager beaver pilot that never 'got into the game'. The female attraction in the movie was played by Bud Sherman's lovely wife.
Using out-dated black and white gun camera film and several spare gun cameras, production began during the second deployment to Yuma in the late spring of 1955. Since the film was silent, all 'talking' was done with white cards that were hand-written by SGT Flynn.
Our story begins as the Tigers depart from Geiger bound for Yuma. One of the pilots has to make an 'emergency stop' at, where else, Las Vegas. He then promptly gets lost, and has to use highway signs to find his way to Yuma, sometimes having to stop on the road and read the signs.
Meanwhile, the rest of the squadron has arrived at Yuma.. Some of their antics include landing backwards, 'inspecting' their aircraft by climbing into the intake and out the tailpipe. They even bring their mascot flying a 'Puppy Dog'. All the other squadrons run and hide at the mere mention of the Tigers.
Most of the segments are shot at Vincent AFB, Yuma, AZ. But the 'lost pilot' segments showing him stopping to look at highway signs and flying under highway bridges, were shot in Tom Dozier's car with a cameraman shooting over the windshield. When LT McCain finally gets to the outhouse at Yuma, it is actually near the All-American Canal about 9 miles west of Yuma. 'Inflight' close-ups, including the eager beaver pilot in his coonskin cap, were all filmed on the Yuma ramp. All actual flying was done by Bud Sherman and Gabby.
After production ceased on the original film, a background was added to the silent movie by using speeded up versions of some orchestra music, 'played by' THE SAN LOUIE ORCHESTRA. Released in early 1956, "The Geiger Tigers' was a hit at all the bases. One copy was sent to North American Aviation, builder of the F-86D, who, upon seeing the very funny amateur film, hired a Hollywood camera crew to re-do it.
The new camera crew had recently won Oscars for cinematography while working for the legendary Jack Webb. This time the filming was in full color, using professional camera equipment And there was a voice track. When the squadron, re-designated the 498th FIS on 20 June 1955, deployed to Yuma for live-fire rocketry training in 1956, the camera crew went with them.
The gaudy Geiger Tiger paint job was further accentuated by the addition of personal markings. The aircraft were all named - "TIGER DEE", "TEXAS
TERROR", "THE BIG WHEEL". My personal favorite was "BIG VIV", with a 4 foot tall brunette in a red bathing suit painted on the nose. The tiger mouth was modified to make it even more fierce. And a small tiger face (from the cartoon Pogo) was added to the tail.
One of the most amusing scenes was the actual competition scene. The pilots sit on a bench like a football team in full flight gear of course. Gabby is the Coach, and he keeps sending his Tigers into 'the game', only to have them miss the target every time. And each time the eager beaver pilot, played by Bud Sherman, jumps up and begs the coach to "Put me in Coach!" To which Gabby replies - "Get back on the bench rookie." Finally the new kid is all that's left Coach tells him to get in the game. He dons his coonskin cap, jumps in the nearest airplane (Gabby's personal aircraft "THE BIG WHEEL") and taxis for takeoff - minus the entire aft section. Finally taking off, he finds the target, calmly raises the canopy inflight, pulls out a Kentucky long rifle, and nails the target OUR HERO! It's a very funny scene.
North American printed and re-printed the film, Everyone in the Air Force seemed to want a copy. And the Geiger Tigers were famous. Oh yes, even with all the movie nonsense going on, the squadron still won their competition. The Tigers converted to Convair F102s in 1957, leaving their beloved Sabre Dogs behind. But they would always remain THE GEIGER TIGERS.
THIS ARTICLE IS DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF
COLONEL GARTH "GABBY" REYNOLDS,
WHO MADE HIS LAST FLIGHT ON 25 NOVEMBER 1996.
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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