The morning of May 29, 1957, started out as many other days in Los Angeles. The sky was clear, the sun was bright, and a gentle west wind came in from the ocean. A good day for flying out of the Los Angeles Airport. It was the end of the month, and there were aircraft production schedules to be met (40+ F-86s and 20+ F-l00s). A lot of flying as North American prided itself in meeting a schedule.
As I changed into my flight gear, several other pilots entered the locker room ready to go to work. I walked up the stairs of the line shack and checked in with the flight dispatcher, Bob Gallahew. I walked past Jack Bryant's office, Chief Test Pilot, and he was already shuffling papers and putting them in his personal file a stack of papers already a foot high on the desk.
Bob asked if I would fly the first target flight, and I readily agreed. It was an F-86H-10. The 'H' was my favorite '86 type. With 8900 lbs of thrust and 20,000 lb takeoff weight, the 'H' would get to 40,000' as quick as a 'D' model in afterburner. It had a pronounced drag rise, and if you kept the nose down at altitude, you could get on the back side of the drag curve, reduce power to 92%, and still maintain .92 Mach.
Brian Lauffer, personal equipment specialist, drove me down to the flight line at the southwest end of Los Angeles Airport. We passed several rows of F-86s and F-l00s, even a couple of B-45s - all ready for flight. The BAS was a true 'fighter pilots bomber' You sat in a cockpit by yourself, and it had a control 'stick'. It was a great flying machine. But when you were light and made a quick let down, it didn't want to slow down enough to put the gear down - no speed brakes! A smartly executed 4G turn solved the problem (A fighter pilot solution.)
Frank Maple, production foreman, met me by the 'H', which was parked and already hooked up to the APU. A quick preflight and into the cockpit. Starting an 'H' was always interesting. With variable-inlet guide vanes, the compressor loaded up as the RPM increased, sounding like marbles rattling in a tin can. It always got your attention in the traffic pattern as you pulled off the throttle to reduce speed, about 75-77% RPM.
I was soon heading down the runway, lifting the nose, and I was airborne. Gear and flaps up. The speed increased rapidly to the desired mach number. Within minutes I was at 40,000. Dropping the nose, I got on the back side of the drag curve, dropped down to 35,000 and set up a target course. At 92%, the airspeed indicated about 260Km, about .9lMach. I flipped the ARC-27 to company frequency, stating I was ready for company. The speed was ideal to check out the EA fire control on the F-86D. Within minutes, the 86D pilots started their intercepts. The EA computer needed .80+Mach to check the system. With me at .91 and the 86Ds coming in at .8+, the situation was ideal.
I soon started getting calls from Joe Kinkella, Harry Hoch, Bill Yoakley, and Pete Kennedy as they made passes from alternate sides at 30 second intervals. As they completed their checks, other pilots would join in. It was always a heads-up situation as the E-4 was set to miss a collision by 200', when working properly.
Sitting at altitude with little to do between runs, it was a challenge to see what you could coax out of the J73, RPM versus fuel flow, without losing altitude. At 1200 lbs, and with no more intercepts, a split 'S' was the way to depart the area. The 'H' easily slipped through the Mach, with only an occasidnal slight rudder buzz at about .98.
Off the coast of Catalina Island, I saw an F-100 at high 'Q' on the deck, setting up for an 'auto labs' check. The procedure was 550KTS, hit the auto-pilot, stabilize the reference gyro, and push the auto-labs button. The F-100 would make a rapid 4G pull-up to the 120° point, release the weapon, and continue over the top inverted. Rolling out, you headed away at 180° from entry right sporty in those days!
The old 'H', at less than 20,000 lbs and with 8900 lbs of thrust, could build up a 'Q' that was quite respectable. Back in 1954, Gus Sonnenberg had set a speed record at the National Air Races of 692 mph.
I hit the shoreline at 250KTS and 2500', and entered the downwind leg. Traffic at LA could be a three ring circus with North American, Douglas, and civilian aircraft all in the pattern. North American pilots used 250 KTS and 2500', to have 'dead engine speed' over the populated areas and still make the runway in an F- 100. Douglas pilots used 160 KTS and 1500', flying the typical Navy 'power-on' approach. It was indeed, a dual traffic approach.
On the down-wind leg, I saw an F-100 inside the inner marker at about 180 KTS, with an F4D Skyray on cross wind in the normal nose-high attitude and engine smoking. The F-100 released his chute, and taxijed in as the F4D touched down, made a short rollout, and pulled into the Douglas flight line. I had a clear runway, touched down, pulled into the North American area and parked the 'H'.
My next two flights were in an F-86D and an F-86L. The 'L' was a D model with SAGE equipment and an extended wing. It was my turn to hit the target. It took about 45 minutes to get to 45,000', check out the EA, and complete the flight test profile. The 'D' checked out fairly well, but needed a re-flight. The 'L' had an erratic steering dot, so the E-4 fire control needed a complete recheck.
Time for lunch, then back into the air. This time in an F-86F-40, a real fun machine to fly. The old adage of kick the tire, strap it on, light the fire and go, was certainly true of this beautiful flying machine. The flight was uneventful, relaxing, and fun. Up to 45,000', split 'S' and feel the slight roll off to the right as you passed through the Mach and then back out back into the traffic pattern and land 45 minutes later. No squawks, a one flight acceptance.
During lunch I had noticed an Air Guard 'A' model on the hoard. I told Galloway I wanted to fly it. The pilots didn't fight over flying an 'A'. But I had always wanted to fly an 'A' back to back with an 'F' for comparison.
I had flown the 'A' in the Air Force as my check ride in the Sabre. In the check ride, l was sitting at 35,000', fat, dumb and happy, and made the mistake of attempting a hard turn without 'unlocking' the slats. As advertised, it snapped right smartly over the top, and entered a slow spin to the right. Again, as advertised, releasing the controls allowed it to wallow a bit, staying nose down in a right turn. Message here - don't attempt a shudder turn without unlocking the slats!
After the 'F' flight, I called dispatch and headed for the 'A'. Preflight took a little longer but then I was in the cockpit. It did seem a bit smaller than the 'D' or 'H', and it took some time to check out the cockpit. It was strange to see the old 'inverter out' lights, the ARC-33 UHF, and the old A-1CM gun sight with manual ranging on the throttle. It was a good memory test. I was finally ready to hit the master switch, battery switch, advance the throttle slowly after the ignition switch and watch that old J47-GE-13 come to life. It was soon purring like a kitten. I pulled the seat pins and taxied out for take~fi.
The nose lifted off after using more runway than I had ever used at LA. Finally I was airborne. With a thrust/weight ratio of .67 with 2 120 gallon tanks, It certainly was no 'H'. As the speed built, the flight control forces increased rapidly (strange feeling using 15-20 pound forces to control an F-86). Even with a mechanical advantage of 174, it kept your attention. At 350 KTS indicated, I started my climb.
During the climb I remembered that we used to 'tweak the tailpipes' by making little mouse bumps to get a little more TPT. I finally got to 35,000 and was indicating about .7 mach at 190 indicated. As the speed decayed I unlocked the slats and started maneuvering. A true appreciation of the '6-3' slats on the F' and you really wanted the hydraulic flight controls as the stick was mushy and all over the cockpit. Yes indeed, the Sabre had obtained dramatic engineering changes for the better.
It was during this flight that I realized I had flown a different model Sabre on each of my five flights. The thought occured to me, 'Why not get a 'K' for the next flight?' They were usually scheduled for later in the day as they didn't require a target. I concluded my 'A' flight, which would require a re-flight. The flaps needed a change in rigging as it wanted to roll off to the left as speed increased.
I called dispatch, and indeed, there was a 'K' on the board. We were on Daylight Savings Time, and the sun was still well above the horizon. The 'K' had a North American designed MG-4 fire control system. It connected the Hughes radar to four M-24A 20mm cannons. The system was developed for MDAP-NATO countries not cleared for the EA FCS with the tunable magnatrone in the F-86D. Art Debolt, a North American pilot and liason between North American, DoD, and Fiat in Italy, was the man who pushed the program.
The 'K' flight was uneventful. It was a good clean bird with only minor discrepancies. I landed and taxied back to the flight line, then headed for the flight shack to close out my day. After closing out my day with the dispatcher, I remembered a conversation with Silky Morris, Chief Test Pilot of Autonetics flight facility. Silky had stated he was going to take their flight test Sabre up to Palmdale in a few days. Yes, It was an F-86E.
I talked to Silky and told him I had just flown six of the seven series of F-86s. If he would let me take his 'E' up to Palmdale. I would be 'seven for seven.' He thought it was a reasonable request as it saved him from dispatching one of his pilots for such a mundane task. He told the flight crew to get the 'E' ready. I jumped in the cockpit, and in 30 minutes I was in Palmdaie - "Seven For Seven". It had made my day. The 'seven for seven' flights received little attention, not even in the North American newspaper. After all, they were just F-86s and it was F-100 supersonic time.
The next day, May 30th, 1957, the sky was clear, sun was bright, a gentle breeze from the ocean - a good day for flying. I headed for my first flight of the day, an F-100D. Things were back to normal. As I taxied out and passed the line of F-86s, I realized the F-86, like the P-51, was probably the last of the 'strap-on' fighters. Supersonic technology had passed them by. It was time to go to work and get some of that supersonic flight time.
Several years passed by. I was in Bob Hoover's office one day. He was Director of Customer Relations. We had been discussing the F-86 that had recently flown through an ice cream parlor. In the discussions, I mentioned the 'seven for seven' flights. Bob thought it was quite unique. The conversation ended and I went back to work.
Two weeks later I was called back to Bob's office. This was unusual since Bob had an open-door policy. I arrived on time, but Bob was talking to Bill Bergen, Aerospace Group President. I naturally sat down and cooled my heels. Bob looked out and asked me to come in. Mr. Bergen presented me with a plaque. It read;
"A TEST PILOT'S DAY"
On May 29 1957
George Kinnison - A Test Pilot At
The Los Angeles Division, Flew All
Seven Models Of The F-86 Sabre.
The significance of that day had not been totally forgotten.
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