F-86H Called Up During
Vietnam War!

by Ron Lang

The year 1968 was one of the most memorable in the history of the United States. On the 30th of January 1968, the North Vietnamese and Viet Gong launched the infamous Tet Offensive, effectively canceling all chances for a peaceful settlement of the war. President Lyndon ]Johnson stepped out of the Presidential picture, setting the stage for the victory by Richard Nixon in November.

But the problems actually began before the Tet attacks. On 23 January 1968, North Korean Navy torpedo boats captured the US Navy intelligence vessel USS Pueblo, along with its entire crew. forcing the Pueblo to Wonsan harbor. These actions by the North Korean government, might have been the beginning of a second Korean War. President Johnson reacted the following day, by activating a large number of Air National Guard squadrons into federal service.

With tensions still running high in the Spring of 1968, several more ANG squadrons were called up, including the 104th TFS, Maryland ANG, and the 138th TFS, New York ANG - both were equipped with F-86H Sabres. It wasn't the first time the 138th had been activated during a world crisis. "The Boys From Syracuse" were called to active duty during the Berlin Crisis of 1961, deploying to Phalsbourg AB, France on 1 October 1961, with a fighter-bomber mission. They remained at Phalsbourg until 20 August 1962 when they were returned to state control.

But this time, they would not be serving in the front lines of the actual war, be it hot or cold. On 13 May 1968, both the 104th (Maryland) and 138th (New York) were called to active duty. Both squadrons were deployed to Cannon AFB, New Mexico, home of the 27th TFW, one of the last F-I 00 equipped wings in the US Air Force.

The mission of both squadrons while at Cannon, was operation of a Forward Air Control and Air Liaison Officer Tactical Training Wing school. The purpose of our units was to take crew conversion people (i.e. B-47, 13-52, C-130, crews) and give them 30-some check rides in the T-33, then 30 rides in the F-86H. 'Thus they earned "entry level fighter pilot AFSC', and could go to Vietnam as Forward Air Controllers for the Misty FAG program. But the Inspector General of the Air Force didn't think too much of the program and it was canceled after 6 months.

The bulk of us '86 drivers were then slated to go to George AFB to be checked out in the front seat of the F-4 before going to Vietnam, But Air Force changed their minds again and we all stayed at Cannon, which meant that the instructor pilots now outnumbered the students 3-1. It then became a 'make work' operation, and we were handed all types of small jobs around the country.

One of the fun jobs was that of tow target aircraft for the F-4s out of George AFB. The Air Force was just getting the F-4E with the internal 2Omm Gatling gun. After a couple of rides, the George students got pretty sharp with the Gatling Gun and would shoot the dart off the tow line. You have plenty of fuel and aggressiveness left. Now what do you do?

Well it's 4 to 1 in favor of the F-4s, and it would soon be time for a little extra curricular activity, i.e. a 'rat race' - and I was the target! A couple of the students tried to turn with me and lost big time. Soon I was camped at their 6 o'clock with the pipper on the F-4 in perfect textbook sight picture.

One of my favorite memories regards a 'Major Dudley'. I'd been towing the dart and no one had hit it. Procedure was for the tow pilot to bring the dart over the air-ground range at about 100' AGL The Range Officer would call to 'Cut cable now!', and the dart would crash on the desert floor, where the weapons people would retrieve it and salvage any parts they could.

This time, Major Dudley was flying with me in an F-4. He was a nice guy, who had gotten a MiG in Vietnam, and who just loved to needle the single-seat types about how nice the F-4 was, since you could shut one engine down and still get home on the other one.

As we came across the range, the Range Officer called for me to cut the cable. I did, and immediately started a high G barrel roll, coming up very' quickly on Major Dudley's 6 o'clock. Now Mama Dudley didn't raise no dummies, and as soon as he realized the position I was in, he popped that F-4 into 'burner and was gone. My radar sight was unwinding at one heIIuva rate and I never did catch him.

I sure wish I'd had some film in the gun camera that day. A 20x24 blowup of my pipper right on that F-4 tailpipe would have made for one great present at the going away party.

Both squadrons returned to state control on 20 December 1968. In 1970, both squadrons transitioned to a new aircraft the Cessna A-37B. The 104th (MD) made the transition on 2 April 1970. The 138th (NY) was the last F-86 unit in Guard, converting to the A-37 in late Summer 1970.

The F-86H - "Last Of The Sport Jobs" - had finally been retired from the Air Force inventory.


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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