Cross Country With "GB"
by James "Skinny" McLennan
We launched from Syracuse as a flight of two F-86Hs, bound for Willy Patch (Williams AFB, AZ) near Phoenix, "Garbage Belly" Miller in the lead. We scheduled a refueling stop at Scott AFB. But on arrival at Scott, we were informed the field was closed to jet traffic due to repairs on the long runway. "GB" informed the tower that we'd take the short runway and land anyway. And that's exactly what we did!
In Base Ops we ran into our second obstacle, the Airdrome Officer, who calmly informed us that we were going nowhere. "The base is clased to jet traffic!" But "GB" looked him right in the eye and said, "We're in the Guard! But you can watch us take off!" The stunned Airdrome Officer did as "GB" said - he watched.
Our climb to 41,000 feet, our best cross-sountry cruise altitude, took about 20 minutes. At this altitude, we indicated 240 KTh, which gave us a 470 KT TAS. With 200 gallon drop tanks, maximum range was about 1,000 miles. But we seldom planned more than 800 depending on the winds.The time enroute was usually an hour and a half to two hours. Anything more and we really started sweating fuel. We navigated between radio beacons using the ADF, which was less reliable if their were any thunderhoomers about. At each fix, we gave a radio position report which included an estimate of our arrival at the next 'fix'. It was all done in our head. We had no calculators, computers, or even an autopilot to w e could use a pencil and paper. In '61 it got a lot easier. We had TACAN installed, which was more reliable and gave us both distance and heading to or from the station.
So there we were, at 41,000 feet, above an overcast, with about 30 minutes of fuel left. "GB" called Oklahoma City Control to tell them "We haven't enough gas to get to Willy." He took their suggestion to go to Altus AFB, which wasn't too far away. Switching to Altus Approach Control, they informed us that the weather was very bad. They were recovering several B~47s and we would have to hold at the fix for an hour before they would clear us for the approach. "GB" calmly tells them "No problem."
Now I'm really confused. How can we hold for one hour with less than 30 minutes of gas? As we hit the 'fix', "GB" called Approach Control and announces that we will cancel the IFR and let down VFR. We roll upside down into a split S, change to tower frequency, plunge straight down into the soup for our 'VFR descent'.
With the altimeter unwinding at breakneck speed, I feel my G suit inflate as "GB" starts his pull-out. I'm hanging on for dear life! Rain is pelting the canopy as we break out at 500 feet, moving at over 575 KTS. One mile from the end of the runway, "GB" calls "Two Sabres in the break for full stop landings!" And the tower calmly responded "Cleared to land." That night at the OClub bar, "GB" told World War 2 Mustang stories til they closed. And you know what? I believed all of them!
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