Memories of Great Fighter Pilots


His Last Flight

As with most great men and women of history, stories abound which shed light on the source of their greatness. With this in mind, SabreJet Classics presents another in a series of anecdotes received from you our members. Brig. Gen. Lon Walter, USAF (Ret), of Austin. TX, tells the following story. We invite other members to send their memories of the great ones they have known.
The subjects of the first two stories in this series were great fighter pilots who also happened to be famous. This is a story about a great fighter pilot who I believe would have become famous but ... read on.

Tom Davis and I reported to the 335th Squadron, 4th Wing, at Andrews AFB in the Summer of 1950, part of a contingent of second lieutenants ('slick winged second balloons') who were fresh out of flying school who were priviledged to fly the Air Force's newest fighter, the F-86 Sabre. Tom quickly established himself as a bright, friendly, and eager fighter pilot. The more experienced pilots sought him out as a wing man. He never disappointed them.

Early in the Fall, the Fourth and its new Sabres, were ordered to Korea to counter the MiG-15, which was having its way with slower American aircraft. The young second lieutenants had about 75 hours of experience in the F-86.The remainder of their training would be conducted in the crucible of combat.

Tom Davis continued his progress, and became one of the best wing men in the outfit. He learned his trade well, even downing a MiG while flying with Ralph D. "Hoot" Gibson, who later became an ace. When Tom finished his tour, he returned to the Air Defense Command at Griffiss AFB, NY, then went to Tyndall APB, FL in 1954, to fly the F-86D. It was there that he achieved greatness.

On a dark night in December 1954, Tom was over the Gulf of Mexico in an F-86D when his cockpit lighted up with the red glow of fire warning lights. Smoke and a loss of power confirmed that this was much more than a malfunctioning warning circuit. Suddenly he had only one option. After making the "Mayday!" call, he initiated the ejection sequence.

Night is NOT the preferred time for a fighter pilot to find himself alone, in a parachute, and descending into a large body of water. But Tom Davis, as he had so often in the past, was up to the task. Although he had a terrific headache, he oriented himself enough to decide that he could paddle to land if he could get rid of his chute once he hit the water; then inflate his dinghy and board it.

Again he performed flawlessly, and eventually reached a beach in northwest Florida near Appalachicola Point. Alone, having survived an ejection and water landing, and now dog-tired, Tom shouted for help, set out his emergency flares, then walked up and down the beach trying to locate someone who could help him notify his unit that he was OK. Finally, and with his head still aching, he decided to wait until daylight for the search who would surely find him.

The dinghy looked like as good a bed as he had available, and he decided to lay down with his head on the inflated side of the raft. When he did so, the fractured spine!! he had unknowingly suffered during the ejection, and the cause of his headache, shifted just enough to sever his spinal cord. He died instantly and painlessly, and was found the next day by searchers.

Much of what I have written was deduced from his footsteps on the beach, the flares, and other indications of his last heroic moments. Tom Davis was a fighter to the end. On his last flight, he conducted himself with greatness and courage, just as he had done in every severe test of his young life. He was a GREAT fighter pilot

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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