My brother sent this to me; It's an interesting read:
Subject: USAF General Tony McPeak On ' Jerking The Wings Off ' An F-100 Over ...
Del Rio could be the movie set of a West Texas border town. It's windy, and the weather tends toward seasonal extremes. A large U.S. Air Force Base 6 miles east of town is named after Jack T. Laughlin, a B-17 pilot and Del Rio native killed over Java within a few weeks of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Our Thunderbird's Team flies into Laughlin on Oct. 20, 1967, for an air show the next day, honoring 60 or so lieutenants graduating from pilot training.
We go through the standard pre-show routine. Lead and 5 do their show-line survey routine, while the rest of us walk the rounds of hospital and school visits and give interviews. Next day, proud parents watch as new pilots pin on wings.
At noon, we brief at Base Ops. As usual, an "inspection team" comprising base and local dignitaries joins us for a photo session before we step to the jets. The filmBandolero ! is in production near the base, and its stars, Jimmy Stewart and Raquel Welch, show up in the inspection team. Jimmy Stewart is a USAF Reserve brigadier general, a founder of the Air Force Association and a big hero to all of us. Raquel Welch is . . . well, she's Raquel Welch.
We're wearing white airshow suits, my least-favorite outfit. Lead can choose from among gray, blue, black or white. But today, we look like Good Humor men. Plus, I work hard during the demonstration and sweat deep soaks my collar. This wouldn't matter much, except we do a lot of taxiing in-trail. And with only 6 ft. between the end of my pitot boom and No. 5's afterburner, I take a load of engine exhaust in my cockpit. Soot clings to the dampness, leaving a noticeable " soiled ring around the collar " when I wear white.
At Del Rio, I follow my usual routine and Iroll the collar under once we have taxied away from the crowd. After the show, I'll roll it back out again, the chimney-black dirt still there, but now underneath, out of sight.
We taxi short of the active runway for a " quick check " pre-takeoff inspection by a couple of our maintenance troops. As No. 6, I'm flying my soon to be memory acid-etched F-100 D . . # 55-3520.
We take the runway, the four-aircraft Diamond in fingertip and Bobby Beckel and I in Element . . 500 feet back. The Diamond releases brakes at precisely 1430. Bobby and I run up engines, my stomach tightening against the surge of singular isolation. And thrill that comes before every air show takeoff.
By this time in the season, the Thunderbirds' Team is really ' clicking along.'
We have a lot of shows under our belt. And know what we are doing.
Twenty-one minutes into the event, it's going well--a nice cadence
We approach the climax, the signature Bomb Burst. My job is to put "pigtails" through the separating formation, doing elevator-unloaded, Max-rate vertical rolls.
The vertical rolls require establishing a perfect up-line. And more than a few also requires beginning the rolls with a ton of air-peed at entry. I grab for altitude to swap it for the needed airspeed as the Diamond pirouettes into their entry for the Bomb Burst. And at just the right moment, dive after them, hiding behind their smoke trail.
The steep dive builds airspeed quickly using AB [ afterburner.]
The Thunderbirds had switched to the F-100, making us the world's first supersonic flying team. I have to be mind-ful of a hard-and-fast rule :
DO NOT GO SUPER-SONIC DURING THE AIRSHOW.
No booming the crowd. So, I want to be subsonic. But just barely. Let's say . .
The biggest mistake I can make is to be early in the maneuver. The Diamond is about to break in all four directions, so if I get there too soon, I don't have an exit strategy. Today, my timing looks good, so I light the ' burner and start a pull into the vertical. We don't have a solo pilot's handbook on board. But if we did, the handbook would say this maneuver at this high speed would be allowed a 6.5 G pull.
If I get it right, I'll hit the apex of the Bomb Burst 5 seconds after the Diamond separates, snap the throttle out of ' burner ' to get the smoke going, be perfectly vertical. And very fast. As the Diamond pilots track away from one another to the four points of the compass, I'll put on those lazy, lovely pigtails.
Then I'll click the smoke off and figure out how to do a slow-speed vertical recovery.
But at Del Rio, it doesn't turn out okay. I start the aggressive pull into the vertical.
The aircraft explodes.
Now F-100 pilots are accustomed to loud noises. Even in the best of circumstances, the afterburner can ' bang ' pretty hard when it lights up. It's also fairly common for the engine compressor to stall, sometimes forcing a violent cough of rejected air back up the intake. Flame belches out the oval nose--which will definitely wake you up at night--and the shock can kick your feet off the rudder pedals.
Any F-100 pilot who feels/hears a loud " BANG ! " he automatically thinks : "compressor stall." And he unloads the elevator to get air traveling down its intake in the right direction.
So, instinctively, the explosion causes me to relax stick-pressure to unload the airplane's centrifugal G load. But now. I'm fully into one of those fast-forward mental exercises where seasons compress into seconds, the leaves changing color while you watch. I move the stick forward fairly lethargically, even having time to consider :
" That's NO COMPRESSOR STALL ! ! "
In retrospect, the airplane had already unloaded by itself . . making my remedy superfluous.
But there was some pilot lore at work here :
No matter what else happens . . fly the airplane.
Forget all that stuff about lift and drag and thrust and gravity, just fly the damn airplane until the last piece stops moving.
Good old F-100 # 55-3520 has quit flying.
But I have not.
And now there's fire. Flames fill the cockpit. I have to eject. I grab the seat handles and tug them up, firing the canopy and exposing ejection triggers on each side of the handles. I yank the seat triggers and immediately feel catapulted into the slipstream.
Seat separation is automatic. Too fast to track, the ejection seat is disappearing as I curl into a semi-fetal posture to absorb the parachute's opening shock. Jump school helps here . . congratulate myself on body position.
Then the chute snaps open. Much too quickly. Jolting me back to real time and short-circuiting the transition from stark terror to giddy elation, the evil Siamese twins of parachute jumping.
My helmet is missing. Where did it go? I look up and see a couple of chute panels are torn, several shroud lines broken, and there's one large rip in the crown of the canopy.
I'll come down a bit quicker than necessary . . but there's not much altitude left anyway.
Going to land in the infield, near show-center. Have to figure out the wind, get the chute collapsed fast so as not to be dragged. Heck ! I'm on the ground and being dragged already. Get the damn chute collapsed ! Finally, I stand up, thinking I'm in one piece. And here comes a blue van with some of our guys in it.
Then it begins to sink in. In 14 years and 1,000-plus air shows, the Thunderbirds team has been ' clever ' enough to do all its metal-bending in training . . out of sight. This is our first accident in front of a crowd. And that dubious honor is mine.
I gather my gear and climb into the van. Somebody wants to take me immediately to the base hospital, but I say : " I don't want to do that right now. Let's go over and tell the ground crew I'm OK."
So we stop, I get out of the van, shake hands, toss the crew chiefs an insincere thumbs-up.
Jimmy Stewart is still there and comes over to say nice things, but Raquel hasn't stayed for the show, so no air-kiss. I'd given our narrator, Mike Miller, some ad-libbing lines to do in the middle of his presentation, and he stops to say maybe we should leave " that thing . . what ever it was," out of the next show sequence.
That's when I learn that I'd jerked its wings off.
On most modern fighters, the wings are well behind the pilot. You can see them in the rear view mirror or if you look back, but otherwise they're not in your field of view.
Of course, I had been watching the Diamond, ahead and well above me. I hadn't seen the wings come off.
All I knew was . . it blew up.
The F-100 has a large fuel tank in its fuselage, on top of the wing center section and forward of the engine. When the wings folded, a large quantity of raw fuel from that tank dumped into the engine. Then exploded.
The shock wave from the blast propagated up the air intake and blew the Super-Sabre's nose off, along with the first [ 6 ] six feet of the airplane. The jet's badly-twisted after-fuselage liberated its drag chute. And as it separately fluttered down. some of the awed crowd thought I was inside the fluttering wreckage.
After exploding, the engine instantly shot flames through the cockpit-pressurization lines. Conditioned air enters the cockpit at the pilot's feet and also behind his head. My flying boots, ordinarily pretty shiny for an ROTC grad, were charred beyond repair. I never wore them again. Where I had rolled my collar underneath to protect the white show-suit appearance, my neck got toasted.
I have no idea how fast I was traveling at ejection. I was barely subsonic when the wings failed. But with the nose blown off, the F-100 is a fairly blunt object and would have slowed quickly. On the other hand, I remained with the aircraft no more than a second or two after it exploded. So there wasn't time to deceler-ate much.
When I came out of the jet, the near sonic wind blast caught my helmet, rotated it 90 degrees and ripped it off my head. It was found on the ground with the visor down, oxygen mask still hooked up and chin strap still fastened. As the helmet rotated, the helmet's neck protector scuffed my burned neck causing some bleeding. [ Hmmmm . . no sharks to be concerned about.]
The Team keeps a zero-delay parachute lanyard hooked up during the air show, giving us the quickest possible chute deployment. That explained why my chute opened fast--too fast, as it turned out.
I didn't get enough separation from the seat, which somehow contacted my parachute canopy, causing the large tear. The immediate, high-speed opening was certainly harsher than normal, and as my torso whipped around to align with the chute risers, the heavy straps did further damage to the back of my neck, the body part apparently singled out for retribution.
Walking into the base hospital, I'm startled by my image in a full-length mirror. Above, a sign says : " Check Your Military Appearance."
Mine looks like I've crawled into a burlap bag with a mountain lion. The white show suit is a goner, the cockpit fire having given it a base-coat of charcoal gray accented by blood . . with a final dressing of dirt, grass and sagebrush. Being dragged along the ground accounts for the camouflage. However, I hadn't realized my neck was bleeding so much. I look like the main course in a slasher movie --' The Solo Pilot From Hell.'
They keep me overnight in the hospital.. The Team visits me, and Mike Miller smuggles in a dry martini in a half-pint milk carton. Everybody's leaving for Nellis AFB the next morning. I tell the hospital staff I'm heading out, too. And ask our slotman, Jack Dickey, to pack my stuff at our motel. The 1967 show season is over.
After I jumped out, the F-100 continued on a ballistic trajectory, scattering parts and equipment. Most of the engine and the main fuselage section impacted
about 2 miles ' downrange ' from my initial pull-up spot.
All the bits and pieces landed on government soil, and there was no injury or property damage.
My aircraft was destroyed--I signed a hand-receipt for $696,989.
But if there is a good kind of accident, this was it. Nobody was hurt, and all the scrap metal was collected for post-game analysis.
The F-100 Super Sabre's wings mate into a box at the center of its fuselage . . the strongest part of the airplane. When my aircraft's wing center box was inspected, the box was found to have failed.
North American Rockwell, the manufacturer, tested the box on a bend-and-stretch machine, and a section off the assembly line broke once again under at an equivalent load of 6.5 G for the wing loading I was experiencing when the wings departed.
It shouldn't have happened, since the F-100's positive load limit is 7.33 G, but my F-100's wing center box broke along a fatigue crack. . and there were about 30 more fatigue cracks in the vicinity.
Some then-recent F-100 losses in Vietnam looked suspiciously similar. The recovery from a dive-bomb pass is a lot like my high-speed, high-G pull-up into the Bomb Burst. In the Vietnam accidents, the pieces had not been recovered, and the aircraft were written off as combat losses.
Later, specialists discovered considerable fatigue damage in the wing center boxes of other Thunderbird aircraft. USAF immediately put a 4 G limit on the F-100 and initiated a program to run all the aircraft through depot modification to beef up the wing center box. My accident almost certainly saved lives by revealing a serious problem in the F-100 fleet.
Merrill A. (Tony) McPeak
Note : USAF General Merrill A.McPeak flew F-100, F-104, F-4, F-111, F-15 and F-16 fighters, participated in nearly 200 air shows as a solo pilot for the Thunderbirds and flew 269 combat missions in Vietnam as an attack pilot and as a high-speed forward air controller (FAC).
He commanded the Misty FACs, 20th Fighter Wing, Twelfth Air Force and Pacific Air Command, and completed his career as the 14th USAF Chief of Staff.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Merri ... photo.JPEG
Source : Abridged from Aviation Week & Space Technology : Contrails