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How 58-0761 Caught Fire and Ended Up on the USAF Academy Lawn By Lonnie Berry 7 Jan 2000 Once upon a time (1962) in a land far away (Selfridge AFB Michigan) I was a mechanic assigned to the 1st Organizational Maintenance Squadron, 1st Fighter Wing, ADC. I had not yet aspired to the glorious and coveted position of “Crew Chief”. We maintained the Convair F-106 aircraft of the 71st FIS and 94th FIS. Much of my time was spent as the alternate man at the alert barns where ten uploaded birds sat “Hot Cocked and Locked” waiting for the scramble order to attack the Russian nuclear armed bombers, that never came…Thank God. I therefore was privy to information of the events leading to the F-106A, tail number 58-0761 ultimately being placed on a hard stand at the Air Force Academy, and an empty place along the row of hangers that exist to this day. There were two pilots that almost always had a wager between them, on most any occasion when they would be flying a mission together, as to who was better at some selected piloting skill. One was assigned to the 71st Squadron and one to the 94th Squadron. Each of these pilots, both Captains, had a unique charismatic quality that endeared them to the crew chiefs. Even after all these years, I will exclude all names to protect the guilty. On this occasion, each of these pilots was assigned birds at the alert barns, which were downloaded and flown off by their respective pilots. It was known by the crew chiefs that a wager had been made between the two pilots as to who could get stopped on the runway in the shortest distance. And so, the mission was flown and the 71st pilot made a remarkably good landing and was almost sure to collect the bet. Now, this was in the early days of deployment of the F-106, and the tail hook was unguarded when in the up position. The F-106 in the landing configuration is very nose high with the pilot sitting right over the nose wheel. The tail hook was intended to be put down in the event an aircraft was about to otherwise over shoot the end of runway, and would then engage the barrier wire at the far end of each runway. This barrier is held about six inches off the runway by large rubber donuts. Got the picture? The 94th pilot touched down, nose high in the approach apron, but before the beginning of the runway (short) and when the main gear rolled over the barrier, it bounced up and engaged the tail hook, which was still in the up position. This event had never happened before, that I know of, but was later called an approach end engagement, and very similar to a carrier landing. Needless to say, the aircraft stopped in a much shorter distance than the rival bird and the 94th Capt. won the bet. The aircraft was thoroughly inspected and no damage was found. Subsequent to this incident, a tail hook modification was hurriedly designed to install a guard over the tail hook so this could not happen again. (In Jan 1963) this modification was about to be installed by three mechanics on an aircraft that had just been downloaded at alert and towed back to the flight line and placed into the hanger that is now a vacant area between hanger 2 and 4. Two airmen at the rear of the aircraft put a speed handle through the tail hook while another airman was instructed to go push the button in the cockpit to release the tail hook. There are two buttons on the left side of the panel in the cockpit that are hot off the battery all the time. One is the tail hook release; the other is the drop tank release. Unbeknownst to the airmen, the sheer pins in the drop tanks had not been replaced with steel safety pins. Nor had the electrical fuses in the wheel well, that drop the tanks with an explosive charge, been reversed. Can you guess which button the airman pushed? The tanks punched off and ignited. All three airmen scrambled to safety but the aircraft burned to nothing but a pile of aluminum oxide with an engine sitting in the middle. The aircraft sitting next to it, 58-0761 suffered heat warpage and was later transported to its hard stand at the Air Force Academy. AFTERMATH: A number of airmen and enlisted staff were investigated and court-martialed but no one was ever convicted of any wrongdoing. The airman who actually pushed the wrong button made his next stripe right on time. Some time later, the next year I believe, the commander of the 94th FIS, Lt. Col. Cross blew a tire on take off and while he flew around burning off fuel it was decided to reenact this earlier approach end engagement except that it would be done intentionally with the hook down, and at a lower nose angle, and with the full fire rescue Brigade out in force. The engagement went without incident and the life of a man who was held in highest esteem by every flight line mechanic/crew chief, was spared to continue to command his squadron: The Fighting 94th. This same squadron as you well know was much earlier commanded by Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker in WW I when it was 94th Pursuit Squadron of the first pursuit group… “AND THAT IS THE REST OF THE STORY”

580761 Catches Fire End Up on USAF Academy Lawn by Lonnie Berry  
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