AIRPLANES AND ME By John Tezak F-106 Convair Tech Rep (Created 1 Nov 2014)
Many people have accused me of having Mil-H-5606 (Aircraft Hydraulic Fluid) running through my veins. I checked my old military dog tags and B+ is stamped on them. Both are red in color. I guess my career and love for airplanes started in 1938. I was five years old and had my first airplane ride at the Gunnison County Fair. I flew with my Grandmother Kochevar. It was also her first airplane ride. We flew in a Ford Tri-Motor. In the early forties, everyone knew about airplanes. We were in a big war. There was a bomber training base in my home town and several bases in the near-by cities. Everyone lived with the drum of big engines overhead. It was referred to as, “The Sound of Freedom”. I built model airplanes of balsa and paper. I had a model of every airplane in the war; all U.S., friends, and even our enemies. Air shows were everywhere and I tried not to miss any of them. My second airplane ride was in 1953 as an ROTC cadet. We flew in a C-45 to a pilot training base in San Angelo, Texas. There, I flew in the back seat of a T-6 Texan. The pilot turned the stick over to me for a short period of time. During ROTC Summer Camp in Spokane, Washington, two years later, I was selected Cadet of the Week. I was able to fly in a RB-36. The RB had a split tunnel with a large camera room between tunnels. The gun turrets were all cameras. We were all over the airplane and all had a chance of flying the big monster. We were airborne for several hours. During the summer camp, several of us cadets were selected to go to Eglin AFB to watch the Air Power Demonstration. I flew down to Eglin AFB in a C-47 and returned two days later in a C- 46. I received my Air Force Commission to 2nd Lt. and went to Flight Training at Marana, Arizona. At Marana I flew T-34 and T-28 aircraft. I ended up in the 343rd fighter wing in Duluth, Minn. I was the Armament Officer for the 11th FIS. We had F-89, and later, F-102 Aircraft. With the Korean War now over, there was an abundance of military officers. I had a choice of becoming a Regular Officer or staying a Reserve Officer and accept an early out. Having a promise of a job with Convair Aircraft Company, I accepted an early discharge and was released two months before my three year commitment. I remained in the reserves and was later promoted to Captain.
I went to work at Convair in March of 1958 and started classroom training on the new F-106 Aircraft. One of my highlights while in training was seeing Howard Hughes on the flight line. Hughes had purchased sixty-three new Convair 880 Airliners. After training in San Diego, we moved to Edwards AFB where I was assigned to the F-106 engine test bed aircraft at the P&W facility. When the Air Force received their first F- 106, I was assigned to the Air Force Joint Test Program. This was an exciting program and every well-known pilot came to fly the new F-106. Some notables were Richard (Dick) Johnson, Convair Chief Test Pilot, General Charles (Chuck) Yeager, and Col. Joseph (Joe) Rogers. Rogers set the single-engine jet record on December 15, 1958 in F-106 Delta Dart, 56-0467 over Edwards AFB at 1525 MPH. This record has never been broken by a single engine jet. From Edwards AFB we traveled to Spokane, Washington. Geiger Field was the second Air Defense Base to receive the F-106 Aircraft. We traveled in our 1955 red Ford station wagon. No air conditioning. It got so hot near Mt. Shasta that we had to wrap our dachshund in wet iced towels, and our parakeet fell over in the cage. We stopped and rested in the shade before traveling on. Our first night in Spokane, our dog found a bottle of pills and ate them all. We took him to the vet. When we arrived back at our motel the parakeet was out of his cage and flew out the door. We never saw the bird again, but the dog survived. This assignment didn't last long and we were on the road again. From Spokane, we traveled down the coast to California. I was assigned to the F-106 Fighter Squadron at Castle AFB in Merced, California. On the trip south we visited the Red Woods. In fact, we got stuck in one of the drive-thru redwoods. I forgot that we had a luggage rack full of luggage on the top of the station wagon and we got stuck in the tunneled out tree. Nothing to do but continue through! The tree pushed the top of the car down about two inches. I was able to lie in the back seat and pop the roof out again with my two feet. Only two small dents remained. We spent over a year at Merced, our longest assignment. A call from San Diego sent us on our new assignment. This time we traveled northeast to Selfridge AFB north of Detroit. Selfridge was an old base with two fighter squadrons; the 71st and the 94th. The 94th was the old “Hat in the Ring” squadron. Michigan was different than California, but the aircraft problems didn't change. After sixteen months, our contract was up and it was time to travel again. Lois said, “No more field assignments!” We bought a new 1962 Ford and headed back to San Diego where I had a job in engineering. We just moved into a new house and started unpacking when the boss said they needed a field engineer on a new assignment in Florida. I told him that I promised Lois we would not go on any more field assignments. Lois wanted to settle down and
raise the family. He asked me if I would take the assignment if Lois agreed. He asked my permission to talk to Lois. I laughed as I knew Lois would tell him no. When Wally told Lois about the long term assignment in Panama City, Florida, she didn't say no. She said, “we have never lived in Florida". Away we went. The packers didn't have a hard time packing our household goods as most of them were still packed from our previous assignment. This was mid-summer and travel was hot and humid. No one in San Diego or Michigan had air conditioned cars in 1962. Our first task in Florida was getting air conditioning installed in the car. We spent a few weeks in a motel on the beach until our furniture arrived. I went to work every day and Lois and the kids spent most of their time on the motel pier fishing for fish and small crabs. They were disappointed when our furniture arrived and we moved from the beach. This assignment was different. I was now responsible in assisting on both F-106 and F102 aircraft and several organizations. I was assigned to the division headquarters and also shared an office on the flight line with the McDonald representative. McDonald had F-101 aircraft assigned at Tyndall AFB also. The mission at Tyndall was aircraft training, crew training and aircraft testing. Highlights included Project Silk Hat, at Eglin AFB, and in preparation for President Kennedy’s visit, we prepared and flew an F-106 supersonic 100 feet above the ground. A great boom at sea level! During the Cuban Missile Crisis, we flew sorties around the clock. The F-106 was the only fighter that could fly cap over Cuba and return to Tyndall. The other aircraft were recovered at other bases. Sorties were flown around the clock. The Air Force requested that I remain on base for assistance. I was provided a bunk on the flight line and Lois was allowed to bring me extra clothes. Everyone was glad to see the Russians take their missiles home. I attended the 1965 William Tell air-to-air weapons meet. In the meet were F-102, F-106, F-101 and F-104 aircraft. Bob Hoover did an acrobatic show with his yellow F-51 mustang. During the show, he had a fuel pump problem and cut the show a little short. He left without his Mustang and sent me a new fuel pump which a sergeant and I installed. He picked up his Mustang at a later date. Col. Joe Rogers, now the ADC operations officer, made the decision to send the still secret YF-12 to Tyndall AFB. During this flight, it was damaged during refueling. It landed venting fuel and was escorted to a hangar and put under heavy guard. Col. Joe called me and asked me to examine the damage and attempt to make a repair. I had very little knowledge on repairs to titanium and stainless. A sergeant from the metal shop and I designed a repair from stainless. The sergeant hand formed the metal perfectly. The cracks were stop drilled and the repair was installed with sealant and special blind fasteners. The plane was leak checked and flew home two days later.
My biggest highlight while at Tyndall was my first flight in an F-106. I had previously completed the high altitude and sea rescue course offer by the Air Force. This included the high altitude chamber. I was working late in my office when the Maintenance Officer stopped by my office. He had a problem jet ready to test hop and needed someone for the back seat. He wanted me to help evaluate the problem. The pilot was a good friend of mine, Captain Vanderlinden. Van met me in operations where I was fitted for a helmet, harness and spurs. The crew chief checked everything and slapped me on the helmet. I gave him a thumbs-up. Normal flying for the day was over and we took the runway. Van kicked in the afterburner and I was jerked back in my seat. The next thing I knew, we were airborne and the gear was going up. Van called me on the intercom. All was fine and we were headed over the gulf. Van turned the controls over to me and I flew per his instruction. I leveled off at 40,000 feet and Van took the controls. He zoomed the aircraft to over 50,000 feet and flew it back to 40,000 feet. All flight checks were and complete and the aircraft performed well. Now for the big one, an acceleration to Mach 2. Van called back and told me to look at the Mach indicator. We had just passed Mach 2. He chopped the throttle and all hell broke loose. There were large rumbles and bangs. The cockpit filled with smoke. I knew I was going to die. This only lasted for seconds but it seemed like hours. The variable ramps went full closed. The engine could not handle all of the air and the compressor stalled. The air was going in one inlet and out the other. Wow, flying sideways at twice the speed of sound. Van yelled, “Another ramp controller failure!” The rest of the flight was uneventful and we flew back to the base. When we parked the airplane, the crew chief pointed to the vertical fin. The decals and the paint had been burned off. Van did admit that that was the worst ride he ever had. The family was not happy when I told them we were moving to Montgomery, Alabama. After four years in Florida, moving to Alabama was a real bummer. 14th Air Force headquarters, the Old Flying Tiger unit, and I were now in Alabama. I spent a lot of time traveling with the Air Force on inspections and worked as an advisor on many F102 and F-106 accidents. I was considered an expert in accident investigation. I was even asked to assist on two Lockheed F-104 accidents. The Air Force maintained a helmet and parachute for me and I got many hours in the back seat of a T-33 and a helicopter. After a year in Alabama, Air Defense Headquarters decided to convert my job to a government position as a GS-12. I was offered the position but decided I would rather be a civilian with the contractor. Convair San Diego had no new aircraft contracts, but the Fort Worth division did. They had just won the contract to develop and build the new F-111 fighter. I transferred to Fort Worth and began training on the F-111. New aircraft, new home, and new company.
The training in Fort Worth was excellent, good instructors and aircraft in the factory and on the flight line to work with. I was sent to Nellis AFB, Nevada for a few months for some active training. I was offered a choice of assignment both foreign and domestic. We decided to stay in the states as we had children in school. We were assigned to Cannon AFB, Clovis, New Mexico. New Mexico was good to us. My wife and two oldest children completed degrees in college and I started flying again. I completed my Private, Commercial Pilot and Instrument Pilot rating and was working on my multi engine when my G.I. bill ran out. As a family, we made several trips to Colorado and other states. My greatest pleasure was renting a Cessna 150 on a Sunday morning and just practicing chandelles and lazy eights. It was peaceful; just me, God, and the noise of the engine. As a family we hunted, fished and road dirt bikes. Oh yes, I did work for a living also! After almost 10 years in New Mexico, we returned to Fort Worth. I was given the task of in-house support for the remaining engineers on the F-111 in the field. I wanted to work on the new aircraft, the F-16. I was promoted and given the job of hiring and training the new engineers on the F-16 aircraft. Once the U.S. and foreign countries began receiving aircraft, I was responsible for the engineers in the field. This job required a lot of travel both stateside and overseas. Opportunity knocked again, and I was now responsible for providing support for all of the engineers both domestic and overseas. This job required briefings to management and the customer on the progress of the F-16 aircraft. In 1993 General Dynamics Fort Worth was acquired by Lockheed. This meant new ways of doing business and a new management style. It was time for the old dogs to give in the new management style. I retired in 1995. I played golf several days a week and got a Hole-in-One in 2005. Took up scuba and became a certified diver in 1996. Lois and I traveled to most countries in Europe and traveled to Mexico and the Caribbean. Our travel has slowed down and I started doing some writing. I had one book published, "Crested Butte, Return to My Avalon", and I have just completed a children's book. Life has been exciting and God has been good to me! ‐
John Tezak, Tech. Rep., retired, Fort Worth, TX