5 December 1956 – A Northrop XSM-62 Snark, 53-8172, N-69D test model, fitted with a new 24-hour stellar inertial guidance system, launches from Cape Canaveral Missile Test Annex, Florida. It wanders off-course, ignores destruct command, disappears over Brazil. It is found by a farmer in January 1983. The Day They Lost the Snark By J.
Charles Ronald Chadwick
I finished up UPT (Universal Pilot Training) at Webb AFB in October of 1967 and took my first flight in the F-100 on 21 December 1967 at Luke AFB.
I remember thinking as I plugged the burner in, “Is this thing ever going to accelerate, what is that smell and where is all that noise coming from? Are we dragging something?” It was quite a change from the T-38 but it didn’t take long to get used to it. Especially when you started pulling on the trigger.
At Luke AFB, 44 degrees centigrade was the maximum temperature you could fly, and on my last flight on May 28, 1968, the second flight of the day, it was 44 degrees so I aborted my jet in the arming area. I remember burning my chin on the parachute hardware doing a stab check and realizing I now had to get another bird so I could finish this last flight. Then, I was officially a “Fighter Pilot” and I remember thinking, “Not too shabby”.
The war in Viet Nam was in full swing and everyone I knew was headed over there. But not me. For reasons unknown and much to my surprise, I received an assignment to the 613th Tac Fighter Squadron in Torrejon AB, SPAIN! I was the only fighter to be assigned to USAFE (United States Air Forces in Europe) in four years. Barb and I went back home to Michigan for a few weeks and I shipped out to Spain in late July.
The 613 Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) had the highest average flying time in the “Hun” (F-100) of any USAF outfit and I was the first new pilot they had seen in four and a half years. I was in for some serious flying and it started on July 29, 1968. For the next twenty months, I did my very best to “keep up”. I have never learned so much, from so many talented pilots, so willing to share and I am sure it saved my life for what lay ahead.
Barb and I left Spain and headed home again in late June of 1970. I did some flying with my Dad in his latest Waco UPF-7 and settled my wife and new baby into our new apartment. I received my orders to Nam and was sent back to Luke for a quick “refresher” before I headed out.
After the obligatory “survival school” in the Philippines I arrived “in Country” on October 10, 1970. I was in the 615th Tac Fighter Squadron at Phan Rang, AB, Republic of Vietnam. I had 550 hours in the F-100 and now it was time to see how well I had paid attention. At 27 years of age, I was the old man of the outfit and was fourth in Hun time on the entire Base. I instantly became the “go-to” guy.
The first couple of combat missions in South Vietnam were as advertised. We killed a lot of trees and monkeys and rarely saw anything that looked like a target. That lasted almost three months. Then came the day when the FAC put smoke on a building and said “take it out”. We asked for a clarification and he repeated “TAKE IT OUT”. It is amazing how your concentration and flying skills improve when your target is not “hit my smoke.” Flying in South Vietnam those early months never seemed like combat to me. More like “Red Flag” (mock air war) with more trees. When we started flying night mission “up North” the War took on a different perspective. You could actually see all the artillery that was coming up at you. It was a very impressive sight. I started giving the gunners more respect and the day I saw something explode in front of the canopy really got my attention. I was a believer from then on.
The F-100 training program at Luke consisted of 120 hours. That was it. With UPT you could add another 230 or so hours. In Vietnam, you had young pilots with maybe 350 hours of total flying time doing some of the most demanding flying against the most highly defended real-estate in the history of combat. What I witnessed at Phan Rang really blew me away. To a man, these young guys knew what they were doing and they gave it their best every day. It was truly an honor to have flown with them and they remain my dearest friends even now.
How the Air Force continues to find these outstanding young men and women is beyond me, but the Country and indeed the World better pray they continue to do so.
I left the Air Force in November of 1971. (A decision I have questioned my entire life.) I was back in Michigan with Barb and our new daughter Cari, and as I had grown accustomed to eating on a regular basis I went looking for a job. I had done a lot of thinking about the Airlines and started applying within months after returning home. Since I needed an immediate form of income, I got a job flying a G-1 for Excello Corporation and was hired by General Motors Air Transport Section about a year later. In March of 1973, I was hired by Eastern Airlines and I moved the family to Middletown, New Jersey. Things finally looked like they were finally starting to get back on track.
Due to the economic climate of the 1970’s I was furloughed in April of 1974. It looked like it might be a long furlough and I wanted to get back in the cockpit. I had heard that the New Jersey Air National Guard might be looking for pilots so I drove out to McGuire AB to check it out.