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.
Gary S. Eglinton, MD
I am one of the luckiest people in the world. Growing up in Phoenix, AZ, I had great support from my family throughout my school years and was appointed to the US Air Force Academy. I had accepted a scholarship at Princeton but backed out of Princeton when I received my appointment to USAFA. My good luck continued when I achieved my first choice for Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) in “B” class at Williams AFB, close enough to Tempe, AZ for me to live in a condo during UPT just off the campus of Arizona State University (ASU). “B” class began UPT the day after Labor Day, so I spent 3 months in Hawaii surfing all summer, living in an apartment in Waikiki with my squadron mate from USAFA, John Dyer. I met my future wife for the first time on the beach in Waikiki. We were both involved with others and did not connect on that first meeting and did not even remember it until presented with photo evidence later. Lucky for me, two years later we were set up on a blind date near Luke AFB and did connect.
Finishing UPT, I again received my first choice of assignment to F-100 Combat Crew Training in the F-100 at Cannon AFB, NM, and then my assignment was changed to Luke AFB, on the other side of Phoenix from Tempe. I was still within reach of ASU, perennially ranked as one of the top 10 party schools in the US. There’s that luck again.
In early June 1968, I was two years out of USAFA. After UPT graduation in September 1967, I had completed Worldwide SERE training in WA, F-100 Combat Crew Training at Luke AFB, Water Survival training at Homestead AFB and Jungle Survival training at Clark AB in the Philippines. After spending two days and two nights hitchhiking on flights from Clark AB to Tan Son Nhut AB near Saigon and finally on to the Army helicopter base on Bien Hoa AB, an Army Sergeant put me on the phone with a Captain in the Bien Hoa Command Post.
I introduced myself as a new 1Lt F-100 pilot assigned to the 3rd TFW. The Captain shouted across the room: “New guy on the phone – which squadron is up next?” The Captain told me to stay where I was and a line truck from the 531st TFS would come to pick me up.
I had been a 1Lt for about 6 months. I had about 120 hours of flight time after UPT, and was now the “New Guy,” sweating in the early June afternoon sun on the ramp at Bien Hoa, carrying all my worldly possessions in a B-4 bag, duffle bag, and helmet bag. I got a ride to the Ramrods of Bien Hoa flight line building, dropped off some stuff, and then headed to the squadron hooch, where they moved me in with Captain Bob “Hoppy” Hopkins. I soon learned that four of my classmates, Tom Brandon, Dennis Fink, Hugh Gommel, and Tom Kaiser were also in the 531st.
In the following narrative, I do not remember the call signs other than for Buzzard 01, the hero of this story, who had flown off the Alert Pad at Bien Hoa on this morning, but the other call signs I listed are chronologically correct. On September 12, 1968, having recently celebrated my 24th birthday and having been named an Element Leader, I’d been in-country for 3 months. I was “Ramrod 21” with one wingman and he and I were headed so far South in IV Corps that I could not imagine a downed pilot could be picked up that far away. It was just too far away. My wingman was so junior that he was even junior to me.
As we penetrated the undercast and switched to the FAC frequency, I could see both the South China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand. We were nearly over the point of land separating them. As soon as I checked in on the FAC frequency, I heard my classmate Andy Fornal (“Wheels”) yelling urgently on the radio, “Make it to the water! Make it to the water!” Ejecting over the ocean permitted res-cap fighters to keep potential captors away from the man in the water while awaiting rescue.
Silhouetted against the grey overcast, I saw an F-100 in a gentle left climbing turn, several thousand feet up, with another F-100 climbing, chasing inside the turn with high overtake. Immediately, the canopy came off the lead F-100 quickly followed by the seat ejecting, and then in rapid succession, chute deployment and the mournful “bee-oop, bee-oop, bee-oop” on Guard frequency. He did not make it to the water.
Andy continued around the circle and joined my flight. We were keeping the FAC and Buzzard 01’s circling unpiloted F-100 in sight while watching the ground for any signs. We circled Buzzard 01 as he descended in his chute from a good altitude. The weather was good for a parachute landing in a paddy. We continued to circle the area.
Abruptly on Guard came the voice of Buzzard 01. I recognized his voice. I knew he was a ’63 grad, the class that trained my class in Basic Cadet Summer. I knew he wore jump wings and was a tough guy. One of the coolest things I heard in Vietnam was Buzzard 01 in his chute calmly speaking on the radio. He said there were people in a hooch below shooting up at him, and he could hear the rounds whizzing past him and impacting his chute. I selected all four guns, called the FAC to say that I saw him, the other aircraft and Buzzard 01, and that I was in hot out of the north to strafe the hooch with 20mm cannon fire. The FAC cleared me hot. I flew under Buzzard 01 and strafed the hooch. As I pulled up, I could see that there would be no more fire from the hooch and Buzzard 01 was still in his chute.
Buzzard 01 landed in the paddy and ran west toward the vegetation lining the boundary of the paddy. We lost sight of him in the thick vegetation. My now three-ship headed a short distance away to drop all stores unarmed in a nearby river. I heard an open mic on Guard. I asked the FAC and the other two Huns if they had heard the open mic, but I was the only one who heard it. I called Buzzard 01 and told him I heard an open mic but I could not hear speaking. I again heard open mic without speaking. I reported that to him and asked him to key his mic twice. He did.
I assumed his radio had been damaged by submersion in the paddy. I asked him to key his mic twice if he wanted me to descend and beat up the paddy and make a lot of noise, but I could no longer fire because we couldn’t see him. He keyed his mic twice and I dropped down to the rice paddy north to south at high speed, lit the burner briefly, and made a lot of noise. The FAC and F-100’s continued to circle. Wheels said he was approaching bingo fuel. Bien Hoa was a long way north. We discussed having him go home alone or taking my wingman with him, leaving me alone covering Buzzard 01. Andy and I agreed he could go home alone.
After a lot more circling and another noisy pass or two with burner down low over the paddy, another two-ship, Buzzard 31 penetrated and checked in. I had not heard the leader’s voice before. He was new, in the front seat of an F, and clearly was a very impressive professional. My flight was approaching bingo fuel, so I signed out the rescue mission to Buzzard 31 and felt good that I was leaving Buzzard 01 in capable hands. At the same time, I regretted that we had no news of any rescue coming for our man in the paddy. I reflected on my original concern that it was just too far away for a rescue.
Later the same day, a Cobra gunship heard the commotion on Guard and was close enough to respond and hover just above the water in the paddy. Buzzard 01 charged out of the vegetation, jumped onto the skid, hanging on for dear life, and waved off the AC’s urgent gesticulation about something on the side of the chopper. After a long time on the skid, the chopper landed and the AC demonstrated that the gun bay door that deploys out of the side of the chopper could be used as a rescue bench. Buzzard 01 lay down on the gun bay door and hung on fore and aft with the aid of the door’s cables. (Later, seatbelts were affixed to the insides of these doors.)
At that time Cobras were new in-country. We are all grateful this one arrived in time to rescue Buzzard 01. After deploying the gun bay door, the rest of the ride to an Army Special Forces camp was more comfortable for Buzzard 01. An Air Force Husky helicopter took him to the hospital at Can Tho, and then back to Bien Hoa. During the following week, all F-100 pilots at Bien Hoa had to go to the helicopter base and learn about the gun bay door on the side of the Cobra Gunship.
That night I was at the O’Club when Buzzard 01 entered, surrounded by all Buzzards and almost everyone else in the club. I saw his face and noted that he was still calm. I wanted to approach him, introduce myself, and shake his hand, but he was completely surrounded and was obviously the man of the hour. As junior as I was as an officer and F-100 pilot, I did not have the self-confidence to try to wade through the crowd to shake the hand of the most treasured pilot on the base that night.
The following week my Ops Officer assigned me to brief and lead an air-to-air refueling mission for our new Squadron Commander, who had just joined our squadron and needed to requalify in AAR. The prior week, he had been Buzzard 31, while checking out in the Buzzards before taking over the Ramrods. He was the consummate professional, Lt. Col Bob Bazley, the “Silver Fox.” From 1984-86, as a four-star general, he was CINCPACAF. He was a terrific F-100 Squadron Commander and a terrific gentleman.
In 2013, the Super Sabre Society held a formal dinner for the installation of the 90th TFW “Dice” CB 56-3440 at the Smithsonian’s Udvar Hazy Center on the grounds of Dulles International Airport. As usual, Buzzard 01 was surrounded by a large group of dignitaries. We had both been long-retired from USAF. I was able to work my way close enough to catch his eye and for him to see my nametag. He extended his hand through the crowd encircling him and said that we shared a story together. He was the keynote speaker and was always surrounded by dignitaries, so we did not get to speak, but I did get to shake his hand. On that long-ago day in 1968, he had been Captain Ronald R. Fogleman. We are all grateful to him for his exceptional service as USAF Chief of Staff. I am also grateful to him for his editing of this narrative.
In 1969, while still at Bien Hoa, hoping to remain in the F-100, I volunteered for a second consecutive remote assignment as a permanent party gunnery officer at the gunnery range at Wheelus AB, Libya, and was delighted by my selection for Wheelus. En route, my orders were changed, diverting me to the 401st TFW, Torrejon AB, Spain, where I was assigned to the 613th TFS, with Tip Clark as my sponsor. There’s that luck again.
Shortly after I arrived, I knew no one, and no one knew me. I was interrupted early on a Sunday morning by Ron Chadwick pulling back my shower curtain in my BOQ room, asking if I were Eglinton and telling me to get out of the shower, grab my toothbrush and go with him. The NATO Quick Reaction Conventional Force (QRCF) had been scrambled, and they could not find the QRCF flight lead (Squadron Commander). Everyone moved up one position and they needed me for number four. Entering the briefing room, the other pilots looked at me quizzically. I briefly introduced myself. There were a lot of officers in blue suits. I had been a Captain for about two months, had no “real AF” experience, and did not understand the blue suits.
The mission was to Morocco to destroy an oil storage depot that was being overrun by terrorists. I knew nothing but was confident that I could remain “light in the star, fourp,” arm up and deliver conventional weapons as briefed. Leaving the briefing room, the flight leader said that after successful afterburner light up, we were to pull it back out of burner, pop the chute, turn off early midfield and come back to the chocks. WTF? That was my first ORI. We failed. In early 1970, we deactivated, gave up our Incirlik nuclear mission, and transitioned to the F-4E.
In late Spring 1970, the 613th TFS sent Bob Konopka (RIP) and me to Incirlik to set up for our squadron’s deployment to take back our Incirlik nuclear mission from the other USAFE wings that had covered while we were down for transition. Mostly, I followed Bob around and learned from him. The Vice Wing CC came with the 613th TFS to resume the 401st nuclear mission. He was pleased and recommended jobs for Bob and me outside of the squadron. Bob got a sweet 16th AF job.
The Wing CC said the Wing Flight Safety Office had failed the last ORI and offered me that job. There was a rumor circulating that in the future, a candidate for O-7 would have to have experience in Safety on his resume. I expressed gratitude and asked not to be stuck in Flight Safety beyond passing the next ORI. He agreed and said my only risk would be if he were to be replaced, but if so, he would speak with his replacement about our agreement. I stepped down from a Phase III to Phase IV pilot and still deployed with the 613th to Incirlik. The CC was replaced. The new CC was tough. A year or so after I took the Safety position, we passed the ORI.
I made an appointment with the new CC, Colonel Creech, who said yes, he knew about my agreement with his predecessor and asked what I would like to do next. By this time there was a new rumor circulating that a future O-7 candidate would have to have experience in aircraft maintenance on his resume. I asked to have a job in Maintenance. Colonel Creech assigned me as Chief of FCF, in the Quality Control Branch in the Chief of Maintenance complex. The QC Chief was a beloved Lt. Col senior F-100 pilot who was not tapped for the transition to the F-4E. QC needed someone to be in charge of the FCF program and fly a lot of FCFs in a clean E-model. Yes, thank you very much. Six months later, the Lt. Col was sent 179 days TDY to Incirlik, and Colonel Creech named me the Branch Chief of QC.
HQ USAFE sent a telegram objecting to my AFSC change to a Maintenance Branch Chief, saying I had not yet fulfilled my initial 5-year primary cockpit obligation. Colonel Creech responded that he was the 401st TFW CC and that Captain Eglinton was his Chief of QC.
About a year later, I received a letter from HQ USAFE stating that the average flight time for USAFE Phase III and Phase IV combat-ready F-4 pilots last month had been 18-point-something hours. The letter noted that in the past month, I had flown more than twice that, and I had been flying excessively for too long. As a Phase V wing staff officer, no longer eligible to sit alert at Incirlik the letter said that I should be able to satisfy all of my flight time requirements flying FCFs and an occasional night round robin.
An example of my “excessive” flying came one morning when General McGough’s T-39 needed a part. Maintenance Control had located the part at RAF Lakenheath and called me to ask if I would go get the part. Steve Pasecky, a back-seat pilot in the 613th with whom I had flown often was waiting in Base Ops to file a flight plan to Lakenheath. He needed an Aircraft Commander’s name. I had been to Lakenheath. I said sure and told them I would meet Pasecky at the plane. We completed a pre-flight briefing and inspection of the aircraft and were soon en route to Lakenheath. Approaching the English Channel, the airplane developed a problem that I diagnosed and isolated by pulling circuit breakers on the main panel. It was not a critical problem, so we pressed on. Entering English airspace, we heard an ATC blind broadcast requesting assistance from any F-100 pilot airborne in the vicinity of a location I did not recognize. There was no response. ATC reiterated the request for F-100 assistance and there was again no reply. I responded to ATC that I had flown the F-100 recently and asked how I could help. ATC said there was an F-100 F whose aircrew had requested F-100 assistance because they had heard and felt something unusual that had made them wonder if a loose panel may have separated from the aircraft. ATC gave us a location, and approaching the area, Pasecky picked up a Radar target and we executed a perfect beam conversion and joined on the starboard wing of a clean D-model at an altitude lower than I had expected, with speed brake extended, in burner, with the pilot executing aggressive porpoising maneuvers. ATC said that was a different emergency. That was an FCF, stuck in burner, and the pilot was doing what he could to decelerate to landing gear deployment speed. He got the gear down and we chased him down to a hot but safe landing. He got it slowed down enough to get a good chute and cleared the runway safely. We went around and returned to ATC frequency and climbed out back into the English haze. We got a new direction to the original emergency, Pasecky picked it up on Radar and started breathing hard again when we realized this one was going to be a head-on conversion. Despite no Navigator in the airplane, two pilots managed to pull it off gracefully and we joined on the F-model. We checked out their airplane and it appeared to be intact. It looked fine. We chased them down to a successful landing, pitched up to downwind and landed. The Wing CC was waiting for us when we climbed down the ladder. He thanked us for assisting his aircrews, told us the T-39 part was ready to be loaded into our baggage pod, the fuel truck was en route, and they would get us turned around ASAP. It was an uneventful trip back to TJ. But I had logged another 6 hours or so of “excessive” flying.
I had accumulated a lot of flight time because I flew FCFs for all 3 squadrons, checked out the other FCF pilots, and knew all 3 squadron schedulers well. They all knew that if they had a need to fill a hole in a flight, they could call me at any time for any mission anywhere, and I would fly: day, night, gunnery range, cross country, anywhere, any time. I even took airplanes back and forth between Incirlik and Torrejon. I just could not sit Alert. Six weekends in a row I went cross country with one squadron or another and spent a night at Aviano six weekends in a row.
I also was in the group of “seeing-eye Captains” (Jere Wallace’s term). We flew in the back seat while assisting Colonels in the front seat (Colonel Creech never needed a “seeing-eye Captain”). But my “excessive” flying days were now over. I still had a volunteer statement in file requesting assignment to FWS and back to SEA. The war appeared to be winding down. I feared that my next assignment would be to a command post at Kunsan, AB, Korea, or I would have to go back to Astronautical Engineering. I wanted to do neither.
The following month I flew more hours in the simulator than in the air. I started to think about options.
About that time, a small article appeared in Stars and Stripes, noting that the AF would next year change the regulation specifying which officers admitted to medical school could apply to the AF for sponsorship. Medical school? I was an engineer. I had not thought about medical school. I learned about taking the Medical College Admission Test at the Base Education Office and about applying to medical school. Amazingly, without pre-med preparation, I was invited for medical school interviews in the US, was admitted to medical school and applied to the AF for sponsorship. My backup plan was to fly Huns in the Arizona Guard while in medical school. The AF sponsored me.
In August 1973 I entered medical school while remaining on active duty and completed an optional accelerated curriculum, finishing in 34 months. After medical school, residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology, fellowship in Maternal-Fetal Medicine (MFM = High-Risk Obstetrics), I remained an academic (researcher, teacher) and in three years I was promoted to 0-6 and moved to Bethesda, MD, where I was the Director of MFM at USUHS and at the National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, and the Consultant for OB/GYN to the Surgeon General at Bolling AFB.
I retired from the AF the day I paid off my last obligation for training, with nearly 23 years of commissioned service. An amazing bonus was that because I had hurried through medical school in 34 months, instead of the standard 48 months, the AF added 14 months to my creditable time for retirement pay. Is this a great country, or what? There’s that luck again. From April 1973-August 1973 I was not serving obligated time for prior training. All the rest of my career I was paying back time for training.
I was recruited out of the AF to become Director of MFM at Georgetown University Medical Center and School of Medicine. I was MFM Fellowship Program Director and became a very busy invasive fetal therapist, performing fetal surgeries and medical interventions for desperately ill fetuses, saving hundreds of fetal lives, one, two, three, or four at a time, as well as many desperately ill pregnant or recently pregnant women. I was recruited to NY as a Department Chairman.
In 2020, I remain Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill-Cornell Medical College and Chairman Emeritus of Obstetrics and Gynecology at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens. I am semi-retired, but continue the work that I love as a part-time MFM specialist in several states.
To pay back society for the rare privilege of being a physician, I am continuing to work beyond the age when many retire. When I graduated from medical school, most graduates in the USA were six years younger than I was. I flew for seven years and gained back one year hurrying through medical school. I hope that by working to age 76 I will have paid back the debt I owe for the privilege of attending medical school when the school could have chosen to admit someone younger than I was.
I would not give back those years of flying for anything. Other than my family, I am closest to my squadron mates with whom I flew in Southeast Asia, Europe and Turkey. Those bonds are strong. I owe my life to my family, USAFA, the USAF and to fighter aviation. I remain one of the luckiest people on earth.
Career of one of the luckiest people on earth:
- USAFA June 1966
- UPT, Williams AFB, September 1966-1967
- USAF Worldwide SERE, Fairchild AFB, October 1967
- F-100 Combat Crew Training, Luke AFB, October 1967-May 1968
- USAF Water Survival School, Homestead AFB, May 1968
- USAF Jungle Survival School June 1968, Clark AB
- 3rd TFW, 531st TFS, Bien Hoa AB, June 1968-June 1969
- 401st TFW, 613th TFS, Torrejon AB, Incirlik AB, August 1969-August 1973
- F-4E Transition Training, George AFB, February-April 1970
- Chief of Flight Safety, 401st TFW 1970 – 1971
- Branch Chief of Maintenance Quality Control, 401st TFW 1971 – 1973
- Medical Student, University of Arizona, Tucson, August 1973-June 1976
- Resident in Obstetrics and Gynecology, David Grant USAF Medical Center, Travis AFB, July 1976-June 1980
- Fellow in Maternal-Fetal Medicine (MFM) University of Southern California, LA County Medical Center Women’s Hospital July 1980-June 1982
- Chief of Maternal-Fetal Medicine and Obstetrics, David Grant USAF Medical Center, July 1982-July 1985
- Chief of Maternal-Fetal Medicine Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (Assistant Professor, then Associate Professor) and the National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, MD, and Consultant to the USAF Surgeon General, Bolling AFB July 1985-January 31, 1989
- Colonel, USAF Retired January 31, 1989
- Director of MFM, Medical Director of Obstetrical Units, Director of MFM Fellowship Program, Georgetown University School of Medicine and Medical Center (Associate Professor) February 1989-April 1999
- Chairman, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital Queens, and Associate Professor, then Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Weill-Cornell Medical College, April 1999-February 2016
- Chairman Emeritus, Obstetrics and Gynecology, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital Queens and Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Weill-Cornell Medical College, Part-time MFM and/or Labor and Delivery Hospitalist at NYPQ, September 2017 – present (2020)
- Locum Tenens part-time MFM specialist University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, Mercy Hospital St. Louis, MO, St. Vincent Hospital Evansville, IN, November 2017 – present (2020)