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.
Francis C. Gideon, Jr
From a Hero to a Bum
“In March 1969, one of my squadron mates and I were returning to Phan Rang from a mission in III Corps and had not expended our 20mm. On a whim, we checked in with a local FAC to see if he had any use for our bullets. As usual, he had a dangerous enemy hooch nestled in a valley about 10 miles from home and asked if we would like to shoot it up. Silly question.
My buddy rolled in first and fired a nice burst into the hooch. I followed, diving right into the base of the valley with mountains rising in the background. When I finally decided to pull up, “up” was a long way up. If I was going to miss the mountain, I would need all the G’s available and would have to climb at a pretty good rate. So I pulled right up to the point of stalling, and sailed out of there, just barely. In fact, I thought I heard a little “thunk” as I went by the ridgeline.
The FAC was watching the show, of course, and quickly yelled, “Hey, Two, did you hit those trees?” Naturally, I said I didn’t think so. But then I looked in the rearview mirror and was surprised to see ½ of the left slab gone and a couple of dents in the right. (Paradoxically, there was just over 6.0 Gs on the G-meter, and I have often wondered if I had pulled just a little harder, would I have missed the trees altogether, or mushed into them with fatal results. I like to think I had a sense of the max performance possible, and got all the climb I could out of the aircraft.)
Thinking to myself that this was going to be hard to hide, I called Lead over to check out the damage. He let out a low whistle and proceeded to describe holes in the left flap, holes in the fuselage, a mashed and mangled left drop tank, major slab damage, and other miscellaneous scratches.
I headed for home and did a controllability check. From the cockpit, I could not feel any degraded flight characteristics, and the engine was fine. So I left the gear down, flew on over to Phan Rang, and landed. The Wing King was clearly not happy about my messing up his F-100, not to mention that I had almost killed myself for a hooch that had been plastered 1,000 times before, so he grounded me on the spot.
Now, I am not particularly proud of the foregoing, but I do know that all F-100 drivers in SEA either hit the trees or almost did. One of the peculiarities of our flying out of Phan Rang at that point in the war was that 90% of our targets were in III Corps, and most of the rest were in the Delta. As a result, we had very little experience in mountain flying.
The story goes on. “Gunsmoke One” opened each Wing meeting with an Awards Ceremony. [I was called] to the podium to educate the boys on how to strafe in the mountains. I had a pretty good presentation, too, having spoken to some smart jocks from Tuy Hua and Phu Cat to pick their brains on successful mountain-strafing techniques. I started my remarks with the observation that, “It doesn’t take long to go from a hero to a bum around here.” Even Gunsmoke One, Col. Frank Gailer, had to smile a little.
But the story does not end there. I left Phan Rang in July and got a Consecutive Overseas Tour (COT) to Lakenheath. A few months later, guess who showed up at the Heath as our new wing commander—of course, Frank Gailer! The first thing I heard after he took over was a call from my squadron commander that the new wing commander wanted me to report to his office ASAP. I presumed he wanted to tell me what an honor it was for him to have me in his wing.
I reported in with a snappy salute. He looked at me for a long minute and then reached into the top right drawer of his desk and pulled out a small piece of wood. It was a mangled palm tree branch about the size of your middle finger. “Do you know what this is?” he asked. I answered that I thought I did. “Good!” he said, “Don’t forget it! Dismissed.” As I closed his office door behind me, I could hear him chuckling under his breath.
This is a story about dumb flying, but it is also a story about good leadership. Frank Gailer had many ways he could have handled my tree busting act, up to and including taking my wings. But he saw possibilities in a young first lieutenant and decided to gamble on a second chance. …I saw him from time to time after he retired, and he always regaled whoever was within shouting distance with a story, at my expense, accompanied by raucous laughter, of how easy it was to go from a “hero to a bum.””(For the full story see Issue 23 of The Intake.)
Maj. Gen. Francis C. Gideon Jr.was the chief of safety of the U.S. Air Force, and commander, Headquarters Air Force Safety Center, Kirtland Air Force Base, NM He served as the senior uniformed adviser to the chief of staff and the secretary of the Air Force on all issues involving the safety of a combined active duty, Guard, Reserve and civilian force of more than 700,000 people serving approximately 2,300 locations in the United States and overseas.
His career touched many aspects of the Air Force mission as a fighter pilot, an experimental test pilot, and in acquisition, intelligence and logistics. His assignments spanned the globe from Thailand to England. He commanded one of the Air Force’s three test wings and its center for scientific and technical intelligence. He is a command pilot with almost 3,000 hours flying in 30 kinds of aircraft. He was an A-10 test pilot and flew 220 combat missions in Southeast Asia in F-100s and F-4s.
Rusty Gideon retired from the USAF on July 1, 2000.
(source: The Intake and US Airforce)