30 November 1957 – Capt Benny Lacombe is killed when he unsuccessfully attempts to bail out of Lockheed U-2A, 56-6704, Article 371, 13 miles SE of Laughlin AFB. Ejection seats had not yet been fitted to U-2s at this point. The history of the U-2 program is fraught with fatalities and crashes. “CIA pilots Wilburn S.
R. Medley Gatewood
I was born in my father’s hometown of Columbus, GA, and after WWII, in 1946, we moved to my mother’s hometown of Flora, IL. I grew up there on the “wild, windswept prairies of Illinois,” as my father put it. My first job after graduating from high school in May of 1957 was working construction on the Saint Lawrence Seaway (then a-building) as a Junior Assistant Student Engineer.
That job prepared me for “higher education” at Colorado University where I matriculated to study aero-engineering, but after the fall semester of 1958, I switched to Arts and Science (aka Arts and Parties) and a major in AFROTC. That switch cost me an extra year, but I did graduate in 1962 with a B.A. in Geology and my coveted commission in the Air Force … and hightailed it for undergraduate pilot training, Class 64A, at Williams AFB, AZ—a dream come true, especially because our class was the second at Willie to get the brand new T-38 Talon. Wow, “The White Lightning” was something else! A year later, I graduated first in flying and third overall in my class, which allowed me to choose to be a fighter pilot as a career path—a second dream come true.
After F-100 Super Sabre School at Luke AFB, AZ, in the summer of 1964, I was stationed in England at RAF Woodbridge with the 79th TFS (Tigers) for three wonderful years, including great flying and plenty of educational travel opportunities (still a Class A bachelor, of course). Because I was a reserve officer, I was planning to get out after that tour in June of ‘67, but Uncle Sam said I owned him one more year. Yep, in Vietnam.
After flying F-100s about six months in South Vietnam, with the 510th TFS (Buzzards) at Bien Hoa AB, I was transferred to Thailand flying as a Duty Controller aboard a 7th AF Command and Control Squadron airplane. It was there, near the end of my year tour that I flew a mission to evacuate a remote Army base. It was during this mission that Lt. Col. Joe Jackson, an Air Force C-123 pilot, earned the Medal of Honor. I was awestruck by being a part of such an important combat action alongside men like him and other heroes on that day.
When offered a regular commission a couple of weeks later, I decided to take it and remain in the Air Force as a full-timer. I managed a transfer back to fighters in the states and became an F-100 instructor pilot with the 4515th CCTS at Luke AFB west of Phoenix, AZ, in September ‘68. It was there that, through Air Force friends, I met Barbara Anne Logan from New Berlin, WI: the most beautiful and smartest second-grade school teacher in the world. After a brief courtship, we were married by her father, a Presbyterian minister, on January 31st, 1969. About a year and a half later, I was flying the new A-7D and we had moved to Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, AZ, where I eventually became Chief of the A-7D Instructional Systems Development (ISD) Team.
My career progressed satisfactorily with another year (beginning in mid-’74) based at Korat RTAFB, Thailand, flying as an A-7D Sandy Low Flight Commander in the 3rd TFS (Barbara and our two boys stayed in Tucson). Returning to the States in mid-1975, I got in on the ground floor of the new A-10 (Thunderbolt II) program back at Davis-Monthan as Chief of the A-10 ISD Team (becoming only the 27th pilot to ever fly the Warthog!).
In 1977, we went to Headquarters, Tactical Air Command, at Langley AFB, VA, where I labored in the crucible of the DOO shop, and from there to Kirtland AFB in Albuquerque, NM, in 1980 as Active Duty Air Advisor to the 150th TFG (otherwise known as the Enchilada Air Force) and flying A-7Ds again with the 188th TFS (TACOS) for three years. I then PCA’d in 1983 to the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center where I served as Assistant Director for Program Control in the Test Operations Directorate.
I retired from the Air Force in May 1986—a 24-year career, most of which I would gladly do all over. I’d even pay the Air Force to let me fly fighters again! So, overall, it was an adventure being on the ground floors of the ISD (Instructional Systems Development) training revolution and two brand new weapons systems (A-7D and A-10). Those were all heady days. But the Hun was my first love … before Barbara! After military retirement, I continued working in aerospace programs of national importance as a Software Acceptance Test Manager with Logicon, Inc., and later as a Technical Management Consultant with the non-proliferation and space Monitoring Systems Center of Sandia National Laboratories on Kirtland AFB, NM.
By April 2000, the kids were all grown up and doing well, Lady Barbara was about to retire, and life was good. So, I retired (again), too. And I remain twice retired, “retired, retired,” I called it. Life went on and our immediate family eventually grew to a total of 10! In February of 2006, I became a founding member of the Super Sabre Society (SSS) and a member of the staff of their thrice-a-year journal, The Intake. In the summer of 2007, I became the Editor & Publisher of The Intake for the next nine years, passing the Editor baton on in the summer of 2016, but remaining an officer as Publisher (for the foreseeable future).
I’m proud of my service to the SSS members and to the governing Board of Directors, helping the organization through its growing years and to maintain steadiness on our collective path “onward and upward.”
I am particularly pleased that my service to the SSS was recognized by being named as the first-ever recipient of the coveted SSS Outstanding Member Award (OMA) at the 2009 biennial reunion, and by conferring on me the title of Editor Emeritus upon my retirement from that post in 2016. It’s been a helluva ride!
Lt. Col. R. Medley Gatewood is the Publisher of The Intake, the official journal of the Super Sabre Society.