William Arthur Gorton
1956-1961 the years I flew the F-100 Super Sabre
It never dawned on me that I wouldn’t be a fighter pilot. My earliest memories were about flying. My father, A.W. “Jake” Gorton, was a pioneer aviator who received his wings and commission in 1917. He was naval aviator #1,720, a test pilot; a member of the U.S. Navy racing team; he set numerous world speed records and was the winner of the Curtiss Marine Trophy. My father resigned his commission in 1928 and was flying a Tri-Motor Ford in 1933 when I was born.
According to my mother, I was only 6 months old when I made my first flight in an airplane. That flight was made while sitting in my mother’s lap with Dad at the controls of the Ford. I guess my desire to fly sank in early.
In early 1941 Dad was recalled to the Navy and I spent much of the war growing up on Naval air stations. That’s when I knew I wanted to become a Navy fighter pilot.
After an unsuccessful attempt at college, I left school in 1954 with the intent to enlist in the U.S. Navy Aviation Cadet program. However, my father suggested I’d have a better chance of becoming a fighter pilot if I joined the USAF.
I took his advice and on February 23, 1954, I enlisted in the USAF as an Aviation Cadet. I received my wings and commission at Williams AFB, AZ on June 1, 1955, with an assignment to fly F-100s. After completing T-33 gunnery at Del Rio, TX I went to Nellis AFB, NV in August of 1955. I was supposed to be in the first F-100 class at Nellis but they were unable to keep a sufficient number of Huns operational so they put us in an F-86 class. Looking back, I’m glad they did. Flying the F-86 with MiG killer IPs was a fantastic experience. After completing about 75 hours in the F-86, I reported to the 436th Fighter Day Squadron at George AFB in November 1955 to fly F-100s.
I checked out in the F-100A on Jan 18, 1956. I flew the A model for 74 sorties, most of them in a clean configuration and often three sorties a day. I accumulated 76:05 hours in the A in just over 2 months.
It was a great time to be assigned to George AFB. Many Korean Aces were at George and they taught us a lot. In the three years of flying As and Cs at George, I learned how to fly fighters. Most of the sorties we flew were 2v2 or 4v4. Of course, in those days it was all Welded-Wing — shut up, and check 6.
My first flight commander was Pete Fernandez who had 14.5 MiG kills in Korea. (I had the privilege of flying Pete’s wing many times while rat racing and he was by far the smoothest and easiest lead I ever flew with).
The A’s at George at the time of my checkout were all big tail, but the concern remained about controlling adverse yaw, particularly when getting behind the power curve. I remember well the guidance Pete gave me … “Never let the jet get below 200 Kts on the base to final turn.” I figured if an ace with 14.5 MiG kills kept it at 200 Kts, I could add 5 or 10 more just for my inexperience.
As you might remember the F-100 drag chute limit for deployment was 180 Kts. I would hate to tell you how many times after I lowered the nose gear to the runway, I waited until the jet slowed below 180. As a consequence, we blew a lot of tires (boy, the magnesium sure burned bright) trying to stop the jet before hitting the barrier. Blowing tires was accepted, but Bull Harris our Wing CC considered a tail skid or worse an invitation for the pilot to enjoy the pleasures of sitting in a SAC missile silo. We kept the power up even after Bob Hover demonstrated how to properly land the F-100.
Regarding adverse yaw, it was the nature of the beast and we learned how to deal with it. Early on, I couldn’t understand what was happening to cause the jet to yaw to the point of departure. I just continued cross-controlling to keep it turning until the tail was about to take the lead and then I unloaded a bit.
To illustrate my lack of understanding, after unloading I frequently had to use the rudder trim to center the ball! It never dawned on me that something other than adverse yaw was occurring until one day in a debrief I commented to my flight lead, Gordon Scharnhorst, the need to retrim the jet. Suspecting it was mechanical; he took me out to an A and told me to get in. Because I was six feet four, I always ran the seat full down. He immediately found the problem. When pulling Gs and stepping on full right rudder, while cross-controlling the jet, the connection between the thigh and calf bladder of my G-suit inflated pushing the rudder trim to the left. North American later solved the problem by putting a guard around the trim switch. Unwittingly, I was responsible for the installation of a guard on the rudder trim switch — a very minor claim to fame to say the least!
I checked out in the F-100C on 30 April 1956. A number of changes came with the introduction of the C models; additional fuel in the wings; anti-skid; an upgraded J-57 engine, and we began air refueling.
The 479th Fighter Day Wing became the 479th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) and we started flying ground attack training missions. When we became a TFW the squadron UE went from 24 to 18 and we added the 476th Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS).
Most importantly, with the C, the J-57 engine had more thrust. The “A” model J-57 was rated dry at 9,220 and 14,800 in afterburner. The “C” model J-57 was rated dry at 10,200 and 16,000 in burner.
When we picked up a new C’s at Palmdale the engines were trimmed to their max rated power. For the 45-minute flight to George, we flew the best jets, clean and fast. I would climb to 40 K and pushed the jet over to half–g, light the burner, and easily attained 1.5 Mach on most new C flights. When landing at George, with the C’s, like the A’s, the J-57s were trimmed down to extend the engine life — so we were told.
As for the wet wings, we liked having more internal fuel, but at George, in the summer heat, they leaked on the ramp. Later North American came up with better seals and for the most part, it solved the fuel leak problem.
The anti-skid was more of a problem. Initially, we kept the anti-skid engaged until we shut down in the refueling pits – that is until we had a jet go through the pit with the anti-skid preventing the brakes from working. After another pilot had the same problem in the de-arming area, we were instructed to turn the antiskid off when exiting the runway. There were also cases when the antiskid malfunctioned on landing that resulted in blown tires.
Initial attempts at air refueling were, to put it mildly, exciting. As far as I know, the 479th TFW was the first operational unit to undertake air refueling. We had only limited info on how to do it. We used KB50 tankers with the original C model short, straight refueling probe. Because the C didn’t have flaps, we were very close to minimum airspeed at hookup and a pretty high angle of attack. When you approached the basket, the airflow around the nose of the jet sucked it down and out of sight. Because of the slow speed, high angle of attack, all initial engagements with the basket were made blind. This resulted in some amazing misses.
I recall one missed engagement that resulted in the basket and hose going over the wing, lopping over the fuselage, and nearly hitting the left horizontal stabilizer. In a number of cases, the basket cracked canopies. The boys at North American attempted to help by modifying the nozzle tip on the short probe to have a 6-degree down angle. The modification helped increase the number of successful engagements, but it did not solve the blind hookup problem. That wasn’t solved until they came up with the bent-up refueling probe on the D model.
Even though, as a TFS we were now hurling our pink bodies at the ground in dive, strafe, and skip bombing practice at Cuddyback Range, we still flew plenty of ACM and hot missions on the rag.
One thing I got to do while I was in the 436th FDS was to fly my father in a T-33. It was a great experience for both of us. In fact, the landing approach speed for landing the T-33 was faster than many of the speed records he set in early naval aviation.
Of all the Huns I had the privilege to fly, the C was by far the best. I flew Cs at George until August of 1958 when I transferred to Etain AB, France, and began flying the F-100D.
Europe, the F-100 D and F
I arrived at Etain Air Base, France in August of 1958 on a cold, cloudy afternoon. The ceiling appeared to be around 500 feet. As we drove on the base two things got my attention. First, all the aircraft parked on the rosettes were listing to the right because they had two external fuel tanks on the right wing and only one on the left. I soon learned that this asymmetrical configuration allowed for the quick upload of a nuclear weapon on the left intermediate station and that we flew almost all of our routine missions in that configuration. The second thing that got my attention was when I saw two Huns appear out of the murk in the same asymmetrical configuration and land in formation! For a jet driver that had spent three-plus years flying mostly under cloudless conditions in the West, it was clear to me this assignment was going to be a major change, not just in mission but also in ‘normal’ flying weather.
I was assigned to the 8th TFS of the 49th TFW. It had been just over seven months since the 49th wing had converted from flying F-86s to F-100s. Upon checking in to my new squadron I became the most experienced F-100 pilot in the squadron. My 750 hours in the Hun was greater than the combined total of the squadron. The 8th also had an F-100F. In the three years at George, we never had Fs assigned but as an 8th squadron I.P. I spent a lot of time in the back seat of the F.
Even though Etain AB was the home of the 49th we did not pull nuclear alert in France. The French government prohibited U.S. nuclear weapons in France so we pulled nuclear alert at Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany. (In 1959 Spang became the 49th home base). Our alert pad at “Spang” was typical. We were on 15-minute alert 24 hours a day. Initially, the aircraft were loaded with MK 12 nuclear weapons. As the squadron’s older versions of the F-100D were replaced with the dash 90D’s, we upgraded to MK 28 nuclear weapons, which could be loaded on the centerline station, and were then able to drop the 1-E asymmetrical three external tank configuration and go to a four-tank symmetrical configuration.
USAFE Special Training Team
In early 1959, I was selected to join a Headquarters USAFE special training team. The team was formed for the purpose of training pilots in nuclear weapons delivery in French, Danish, and Turkish F100D fighter units. I was assigned as team weapons officer. I spent nearly 18 months on the team training Turkish and Danish squadrons.
111th Squadron Eskisehir Turkey
It took about four months to train each squadron. Of my five students, I had only one who spoke excellent English. Mustafa Gukcek was my best English-speaking student. The rest had less English proficiency. On occasion, Mustafa would be needed to provide some in-flight translation.
Flying Turkish Huns was always interesting. One problem I encountered on all these flights was that the maintenance forms were all in Turkish and the crew chiefs spoke no English. This resulted in my conducting a very close preflight inspection prior to each flight. On one occasion when pre-flighting a Hun, I came around the nose of a jet I noticed what I thought was a puddle of hydraulic fluid. It didn’t look quite right so I stuck the toe of my boot in it. It was coagulated blood. There was also a bloody handprint on the side of nose. Having previously witnessed the Turkish squadron commander punch a crew chief and knock him unconscious, I assumed it was the result of another application of Turkish military discipline. I proceeded to fly this Hun without encountering any problems. After the flight debrief, I asked Mustafa Gukchek about the bloody handprint. He informed me that if it was the first time a particular Hun was to be flown in the Turkish Air Force before they scheduled its flight, they would sacrifice a lamb to ensure its safe operation!
Well, you may wonder if such a blessing works? All I can say is, during the training of the two Turk squadrons we never lost a jet and I only remember aborting one for a maintenance problem.
One of my first jobs was to assist the Turks in laying out the LABS range and run-in line at Konia. Little did I know that Konia was dead center of an annual Stork migration route.? It wasn’t until we were training the second squadron that I had the occasion to pass close by one of those critters while flying down the run-in line at 500kts and 500 feet above the ground! Thank God we never hit one during training missions with the Turks. The first LABS training mission with a student was always interesting. Since each squadron only had one F model, I did most of the initial LABS runs flying on the wing of a student.
Invariably two things would always happen on their first LABS run. First, they would overshoot the four-G pull, finally centering the needle about halfway into the maneuver. Likewise, they would overshoot at G cutback. Needless to say, it got pretty hairy at times, particularly at G cutback when it seemed that the student was trying to put the Hun into low earth orbit!
In June of 1960, I was once again assigned to the USAFE Special Training team. In early June we were assigned to train the 727 Squadron at Karup, RDAFB. (Four of the 727th would become SSS members and attended one of our Vegas reunions).
When we arrived in Denmark, the Danish government was debating whether or not to undertake a nuclear mission. We were told to proceed with the training as if the Danish government would agree to take on the nuke mission.
Flying with the Danes was a great assignment in many ways. First, all the jocks spoke excellent English and they were excellent Hun drivers. Second, due to the Danish government debate about introducing nuclear weapons, we were on a relaxed training schedule. We would normally only fly one training sortie every other day, and with only two IPs we had a lot of time off. Let me tell you, Denmark in the summer isn’t a bad place to be.
While there, I lived in a 300-year-old farmhouse in the village of Dollerup. Dollerup had a direct tie to the U.S. Revolutionary War. It turns out that during our fight for independence there had been some residents of Dollerup that joined General Washington’s army. As a consequence, every year they had a big 4th of July celebration in Dollerup! Needless to say, on July 4, 1960, we were all willing participants in the party.
Not far from our house was the Karup River. Since I had a lot of extra time and it didn’t get dark till nearly 10 p.m. there was plenty of time to fly and still fish for trout. As a bachelor, there was also plenty of time to meet some lovely Danish ladies. Yes, flying with the Danes was good duty. Our time in Denmark was cut short by a month when the Danish Parliament decided not to introduce nuclear weapons.
Back to Spangdahlem
In early August 1960, I completed my tour on the special training team and I was back in the 8th Squadron at Spang pulling nuke alert and flying occasional trips to Wheelus AB, Libya for nuclear weapons delivery training. One major improvement was that our old dash 15 F-100Ds were replaced by the latest dash 90 models. These jets had greatly improved navigation aids (ILS & TACAN), but best of all we could now carry our nukes on the fuselage station and drop the infamous 1E asymmetrical configuration.
In early 1961, F-105s (aka Thuds) began to replace F-100s in Europe. Spang was scheduled to begin converting to Thuds in the fall of 1961. I was scheduled to rotate back stateside in August 1961 but they wanted me to extend my tour for a year and check out in the 105. By then, I was fortunate to have an assignment to return to George AFB and fly a jet that I always wanted to fly —- the F-104. It was a no-brainer; I said no thanks to the 105 and was to go back to George and F-104s — but there was to be a brief hiccup.
A couple of days before I was scheduled to go to Frankfurt for the flight home, I was having breakfast with Charley Lescher at the Spang “O” club when Major Peters, our 8th squadron ops officer, came by our table and told us to immediately report to the squadron. Upon arriving we were informed that the Soviets had started to build a wall around their Berlin sector and that we were going on alert! But it wasn’t to be a fifteen-minute nuke alert; it was to be a five-minute alert lined up on the runway armed with conventional weapons! We were to be loaded with napalm and rockets! My next great surprise was to learn that the wing weapons officer was back at Nellis AFB checking out in the Thud and that I was to brief the wing on the proper settings for delivery of the weapons. After three years of being prepared to initiate the end of the world with nukes, we were going conventional and I was going to tell them how to do it! Hell, I didn’t even know if we had conventional weapons on our base. We did.
It wasn’t too long before I found myself in the cockpit in borrowed gear (mine had long gone stateside), on the runway as lead of a four-jets with naps and rockets, and a Soviet Sam site in the Berlin air corridor as our target! If we launched, the chance of all of us, any of us, returning to Spang was pretty close to zero, but as it happened, we stood down after a week or so. The first F-100 attacks on a SAM site would have to wait four more years until 1965 in Vietnam.
(As a footnote to all of this, it was only 14 months later as the Cuban Crisis unfolded that I found myself back in Germany at Hahn AB in an F-104 sitting five-minute Air Defense alert).
From the first fighter I flew in 1955, the F-86 until I flew the F-16, the day before I retired in 1985, I was fortunate to do exactly what I set out to do. In 1955, I was full of attitude and not much brains. At that time the F-100 was by far the hottest airplane in the Air Force. It was the jet that every fighter pilot wanted to fly and I was one of the lucky ones. From the F-100 I learned a lot about flying single-seat, single-engine jet fighters. In my 32 years in the service, I was fortunate to be operationally qualified to fly the best jet fighters in the USAF, but it was the 1,700 hours in the Hun that taught me the most and demanded the most of my limited skills.
- 1955-1955 94th Fighter Squadron, Nellis AFB, NV (F-86E/F)
- 1955-1956 436th Fighter Day Squadron, George AFB, CA (F-100A)
- 1956-1958 476th Fighter Day Squadron, George AFB, CA (F-100C)
- 1958 -1961 8th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Etain AB, France, and Spangdahlem AB, Germany with one year with 112th and 111th Turkish TFS Eskisehir Tukey and six months with the 727th TFS Karup Denmark all in (F-100D)
- 1961-1962 436th Tactical Fighter Squadron, George AFB, CA (F-104C)
- 1962-1963 435th Tactical Fighter Squadron, George AFB, CA (F-104C)
- 1963 -1965 ALO 1st Bde, 101 Abn Div, Ft Campbell, KY (F-84F with Springfield, IL ANG)
- 1965-1966 ALO 1st Bde, 101 Abn Div, RVN (O-1)
- 1966-1967 Fighter Ops, Hq TAC, Langley AFB, VA
- 1967-1968 Univ of Omaha, Omaha, NE
- 1968-1969 Air Command and Staff, Maxwell AFB, AL
- 1969-1971 Hq USAF, AO in Plans and Policy, Pentagon, Washington, D.C.
- 1971-1972 Student, Canadian National Defense College, Kingston, Ontario, Canada
- 1972-1972 (6 months) B Course student in F4-Cs Luke AFB, AZ en route to Thailand
- 1972-1973 Ex to the Dir Plans and Operations, Hq USAF, Pentagon, Washington, D.C.
- 1973-1976 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, ADO, DO and Vice CC, Davis-Monthan AFB, Tucson, AZ (A-7)
- 1976-1977 602nd Tactical Control Wing CC (OV-10, O-2)
- 1977 -1978 Staff officer in DO shop at Hq TAC, Langley AFB, VA
- 1978-1980 31st Tactical Fighter Wing, CC (F-4E)
- 1980-1981 832nd Air Division CC, Luke AFB, AZ (F-4C, F-15, F-104G, F-5)
- 1981-1982 Dir Plans, Hq TAC, Langley AFB, VA
- 1982-1984 Director of Operational Requirements, Hq USAF, Pentagon
- 1984-1985 16th AF CC, Torrejon AB, Spain (F-16)
- 10/1/1985 Retired from USAF
Awards & Decorations
Distinguished Service Medal
Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster
Distinguished Flying Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster
Bronze Star Medal
Meritorious Service Medal with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters
Air Medal with 4 Oak Leaf Clusters
Air Force Commendation Medal
Army Commendation Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster
Combat Readiness Medal
Military & Civilian Education
- 1954 Enlisted AvCavs
- 1955 Pilot Class 55 O
- 1961 Squadron Officer’s Course
- 1969 Air Command and Staff DG
- 1971-1972 Canadian National Defense College
- 1952 Cocoa HS
- 1952 1952-1953 Georgia Tech
- 1968 BGS University of Omaha
- 1969 MBA Auburn University