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.
Wayne K. Heise
When the Korean War started in June 1950, I was a single, self-employed farmer in northeast Nebraska, with a rented quarter-section of farmland, a Farmall tractor, and a new Chevy Aero sedan. But I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life on a tractor, turning left all day long, so I enlisted.
I was given a delayed entry date because I had “crops in the field” (sounds like a line from a country-western hit from long ago), and was sworn in in January 1951, at Fort Omaha.
After a great train ride to San Antonio, with Pullman cars, a dining car, etc., reality set in with a blue bus ride to Lackland AFB. Basic training followed by “tech school” to become a B-29 gunner. That schooling was canceled halfway through and I became a bomb loader and aircraft mechanic assigned to Kirtland AFB, Albuquerque, NM. I was then further assigned to the armament section of an atomic test group whose purpose was to develop and write loading procedures, etc., for atomic weapons on a variety of aircraft.
One of my superiors was Tech Sgt. Bernie Gray. He was a tough old lifer and, barracks rat who started out in the Navy as a mechanic on a PT boat in the Pacific in WWII, and I honestly think he didn’t like anyone, particularly me. For a farm boy, I had an unusual talent for turning a wrench into an instrument of destruction on any device I touched. Sgt. Gray’s response was to throw his cap down and yell, “Dammit, Heise!”. After a while, I thought my first name was “Dammit.”
Time moved on, and I applied for and was accepted for the Aviation Cadet Program. As I left Kirtland, Sgt. Gray pulled me to one side and said, “Dammit Heise, if you screw up and get sent back here, I’m going to tear 10 pounds off your pimply red ass.” Another good reason to succeed.
Time moved on again and I graduated in T-33s with Class 543 in May 1954, just three years after I got off that Farmall tractor.
Time moved on yet again, and in 1957 I was a 1st Lt. flight commander flying F-100’s with the 492nd Fighter-Bomber Squadron of the 48th TFW, based at Chaumont, France. I had moved up in the world and now had a wife, a daughter, and a Pontiac, and we were living in a trailer on base. Life was sweet! (see Note)
We stood on nuclear alert at Hahn AB in Germany. One dark, dreary day, I took my flight to Hahn for a two-week no-fly, sit-on-your-butt-all-day on nuclear alert as a “Bomb Commander”.
As we pulled into the Alert area and shut down our birds, the loading crews met us and immediately began loading “the Unit.” World of wonders, who should be ram-rodding the loading crews but Sgt. Gray! I left my helmet on, with the visor down, as I climbed out of my airplane. I inspected the loading hook-up and when I’d finished, I stepped back a bit and motioned Sgt. Gray to come over. When he got in front of me, I took off my helmet. The look on his face was priceless. And true to form, he took off his cap and threw it to the ground, saying, “Dammit Heise, I’m proud of you!”
Note: When Wayne was flying F-100’s, as a Flight Commander, in France and Germany, he experienced the transition as the United States was asked to remove nuclear weapons. De Gaulle had kicked the USAF out of France and Wayne who was stationed at Chaumont was forced to move his family to Bitburg AB.