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.
Jerry N. Hicks
I had only been at Wheelus (transferred from the 524th at Cannon) for two or three months when things went to hell. When I arrived there, I found out that the manning for gun plumbers had been cut. I only got a couple of missions on El Uotia range before they pulled the cannons off the birds and took the combing glasses out. That was interesting. You could certainly see better, but that’s like making a steer out of a bull.
On the morning of Sept. 1, 1969, I had a golf match set up, and I was trying to shave without cutting my throat after a big night at the club. As I was shaving, it finally dawned on me that a lot of F-100’s were taking off; and this was supposed to be a non-flying day. About that time, my boss, Don Zimmerman, showed up and told me about the coup and that we were all restricted to the base. All the planes from the continent were quickly being sent home. Life as we knew it on Wheelus certainly changed then.
Luckily we had recently had a change of Wing CC’s. Chappie James was now “the” man. There was no doubt that he was the right man at the right time & place. I think he put the fear of Allah in some of the Libyans. The planes had been de-armed before Chappie got there; but after the coup, he had the maintenance people pull the Huns into the hanger one at a time and put the guns back on them. He said that the guns might not fire accurately, but at least if the Libyans ever tried to overrun the base, we could at least fight back. At that stage of the game we didn’t know what might happen.
Part of the duties of the Hun drivers was to check out in and fly the U-6. We flew personnel and supplies out to El Uotia. That got interesting after the coup. When you showed up at the U-6, you had to have flight orders with everyone’s name on them that was going on the plane, and you had to have a manifest listing all cargo. You had to stand beside the plane until a Libyan soldier got there to check all paperwork. Once he said it was okay, you could take off.
When you returned to Wheelus, you could open the doors on the U-6, but you weren’t allowed to get out. You had to sit there and sweat until the soldier showed up again to check your paperwork. He would look at it intently for quite a while and then nod that everything was okay. I personally don’t think the bastards could read English, and maybe not even Arabic.
I also enjoyed the article that Chappie had written. I remember seeing it in the base paper. He did take some, shall we say, journalistic license with it though, which was fine. I led the last F-100’s out of Wheelus on Dec. 19, 1969. I had Charlie Soucia on my wing, and we flew two C models out to Lakenheath, via Aviano.
Chappie didn’t talk to us before we left, but I did call his office before take-off. Flying was tightly controlled, and I wanted to see if he would approve making a wide 270 on take-off and making a fly-by down the main street of the base. Whoever I talked to came back and said that Chappie said no. He was under a hell of a load of pressure right then, so I sure didn’t push it. We took off and went on our merry way. Note: there were two or three of Wheelus’ C models over at Adana when the last ones left Wheelus. We did a little dart towing over there, but we took them direct to Lakenheath and they never got back to Wheelus.