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.
Robert P. Breault
In His Words…
March 27, 1967: my 6:30 a.m. takeoff on a Most Beautiful Morning. My most exciting 4 seconds in the F-100, or when the plane blew its engine on take-off.
The following info is for the following calculations. In terms of speed:
1 knot = 1.15077945 mph.
60 miles per hour = 88 feet per second.
Takeoff speed for an F100 is 200 knots or 230.0 mph or about ~500 feet/sec.
The F-100 on a normal day approached 7,000 feet before reaching the takeoff speed.
I had an early morning takeoff time. I was loaded with two cans of napalm and two 500lb Bombs. The sun was just coming up through a broken cloud bank over the ocean to the East of Phan Rang. The temperature was great. It was such an inspiring morning that I took the time to take pictures of the plane with the sunrise as the background. I even took the time to position my helmet on the canopy and re-shoot the picture. I was in a happy mood and feeling the thrill of being a fighter pilot.
I was flight lead. We taxied to the runway and received clearance for takeoff. I rolled into position. I stopped the plane and pressed hard on my breaks to hold the plane as I pushed the throttle to full power. I did my instrument check, oil, exhaust temperature, and pressure and it all read normal. I released the breaks and lit the afterburner. I could feel the normal pressure of the acceleration press me back into the seat as I enjoyed the view and the thunderous sound of engine thrust.
As I accelerated, I had a wonderful feeling realizing that the plane was in perfect shape and the wheels rolled in perfect alignment. I remember thinking, “It doesn’t get better than this. This is one of the most beautiful moments in my life; a near virgin runway and the perfect plane on a magnificent day”.
As I approached 200 knots, I pulled back on the stick lightly and the plane lifted free of the runway, about 7,000 feet down the 10,000 foot. airstrip. I reached for the gear handle to raise the gear and suddenly there was a huge explosion all around me. Surprisingly, I was still alive. In a glance, I saw all my engine indicators drop. I had no power. To successfully eject from an F-100 you needed to be above 200 knots and above 200 feet in order to have time and with velocity to pull the chute open for a safe landing (maybe). I was at 200 knots and 4 feet off the ground. If I pulled up, I would lose my airspeed and I would die if I ejected.
In a half a second, I determined that I might have a slim chance. I lowered the plane back down onto the runway approaching the 9,000-foot marker. I had 2 seconds to stop the 15-ton plane moving at 200 knots and running off the end of the runway and into a minefield that was there to protect me from enemy infiltration. Under these circumstances, the minefield was likely going to finish me off. Past the overrun, there was a four-foot drop which would have collapsed my nose gear and I would have tumbled and gone up in one spectacular ball of fire; napalm, bombs, full load of fuel and the mines. It would have been a sight to remember for the men in the tower and firemen watching my takeoff.
I lowered the gear and put the plane back down on the runway. Then instinctively, I pulled the drag chute with my left hand and simultaneously hit the tailhook release with my right hand. This was not protocol. It was never something we practiced. I also pressed as hard as I could on the brakes to avoid going into a skid.
It occurred to me that if I approached the end of the cement paved runway there would be a heavy-duty cable designed for “barrier” engagement. Beyond that, there was a webbing that might stop a slow-rolling F-100 but I would probably tear through that like a red-hot knife in butter. I had only one slim hope. When I dropped the tailhook I glanced up and saw the cable that I had to hook, just going under my sight of view under the nose of the plane. I was hoping that the hook had not bounced over the cable as it was known to do. The runway was new and flat. The cable was new and as strong as it would ever be. But I wondered if it could withstand a carrier type landing with a full fuel load, two cans of napalm, and two 500lb bombs. I did not know the answer.
The overrun was about 2,000 feet. I sped towards the end of it pressing ever harder on the brakes. Nothing happened. There appeared to be no decrease in my plane’s ground speed. I felt that there were now only fractions of a second left to my end. I had done all that I could. About halfway down the overrun I sensed a radical drop in speed. I knew that I had engaged the hydraulic cable. Now, would it hold or snap apart? I was still going pretty fast but decelerating rapidly as the hydraulics pulled harder with every foot forward. Afterward, I remember sitting back, very relaxed, being very composed and I remember twiddling my thumbs round and round exactly tree times asking myself, “Did I catch it, or am I a hamburger? Did I catch it, or am I a hamburger? Did I catch it, or am I a hamburger?”
Finally, I sensed I would stop before the end of the overrun. I now had just one more problem. The brakes were going to heat up and possibly explode setting the plane on fire; along with the napalm and bombs. I had to get out. I opened the canopy and a crew chief was already there with a ladder on the plane for my escape. I got out safely and got away from the plane. The firemen put cages on the wheels in case they exploded and sprayed a mist of water on the brakes to cool them down. A short while later a crew chief came over to me and said, “Sir, you set a record. You pulled 1738 feet of a 1740-foot cable. Maybe all of it and it just pulled you back a bit. You are a lucky man.”
The officer in the tower and the fire crew on duty that witnessed it all and told me later that they thought my bombs had exploded on takeoff. They said, from their point of view, it appeared that as I lifted off, my plane had been engulfed in flames. I never saw any flames. They were all behind my canopy.
Upon review and inspection, they discovered that the pilot that had flown before me thought he had ingested a bird but failed to write it up. Apparently, the bird had been ingested on landing but got stuck on the center portion of the engine, it’s center shaft. As I lifted off it came free and the dead bird took out all but seven of the entire engine compressor blades. Essentially, I had no engine. I had just a lot of fuel exploding forwards and backwards and through the plane’s various plenum chambers. I was a flying furnace.
By the way, I did fly another mission later in the day. Real fighter pilots do that!
The Man…Dr. Robert P. Breault
Robert Breault was born in Naugatuck, Connecticut in 1941. He hunted down crystalline rocks in the woods, made rockets and fired them off in town. In 1954, as an 8th grader, he decided to be a fighter pilot and scientific space explorer and get a PhD from the University of Arizona doing spaced based research.
He graduated from Yale ’62; BS in Math. Went to OTS and received his Regular Commission, Vance AFB 64E for pilot training; then Luke for F100 training. He was assigned to the 614 TFS, England AFB. He went to Alaska doing Polar Strike as an Umpire. Then went TDY to Misawa, Japan, Kunsan, Korea, Korat Thailand as a F100 Wild Weasel pilot, Phan Rang, Vietnam and in 1967 PCS to Nellis as an instructor to train F100 Weasels. They canceled the F100 Weasel program just as he arrived at Nellis. Resigned from the USAF in 1969 to go and get his MS ’72 and PhD ’79 in Optics.
‘Chairman and founder of the Breault Research Organization, Inc. (BRO), Dr. Breault is internationally recognized as one of the world’s leading experts in optics in the area of stray light analysis and suppression. Dr. Breault is internationally recognized as one of the world’s leading experts in the area of stray light analysis and suppression. His work covers original research on the scattering of coated surfaces, paints, glass, and mirrored surfaces – many of these for varying degrees of cleanliness or for different fabrication techniques. Dr. Breault has been involved in over 275 stray light analyses, using the APARTTM stray light analysis program, which he authored. He was instrumental in the fabrication and/or use of five different devices to measure the bidirectional scattering characteristics of surfaces.
The author and co-author of two chapters in the Handbook of Optics, Dr. Breault received his B.S. in mathematics from Yale University and his M.S. and Ph.D. in optical sciences from the University of Arizona. Dr. Breault is a fellow of SPIE optics society and Co-chairman of the Arizona Optics Industry Association, more often referred to as the Optics Cluster in Optics Valley. He has helped in some way all 54 of structured Optics Clusters around the world.’ (source: Bloomberg)