The F-100 Super Sabre….It’s Legacy – 1953 to 1979

20 March 2019, DRAFT v5.2 – General Joe Ashy

(Note: This is intended to be a narrative outline, to assist in a discussion, amongst men who flew the machine, about the Super Sabre’s legacy; they are all warrior fighter pilots and brothers, reprobates and grab-asses, and they served and led with distinction and know what they are talking about; and thus are superbly able to “tell these stories” so as to “fill in the blanks” resulting in the legacy story)

In Perspective: History in technology advancement, with attendant capability and characteristics

  • America’s first supersonic jet fighter (straight and level at sea level)
  • Analog systems (before the digital age)
  • Sensors: pilot’s eyes and small radar for guns tracking sight
  • Afterburning engine, but very difficult to successfully select at altitude and/or G-loaded flight
  • The pilot had to “outfly” adversary in an air fight (maneuver to stern for guns/heat seeking missiles) to kill him
  • Navigation: dead reckoning in combat with a magnetic compass; beacon/TACAN receiver equipped
  • Incorporated some flight control “augmentation” (analog); autopilot was installed but disconnected due to faulty, spurious, unintended (and lethal) engagements
  • No ground attack standoff/launch-and-leave/precision weapons attack capability – near target flyover required, adversely affecting survivability
  • Manual ground attack sight and aiming affecting accuracy, vulnerability, and, thus, the probability of kill (Pk) of the target
  • Challenging flight characteristics: adverse yaw when G-loaded, high landing speed, sensitive controls
  • Drag chute equipped, with no approach end arrestment capability for emergency landings
  • Communications: single UHF, vacuum tube radio
  • Air refueling capable probe and drogue – The initial AR probe was a straight tube extending from underneath the right wing, so during approach to AR contact with the “basket” attached to a hose extended from the tanker, it was not visible by the pilot. A later modification curved the tube upwards improved the pilot’s peripheral visibility somewhat. Airspeed incompatibilities with (propeller driven) KB-29, KB-50, and KB-97 tankers made join-ups and refueling operations very challenging and required skill. The advent of the (jet) KC-135 improved this regime and situation.

The USAF Fighter/Attack Contributions to the Joint Fight:

  • Defensive Counterair was the original design (day fighter interceptor) capability emerging from the Korean War, with objective air defense and supremacy; However, in SEA combat operations, seven F-100F aircraft were modified to perform close-in, anti-radiation SEAD operations (Offensive Counter Air)
  • Deterrence (Theater of Operations and Strategic) nuclear delivery attack capability
  • Interdiction of adversary movements and cache/stockpiled capabilities
  • Air Support for land/sea maneuver forces IAW the Geographic Combatant Commanders’ (GCC) battle plan

How the Sabre and the Men who Flew it Contributed to these Joint Missions Sets during its 37 Year Service Life (not including Drone mission life)

  • Day, air superiority, fighter – defensive counter air (Note: Later, in a two-month SEA deployment, seven aircraft were modified with rudimentary SA-2 radar detection gear, along with already existing close-in air to surface rockets (pre Shrike Missile capability), to perform anti-radiation SEAD operations against SEA enemy surface-to-air missile threats – offensive counter air with combat attrition near 100%)
  • Nuclear attack delivery system – deterrence
  • Ground attack system in SEA combat – Misty “Fast FACs” support to Ho Chi Minh Trail interdiction operations; and destruction of cached/stockpiled material, ammunition and equipment in-county – interdiction
  • Primary ground attack system (440 F-100s) in county for South Vietnam in-country air support to land forces’ combat maneuver units (USAR, Marines, AVRN, etc.) and Navy Riverine units – air support to surface maneuver units (alert or airborne immediate CAS for troops in contact, pre-planned CAS, LZ preparation, convoy cover, airborne cover for C-123 defoliant (Agent Orange) spray operations, etc.)
  • An unmanned drone target system – Supporting USAF advanced defensive counter air training, and realistic live missile employment training

A credit to Ingenuity, Flexibility, Fortitude, Skill, Commitment, and the men who supported/flew it; and the USAF who Operated the Machine….

  • The USAF took a system and flexibly modified it to well serve emerging and challenging mission sets and requirements over the system’s span of 4x years
  • There were some “manly drivers” who were exceptionally skilled in flying a demanding machine; one that permitted little margin for idle focus and lack of pilotage sense and competence
  • Pilots, maintainers, weaponeers, and FAMILIES endured extended separations re TAC rotations oversea and deployments; likewise, for those assigned to overseas theaters
  • High Flights (ocean crossings) were more-than-challenging in that era (poor navigation accuracy and capability during that era, difficult tanker join-ups due to weather, navigation capability and communications, and search and rescue assets and capability)
  • Nuclear alert and accompanying training demanded discipline, skill, and precision (think…..nuclear ToT certification standard within a very few minutes, anywhere in theater, on pilotage DR!)
  • Combat and peacetime losses were substantial (men and machines)
  • In the mid-’60s, engine compressor cases started “cracking” and required a major modification. In the interim, there was a “Rube Goldberg” fix which entailed wrapping a cable around the compressor cases! Pilots could often smell the “smokers” (fumes) in the cockpit.
  • The “wing boxes” begin failing in the late ‘60s due to fatigue failure and caused wings to fail and several tragic accidents with fatalities; The McPeak  T-Bird show episode at Del Rio was one that was survived; others in SEA combat were not so fortunate (Lindberg on nape pass in ’67, and Clyde Carter on last flight flyby Bien Hoa ’67) – a modification was finally installed with a “strap” bolted into the box from the underbelly area  
  • Distinction, determination, valor and mission accomplishment in combat were widely recognized, and they garnered utmost respect from colleague joint forces and brothers in arms
  • With this system, given it’s analog capabilities, flight characteristics, demanding missions, pre-digital age, and almost no standoff capability with resultant vulnerability, the “Probability of Total Success” of target prosecution (Pt), which was a product in that era, of Probability of Target Kill, Pk, and Probably of Survival, Ps, was obviously low in highly defended battle space….as compared to a modern machine which cannot be “seen,” and has fused, integrated, digital battlespace knowledge with standoff, precision weapons capability! So, in the Sabre era, those were “manly days, in a manly machine, with manly missions, flown but manly men (IMO)!”  
  • The men who flew the Sabre possessed skill, mission focus, and a warrior’s determination, along with an incredible sense of brotherhood-of arms, comradeship, and sense of humor unmatched anywhere!

PostScript 1 – The Cold War: How the Super Sabre helped to achieve the outcome

PostScript 2 – Tet ’68: The bigger picture and how the Super Sabre helped influence the outcome