Bill Hosmer – Caterpillar Club

hosemerIn 1961, I was Thunderbird Two (Left Wing) on a flight from Wright-Patterson AFB to Quonset Point NAS, Rhode Island. Hoot Gibson, the Leader then, had received clearance from the tower for arrival maneuvers prior to landing there for a demonstration on the next day. As we closed up formation and descended for the initial maneuver, I started to fall back. Additional throttle did  nothing, so I called that I had a problem, and used speed to get some altitude. We were fairly close to the runway, but I zoomed to about an altitude close to what would allow me to reach a low key point on a downwind. I started to attempt air starts, with no luck. Bob Cass, Thunderbird Three (Right Wing), peeled off and onto a wide wing formation on me, and talked me through another attempted airstart, still no luck. I was not concentrating sufficiently on my positioning for the landing while attempting the air start and finding my position and altitude not looking good for a
successful landing, especially when I put the gear down. Bob Cass, with fervor, told me to get out, so I rolled out of my turn from downwind to base, aimed at an uninhabited area straight ahead and ejected. I estimate I was around 500 to 600 feet above the ground in a descent.

The seat separation was fine, the canopy looked great, but I was right over a busy roadway, and it looked as though I’d be run over by a car when I landed on the road, so I pulled on one side to slip off the roadway line, and promptly found myself in a rather tall tree adjacent to the roadway. I heard my F-100C impact just before engaging the branches. I had no apparent injuries, but it took me awhile to disentangle from the tree, which was not an easy one to climb down from. A lot of the auto traffic stopped and people came to my tree to offer assistance. I told them just to let me try it, and to back away so I or some of my equipment would not fall on them. I really wished no one was there because I needed to urinate. I made my way down ok, and was given a ride of about ten minutes to the front gate, where I was picked up by some of our maintenance guys in a vehicle, thence to the flight line where the troops were watching this arrival demonstration. Swell. There were no major injuries, and the next day we flew our airshow, with me using the spare F-100C which was along on this trip of about four show locations. It was Sept 1961. I left the team in mid-63 with no more such incidents. The Hun experienced electrical difficulties which involved the main fuel shut-off valve, and that was the suspected reason for my engine failure.

There were skeptics in the Nellis leadership about that finding. Fortunately, later on while we were flying to Florida at cruising altitude, and passing over Alabama, Hoot Gibson experienced flame-out, and we were at cruising altitude, probably above 35,000 feet. When he reached the altitude in the descent at which air starts were deemed successful, I think around 25,000 feet, he began a series of attempted air starts as we approached Maxwell AFB, AL. After descending through several decks of clouds, and continuing air start attempts, Hoot picked up the field visually, and performed a perfect dead stick landing. I don’t recall the length of that runway, but the F-100C had no flaps, so touchdown speed was high. It was a story book landing. The findings on that engine failure were the same as what were suspected in my accident, so that helped with the skepticism we had faced earlier. By the way, I went from the team to F-105s in Okinawa and Korat RTAFB, a tour at TAC HQ, thence to Tuy Hoa (back in the Hun) and later into the A-7D at DM AFB AZ. No more ejections!

-Bill Hosmer