Chuck McClarren

Chuck McClarrenFirst F-100 ejection (17 Nov 1959): I was an instructor in the Fighter Weapons School at Nellis AFB, NV. Awoke early that day and decided to go on down to Ops and see what was happening  (always on the prowl for an open cockpit). We were in the Dart Target Air to Air Phase at that time, and we had been losing a lot of targets just after launch due to some problems with the reel brakes, so we always had a spare Dart Tow standing by in case this happened. That morning, the spare tow was ready, but the spare pilot had not arrived yet, so I grabbed my gear and went out to standby in case the primary tow lost his target after launch. He did, so I launched to fill the gap, except that my dart did exactly the same thing – ran out to the end of cable and snapped off. The student flight then had to switch to an alternate mission, while I and the other tow were left to burn down to landing weight, jettison the cables in the drop zone beside the runway and then get back on the ground as quickly as possible in order to troubleshoot the problem.

The other tow already had gone up North into the range area, so I popped up over Sheep Range, “stroked the burner” a couple of times and headed back in to drop the cable. There is a small valley on the west end of Sheep Range which slopes down into the larger valley between Indian Springs and Vegas, and I was letting down through it to start my approach for the drop. I checked the cable – which was still in place and clear of the aircraft, but when I turned back to look ahead, I was startled to see that the nose had dropped down about thirty degrees and was moving further down despite my pull on the stick – which by now was in the full back position! A couple of pumps on the stick revealed that I had no pitch control; it was as if something had come disconnected!

A big old Joshua Tree was rushing up at me, and I could see that I was going to hit the ground in just a few more seconds. I yanked up the armrests and blew the canopy at the same time I was pulling myself into the ejection position – and squeezed the trigger. Blam! Rip! Rip! – and the ejection seat came down from above and passed less than a foot in front of my face. I looked up to check on the chute canopy and was horrified to see that about a third of the panels were missing. Apparently, the seat had gone through the canopy somehow – and had nearly hit me in the head as it came down. The only thing that saved my life was the lateral skirt band around the bottom which had not severed when hit by the seat and was slowing me down a little from a full free-fall.

About this time, the “Hun” hit the ground right in front of me and exploded. I momentarily thought I was going into the fireball, but there was enough parachute drag to slow me down a bit, and I hit about a hundred feet short of the crash site. In the final few seconds before hitting the ground, I knew that I was going to get hurt, so I went into the best PLF position I could so that my legs could absorb as much of the shock as possible. I hit the ground and was knocked out for a few seconds, then I could hear my voice gasping for air, but I couldn’t see anything! I realized then that the opening shock had “cinched” my chute harness around my chest so tightly that I couldn’t get a full breath, so I reached up and unsnapped my chest latch. Immediately after the first full breaths, my eyesight returned, and I began to assess the damage. Hands and arms appeared to be working OK, but both legs were very painful to move. I felt my behind and came back with two handfuls of blood from where I had imbedded various rocks, so I crawled up into what was left of my chute canopy and waited for someone who might have seen the fireball and subsequent smoke column. About five minutes later, a “Hun” came over, made several passes, and the helicopter got there in about thirty minutes.

My second F-100  ejection: In August of ’62, I was in Stan/Eval at Itazuke, Japan, and was scheduled for a combat readiness flight check in an F-model with 1st Lt. Twito. We had first launch of the day. The weather was just at/above  minimums, but forecast to get better by the time we were due back, so off we went. We planned to cross over the Sea of Japan to Korea where the weather was good and run a combat profile there which would end-up with a drop on Kooni Range and recover back at ‘Zuke, with an alternate at Osan in case the weather hadn’t improved.

All went smoothly during takeoff/climb out, and we broke out on top at twenty-one thousand. We had just leveled off when I felt a very slight shudder from someplace behind us in the airframe. A couple of quick “visual trips” around the cockpit and instruments revealed nothing, so we pressed on – – however, about 30 seconds later, the oil pressure began to drop – – We declared an emergency and started a turn back toward Itazuke, while not being thrilled at the thought of trying a weather approach with a dubious engine. We hadn’t even completed “180” when the decision was made for us – the engine seized. We asked approach control to scramble rescue and keep tracking us all the way, which they did.

Because we were just passing through 18,000 – and this was going to be my third ejection (the prior two had been an F-100D at Nellis and an F-84F at England AFB in Louisiana), I felt obligated to give Twito a few “pearls of wisdom” about ejecting successfully – so I went through what we were going do – and in what sequence – namely rear seat first, then front so as not to “fry” the rear seater from the front seat blast – but especially describing the shock and chill of the air rushing around us after the canopy came off. (On my first ejection, I actually had frozen/hesitated for several seconds before firing the seat when I was subjected to the roaring air blast after the canopy came off!!). I have to laugh now when I think about how “cool” I felt to be imparting all this wisdom. What I didn’t realize was that that I was so “cool” that I had not released the mike button from talking to approach control – and they recorded every word – profanity and all!

By then we were passing ten thousand, in and out of cloud layers, so with one more warning about the air blast, I blew the canopy and ejected. The “butt slapper” kicked me out of the seat, and I had my zero lanyard attached to my D-Ring, so I relaxed and waited for the opening shock. Nothing happened! My collar tips began to whip against my face, and I realized that I was in a freefall – – so I opened my eyes and looked around. The seat was still about six to eight feet away on the end of my zero lanyard – – which had not pulled out the D-ring!! So I pulled the D-Ring out and was rewarded with the opening shock of the chute. The seat disappeared into the murk beneath me, and I was left with a few moments to prepare for a rough water landing. I passed through another open area between cloud layers and was greatly relieved to see Twito’s chute off in the distance toward shore. About this time, I remembered that they had just closed all the beaches on that side of Japan because it was shark migratory season, and several 14-16 foot hammerheads had been seen the day before along our beaches. Mental note to self: Inflate and get in the raft ASAP!!

While pondering the above thoughts, I broke out of the last cloud layer about 12-15 hundred feet above the water. The wind was very strong, the waves were 10-15 feet in height and everything was white foam. I managed to get twisted around to where I was facing into the wind just as I hit the water. The wind kept the canopy fully inflated on its side, and I was off to the races like some sort of a racing sailboat. I enjoyed the first few minutes of this because I was skimming along toward the coast and the area in which Twito had come down; but, it also dawned on me that if there was a shark down below, I probably looked like a big fishing lure hopping along the surface. Also, about then, I dropped into a deep trough between waves and was dragged under the next two or three before I could take another breath, so-o-o, I hit the riser release and promptly was tossed into the chute canopy with all the risers. I finally got untangled from everything, inflated my dinghy and prepared to get in. Just then something bumped solidly against my right leg!! About one second later I was literally standing up in the dinghy, shouting profanity and looking down into the water around the raft as I tried to see what had “bumped” me! It turned out that a small survival kit was hanging on a lanyard from that end of the raft and was the “culprit” which had bumped against my leg – and “assisted” me in climbing into the raft so easily despite the rough water.

A few minutes later, the C-47 from the base appeared from the east and initially set up an orbit over me, but then went back to watch the chopper pick-up of Twito, after which, he headed back out my way. It soon became obvious that he had lost his “visual” on me. After a few minutes of watching them mill around, I realized that it was flare time from my trusty survival kit. Immediate visual contact, pickup and flight back to Itazuke – – neither of us had any real injuries – just the usual ejection seat bruises, etc. The Navy reclamation ship came up the next week and recovered the engine from around 170 feet depth in that area. Number six bearing had failed.