David S. Graben – Caterpillar Club

David S Graben

I am one of many that have one more takeoff than landing in the F-100. It all started on the 6th of December, 1962. I was a new guy in the 36th TFS based at Itazuke, Japan. I had been in the squadron a little over six months. That afternoon I looked at the schedule that “Whiskey Bill” had just posted. I saw that I was to fly with the squadron CO, Lt. Col. Obenshane.

I asked my flight commander, Capt. John Brichetto, if I was to read anything into the assignment.He said it could be good news or bad news. It was well established that the good colonel only flew with senior captains or majors. Perhaps Obe was comfortable with my reputation in the squadron or he might be ready to send me to SEA to fly L-19s. I didn’t sleep well that night!
Morning eventually came and I left to go fly. I was to give the colonel a practice instrument ride to get him ready for his annual check. The briefing didn’t contain much except start time and a rough outline on what he wanted to accomplish. We stepped and started. The take off was normal and we climbed into smooth and bright blue air and headed southwest. Obe said, “Give me an unusual attitude.”
I complied with an eagerness that may not have been well thought out. I brought the nose to near vertical. “You have it Colonel.” The jet’s nose arched over and we started to recover. Obe pushed the throttle up but the RPM was still decreasing. “What the hell did you do, Lt?” I replied in the negative and denied anything. “Do a restart.”
“But the RPM is zero,” I said.

I said “do a restart.” I didn’t want to argue with the boss so I complied. The result was predictable: a very loud explosion and the fire light coming on. I stop-cocked and set up a glide. We were over the water but I could see a small island about five or six miles away.

I told the colonel that I was headed for the Island. He was quite adamant about not getting wet. About every two seconds I heard, ” Are we going to make it?” We crossed the island at about 2,000 ft.

I said, “If you eject now you will land on the island.” BAM, the canopy left. I couldn’t believe that he ejected without a salutation of some sort. I glanced back and saw a very empty space where his seat once was. I put my feet in the stirrups, scooted back in the seat, and with my head back, I lifted the handles and squeezed the triggers. I woke up having separated from the seat. I muttered a silent prayer: “I hope that chute opens!” Just then the chute filled with a “pop” and I drifted downward at a very slow rate. I was swinging back and forth so I pulled down on several risers as trained to do. The chute COLLAPSED! I stopped breathing but it refilled right away.

Next I deployed the survival pack. The seat left me and was hanging down several feet. I managed to kick the lanyard and got the swinging under control. I landed about a third of the way from the top of the hill (mountain). I missed all the trees and landed in a flower bed that served as a rest area for the locals who hiked up the hill to visit a small shrine at the top. The bed was as soft as a pillow and I landed still on my feet. I stood for a second or two and then did the PLF [parachute landing fall]. What the hell was I thinking? I looked about to see if anyone had seen the unnecessary maneuver. I got out of the chute and heard quite a commotion about 100 meters away.
It was the colonel. He had landed in a tree and was hanging a few feet above the ground. He couldn’t release the survival kit! He undid the crotch straps but got the LPU strap hung up on his helmet and he was being choked by the strap. He said everything was going red when he grabbed his switch blade survival knife and made a swipe at the offending strap. He cut the strap and also his neck! He missed the artery but was bleeding like a stuck pig. I managed to put a bandage on the cut to slow the bleeding. About this time appeared a native dressed for all in the world like a WW2 Jap infantryman complete with head band. He was carrying a very large machete. He was looking over the raft so I gave it to him with a “DOMO” and he departed stage left with the raft.
About that time, a helicopter showed up and took us home.

The Sabre had crossed the island and landed in the bay. I got sued for one million YEN for disturbing the fishing! A Navy mine sweeper on maneuvers saw the Hun hit and marked it. A week or so later a salvage ship was dispatched and FW-220 was taken back to Fukuoka and deposited on the city’s dock. A Sgt. and some helpers loaded the remains on a flat bed. It looked to them like the wings were longer than the streets were wide.

Out came a torch and they proceeded to cut the wings off. Well, you guessed it. The resulting blaze was extinguished by the Jap fire department but not before the dock, trailer, and plane were damaged. It was determined by the board that the number six seal had come undone (lock tabs were missing!) and all the oil had leaked out. The board calculated that I had ejected less than two seconds after the colonel had. I guess the adrenaline had kicked in and time slowed for me.