When the 461st Fighter Day Squadron at Hahn AB, Germany, was deactivated, I was transferred to the 53rd Tactical Fighter Squadron at Ramstein AB, Germany. This was quite a change from flying the F-100C either clean or with two 275 gal. fuel tanks, to flying the bird with the 1E-3 configuration and from a Day Fighter mission to a Tactical low level nuke bomber mission.
On 8 July ‘59, I was scheduled as Purple 2 on a low level training mission into France as safety observer for 1/Lt. William G. Higginbotham Jr. as Purple Lead. We departed Ramstein around noon and, as was squadron policy with the 1E-3, made single ship take-offs. Higgy leveled off at 500′ and I moved in to the observation position for the low level. I noticed that the bird was taking a lot of power to stay in position and Higgy called me a couple of times to “get back in position.” I did not think it was anything out of the ordinary and attributed it to the two 200 gal. tanks and the one 175 gal. tank that I was hauling. Higgy hit his target precisely on time and called to “push it up” for the climb to altitude for the “Hi” portion of the mission back home. I pushed it up to the stop and could see that I wasn’t gaining on Higgy, so called “Gimme one.” (Which meant that he should retard his throttle one percent of power so I could catch up with him.) I did not want to use after-burner as that would waste fuel that I might need if Ramstein was closed due to barrier engagement or wx. Higgy grumbled something on the radio as we continued the climb. I could see that I was still not gaining, so called for another one percent. Again there was some grumbling on the radio, so I figured I’d let it go and when he leveled off I would catch him and get back into position.
As I climbed thru 16,000′, there was one hell’uva bang, bad smell and the tattletale lights lit up like a Christmas tree. The ones that really concerned me were the “FIRE” and “ENGINE OVERHEAT” lights, plus the RPM was decreasing to zero. I glanced at the EGT and it was pegged. I keyed the mike and said “Purple Lead, Two has a problem.” I knew that Higgy was pissed with my sloppy flying, but I expected him to at least answer me. No such luck. Next I went to “GUARD” on the radio and called Lead again. No response from Higgy or anyone else. By this time I had stopcocked the throttle to keep from pouring fuel into the engine. I reached over to turn the RAT on but it was already on and giving me enough hydraulic pressure to maintain my attitude. A check in the mirror showed that I was leaving quite a trail of smoke, and the aft end of the bird was spitting out flames. I had also set up a glide of 220 Kts and started to stow all the loose goodies in the cockpit.
I now realized the flight was over and it was just a matter of time until I had to walk home. I hit the destruct switch on the IFF, sat back in the seat and put my boots in the seat footrest. With the EGT still pegged and the RPM at zero, I pulled the handles up as I passed thru 10,000 ft and felt the canopy blow and the wind clean out the cockpit. Nex,t I squeezed the triggers and was sent up on the ride of my life. After the initial boost I could see the airplane falling below me while I was still holding tight to the seat handles. I kicked away from the seat and the automatic chute opening device worked as advertised. I could hear the shroud lines coming out of their loops and there was a sudden thump as the canopy blossomed. A quick check of the canopy showed that it was OK … and a beautiful sight with its white and orange panels. I squirmed up into the harness saddle, which was much more comfortable, and watched the bird roll into a dive and go into the French countryside, straight in with a loud “whoup” and a ball of fire. I checked my Glycine Airman watch and it was 1320 GMT and my Hans Probst boots were still on as advertised.
By this time, I was a bit more relaxed and looked around at the countryside. At my altitude there was no perception of descending, and I had a momentary panic attack thinking I would be up here forever. Reason prevailed, and by this time I was searching for a good landing site, not that I could do much about it. I kept looking around for Higgy as I knew he would come back looking for me when he realized I was no longer with him. The smoke from the hole the Hun had dug would be a good beacon for him in locating me. There was a large grain field ahead of me and for a moment it looked like I would land smack dab in the damm fence. I could see the people working in the field watching me and starting to move toward my landing site.
The landing was not bad, and with a light breeze, I collapsed my chute and gathered it and my survival gear up just as the first people arrived. Between my French (none) and their English (none) it was determined that I was OK. I heard a noise and looking across the field saw a military jeep heading toward us at a high rate of speed right thru the grain field. It screeched to a halt beside us and a French military officer leaped out and asked in English if I was OK. I assured him I was but needed to get to a phone and let my unit know I was OK, too. He said he was from a radar site about a mile or two away and they had AUTOVON. I asked him if we could go by the crash site and see what was left of the bird. We did, and the locals were all gathered around the hole looking down into it. I told the officer that there was live ammo in that hole and to get the locals back. He did and left his driver in charge of the wreckage.
We proceeded on to the radar site and they gaveme a warm beer—one of the best beers I’ve ever had–and handed me the phone. I dialed the 53rd TFS Ops Desk and got the duty officer. He was a bit surprised that it was me, as I was supposed to be in the air. I started to tell him what had happened when the CO, Smiley Burnett, came on the phone and asked it I was OK. I assured him I was but would need a ride home. With the help of the French officer we determined that I was only a short way from Chaumont AB. Smiley said he would get a chopper on the way to get me and would send Skosh Moore and Chris Smith over in the L-20 to fly me home.
The chopper arrived in short order with Dale Potter as the pilot and landed in front of the radar site. I loaded my gear into the chopper and Dale tried to get the H-19 into the air but we were overloaded and he could not get it into a hover. He told me and the crew chief to get out and he would hop it over to the road where he could make a rolling take-off with all of us on board. He hopped it over to the road, the crew chief and I got back on, and Dale proceeded down the road and finally got the thing into the air just above the trees. For a moment I thought I was going to be in two airplane wrecks in one day, but as we burned fuel the old H-19 climbed and we returned to Chaumont AB. We were met by the Flight Surgeon and the meat wagon and whisked to the hospital for an exam. While the Flight Surgeon was doing his thing, the door burst open and my old pal, Kal Kalpain, the USAFE Jewish Rabbi, asked if I was OK. I assured him I was, and as the exam was about over, he grabbed me and said you need a drink. We got in his staff car and drove to the O’ Club where I had a couple of cool ones, when in came Skosh and Chris. Because the L-20 was not authorized to fly at night and it was late, they allowed as how we would RON at Chaumont and get an early start home in the morning. It seems that some time around midnight, the Club Manager told the Rabbi that it was closing time and to get these drunk fighter pilots out of the club before they destroyed it!
The Rabbi got us rooms at the Q, and as they were short of rooms I spent the night in Col Bruce Hinton’s room, as he was TDY to pick up his family.
After breakfast the next morning, we flew back to Ramstein where I heard “The rest of the story.” It seems that when Higgy got back, he told the Tower that Purple 2 had lost his radio, would be in shortly and to give him a green light. After he landed and parked in his revetment, the crew chief climbed up the ladder and said that Lt. Orf had jumped out. About that time, Smiley was up the ladder and asking Higgy for details of my ejection which he had just learned about. Truley one of those “Aw Shit” moments in life.
Some time later, Smiley, Vince DeSousa, the North American Tech Rep, and I were summoned to the office of Gen Disoway to debrief the crash. Smiley and the General were old buddies and after they visited a while, Vince unrolled his charts and explained that the Number 4 ½ bearing support had failed and allowed it to ride on the high speed shaft at the oil holes, and to eventually wear the shaft in two. Material failure: so we were all clean. It was time for a cool one at the Landstuhl Club! — Paul E. Orf