Ron Miller – Caterpillar Club

Jim MillerEjecting from the Hun can be easy or hard (really hard)!

My first ejection: I was about half-way through gunnery training in the 4523rd CCTS at Nellis AFB, NV, on 7 July 1961. Three ship low-level navigation with NWD at the end. My instructor, Capt. Ted Banick, was chasing the number two stud. As three, I was flying solo around the course with rejoin on the range after my “NWD first bomb.” I was rocking along at 360 kts, 500 feet, doing all those things that a sweating stud does on a low-level in July at Nellis.

Hit the northern turn point at Mud Lake up in Utah, hacked the clock, checked the gauges, all was going well, “oil pressure … zero,” hey, that’s not right. Calmly tapped the gauge like my old T-28 instructor taught me to do, twice. Still zero. The next 10 or 11 taps came in rapid succession as I started to climb, went for the checklist, and called Lead. He was 3-4 minutes ahead of me, so he came up on the radio pretty fast. Retard the throttles to 90%, it’ll run quite a while, maybe. I got up to about 1,500-2,000′ AGL in the old F-100C before the airspeed dropped to 220 or so. Ted came screaming up, stopped about 50′ away, and said reassuringly, “You’ve got a thin trail of gray smoke coming from the engine.” (The Accident Board found bearing seal failure inside the old J57.)

I was in a long valley, with mountains all around. He declared the Mayday, said we’ll try to put it into Groom Lake. Lucky for me I never made it, or I’d probably still be there! We realized I wasn’t going to be high enough to clear the mountains in front of me, so he said, you’re going to have to “push it up, tell me what’s happening.” I went to 91 percent and gained a few knots and a little altitude, still running fine. “Let’s try 92 percent, we’re still not going to clear the hills.” I went to 92 percent, the old J57 gave a surge, and it got quiet, really quiet!! Handles up, canopy’s gone, trigger is way down there, squeeze it, and I had a great view of the cockpit through the dirt and debris. Seat’s gone, chute’s open, quiet again. Ted said he found himself flying formation with a nicely “trimmed,” F-100C, sans canopy, seat, and young Lt. Miller.

I checked the chute, was coming down from about 1,000′, right in the middle of the valley, drifting backwards. Hit the ground, perfect PLF, up on my feet, dumped the chute, piece of cake! Spread out the chute, and when Ted came back around, I was standing in the middle of it, he says “smiling and waving.” A B-52 took over cap from Ted, as he and Jimmy Dean headed home. I was about 20 miles or so north of Tonapah, NV. About 30 minutes later, an old pick-up truck came thumping along, with two sheep-herders (drovers) in it. They had seen the smoke, and came to take a look.

The cowboys out west called them “Drovers” in those days, and wouldn’t let them or Indians come in their bars. I probably wouldn’t have gone with them to their shack on the hard-road, if I’d seen Brokeback Mountain!! Hmm … they were both wearing rubber boots!

I called the squadron, and they called the highway patrol. The squadron said it was only a matter of time until rescue would be up and get me. The BUFF guys had seen me get in the truck, and head for the hard road … a state trooper arrived about 30 minutes after I got there. Nellis finally ended up sending a U-6, state troopers blocked off the highway, and the Beaver landed and taxied right up to the mailbox. I finally got home about 6 hours after stepping over the side. A few bruises, a little sore, but flew the next day.

My second ejection: The opposite side of ejecting from the Hun happened on 8 April 1965. The 531st TFS had just returned home to England AFB from nearly six months TDY at Clark and Da Nang. We had flown the first missions into North Vietnam and the passes in Laos with F-100s from the 401st, England AFB, the F-105s from the 67th TFS, Kadena AB, the Canon guys flying from the old “Firehouse” in Thailand, and the B-57s of “DOOM Pussy” fame.

I was due for my instrument check upon arrival home, so I was scheduled for a “bag ride” to get reoriented in the local area. Capt. Paul (P.S.) Moore (RIP) was in the front seat of the F-100F, and I was in the pit. The weather was low, morning scud at about 600 feet when we took off, “burning off” as the morning went along. We went up to Barksdale AFB, shot an approach, came back to AEX, shot a couple more, then got in the GCA pattern. Scud finally burnt off after about 1+45, and we had minimum VFR after the last approach. P.S. took the aircraft, accelerated to about 375 Kts., and made the turn to the northeast. I came out from under the bag, was just getting the seat up and he said, “S-T!” Both the Fire Light and the Overheat Warning Light were on.

Remember, we used to fly the “F” with the guy in the front seat monitoring Number 1 FCS, and the guy in the back monitoring Number 2. He declared Mayday, and said we were turning back toward the field. He said, “Number 1 system is zero,” I said, “No, I’ve got the Number 2 system is zero!” I remember rotating the knob and all three systems were zero! (The Accident Board concluded we had a burner-can weld failure, which occurred at nine o’clock looking forward. The “blow torch” burned through the left system, went up over the saddleback and burned through the utility, and came out the CSD-door burning through the right hydraulic line).

Paul said, “Check for FIRE!” I pushed the hood back, and started to turn around when he said, “Eject, Eject, Eject!” The aircraft was rolling hard right, and the nose went down. I squeezed the little trigger, pulled up the armrest, and the canopy left. I squeezed the seat trigger, left the aircraft, and all hell broke loose. I got out at about 110 degrees of roll, maybe 900-1,000 feet, 375 Kts. Probably because I done it before!

The seat hit me in the head and broke my helmet like an egg. I remember the air whistling through my crew-cut for just a second then wham, the chute opened. I was about 5-600 feet above the pine forest, and what looked like half my chute panels were missing (probably from the seat). I looked down and thought, “Oh Shit, I’m going into the trees without a helmet!” Some good comes from two years as Squadron Life Support Officer. I got my knees and legs firmly together, to protect my manhood, and got my arms up on the risers and tried to protect my jugglers with my elbows. With only half a chute, I was making “a rapid descent.” I crashed through the trees and found myself swinging about 75 feet in the air in the middle of a pine forest. The seat-kit and dingy made it through and were swinging below me.

The wind was blowing, I was bleeding down the front of my flying suit, and just swinging there. I dropped the seat kit/dingy, and swung back and forth until I got a hold of a branch and made it to the tree trunk. This was before the days of the “jungle penetrater,” so I disengaged from the chute. I was hanging on to the trunk, like a big Kola Bear, 75 feet up. Since I could put my arms all the way around the trunk, I thought it would be a good idea to “shinny” down. Turns out the trunk of a 125-foot pine tree gets pretty big in the last 30 feet or so, I made the last few feet at the speed of light! (With finger nail marks in the bark, like one of those cartoon characters.)

A forest ranger found me, and took me to the ranger’s garage. I called the squadron and talked to Capt. John Ross (my flight commander), and told him that we’d ejected, and that I was OK. I told the rangers that the second pilot was between where they found me, and the burning aircraft, one left and went looking for P.S. A chopper from the base came chugging by, headed for my chute, which was still in the trees. I fired a flare, then popped smoke and they came back for me. I told them where to find P.S., but after a couple of circuits of the wreckage, they said they had better get me back and get some sewing done on my chin and the “ooze” coming from the back of my head. I was in the emergency room at the hospital, getting a shot when the Hospital CC came in and told me Paul Moore never got out of the aircraft.

It was probably the hardest day of my flying career. After I got out of the hospital, I explained to Paul’s wife, Dixie, and his parents, that he saved my life. But I remember that standing there with them, was really tough business. Paul was a good friend, fine pilot, and his quick, positive decision to eject obviously saved my ass. TANOTG

It was hard getting back in the saddle after that for a while, though we (the 531st TFS) all went back to Bien Hoa AB, SVN, later that year, and completed our first, one-year-total tours. I had nearly 1,500 hours in the Hun when I stopped flying it. As an aside, I put another F-100C into Gila Bend (6,000 feet) from an SFO with zero oil remaining in the engine when I had less than 40 hours in the Super Sabre, and landed another with zero oil at Bien Hoa. Could have easily had four ejections! Those were truly the Good Old Days!! -Ron Miller