The bullet punched a hole through the near side of the tank and went out the other side. I quickly squeezed off two more rounds. Now I had six holes in the tank, and I could see fuel streaming out.
Just as I prepared to empty the rest of the magazine into the tank, the tower officer called again. He asked how many holes I had and how many rounds I had fired. I mentally counted one that missed, one over my shoulder, and three that hit the tank. “Five,” I told him. He told me to stop shooting immediately. (I later learned that when he heard that I had hit the tank only three times out of five, he envisioned me waving the gun around wildly, spraying bullets everywhere.)
I started to put the gun back into the holster, but now it was loaded, and I could accidentally shoot myself. While I was trying to figure where I could safely stash it, I held it in my right hand—the same one holding the control stick, so the gun was pointed at the instrument panel. Great, I thought, now I’ll accidentally shoot the panel. I moved the gun to my left hand, and the tower officer called again. I had to depress the microphone button on the throttle with my left hand and the gun was in the way. Finally I said The hell with it, opened the canopy, pointed the gun out, and fired until the clip was empty.
I spent the next 30 minutes flying around with the left wing down, letting the fuel drain out of the tip tank while slowly working my way back to the base. The tank held 165 gallons, so I hoped I could drain 150. By the time I got there, the tank was empty, and I made a normal landing.
Several years later I told this story in a letter published in the Air Force Times newspaper’s “Stake Your Claim” column: I claimed to be the only pilot in the Air Force who shot his own airplane to correct a malfunction. No one else claimed to have also done it, so I guess I still hold that dubious distinction.
Excerpted from Hangar Flying, available from www.authorhouse.com