Above & Beyond: Stealing the Show
- By Doug Hinton
- Air & Space magazine, May 2001
(Page 2 of 3)
All Canadian aircraft in the late 1950s were camouflaged in dark brown and green, so they were difficult to see from above against the European countryside. We never understood whether it was arrogance or just stupidity that dictated all U.S. Air Force aircraft be as silver as the day they were born. A flash of sunlight off aluminum made them easy to spot long before the actual aircraft could be seen.
The first part of the test flight was to be conducted at low altitude, and Alexander, once a safe distance from base, began going through the test checklist, recording readings as he continually scanned outside the cockpit. Any fighter pilot who kept his gaze inside the office longer than 15 seconds at a time sooner or later ended up road kill. It was during one of these eyeball sweeps that Alexander noticed a flash in the sky, high to the east.
Well, the test flight could wait. Might be a MiG-17, threatening the security of Western Europe, all by itself. Maybe only a French Mystère. Didn’t matter. Checking out a strange bogey was his sworn duty.
Staying low, Alexander headed east. There! Whatever it was flashed again. Closer, he could see three aircraft, circling to the left in a “V” formation at about 6,000 feet. Arriving underneath the trio apparently undetected, he began a slow, climbing spiral in their blind spot and was able to slide directly behind and below the lead aircraft. What were these ugly silver monsters with blackened afterburner nozzles, swept-back wings, and drooped snouts? At least their fuselages had the U.S. insignia, which was comforting.
Below and 10 miles away from the circling aircraft was Ramstein Air Force Base. Bleachers were set up on the ramp facing the runway, and in those bleachers sat the cream of the allied forces in Europe, with various government and civilian dignitaries from the surrounding German towns.
The occasion was the arrival in Europe of the F-100 Super Sabre day fighter, supersonic in level flight and heralded as the guarantor of air superiority throughout Western Europe. At least that’s what the public affairs officer was probably telling the assemblage in the bleachers via the public address system, directing them to look to the east as the control tower called the formation leader in to initiate a pass in front of the crowd.
Alexander was getting some nice film on the gun camera when he noticed the formation steepening the turn and starting a descent. Not being on the same radio frequency as the F-100s, he had no idea what was going on, but decided to tag along for grins. This required adding some throttle, as the much heavier Super Sabres were gaining more speed than the F-86 in the descent.
Sneaking only a quick peek away from the formation, Alexander saw they were lining up on the main runway at Ramstein and descending faster. At this point, black smoke began pouring out of the tail pipes of all three aircraft as they began to pull away. Not without me, guys, he thought as he jammed the throttle forward.