Above & Beyond: Shooting Up a Shooting Star

There’s more than one way to dump extra fuel before landing

(David Clark)
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I reset the switches and tried again. Nothing. I reported my lack of progress to the control tower and circled around for another try.

In addition to the electrical method of releasing the tanks, there was a handle to manually release each tip tank. On my next pass over the range, I pulled the left tip tank release handle. It still wouldn’t go.

Mounted on the instrument panel was a red “panic button” that, when pressed, was supposed to jettison everything on all of the bomb shackles under the wings. On my third pass over the range, I literally hit the panic button. The right tip tank jettisoned, but the left one wouldn’t let go.

Now I was in a real pickle. There was no other way to get rid of the tank.

Then I remembered the briefing. I didn’t have a wingman to shoot my tank, but I was wearing a shoulder holster that held my Colt .45 semi-automatic pistol. Maybe I could open my canopy and shoot the tank.

I had a very heavy left wing, and no autopilot to help fly the airplane. Every time I took my hand off the control stick, the airplane started to roll left. I was going to have to get my pistol out of its holster, open the canopy, jack a round into the chamber (I never carried it with a round chambered so I wouldn’t accidentally shoot myself in the leg), and try to shoot the tank while flying the airplane with the other hand. The tower officer kept calling me, and to answer him I had to keep hitting the microphone button on the top of the throttle. What I really needed was a third hand.

I had so much bulk on—flight jacket, parachute harness, and life jacket—that I couldn’t reach across my chest with my right hand to get the gun from under my left arm. Finally, it dawned on me that I could reach the gun with my left hand. I jacked a round into the chamber, opened the canopy, and, with the gun in my right hand and flying the airplane with my left, I tried to point the gun at the front end of the left tip tank, far enough forward so as not to hit the wing.

I pulled the trigger—and missed.

I was so anxious I forgot that a semi-automatic pistol reloads after each shot. I manually jacked another round into the chamber while ejecting a round over my shoulder.

The only way I could hit the tank was to lean down and aim along the barrel of the gun. I put my head down and sighted at the widest part of the tank and about two feet from its front.

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