Above & Beyond: Stealing the Show

Above & Beyond: Stealing the Show

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(Continued from page 1)

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.

But Alexander was losing it. With the throttle to the stops, the aircraft was shaking so badly it felt like a bucking bronco. He was just starting to slide backward from the trio ahead as they flashed by in front of the crowd: three silver top-of-the-line fighters and one grimy, camouflaged something or other with a red ensign on its tail.

As the F-100s banked and climbed to the left, Alexander broke right and headed for home, exultant. This was some serious coup! But he had also glimpsed the turnout on the ground and realized he’d been where he shouldn’t have. Better do an extra-long test flight so he could collect his thoughts and come up with a good alibi.

Sure enough, as the tires of his Sabre touched the runway, a delegation was there to meet him. After the obligatory chewing out, with the commanding officer trying not to break into a giggle, Alexander modestly proceeded to the officers mess, gun camera film in hand. It is difficult to be humble when you’ve got three Super Sabre “kills” on film, your mates are carrying you through the bar on their shoulders, and drinks are on the house. He never even tried.

—Doug Hinton

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