The Crash

The date was 27 September 1964 and the bird was 62-4318.  Plain and simple, this was a pilot-error crash, I took a perfectly good F-105 and bashed it into the trees. But it was a tough bird that the Maintenance Magicians fixed, it survived the war, and this great machine now sits on a pedestal in Centralia, Illinois.

These were strange times for many of us in the three F-105 squadrons.  We had 24 Fully Mission Capable (FMC) birds on alert in Korea. And, I think, 24 FMC birds in Thailand. These deployments left very few flyable birds on the home station, Yokota AB, Japan. In the weeks before the crash, I was at the home station and was getting very little flying time. My Form 5 shows three landings in the month before the crash.

On 25 September 1964 it was time to head south to Korat AB, Thailand.  I boarded a C-130 for a hop to Kadena AB, Okinawa and then a hop to Korat. The C-130 landed at Kadena broken so we had to stay overnight and did not get out until the afternoon of 26 September 64. We landed at Korat late in the afternoon where I was assigned a cot in the tent next to the “Officer’s Club Tent”. I was also told I was on the first flight the next morning.

I didn’t sleep much that night and awoke at, I think, about 0400 and it was still dark. Rich Graham was the flight leader for the four ship flight. Lee White was Number 2, Charlie Hanson was Number 3, and I was Number 4. Rich briefed that it would be a local flight and that we were going to practice a new maneuver that was being developed at Nellis AFB, Nevada. It was called a “Popup” and involved a low level, high speed run to a point offset from the target where you pulled up into a steep climb and then a roll over the top into a dive run. As I later discovered, the “offset” needed to be a fairly long distance from the target due to the turn radius of the F-105.

When we took off it was daylight and we flew around for a bit, until the wing tanks were dry.  Rich called out a “target” and had us set up for the attack. I don’t remember how many runs we made before the crash as I remember at least one good pass but I do remember the last pass. I pulled up hard and was tight in the turn over the top inverted. As I rolled out for the dive I knew I was steep and slow. I kept on the power and pulled to the buffet but the “Gs” were low and the bird was sinking. It hit hard, nose up, but it hit with a flying wing and was not stalled.

The bird blew threw the trees and came out with enormous vibration and a hard-left rolling moment.  It took full right stick and full right rudder to control the roll. I thought I would have to eject so I was reaching for altitude. I could see the tanks were rolled up and over the wings so I punched them off and that helped the vibration a bit. I didn’t notice at the time that the leading edge flaps were gone.

I still had the hard left rolling moment but that eased a bit after I got some altitude and started slowing down.  I seem to remember climbing to 10,000 feet but I am not sure about that. All of the systems in the bird seemed to be functioning so I slowed below 250-knots and dropped the gear which came down and locked normally.

I called Korat Approach Control, told them I had a damaged bird, and needed a long straight-in approach. They responded that they had an 800-foot overcast with good visibility underneath.  I came through the overcast at over 200-knots as I felt I needed the speed for control and was lined up with the arming area. There were two birds in the arming area and one of them was powering up and blowing dirt to get out of the way. I moved to the right and spiked it on the runway at about 200-knots, well above the drag chute limit. I dropped the nose and went full on the brakes. It didn’t seem as if I was getting anything from the brakes as the anti-skid had to be cycling and I had to wait to 170-knots for the chute. The chute came out and held and the bird started slowing. I got it stopped and taxied in. It is a good thing I did not need the tail hook as I left it at the crash site.

The walk around of the bird showed the leading edge flaps were gone.  The bomb bay doors had been pushed up and burst the bomb bay tank. Most of the ribs from the bomb bay back were broken. The ventral fin and the tail hook were gone. The left stabilizer had been sheared from the cross over tube and was cranked into the side of the fuselage which accounted for the left rolling moment; the left stabilizer was jammed in an up position so the right stabilizer was doing all of the pitch control.

The bird was lifted to the IRAN (Inspect and Repair As Necessary) facility at Tainan, Taiwan in pieces where it was repaired.  As you can see by the picture, it looks like a new airplane.

The Squadron Commander was Bill Peters who was a stern no-nonsense guy and he called Rich and me to his office.  Needless to say I was shaken a bit about things and was worried as I went into the office. But Colonel Peters calmly asked us to tell him what happened. Rich told him of the briefing and all he knew about the mission. I told him that I had just screwed up the maneuver and could not make the pull out.

Colonel Peters called us all together later that day and told us essentially that there were two kinds of pilot-error accidents.  One is a pilot screwing around with a private airshow and he crashes. The other is a pilot trying to do the job assigned and he crashes. He added that my crash was the latter, that it was a line-of-duty crash; that I was trying to manage the assigned mission and it did not work out. He said we will support Sam through this problem. I admired Bill Peters before that day and much more after that.

A few days later I returned to Yokota AB on a C-130, landing close to midnight.  My Wing Commander was Chester Van Etten and he met me at the aircraft which was a surprise for me. He didn’t say much more than, “Sam, I think the Old Man is going to kick your ass and my ass off this base”. I remember this direct quote very well. I asked what he meant and he said that the Commander of 41st Air Division, Colonel Maurice Martin, wanted me in his office at 0700 the next morning.

Needless to say that I did not sleep much that night so it was easy to be up early.  I suited up in the Class-A uniform and drove over to the Air Division Headquarters. I left early as I had never been to the headquarters and was not sure how to get there or where the headquarters building was located. I got there early and the secretary was kind of laughing when she said Colonel Martin was waiting for me. Needless to say I was in a state of great concern at this moment.

I went into the office, saluted, and said I was reporting as ordered.  Colonel Martin was smiling, he saluted back, and then he said, “You almost busted your ass”. I told it was close and then he said, “What would I have told your mother?” I asked why he would be talking to my mother and he said they had gone to high school together in Bluefield, West Virginia. He told me to not worry about the crash and then we spent about an hour talking about Bluefield and Beaver High School.

I went back to Yokota where Colonel Van Etten wanted to know what happened.  I told him Colonel Martin told me to “keep up the good work”. I did not tell him about my mother, Bluefield, and the Beaver High School connection until many years later.

All of the senior officers then were special people.  I visited with Colonel Van Etten several times a year when he was in his nineties. I was with him just a month or so before he died at age 95-years. My eyes get a bit cloudy when I think of Bill Peters and Chester Van Etten.

The effects of the crash stayed with me for more than a year.  The movie “Top Gun” showed that when Cruise crashed the Tom Cat. It isn’t fear but a loss of self-confidence that is necessary for controlling a bird like the F-105. Those of you that play golf know of the problems when you start to think too much about what you doing; movements have to be natural and without thinking about that move. Fortunately, I eventually got back to being comfortable and natural in the Thud.

F-105, 62-4318
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