A Flying Feat to Remember

  • Published
  • By David Spencer Harmon, Lieutenant Colonel United States Air Force (Retired)
During the period of 1960 to 1962, the 128th Fighter Interceptor Wing of the Wisconsin Air National Guard, based at General Billy Mitchell Field, was equipped with the "J" model of the F-89 "Scorpion" jet fighter interceptor. This latest model of the F-89 was armed with two MB-1 "Genie" air-to-air nuclear rockets. Each of these rockets contained a one-megaton nuclear warhead. They were designed to be launched at an invading enemy bomber formation and detonated in front of that formation. The resulting shock wave would destroy any aircraft flying into it.

After firing the rocket, the interceptor would do an "escape maneuver" which would allow it to survive and escape the detonation. The F-89 was the only aircraft to ever actually test this weapon system with a live nuclear warhead. This test was performed at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. It proved that the weapon system and the escape maneuver both worked as designed.

Should the 128th have been called to active duty, the Air Force Command which would take command of the unit was the Air Defense Command (ADC). This Command was also responsible for establishing the training, evaluation and operating procedures and standards for all Air National Guard Air Defense units. During the above period the 128th actually maintained some aircraft and crews on active air defense alert.

When ADC evaluated a unit, it conducted an Operational Readiness Inspection (ORI). That inspection encompassed all operations, maintenance and support activities of the unit. ADC also conducted less unit-wide inspections that evaluated only the operational (flying) functions. These inspections were either Standardization and Evaluation Visits or Operational Readiness Exercises (OREs).

For an ORE, ADC would, at random, select six of the aircraft reported by the unit to be operational and require aircraft and crews to be at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida in a short time frame and then serviced, armed and placed on alert within one hour of arrival. This was no small feat for a unit composed mostly of "weekend warriors."

The armament used for an ORE consisted of an actual MB-1 Genie Rocket on one aircraft under-wing rail (a "spotting charge" warhead was substituted for the nuclear warhead) and on the opposite rail, a measuring device which would record all phases of the intercept and determine if it would have been successful, had an actual rocket been launched,

Circa 1961, an ORE was sprung on the 128th and all six aircraft and crews arrived at Tyndall AFB within the allotted time frame and were serviced, armed and placed on alert without incident. They were subsequently "scrambled" (five minutes maximum from claxon bell alert to takeoff) against a target (a "Firebee" drone) flying over the Gulf of Mexico.

All six interceptors successfully scrambled, engaged the target and launched their rockets scoring primary hits. They were then positioned by ground radar for another attack using the installed scoring devices and all six fighters again scored successful primary hits.

TWELVE FOR TWELVE! No interceptor unit had ever done it before. Anywhere! It was a shame that all the folks back home could not have observed this feat first hand. They would have been proud of this product of their community and would have more fully understood what a gem of a military unit existed and worked among them.

In true aircrew tradition there was an appropriate celebration at the Tyndall Officers Club that evening. An evil featured concoction called a "Spin, Crash and Burn" did most of the damage. The 128th Wing Commander and the Mission Commander for this deployment was Colonel Tom Bailey. He was at his finest the next day when he successfully negotiated our release for redeployment home.

This writer was lucky to have been a part of that achievement and learned a valuable lesson that served him well for the rest of his military career. Simply stated, it is that, in the profession of flying, there is no substitute for good aircrew training and good aircraft maintenance. The 128th had the best of both then and still does today.

Long before and ever since that record shattering ORE of many years ago, units of the Wisconsin Air and Army National Guard have been called on to perform complex and often hazardous duty around the world. They have always completed their assignments with professionalism. They are the best of the "Citizen Soldiers" which have kept our country free and able to pursue happiness.