In the days after World War Two, the Armed Forces of the United States strove to figure out how to use their new steeds. What to do with jets? Sure, they were fast, but they did not have long legs. The P-51 could run for several hours on a load of fuel. The early jets drank fuel at an astonishing rate! Flights in the early fighter jets didn’t often last more than an hour or so, especially in conditions like combat, when maneuvering and a lot of throttle was used. Still, the Jets could manage a decent range when required. They did not accelerate like propeller driven aircraft, either. Their engines required time to spool up. Being a new technology, there was much to learn.
The early jet engines require lots of maintenance. Their service lives were short. The amount of time between significant maintenance and overhauls was just a few tens of hours. Attrition of the early jets through operational and training losses was horrendous! The 78th Fighter Wing suffered from the highest accident and loss rate with their F-84s than any other, though this was likely due to the fact that the 78th had the longest relationship with the F-84.
The 78th Fighter Group, was re-activated in June, 1947 at Mitchel AFB and moved to Hamilton AFB, California in November of 1948, where it became the 78th Fighter Wing under the Hobson Plan and became the main unit at that base. In February of 1949 the 78th Fighter Wing got its first brand new F-84Ds. By December, the 78th had lost several aircraft. One was lost at McChord AFB, one at Langley AFB, others in different places across the West. Today, I present three accidents concerning Hamilton F-84s that happened within six months of each other.
|This F-84D (#48-649) is a close relation of the aircraft in this article. (photo from Bill Larkins, in the F-84 book sited below)|
On May 20, 1949, on a navigation flight from Hamilton to Moses Lake AFB, Captain Raymond H. Littge, of the 83rd Fighter Squadron, was leading a formation of four F-84s at an altitude of 35,000 feet, when his aircraft began weaving. Minutes later he and his aircraft were spread in an “arrowhead pattern” on the ground near Maupin, in Northern Oregon.
The flight had begun normally. The four jets had taken off at 0815. Littge was flying F-84D1-RE #48-666. Delivered in December of 1948, #48-666 had only about 72 hours on the airframe. The other pilots in the flight were 2nd Lt. Robert Bechtel in #48-698, 1st Lt. Harold. M. Everett in #48-738, and 1st Lt. James A. Mathis in #48-679. Littge reported that his cabin pressure was inoperative early into the flight. There had been a previous oxygen problem with this particular jet, but it was thought that it was back to normal.
As the flight made it to somewhere above Redmond Oregon, about an hour and-a-half into the flight, Littge made a position report. It was about 5 minutes after this report that his aircraft began to weave. He did not respond to radio calls from his wingmen. His aircraft then dove, then climbed, then winged over in a dive. His wingman, Lt. Robert Bechtel, tried to stay with him and followed him down to 15,000 feet where his airspeed reached the maximum allowed and he pulled up. Littge’s aircraft disappeared into the overcast at about 12,000 feet. The flight continued on to Moses Lake AFB, Lt. Bechtel landed five minutes after the other two aircraft.
It was determined that Captain Littge had suffered Anoxia. The report found that the oxygen system had failed. Not only had cabin pressure failed, but the regulator did not function and there may have been a disconnection in the system. The larger parts of the aircraft were moved to McChord AFB for the investigation.
Captain Littge was 25 years old.
The F-84 at Hamilton was grounded several times during its service there. At one point cracks were found in the wings of some. Despite the teething problems, the F-84 continued operation. Losses were not always the F-84’s fault though. Just a few months after Captain Littge’s loss, another F-84 from Hamilton was lost. This loss, apparently, was due to target fixation.
On the morning of September 17, 1949, about nine miles Northeast of Beverly Washington, 1st Lt. Lawrence Kane was making a firing pass on a ground gunnery mission in F-84D #48-646, when he did not pull up in time. His aircraft hit the ground, burst into flames, and “flew apart.” The pilots in his flight all described a similar sight. All members of the flight had made 3 or 4 firing passes when Lt. Kane went in.
He made his pass at an angle of about 30 degrees. “He appeared to delay his pull up and when he did try to pull up he was to[o] low and appeared to hit the ground directly behind the target a 100 feet or so.” When he did finally begin to pull up, it was too late and witnesses said the rear of the aircraft struck the ground first. His body was thrown clear of the wreckage according to the range officer, who added that after he and his men had determined the pilot was “beyond assistance, steps were taken to prevent disturbance of the wreckage until the arrival of the aircraft accident officer.”
Lieutenant Kane was 23 years old when he died and #48-646 had about 247 flying hours on its airframe.
The last in our Hamilton Trio happened in November 1949.
At 1510, on November 10, 1949, three F-84s took off from Moses Lake Air Force Base on an intercept mission. This flight was designated “Red Flight.” About 20 minutes into the mission, ground control instructed Red Flight to go to “Coulee Dam” and allow “White Flight” to join them. At this time Red one told Red Three to join up on White Flight, as White Flight had become second element ( White One becoming Red Three, Red Three becoming Red Five). This was done to balance the combat composition of the now five ship flight.
At 1605, Torch Control (ground control) ordered Red Flight to proceed to base. When Red Flight got about 10 miles North of Moses Lake AFB they sighted contrails about 10 miles south of base. They intercepted the “bogey” and then made some camera gunnery passes. After that their fuel state required them to return to base. The flight was scattered, so Red One called them to rendezvous over base at “Angels Ten.” They had formed up by 1620. When they reached a point about a mile east of the field descending, Red One asked for permission to make a formation pass over the field. Permission was denied.
“At this time the radio receiver became a bedlam of wild conversation, but a few excerpts are, chronologically, as follows; ‘Red Three lost a tip tank’, ‘Bail out, bail out’, then, ‘Red Three just crashed and burned.’”
Red Three, according to witnesses, joined up and then, at about 6000 feet altitude, suddenly went into a 90 degree right bank, crossing the formation. Red Two pulled up to avoid a collision, he felt a shock, but no indication that he had been hit. When he looked his left tip tank was crumpled. He landed immediately.
Red Three made three barrel rolls and dove into the ground. Witnesses saw that his right wing tank had collapsed. The investigative panel felt that it was likely that the wing tanks on both ships had collapsed due to a difference between the external and internal air pressures. The left wing tank of Red Two showed no sign of contact with the other aircraft and seemed to have suffered the same failure. It was felt that the crushed tank of Red Three deformed in such a way that it created a “severe air foil action that the pilot could not counter act.”
Because of the descent, the pressure difference was enough to crush the tank. The relief valve in the filler cap generally prevented overpressure, but it seemed that the valve had been blocked (suspicion was that rain or moisture had frozen in the valve) “rendering the valve inoperative with ultimate tip tank collapse.”
Ultimately, it was not Second Lieutenant Stanley R. Mancarti’s fault that he died. It was the failure of his tip tank and its relief valve. One suspects that had Red Two, Second Lieutenant Walter Chapman, not had good reflexes and pulled up in time, both would have plummeted groundward and no definitive cause may have been determined. As it was Chapman’s tank had the same problem, but deformed, apparently, in such a way that he was able to land the aircraft safely.
Second Lieutenant Mancarti was 24 years old.
So ends our examination of the Hamilton Trio. The F-84 was a work horse in Korea in the early 1950s, but in 1949, it was still new and suffered from teething problems. This set of reports also reflects the era. During this time, the Soviets were still "behind" and did not have the atomic bomb...at least we didn't know about it until August of 1949. It was only after August when more funds and resources began to flow toward the armed forces again. Until then, our armed forces had suffered from spending restrictions and small force sizes.
The accident reports were in poor condition and required careful transcription to make head or tail out of, any mistakes or omissions are mine.
accident reports from AFHRA on #48-646, #48-666, and #48-692
McLaren, David R., Republic F-84 Thunderjet, Thunderstreak, & Thunderflash; A Photo Chronicle. Schiffer Military/aviation History, Atglen, PA. 1998
various internet sources.