‘When we would RTB, we would invariably get ‘tapped’ by the Brits flying Hawker Hunters and English Electric Lightnings…in the traffic pattern,’ Tip Clark, former F-100 Super Sabre pilot.
The following article originally appeared on Super Sabre Society website and features stories written by former F-100 pilots Tip Clark, Win Reither and Ron Chadwick.
One of my favorite deployments – 9/20/1969
In recent talks with Win Reither, he and I were discussing “the good old days” and we came up with the question of which were our favorite TDY’s over all these years. Believe me, we have had a lot of favorites, but one rather “stood out” to both of us – Gütersloh, Germany. Now, why was it such a great TDY? We will tell you!
The year was 1969 and we were stationed at Torrejon Air Base, Spain – just outside of Madrid. We were assigned to the 613th Tactical Fighter Squadron which was one of the 3 Hun squadrons assigned to the 401st Tactical Fighter Wing. An interesting side note. The 401st was formed from 3 Squadrons: the 613th from Alex AFB, Louisiana; the 307th from Homestead AFB, Florida, and the 353rd from Myrtle Beach AFB, South Carolina. I must say, the experience level in those 3 squadrons was unbelievable. When I arrived at Torrejon and the 613th, I had just finished a one year tour in Vietnam and with about 500 hours in the F-100, I was the low man on the “totem pole”…in the squadron until we got our first Lt in many years (Ron Chadwick, who was just out of pilot training). Then he was the low man. Haha!
Back to the story: Orders came down for our squadron to deploy six aircraft to Gütersloh, Germany for an exercise. Gütersloh was a British Air Base. At the time, the details of the deployment were classified. I doubt that it still is, but to play it safe, I will stick to just the fun stuff. We were flying mostly 2 ship flights to simulated targets around the local area. When we would RTB, we would invariably get ‘tapped’ by the Brits flying Hawker Hunters and English Electric Lightnings… in the traffic pattern. They would show up at the O-Club with photos of us in compromising positions. Well, that got old real fast and our Ops Officer, Roger Billett had had enough of that crap. He ordered the maintenance guys to “clean the birds”, including the centerline pylon. Wait, what? The next day, it was a different story. Several “fur balls” right over the runway. We were able to ‘hold our heads high’ when we went to the bar from then on.
Another thing that turned out to be fun were those little end of the mission air shows over the base. One day Dick Hardy was leading a two-ship and just after the pitch out he and Win rejoined on final approach and proceeded to do a 2 ship Immelmann over the field. Wait, what?
A rather sad note. During that TDY, my father passed away and I needed to get back to Torrejon to catch a flight back to the states for his funeral. My squadron didn’t ‘blink an eye’. They sent Jerry Wetterling to Gütersloh in a B model to pick me up and get me back to Spain for my flight back to the CONUS. When Jerry walked up to me, he said: Tip, do you want the front or back seat for the ride back? My response was just: ‘Jerry?’
We stuffed the hang-up bag in the travel pod, climbed in, and cranked her up. Jerry had already filed the flight plan and the base was aware of the whole situation. We taxied out, copied our clearance, and were cleared for takeoff. I requested a fly by and, of course, the tower approved it. I must say, it was one of my best low altitude rolls- ever. I’ll turn this over to Win for him to add his comments.
Chasing the Elusive British Lightening
A fighter pilot walks into a bar. In this case, it was a bunch of them, a rowdy band of pilots, some American, some French, and some Brits. It was 1969 and seven F-100 pilots from the 613th TFS based at Torrejon had been sent to RAF Gütersloh in Northern Germany. I was in great company with Bob Konopka, Tip Clark, Roger Billett, Dick Hardy, Dick Rung, Ron Chadwick, and Ron (Nape) Miller.
The RAF pilots were already there having been stationed at the base since 1965. When the 613th got there two British Electric Mach 2 Lightning interceptors (the equivalent of the F-22 in 1969) were there on alert, and two RAF Hunter Ground Attack Aircraft Squadrons were based there as part of the Quick Reaction Alert in Defense of Berlin and northwest Germany. The Lightning had a service ceiling of 65,000 feet and had zoomed to 87,000 feet and it was the hottest Jet around. The British, German and French F-100 pilots were great but the Lightning pilots were the “top of the pyramid.”
The French F-100 pilots arrived shortly after us. In the early 1960’s one hundred US F-100D’s were supplied to France and were assigned to two French Bases. Before American involvement in Vietnam, French Super Sabres had already flown many of the conflict’s combat missions from bases within France against targets in Algeria.
The French presence at the base was a question for U.S. pilots. In early 1966, French President Charles De Gaulle had announced that France would withdraw from NATO’s integrated military structure. The United States was informed that it must remove its military forces from France by 1 April 1967. Looking back, I believe the 613th TFS was tasked by the USAF (not NATO) to provide Close Air Support as part of a Joint Chiefs of Staff interest in keeping France in the Alliance.
We soon discovered great camaraderie with the French F-100 and British Lightning and Hunter Pilots, drinking in the O-Club’s cellar and dining with British Army officers in the Officer’s mess. The tower of the Officers’ Mess contained a room known as Göring’s Room. Legend has it that Hermann Göring used this room to relive his wartime exploits with the new generation of flyers. His expression of this was “If I should lie, may the beam above my head crack”. In response to this, a junior officer arranged that the beam is sawn through and, by a system of pulleys, that the beam should appear to crack in response to the Reichmarschall’s challenge. An article appearing in “Flight” magazine in 1946 has the same story as “an elderly station commander” featuring in the Göring role. From interviews with Luftwaffe personnel of the period, it appears that Göring visited the station before and during the war. A photograph of the Reichmarschall while at Gütersloh was displayed in the Officers’ Mess.
The plan set for us was to fly close air support and interdiction from Soviet armor along with French and RAF pilots. Tip and I saw that we needed to be more competitive with the hotshot Lightning “top of the pyramid” pilots so we and convinced our maintenance team to remove our external tanks and all wing pylons (including the Nuclear type 7 pylon) to give us a better thrust to weight performance and higher social status at the RAF Club for refreshments after each days flying.
I recall spotting Lightning’s at over 40,000 feet and gingerly selecting the afterburner while dumping the nose to avoid noisy (and smelly) compressor stalls while having my feet knocked off the rudder pedals as we tried to gain any advantage. Most of the time this worked and time was on our side against the 20-minute Lightening. All this ended up as the most fun flying I experienced as I recall it now, a half-century later!
We spent a fair amount of time flying and a fair amount of time drinking as we all soon discovered there was not much “oversight” of our activities. We were young, heady with the power of our planes, and believed ourselves invincible. (Note: Roger Billett, Dick Rung, and Bob Konopka are RIP)
My memory is not the best but there are a few things that come to mind during that deployment to Gütersloh. Word got out that some of the “ground troops” might appreciate a fly by so we accommodated them by buzzing a tank with a few of the crew standing on the turret. We did get a little low and possibly a little fast… make that a lot fast, and the “after-action report” was that we blew them off the tank.
The Hawker Hunter pilots were a pretty tight-knit outfit, as most fighter units are, and all of us were eager to do our very best. On this particular flight, I believe Win Reither was flight lead with me on the wing. We flew a very tight initial and just before the break two Hunters pulled up, one on each side of us for a few seconds and then broke away. We landed, dropped off our gear and upon entering the debriefing room there was an 8 X 10 glossy of Win and me, just prior to the break. Now that’s what you call real service.
Most everyone in the 613th remembers Dick, “that’s dog shit Ethel”, Hardy but ALL of us remember his wife. She was a great lady. Dick was an ATC instructor before checking out in the Hun but he totally erased all ties with ATC when he did what had to be the most “shit hot” 7G closed pattern in the history of Hundom.
I was the “kid” of the 613th TFS. The first new lieutenant to arrive in over four and a half years. The 401stTFW had the highest average Hun time in the Air Force, over 1700 hours, and instead of being sent to Vietnam right out of F-100 training, I was assigned to Torrejon AB, Spain. I had no idea what a stroke of luck that was. I got to fly with the best of the best some would say and I did my best to keep the light on the star and say “four”. That was over fifty years ago and I have never met a finer, more talented bunch of men in my life. I was only at Torrejon for twenty-two months but these men became lifelong friends. I know without a doubt what they taught me brought me home from Nam.
Special thanks to MB Barrett of Super Sabre Society.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force and Crown Copyright and Mike Freer – Touchdown-aviation via Wikipedia