In 1953, our Air Force had three interceptors in its Air Defense Command: the F89J Scorpion, the F86D (called the F86Dog), and the F94C Starfire. In 1953 I flew the F94C Starfire jet (we called it the “Banana Boat) as a proud member of the 48th FIS. I was 20 years old, and only three years out of high school.
The 94C was the Air Force’s first operational supersonic airplane – but you had to go straight down to achieve that speed. Obviously, that angle of flight limited the amount time of we could maintain supersonic super sonic speed.
The F94C was a two-place aircraft: pilot in the front, radar observer (RO) in the rear (or the “GIB” - meaning the “guy in the back”). My usual radar observers and good friends were Jim Faries, Jean Adams, and Manford R. Groves (“Grover”). We spent a lot of time together fifty-three years ago training and scrambling on intercept missions out of Langley Air Force Base, Virginia. It was during the latter stages of the Korean conflict. We like to say we defended American from North Korea – from Virginia.
Great news! Grover, my RO friend and compatriot, was at the 48th FIS reunion. Hadn’t seen him in decades (he’s gotten older). When Grover’s and my turn came to share flying stories at the reunion, we told some good ones. And they were true. Like buzzing below the Wright Brothers Memorial at Kitty Hawk, flying just a few feet over the beach of the Carolina Outer banks and lighting the F94C afterburner just above surf fishermen, barrel rolls around Navy balloons near Norfolk, and more I shan’t share here. In other words, adolescent flying behavior I wouldn’t think of doing now!
It was fun at the reunion watching “oldster” pilots teaching “youngster” 48th pilots how to be “Tasmanian Devil Instructors,” by screaming and making faces inches from each other. The Tasmanian Devil is the 48th mascot (see cartoon).
Some Russian fighter pilots happened to be at the same hotel, near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. I’m told (I’d already gone to my room. It's true. If you can't trust a politician, whom can you trust?)) some vodka was consumed while American pilots demonstrated Tasmanian Devil antics in the face of the Russians – and the Russian pilots returned the behavior in kind. Actual war was not declared.
There’s wonderful but indescribable comradeship among the military: active duty, retired, veteran. It’s kind of “been there, done that, and we understand.” There is a somewhat similar comradeship I felt when I was a cop in Tucson, Arizona. There’s collegiality among legislators, regardless of political party, and that’s good. But it’s not the same military and police comradeship.Our next 48th Squadron reunion is scheduled to be in Columbus, Mississippi. Hope I can make it.
Photos show my RO Manford R "Grover" Groves and I shaking hands, me as a youthful Air Force pilot, my standing by my F94C at the Alert Hanger, the 48th Fighter Squadron we placed at the Air Force Museum memorial park, our reunion group, and the Tasmanian Devil figure.