The Day an F-106 Supersonic Fighter Landed Itself in a Cornfield

How an unpiloted supersonic fighter grew to become probably the most infamous ghost rider of all time.

Unpiloted plane have taken off on their very own, normally after a pilot hand-props the airplane to start out it with out realizing the throttle has been left huge open. The unguided missiles then cost throughout an airport willy-nilly, typically taking out themselves and a line of lightplanes, a hangar or a couple of parked vehicles. Generally, nonetheless, they obey the legal guidelines of aerodynamics and raise off, in a couple of circumstances flying for hours on their very own. In December 2001, an Aeronca Champion took off empty from an airstrip in Sonoma County, California, and flew out of sight, assumedly till its gas tanks ran dry. The crash web site wasn’t discovered for days. In April 2009, an unpiloted classic Stampe biplane took off throughout an airshow at Goodwood, England, and circled the airport for 5 minutes earlier than crashing into timber.

However unpiloted airplanes that land themselves are one other matter, although there are a couple of tales of uninhabited B-17s flying again to England after bombing raids and parking themselves unaided in a subject as a result of the whole crew had parachuted out. (We’ll mark as apocryphal the unpiloted Forts that one way or the other discovered a runway and in addition managed to spirit the touchdown gear down.)

Maybe probably the most infamous ghost rider, nonetheless, was an unpiloted supersonic jet fighter that not solely landed efficiently however continued to play video games whereas on the bottom and was later patched up and put again into service. The notorious Cornfield Bomber, the title that has come down by means of U.S. Air Power lore, was a Convair F-106A Delta Dart that touched down surprisingly gently in a Montana farm subject on February 2, 1970, after its pilot had punched out throughout a flat spin.

An Air Power restoration crew retrieved the airplane and located surprisingly little harm. The repaired fighter would see service for an additional decade. (U.S. Air Power)

That day began innocently sufficient—a barely nonroutine three-ship coaching flight out of Malmstrom Air Power Base into clear however frigid Montana skies. It was initially scheduled as a two-on-two air fight maneuvering session, however the fourth ship needed to abort when its drag chute popped on the ramp like spilled laundry, so the day’s job grew to become a two-versus-one rat-racing session.

Radar vectored, two of the F-106s turned head-to-head towards the third from 20 miles away. After they handed one another on the pace of warmth, the combat was on. Teacher pilot Captain Tom Curtis, within the solo aggressor slot, described it:

I figured I may deal with [1st Lt.] Gary [Foust] fairly simple, however I didn’t belief Jimmy [Major James Lowe]. I figured he would most likely break off and are available after me. With this thought in thoughts, I got here at them in full afterburner. I used to be doing 1.9 Mach after we handed. I took them straight up at about 38,000 ft. We obtained right into a vertical rolling scissors. I gave [Gary] a high-G rudder reversal. He tried to stick with me, that’s when he misplaced it. He obtained right into a post-stall gyration…a really violent maneuver. His restoration try was unsuccessful and the plane stalled and went right into a flat spin, which is normally unrecoverable.

The plane appeared just like the pitot tube [on its nose] was stationary with the plane rotating round it. Very flat and rotating fairly slowly. Properly, Gary rode it all the way down to about 15,000 ft. All this time Jimmy Lowe was giving spin-recovery procedures. A part of the spin-recovery procedures is to actuate the takeoff trim button. This trims all of the management surfaces to a takeoff setting, which is about the identical as for touchdown.


Lieutenant Foust ejected at 15,000 ft—no dishonor there, as he had already cashed in 4 miles of altitude attempting arduous to show the guide improper—however he deserted a heat cockpit and an airplane trimmed to wings-level and a 175-knot glide at diminished energy, which occurs to be preliminary strategy pace for a touchdown.

The F-106 then determined it had completed sufficient flat-spinning for the day and recovered to straight-and-level flight. Which produced a memorable line: Main Lowe keyed his mike and radioed, “Gary, you’d higher get again in it.”

The Delta Dart settled towards flat floor close to Large Sandy, Mont. Floor impact on the final minute checked its descent properly, and the fighter slid gently onto the snow. An area sheriff quickly arrived, for the reason that spectacular arrival had not gone unnoticed. No dummy, the cop learn the title of the airplane’s most important pilot beneath the cover coaming—Main Wolfold—and obtained on the telephone to Wolfold at Malmstrom for directions on easy methods to shut down the engine.

After service with the 49th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, the Cornfield Bomber retired to the Air Force museum in August 1986. (National Museum of the U.S. Air Force)
After service with the forty ninth Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, the Cornfield Bomber retired to the Air Power museum in August 1986. (Nationwide Museum of the U.S. Air Power)

Absolutely coached on easy methods to pull the facility lever again to idle cutoff and switch off the grasp swap, the sheriff climbed the cockpit steps simply because the F-106, its scorching engine having melted the snow beneath the fuselage, started a jerky slide throughout the sector. Now it was the sheriff’s flip to bail out. He determined ready till all of the gas had been expended made extra sense than taking part in immediate jet pilot. In the end, the empty Con­vair traveled some 400 ft on its stomach earlier than it ran out of gas. Pilot Foust, in the meantime, who was unhurt, was rescued by snowmobilers.

Thankfully, the F-106’s unpredictability persuaded all of the gathering spectators to face clear, for the reason that highly effective radar within the Convair’s nostril was nonetheless sweeping forwards and backwards with microwave-oven depth that will have been harmful to anyone standing in entrance of the nostril. An Air Power restoration crew quickly retrieved the airplane, although one pilot reportedly mentioned that if there had been simply barely much less harm to the stomach, he’d have been blissful to fly it out. The Delta Dart, its wings eliminated, was despatched to storage at Davis Monthan AFB on a railroad flatcar, and sat within the Arizona solar till the late ’70s, when it was not solely repaired however given a number of avionics upgrades. It was re­turned to service with the forty ninth Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, the final Air Power unit to function F-106s. (Its authentic squadron, the 71st FIS, had been disbanded.)

As we speak the Cornfield Bomber sits within the Nationwide Museum of the U.S. Air Power, in Dayton, Ohio. It’s nonetheless painted within the colours of the forty ninth, and to this present day some members of that unit want it had been restored as a 71st FIS airplane, simply so no person will get the concept it was one among their guys who jumped out of a superbly good airplane. J


Frequent contributor Stephan Wilkinson has piloted almost 120 plane varieties, however has solely parachuted from an airplane as soon as—and he’d prefer to maintain it that method. “I got here inside an ace of turning into a garden dart,” he says of the expertise.

This characteristic initially appeared within the September 2012 difficulty of Aviation Historical past.


Leave a Reply

GIPHY App Key not set. Please check settings