Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Plane That Wouldn’t Die: The Cornfield Bomber

The unusual story of a U.S.A.F Jet that recovered from a flat spin and landed by itself.

This monster, is the Convair F-106 Delta Dart. A storied interceptor jet in it’s day it was built to combat Cold War threats and exceed a United States Air Force (U.S.A.F.) requirement of 1.9 Mach (1,458 MPH) at an altitude of 57,000 feet; which it did both, exceedingly well. In December of 1959 it set a speed record of 2.03 Mach (1,525 MPH) while flying at 40,000 ft. It was designed at the time of emerging high-speed jet aircraft technology to be the “Ultimate-Interceptor” armed with missiles to shoot down enemy bombers. It served in the U.S.A.F. from June 1959 until August of 1988. But this particular jet, is infamous for another reason. As the story goes, it was called the “Jet that Would’t Die” of by its better known moniker: “The Cornfield Bomber”.

This aircraft on February 2, 1970, flew itself, without a pilot, into the sky and eventually into the ground coming to rest in a snowy field in Montana. It’s engine continued to run while still under its own power, its RADAR still tracking while it inched along the ground every so often foot by foot. All the while stunned onlookers watched in amazement while it’s pilot Lt. Gary Faust was no where to be found having ejected almost 2 hours earlier.

Foust’s journey was equally interesting and unusual. While practicing Advanced Combat Maneuvers (ACM) with other F-106s, he’d lost control while flying in the cold, thin and unforgiving air at 38,000 feet aloft. While chasing a wingman as he tried to follow an ACM reversal, the F-106 buffeted and entered into a flat spin falling out of the sky. Attempting to recover, Faust struggled with the jet, while his two wingman feverishly called out emergency spin recovery procedures to no avail. Losing almost half his initial altitude with ground impact likely, an instructor in one of the following F-106s ordered Foust to punch out. As Foust ejected from the still spinning F-106, his jet abruptly shot upward, it’s pitch attitude and altitude changed just enough for the jet to recover on its own and continue on course completely pilotless, while Faust watched dangling from his parachute in disbelief. Legend has it, that one of Faust’s wingman as he watched the jet trail into the distance, called out on the radio “Gary you better get back in”.

The jet drifted on for many miles and slowly descended at a shallow enough angle to land in a farmer’s cornfield fully intact near Big Sandy, Montana.

The jet ran on its belly for nearly 2 hours while the local sheriff held onlookers back and contacted the local Air Force Base to come out and get their missing jet.

In the end the jet was recovered, partially disassembled, shipped back to Davis Monthan Air Force Base by rail for extensive repair, upgrades and was eventually returned to service.

Back in service, pilots who flew it said that it flew just as good as before if not better. Lt. Faust even got fly the Corn Field Bomber once again in 1979 while on a training sortie at Tyndall Air Force Base.

After completing its service use, the “Cornfield Bomber” (S/N 58-0787) was presented to the National Museum of US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio in 1986 where it remains on display to this day.