Un-Intended Evasive Maneuver

by Phil Rowe
Fighter pilots have enjoyed years of friendly sparring between their highly maneuverable aircraft and lumbering bombers. USAF and Navy fighters practiced their intercept techniques against Strategic Air Command's finest. The fighters usually bested the bombers because of their greater speed and agility.

Bombers began to gain a temporary edge in those aerial competitions with the introduction of the high altitude B-52's. Many jet fighters just could not climb to the lofty heights that the new StratoFortresses could. B-52D models from the 92nd Bomb Wing at Fairchild AFB could keep Air Defense Command's (ADC) less lofty F-86L's at bay, especially above 40,000 feet. Navy F4D Skyray fighters had the same trouble in the late 1950's.

The edge quickly returned to the interceptor pilots with the addition of the supersonic delta-winged F-102 fighters in ADC, and the even hotter F-106 models. Something new was needed in the "cat and mouse game" to return some competitive strength to the bombers. Their crews were becoming tired of always placing second.

Some bomber crews resorted to trickery of jamming ground controller-to-fighter radios, or broadcasting false commands to confuse interceptor pilots. One radio command, "ANCHOR PORT", was used effectively to make an interceptor pilot break off his attack and begin a left turn holding pattern. Such a message was unauthorized because it was intended for safety purposes, but it was used. One of the B-52 electronic warfare officers had been a back-seater in ADC at one time and knew the "lingo" between radar controllers on the ground and their fighter pilots scrambling to intercept bombers.

Then along came the Mach 2 B-58 Hustler medium bomber. It flew like a fighter and could give the ADC boys a run for their money. Only a head-on intercept of a high flying B-58 could give them any chance of catching that speed demon. And if the attack degenerated into a tail chase, the Hustler had more fuel and staying power to out-run and out-last the frustrated fighter jocks.

On one particular bomber vs. fighter encounter, both the bomber pilot and the pursuing F-106 driver were surprised by an un-intended evasive maneuver. A B-58 was accelerating eastbound toward Minneapolis for a high altitude practice bombing run. In hot pursuit over North Dakota came a screaming F-106. It looked very much like the fighter was in the right spot to score a "hit", as both birds approached Mach 2 speeds. And then the unexpected happened.

Just as the fighter pilot was ready to simulate a shoot-down of the B-58 in front of him, the main landing gear of the bomber suddenly lowered. The bomber slowed down immediately, much to the surprise and shock of both pilots, for that was not a planned event. The fighter's overtaking speed advantage became too much and a break-away turn became necessary to preclude a collision. There was not enough time for the F-106 pilot to react and score a "kill".

But the B-58 pilot was having his problems too. Amazingly the airplane did not come apart under the sudden structural loads. The landing gear did not tear off, though gearwell doors certainly did from the wind blast at nearly 1200 miles per hour. Superior piloting and a measure of luck saved the B-58 from flying apart and becoming a real casualty.

There was much concern that the bomber's landing gear had been damaged and a safe landing would be jeopardized. Fortunately, the Hustler made a safe landing and the plane could be fixed to fly again. But that startled F-106 pilot must have indeed been impressed by the un-intended evasive maneuver that cost him his "kill".