My Target is What?! Embarrassing Non-shootdowns

My Target is What?! Embarrassing Non-shootdowns

Not all of fighter aviation is aimed at protecting the fair damsel from the marauding Count von Evil. In fact, history shows that fighter jocks themselves have often provided whimsical, if not overly efficient episodes that have left their mark in the annals of fighterdom.
“Ever shoot down a balloon?”
Sam Flynn was in an expansive mood after winning several rounds of “Horse.” (Ed: a dice game popular in officers’ clubs. If you are not experienced do not play—especially with fighter pilots—unless you are prepared to buy many rounds of drinks.) He recalled:
“Back in my first squadron we tried to once. We had moved our F8U Crusaders to NAS Key West, and when we weren’t standing alert in case the wily, commie Cubans decided to attack, we flew training missions over the Gulf.
“During the morning brief for the alert pilots, the squadron duty officer stuck his nose in the ready room and said that ‘Fat Albert, ‘ the moored balloon with radar that watched the Florida Strait for those invading Cubans, had broken its tether and was floating away. We were ordered to shoot it down.
“The CO lit up. ‘Men, we have a real live target for a change. Let’s go get ‘em.’
“The first delay came when someone said, ‘Ya know those Sidewinders we’ve got sure aren’t going to do anything against a helium filled balloon,’ and the order was given to drop the heat-seeking missiles from the airplanes.
“We launched in pairs. Nothing quite like tight wing on a ‘Sader in full afterburner. Anyway, by the time we got airborne, that balloon had floated way east and far faster than we expected. And it was high … very high. ‘Course we stayed in burner the whole time.

To read the article that was published in the October 2015 issue of Flight Journal, click here.

By R.R. “Boom” Powell

Updated: June 10, 2020 — 11:55 AM

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