December 13, 2011Video: F-106 Corn Field Bomber, Convair Delta Dart
By Glenn Pew, Video Editor, Contributing Editor
This is an unusual story. The jet you're looking at is an F-106 Delta Dart. A storied interceptor in its day, it was built to exceed an Air Force requirement for 1.9 mach and continuous flight at 57,000 feet. It did both. And in December 1959, it set a speed record, of 1,525 mph, or about 2.3 mach, while flying at 40,000 feet. Its pilot at the time, Major Joseph Rogers, claimed the record might not be accurate. He was still accelerating, he said, at the time.
But this particular jet is famous for a different reason.
As the story goes, the aircraft you see here on February 2, 1970 flew itself into the ground -- a snowy field in Montana, where its engine continued to run for another hour and 45 minutes. Grounded, pilotless and still under power, with its radar still sweeping, the jet sometimes crept forward foot by foot through the snow as a small collection of onlookers watched. Its pilot, 1st Lieutenant Gary Foust, had ejected roughly two hours before that show was over. Foust's trip was just as interesting. He'd lost control of the jet while flying a mock engagement that led his and two other jets into harsh maneuvers in the thin, unforgiving air at 38,000 feet. Attempting to match a high-g reversal by another pilot, Foust's jet bucked. He entered a flat spin, and the jet fell, spinning slowly like a model on a turntable. The flight's two other pilots came to his aid, calling out recovery procedures. But by 15,000 feet the result seemed certain, and an instructor in one of the other jets ordered Foust to eject. Foust obeyed.
But for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, and it could be it's that law that saved the jet. As Foust shot up, the jet's condition changed -- just enough for it to recover on its own and head off for the horizon. Legend has it that one of the observing pilots said on frequency, "Gary, you better get back in."
In the end, the jet was recovered, rebuilt and put back to work as tail number 80787. But it was forever known as the Corn Field bomber. Delta Darts were phased out in the 1980s.