F-104 Smoked by an F-84F

by Wilfried Tersago

This is one of my favorite stories involving an F-84F, four JATO bottles, and a bold pilot.

JATO bottles were used for 'heavy' take offs or for hot and windless
seasons. The peacetime drill for using the Jet Assisted Take Off bottles
was simple: 'ATO ready' switch ON, check for green light, then at the
calculated airspeed (usually around 100 knots) hit the 'ATO fire button'.
Having only a 7800 lbs. thrust engine, these 4000 extra lbs. from the JATO
bottles were like an afterburner. You really zoomed away on a dense
exhaust plume! Unfortunately, they ran empty after 15 seconds or so. You
then performed a short pattern bringing you overhead again at around
240 kts. and 500 feet in order to drop the empty bottles.

That day, our bold pilot 'forgot' the 'ready' switch so nothing happened
at the calculated airspeed but luckily he could get airborne with four
FULL bottles. Proceeding over Western Germany where half NATO was flying
during those days and everyone was listening out on a common frequency
(channel 6) he started looking for a then-new German F-104. And after
some time one of them came in close to our F-84, obviously showing off
his new mount. The Thunderstreak pilot then switched on his 'ATO ready'
switch, told everyone on channel 6 "watch this" and hit the ATO fire
button; the good old F-84F jumped forward, leaving the F-104 in a dense
cloud of smoke and probably also in complete unawareness of what
happened to him! Needless to say the whole JATO attachment system was
badly twisted but according to the pilot, it was well worth it.

The pilot, who died just a few years ago, was an instructor on an ULM. He told
me the story happened in 1964; his wingman confirmed the whole thing.

Contents Copyright 1997-1999 Bruce Craig -- All Rights Reserved