This is an excerpt from “Hijacked, A Critical Change of Plans” A true story!
I entered primary jet training at Laughlin AFB, Del Rio Texas in September of 1967. I made it through the T-41 ‘Wash Out’ program but was still not sure I was meant to be a pilot. I was then and still am afraid of heights.
On October 21, 1967 a graduation ceremony of 60 lieutenants was conducted and all the current students were in dress blues to be inspected by Jimmy Stewart. He was in the area filming the movie “Bandolero” along with Raquel Welch, Dean Martin and George Kennedy. James Stewart was a USAF Reserve brigadier general and it was an honor to have him there plus the Thunderbirds were there with their F-100Ds.
The formalities were over and the T Birds were about to complete their famous ‘bomb burst’ when the solo pilot, Captain Merrill A. McPeak positioned his F-100 to climb up through the other four jets that had just orchestrated the bomb burst. At .99 mach he pulled the normal 6.5 G’s and his plane disentigrated. The wings had separated from the fuselage and as fire and smoke entered the cockpit he ejected. His winglesss flaming fuselage traveled over the ramp with parked and fully fueled T-37s and T-38s crashing harmlessly in the desert. Captain McPeak’s ejection was at such a speed that his helmet and oxygen mask was ripped from his head and a panel of his parachute was shreaded. He landed safely on base property with his ground crew and base ambulence waiting for him. He was taken to the hospital and soon released with just bruises and a few minor cuts.
That evening , the Officers Club was packed and I had the honor of speaking with one of the T-bird pilots. I asked him what Captain McPeak saw and did. He smiled and said its all part of aviation and our training. He reacted quickly when he saw the smoke and flames and all the systems worked. That short visit convinced me that I was meant to fly and anxious to be a part of such a professional group.
I believe that Captain McPeak later became General McPeak, the USAF Chief of Staff.