This is the incredible story of
the F-106 that landed itself
Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction
Models and diorama by Bjørn Jacobsen
On 2 Feb 1970, a flight three F-106 were on a training mission from Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana.
One pilot split off to become the “opponent” in the exercise. The two remaining aircraft was piloted by Lt. Gary Foust and Jimmy Lowe as IP (Instructor Pilot). They quickly reached 40,000 feet and found the opponent approaching from below.
The ROE (rules of engagement) was they had to pass head-on with
no tactical advantage to either flight. After passing the fight was on.
The object was to gain a tactical advantage on the opponent and
manoeuvre into valid firing position.
The opponent came at them from below in full afterburner and was
doing Mach 1.90 when he passed the two-ship formation which was
not going that fast.
Gary tried to follow the attacker and they got into a vertical rolling
scissors and Gary got into a post-stall gyration.
This happens just prior to a stall. The aircraft violently rolls left and
right and sometimes swaps ends which is a very violent manoeuvre.
The pilot's recovery attempt was unsuccessful, and the aircraft stalled
and went into a flat spin.
The aircraft looked like the pitot tube was stationary with the aircraft
rotating around it.
Very flat and rotating quite slowly.
Gary rode it down from 40.000 feet to about 12,000 feet.
All this time Jimmy Lowe (the IP) was
giving the spin recovery procedures over
They tried everything in the book and
outside the book to get him out of that
In the process, the throttle of the spinning
Six was set to idle and the take-off trim
button pressed to return the jet to a neutral
trim setting, which is about the same as
Speed brakes were open, and the drag
chute was deployed. But with no forward
speed, just the left-hand flat spin, the
chute did not open and instead wrapped
itself around the tail.
At about 12.000 ft., Gary had no choice,
The second the ejection seat left the aircraft,
the nose of the Six dropped, it stopped
rotating and recovered itself to level flight.
On one of the classic radio calls of all time,
the IP called over the radio:
“Gary - you’d better get back in it!”
Dangling from his parachute, Gary saw his
aircraft heading off into the distance,
seemingly looking for a suitable place
The now-pilotless Six dropped the useless
drag chute, flew out of the mountain area
and found some flat fields which could act
as a landing place. It made a couple of
gentle turns and touched down lightly in a
wheat-field. Seeing a rock pile in the middle
of the field, the jet turned about 20 degrees
to the right and missed the rocks before
coming almost unharmed to a rest in the
Gary, on the other hand, landed in the
mountains where the local Indians got him
unharmed out on their snowmobiles.
The farmer who owned the field where the
Six landed, immediately called the local
When they arrived, they found a big jet
sitting on its belly with the engine running
and no pilot in it.
What they did was to call Malmstrom AFB
and ask were the pilot was and what in heck
they should do with the jet, and by the way:
“how do we shut the damn thing off?”
The sheriff was advised to just let it run out
of fuel, which it did two hours later.
The aircraft was later put on a railroad
flatcar and shipped it to McClellan AFB, CA
where it was repaired.
It went on to fly safely for many more years
and is now on display at the National
Museum of the Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.
Above; You can clearly see the path the Six took when landing in the Montana wheat field
Preparing the model for
the ejection seat launch.
The model of the Six was the same I used on the previous page (67) “F-106 Delta Dart”, I just had to make a few alterations for the ejection seat launch.
First, I had to take off the canopy and the seat.
The seat was glued to a thin brass rod and a LED lamp was placed right below the seat. I used the very thin magnetic wires to connect the lamp to the 12V transformer. The wires were glued to the rod and continued through the fuselage and down inside the clear acrylic tube which supported the aircraft.
Cotton was used to imitate the vapour and smoke from the rocket-propelled seat.
In the slow. flat spin, there was no forward speed and the ejection seat was propelled more or less vertical from the cockpit, leaving behind a dark stain from the rocket blast.
The speed brakes were open, and the drag chute employed but did not open. Instead, it wrapped itself around the tail.
As soon as the Six took off by itself, the chute broke loose and fell to the ground.
The Six with the ejection sequence was placed on a base, painted as snow-covered mountains. The backdrop was a painted cardboard.
Building the landing field
I used a wooden plate 18 x 32in (45 x 80cm) which I covered with a “home-repair” paste (because that what I had at that moment), painted it white (and a little brown), added artificial grass and some white powder which I hoped would look like snow.
I used some old figures which I had in my spare box to illustrate the farmers and the local police.
I did not find any model of a 1960sh police car. I, therefore, found pictures of old
police cars and pasted it into some of the pictures as background coloration.
The damages to the aircraft was not comprehensive, at least not from the outside.
Except from the loose panels at the back of the fuselage, the Six looked in good shape. The damages were mostly concentrated to the belly.
The loose panels were made by very thin metal sheets, painted the aircraft colour and glued to the aft of the fuselage.
When the Six came to rest in the field, you might easily imagine the reaction from the farmers and the local sheriff, finding a big jetfighter in the middle of a snow-covered field. With the engine running, the radar screen swiping and no pilot anywhere.
Until the jet eventually ran out of fuel, the engine was idling, sucking in air and producing a steady jet blast and heat. The jet was still alive! It was slowly sliding forwards as the heat from the engine melted the snow into slush – and no one knew how to turn the jet engine off!
No wonder the locals were scratching their heads, wondering what to do!
"The Cornfield Bomber"
When the F-106 landed by itself, it was, of course, a front-page story in all newspapers.
A good story needs a good headline, and an inventive newspaper called the incident
“The Cornfield Bomber”.
The name stuck, and the F-106 S/N 58-0787 became “The Cornfield Bomber”
The truth is, of course, is that there was no cornfield and no bomber involved in this story.
The correct name would probably have been “The Wheat Field Fighter” – but that’s another story.
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