United States Air Force
  510th Fighter Bomber Squadron

 Langley AFB, Virginia

Republic F-84F


15th July  1955

1st Lieutenant Frank J. Iamarino


"Three Weeks in July"
Frank Iamarino


An early, peacetime Friday morning flight for 23 year old 1st Lieutenant Frank J. Iamarino should have been routine. This time though he was recovering his Flight Leader's aircraft that had been forced to land at Amarillo following an engine fire.  Severe weather conditions at high altitude, not flying his usual aircraft,  a replacement engine, eventually found to have a poor maintenance record, changed all that.

On 15th July, Republic F-84-F callsign "Paisan" of the 510th FBS had taken off from Amarillo to fly to Bergstrom AFB, Austin, Texas. At 35,000 feet in a violent thunderstorm,  the engine failed and was unable to be restarted. Frank was about to join the ranks of the "Caterpillar Club".  

The following is Frank's account of the event - still fresh in his memory after 50 years        

On 8th July 1955, one week before my bailout, I had made a 'dead-stick' landing at Amarillo AFB, Texas. It ended up needing 2 new wing booster pumps and since Amarillo didn't stock them it would be at least a week before the plane would be flyable.

    My flight leader upon landing caught on fire and it was determined that a new engine was required. Since Amarillo did have engines in stock, this plane would be ready in a day or two.    

One thing I had never done was swap airplanes on a cross-country mission. It was like a superstition that I believed in. So when my flight leader asked if I would fly his plane back to Langley, I accepted reluctantly only because I had been married for only 10 months and had a son who was 1 month old.

    I took off low-level from Amarillo to Bergstrom AFB, Austin, Texas, since the runway at a mile high was not long enough for an F-84-F to take off with a full load of fuel. I refuelled at Bergstrom and was ready to leave for Langley.

photo via: Frank Iamarino
Personnel Equipment Airman Fink helps 1st Lt Frank Iamarino at Langley AFB. Photo taken a few weeks before the ejection

    Usually on cross-countries I would check my parachute in the Personnel Equipment room at Langley before leaving and regardless of how many stops I made, I would never check the chute again. It just stayed in the cockpit when I wasn't flying. But this day felt different. Maybe it was the superstition about swapping planes, maybe it was the fact that I had a dead-stick landing a week before or maybe it was due to the nasty weather that was predicted on my course.

    I checked to see that the pins were lined up correctly and I also checked the aneroid barometer setting and for the first time in my life as a Fighter Pilot, I checked and read the little booklet tucked into the parachute. All I remembered from that booklet was that it stated it took 1000' to turn the parachute around. This little fact helped me later that day.

    While flying in the thunderstorm at about 35,000 feet, I experienced a tremendous loss of power. I tried all the procedures I knew at the time but after 3 failed attempts at airstart, I called out my 'Mayday' and prepared to exit the aircraft at about 15,000 feet. However, first Memphis radio and then Birmingham asked if I'd like to land at their respective fields. One had 1000 feet and 1/2 mile visibility while the other had a 2000 foot ceiling and visibility at 800 feet. I politely declined since only a week prior I had dead-sticked an F-84-F under CAVU (ceiling and visibility unlimited) conditions and it was tough enough. Anyway by the time both radios accepted that I was getting out it was 12,000 feet and I finally bailed.


It was now  0730 hrs., Frank's F-84 had now descended from the  thunderstorm with tops at 60,000 feet  to 12,000 feet. He was over farmland about 4 miles North of Athens, Alabama, USA. He maintained his aircraft in a straight & Level slight nose-high attitude and an airspeed of 125 knots. He now initiated the ejection sequence.

Frank again.

The ejection procedure called for a) pull up the left armrest to lock the shoulder harness and blow the canopy; b) pull up the right armrest which will cock the trigger to fire the seat; c) Squeeze the trigger with the right hand and off you go. This was followed to a 'T' except when I squeezed the trigger, nothing happened. I was shocked and not moving for fear the mechanism would fire and snap my neck. I managed to look out of the corner of my eye and saw that I had not squeezed hard enough to activate the trigger. I tried again and all went as planned. The seat belt blew and the seat left me pulling the alternate rip chord which armed the aneroid barometer. Soon after, I suppose, because I was blacked out, the chute opened. I looked up and saw the chute above me and I looked down and saw the plane in a spin to my left.

Frank descended beneath his Switlik parachute. He had not experience any temporal distortion,  "However I did sense 'my life passing before my eyes' phenomenon."

 "When I broke out of the soup at about 800 feet, I was going backwards and since it then took 1000 feet to turn the chute around, I decided to do nothing. I landed going backwards and I hit the ground with my feet, then my butt and then my head. Luckily the helmet took most of the shock and all I received was a small cut on the back of the neck where the helmet cracked."

                                                                                                                                                                                                              photo via: Frank Iamarino
The Crash site clearly showing the large crater created by the F-84 and aircraft debris

When asked if he had ever ejected again Frank's response was, "Only one and that's enough. As the Chaplain said to me when I was taken to a Military Hospital after the crash, "This is something that you would give a million dollars to have happen once and a million dollars not to have happen again."

I still don't understand why anyone would bail out of a perfectly good airplane (Skydivers).


When asked if any things changed as a result of the crash Frank recalls

"The only thing that changed was the placement of a little placard that contained the bailout procedure. It used to be on the canopy so once the canopy was blown off, the procedure went with it. I believe they moved the instructions to the instrument panel but I don't know this for certain. That's what I recommended during my 'Board of Inquiry' which, by the way, was deemed mechanical failure because of poor maintenance to the engine while it was in storage."

Frank J. Iamarino, 2007

  photo via: Frank Iamarino            
The tail of Republic F-84-F
52-7040A one of the largest of the pieces of wreckage  


      Some extracts used in this Biography  were  provided thanks to the generosity of Frank Iamarino  who also gave permission to include the  images from his personal archives


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