United States Navy
VT-3
Red Knights

T-28B

BuNo 137761

Tuesday 28th February,1961.

NATC Whiting Field
Naval Aviation Cadet James F. Strickland


                                                           photo Jim Strickland
Aviation Cadet
James F. Strickland

 

The damaged cockpit section of BuNo 140033

 

Jim in the front seat of a T-28 Trojan

 

"I prayed and pulled."
T-28B Trojan Bail-out

Almost 50 years on it is still hard for Jim to believe that within a year of beginning his Naval Aviator training he would become a member of the exclusive Caterpillar Club.

On Tuesday 28th February,1961 two T-28B Trojans from VT-3*  NATC Whiting Field were flying a routine training flight when they were involved in a mid-air collision.

The accident took place in clear skies  south east of Munson, Black River State Forest, about 45 miles northeast of Pensacola, at around 3.30 in the afternoon.

 In the front seat of BuNo 137761 was instructor pilot LTJG Herbert French, of Beverley Massachusetts, and Jim, from Savannah, was occupying the backseat.  The events happening outside were, at that time, obscured from Jim who was under the hood flying a Radio Instrument training flight when the other T-28 shooting a penetration came down through the top of his aircraft.
Lt(jg) French, the pilot, was almost certainly killed during the impact. In the back of the stricken T-28, Jim was left with little option but to get rid of the remaining canopy and trust to his parachute.

Jim remembers,
"
When our T-28's collided, I had my visor up on an RI hop under the hood. We were practicing VOR and ADF approaches to the Crestview Omni Station and were flying at about 8000ft as I recall. The ensuing blast was such that over a pint of oil and fluids was blown up into the top of my helmet. I had my seat all of the way down to get a straight line of sight to the instrument panel to help prevent vertigo and this is probably what saved me during the initial impact. When I got to Sick Bay at Whiting, and they took off my helmet, the fluids came rolling out. The blast had separated the tight seam with my forehead and blew the fluids up in my helmet. I had to bail out blind from a tumbling what ever remained of the Aircraft and remember the flames and acrid smoke. I was knocked cold initially, hit some part of the wreckage after bailing out and was afraid to open the chute for fear of being drug down. Didn't know how high I was so finally found the ring and prayed and pulled."

Jim continues
"I
Remember the roar of the air as I was falling and when the chute opened It knocked me out again. Last thought was I hit the ground. Came out of it and got my eyesight back about 500 ft up. Was coming down into some very tall pines and crossed my legs and tucked my arms and chin ( as taught) and just before going into the trees a gust of wind started blowing me horizontally across the tree tops, my feet slapping the tree tops, for about the length of a football field and dropped me into a small clearing and I came to rest against a tree on the opposite end of the clearing. Witnesses on the ground reported seeing just the cockpit section of the other A/C tumbling down out of the sky"

 

In the other aircraft, BuNo 140033, events were also happening quickly as the damaged aircraft became uncontrollable. Both instructor pilot LT Andrew E. Braunchweiger and student LT Manoel van der Haagen Silva bailed out safely.

Within a short time a helicopter  recovered the three survivors and returned them to Whiting Field an auxiliary of NAS Pensacola.

*Training Squadron 3 was commissioned on May 1, 1960, at South Whiting Field. Its primary mission  was to instruct student Naval Aviators in radio instruments, formation flying, and air-to-air gunnery.

   I am grateful to Jim Strickland for details of the events of 28th February 1961 and providing the photographs, used with his permission.

Thanks to Jim for his help since 2008.

 

project Get Out and Walk
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