TEXT: MIRO BARIČ
You may have not heard about it but it was the greatest
Cold War air combat over the United States territory. What
is odd that all participating aircraft carried the white star
national markings. This story could have been named
“A Day when all went completely wrong”. But despite the
great material losses no person was hurt so it could also
be a fairy tale with a happy ending. The tale about an aircraft which refused to accept its fate.
A group of F6F-3Ks at Atlantic City Naval Air Station in 1946.
During the WWII Grumman F6F Hellcat formed
the backbone of the US Navy fighter force. However, after the end of hostilities they became
rather quickly outdated and were transferred
to the auxiliary duties. Large number of Hellcats were rebuilt to F6F-3K and F6F-5K versions which were remotely controlled drones.
For better visual identification they were painted in bright colors – yellow, orange or red.
They also collected the samples of the air after
the nuclear weaponry tests but primarily they
were used as the flying targets. They also did
some combat missions during the war in Korea. Between August 28 and September 2, 1952,
six F6F-5K loaded with bombs took off from
the deck of USS Boxer. Their targets were the
bridges to which they were guided by escorting
Skyraiders. The results were two direct hits and
one near miss. This mission is considered the
first ever deployment of guided missiles from
an air carrier.
The main player in our story carried the red
paint coat and was to be used as a target during the ground-to-air missile test. It took off
for its final flight on Thursday, August 16, 1956, at
11:34 from Point Mugu air base. It was gradually
climbing over the Pacific ocean but when the
operators tried to direct it to the target area the
drone was not responding to their commands.
Had that situation remained unchanged, nothing
serious would have happened. Having exhausted its fuel Hellcat would simply have crashed in
the vast ocean. Instead, it performed a graceful
left turn heading towards Southeast, right over
Air Force vs Navy
The Navy did not have any available fighters
nearby that would take care of the defected
drone. Point Mugu operators had to swallow the
INFO Eduard - FEBRUARY 2022