“Gary, you better get back into that thing.”

| June 5, 2016

What follows will seem fantastic – much like any other “no sh!t” story.  But with this tale there’s a difference.

In this case, what I’m about to describe actually happened.  And it’s fully documented.

I’m about to relate the story of the US Air Force’s “Cornfield Bomber.”

. . .

On 2 February 1970, four F-106As from the 71st Fighter Interceptor Squadron, Malmstrom AFB, Montana, were scheduled for a training mission.  The mission was to make history – but in a way that none could foresee.

The mission was scheduled to be a “2-on-2 combat maneuvering exercise”.  As the name implies, two teams of two aircraft each would engage, attempting to get in position to score a simulated air-to-air “kill”.

Before takeoff, one aircraft experienced a mechanical issue – an on-ramp drag chute malfunction.  To preclude scrubbing the mission, the day’s flight activities were altered to “2-on-1 combat maneuvering exercise”.

The remaining 3 aircraft took off, ascended to altitude – and engaged.  The single aircraft made a high-speed approach at the other two, then went vertical.  His two opponents followed.

. . .

In the maneuvering that followed, the pilot of one aircraft in the two-plane group – Capt. Gary Faust – appears to have “pushed the envelope” a bit too much while maneuvering.  His aircraft stalled, then entered what aviators term a “flat spin” at approximately 35,000 feet elevation.

Now, I’m not a pilot.  But even I know that a flat spin is some seriously bad juju.  It’s essentially God (or Budda, Rama, Fate, Gaia, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or whoever/whatever entity you choose to worship) telling you, “You are now in deep (trouble).  You have a very short time to figure this out or we’ll be meeting in person.”

Faust attempted to recover.  He was unsuccessful.  So after falling somewhere between  21,000 and 27,000 feet while in said flat spin, he ejected.

Faust’s ejection was successful.  He deployed his parachute, and drifted in his parachute into the local Bear Paw Mountains.  He was rescued by local residents using snowmobiles.

. . .

Now, when an aircraft’s pilot ejects three things happen to the aircraft.  First, the weight and center of gravity change.  Second, the ejection seat imparts a substantial downward force to the front of the aircraft.  And, third, loss of canopy changes the aerodynamics of the aircraft somewhat.

The combination of those changes caused something quite remarkable.  On its own, Faust’s aircraft came out of its spin. It then began to glide – straight and level – at around 175 knots.

It seems that one of the things that Faust had done during his attempts at recovery was to put his aircraft’s control surfaces into “takeoff trim” settings.  These settings turned out to be virtually perfect on the F-106A for gliding under the conditions the bird now exhibited (no pilot/ejection seat/canopy, idling engine producing minimum thrust, straight and level).

The aircraft – now somewhere between about 8,000 and 14,000 AGL (accounts vary), then flew/glided, straight and level, for a number of miles.  It approached the ground in farming country near the town of Big Sandy, MT.

Being February in Montana, the ground was covered with several inches of snow.  The aircraft touched down in a farmer’s field (one account says alfalfa, another wheat).

After touching down, the aircraft skidded a substantial distance along the snow-covered ground.  A low stone wall was blocking its path.  Somehow, with no pilot it turned about 20 degrees right while skidding and skidded through a gap in the wall.  It came to rest.

The engine was still running when local LE authorities reached it.  They contacted the USAF, who advised them to simply let the aircraft continue to idle until it ran out of fuel – which it did, about 1 hour and 45 minutes later.

. . .

USAF personnel went to the site afterwards and inspected the aircraft.  It indeed seemed effectively intact.  However, there was no good way on-site to determine the amount of damage to the aircraft’s underside.

The aircraft was partially disassembled, then recovered by the Air Force.  Amazingly, there wasn’t much more than minor damage to the underside of the aircraft.  One of those involved with recovery efforts reportedly commented that if there had been any less damage, they could have simply flown the aircraft out (there was a paved road nearby that was straight and level enough to allow that).

The aircraft was sent to McClellan AFB, California, for depot inspection and repair.  (Ya think?)  It was determined to be repairable, and was indeed repaired and return to service.  Capt. Faust reportedly later flew the same aircraft while the aircraft was assigned to a unit at Tyndall AFB, Florida, and he was TDY there for training several years later.

. . .

Well, “That’s the story, and I’m sticking to it.” (smile)

But perhaps you think I’m “BS-ing” you?  Well, if you think that – read/watch the links/videos below.  They document the fact that the incident described here really happened.










The aircraft in question was tail number 58-0787.  For unclear reasons, it came to be known as the “Cornfield Bomber” – though it was not a bomber and did not self-land in a cornfield.  It today is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

Sometimes truth is seriously stranger than fiction.


Author’s Note: the title of this article is one version of the reported radio transmission made in jest by USAF Maj. Jimmy Lowe, flying as Faust’s wingman that day, on observing the aircraft come out of its spin and fly away on its own after Faust ejected.

Category: "Truth or fiction?", Air Force, Historical, Who knows

Comments (15)

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  1. LiRight says:

    Interesting story, Hondo. Thanks!

  2. IDC SARC says:

    ho lee crap…..fekking plane turned magic carpet

    • HMCS(FMF) ret. says:

      If only the aircraft that the soon to be disbarred, California lawer was piloting a few years back did the same thing, then the Dickless One could be bragging to his DRG buttbuddies and the world about his “piloting skills”.

      Danny was made famous in a NTSB report – something that he boasted would never happen to him…

  3. Airdale (AW) USN ret. says:

    Now that’s a first!!! When did that aircraft recover?? From a flat spin that is impossible!!!

  4. richard says:

    I suspect that pilot Faust was pretty pissed to see his aircraft fly away without him. On the other hand he may have been so disoriented by the flat spin and ejection that maybe he didn’t see it?

    Speaking for myself, aircraft spins make me barfy, even ones that I do on purpose. I avoid carnival rides.

  5. Arby says:

    Fortunately, the Air Force sent it to the Air Force Museum in Dayton instead of converting it into. QF-106…

    This was the first thing I thought about when I saw the pictures of the downed T-Bird in a field in Colorado. It had to have glided in at a shallow angle since it looks relatively intact and did not burn.

  6. Hayabusa says:

    Crazy. Truth is, indeed, often stranger than fiction.

  7. liberty53 says:

    There is a U-2C aircraft on static display at Beale AFB that had a similar miraculous survival story. In that case the pilot passed out at the controls and the aircraft started a turning descent. A T-37 trainer aircraft observed the pilot slumped at the controls but there was nothing that could be done as the aircraft headed for high voltage power lines. Instead of crashing, the aircraft clipped the power lines which leveled the wings, allowing the aircraft to crash into a field without being destroyed. The pilot woke up, shut down the engine, but then initiated the ejection seat by accident, which caused him to somersault but land on his feet. The pilots only injury was a chipped tooth. Aircraft tail number is 56-6714

  8. AW1Ed says:

    Heard about this incident a while ago. Thanks for the memory jog and sharing, Hondo!

  9. Silentium Est Aureum says:

    Cornfield Bomber indeed.

    But in this case, the plane took off (and landed) with plenty of fuel in the tanks, and not only did it sustain less damage than a certain corn killing plane in Oregon, the pilot was 1–willing to discuss the accidwnt, 2–didn’t sue anyone as a result.

    Rustle rustle, bitch.

  10. HMC Ret says:

    My experience with an airplane crash resulted in a much less positive outcome. I was stationed at NH San Diego on 22DEC1969. A Navy pilot ejected from his jet, which continued (glide ?) until it crashed into a hangar at NAS Miramar. I was one of the responders and later worked on the makeshift burn unit created at NHSD. If I recall, about a dozen died instantly and another dozen or so survived. I use the term ‘survived’ loosely, as to this day I’m torn by the belief that perhaps, just perhaps the fortunate ones died instantly. They were burned into what appeared to be charcoal. Some were burned over 99% of their body, with only the soles of their feet being spared. I understand the pilot later had another mishap and was again forced to eject. He eventually committed suicide. I don’t know what, if any fault was placed on him, but living with that catastrophe on his mind took its toll.

  11. I remember the story of a B-17(?) during WWII, heavily damaged in a raid on Germany. Over the channel, the crew bailed out because of the damage and control issues. Once they were out, the plane stabilized and continued on — to “land” wheels up at the airbase that was it’s home. The crew was picked up and eventually reunited with their plane at the base.

  12. Hossman says:

    There was an F-4G that flamed out in bad weather due to fuel starvation in the lead up to Desert Storm and crashed right outside King Khalid Military City (KKMC). Both pilots ejected successfully but the plane came down in a mud flat (yes it rained a bunch in January 91 in Saudi Arabia). It was right side up and largely structurally undamaged. The nose fell off where the front-seat pilot ejection rail was when a crane was loading the plane on to a lowboy. Since the incident happened at night, no one saw how the plane came down, but it was a sight to behold the next morning.