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SCRAMBLE!

by Turbo Tarling


In September and October 1957, 410 Cougar and 428 Ghost Squadrons in Ottawa were tasked with alert duties at Ernest Harmon Air Force Base, Stephenville, Newfoundland while the resident USAF 61st FIS (Fighter Interceptor Squadron) replaced their aging F-89 Scorpions with delta-wing F-102 Daggers. I was a new pilot on the Ghost squadron.

The USAF alert hangars were different from the RCAF ones. The aircrew sleeping quarters were on the second level, above the two aircraft bays; ours were between the bays. When the scramble horn sounded during the night the pilots and navigators would dress in a matter of seconds, charge down the stairs, dash to their respective aircraft, strap in, start up and take-off.



Officially we were allowed a maximum of ten minutes from horn to airborne but, as a matter of pride, we always tried to shave this time down, especially since the Americans were watching our performance.

As often happened, the scramble horn went off in the wee hours of the morning but this particular scramble did not go quite as smoothly as usual. One of the (senior) pilots had been blissfully sleeping on his side when the horn went off and as he struggled out of bed he discovered that his side was completely paralyzed with sleep!

The other aircrew were already dressed and bounding down the stairs as he flopped around the now-deserted room trying to get dressed. By the time he had hobbled down the stairs and over to his CF-100, his navigator was already strapped in and waiting for him.

He clambered up the ladder but half-way up he lost his grip and tumbled back down to the ground. Undaunted, he picked himself up, clambered back up the ladder, lost his grip and fell back down again. With great determination he grabbed the ladder and clawed his way to the top only to have the ladder fall away from the aircraft with him clinging precariously to it! A quick-thinking groundcrew grabbed the ladder and managed to push it back to the cockpit.

The pilot tumbled into the cockpit, strapped himself in, started both engines, shoved the throttles forward and blasted out of the hangar. We wondered what was going through the navigator's mind as they thundered down the runway into the night!