Neat 104 Story
di Dave Perry

Here's the story of Mel's 1959 mid-air experience:

As described by Dave Perry, Mel's wingman:

....... It occurred 40 years ago Nov 12th. We were headed for Myrtle Beach for deployment to Moron, Spain. I was in close formation on Mel's wing when the T-bird out of Enid, OK slashed the cockpit off his airplane. I don't know how it missed me, but it did. When I looked back after the explosion, the attached picture is about what I saw, except for the cockpit. It was gone! I can still see that in my mind's eye. I thought Mel was a goner. Mel had flash burns on his face from the fire, but other than that he was OK. What a miracle! The picture is of a Mig-29 that was involved in a mid-air also. The pilot made it out of this one too.

Also from Dave Perry: I will try to reconstruct events as I recall them.

I don't remember the exact time of day, but it was somewhere around noon I believe. I know we were to be in Myrtle Beach before dark. Weather conditions were high overcast with good vis underneath. This was a flight of 4. Mel was lead, I was 2. We had noticed the T-bird shooting a GCA missed approach as we lined up. We lined up in right echelon heading south. We were making a left turnout and I had to cross over after takeoff. 3 & 4 took the standard spacing for that time frame, what 7 secs maybe? I had just crossed over to the left wing to allow 3 & 4 to join on the right. I was in fairly close on Mel to stay out of the way of the element. I picked up the T-33 in my peripheral and recall seeing the front seater (IP) looking at Mel and the back seater (Student) did not have his hood over him. I did not have time to do anything but throw the stick in the Northwest corner. I felt the tremendous explosion and as my A/C completed the roll I looked back right and saw Lead's A/C completely engulfed in flames. There was no cockpit on it. I heard 3 call for a right break to avoid debris and 4 responding "I am breaking right." I looked for chutes and sighted only one. I began an orbit of the area to see if I could spot any other survivors. I was told to recover at Tinker after burning down fuel. Mel would probably have a copy of the report and could fill in the details. It was my perception that the T-33 was trying to buzz us and had misjudged our acceleration. I vividly recall the front seater looking up at Mel. He survived, but the student's chute did not fully deploy. We were equipped with downward ejection at that time. Again, my recall is getting hazy when it comes to specific time etc., but I will never forget the sight of Mel's plane or seeing the T-bird just before impact.

Here is Mel's description:

will try and fill in some of the events that Dave left out. It was 1632, 12 Nov 59. We were supposed to refuel over Tex that morning and then non-stop to MB. The WX in the refueling area was too bad to RF so we waited. About 1300 they said to launch and refuel at Tinker. Landed, refueled and taxied out to the end of the RW. Twr cleared us on the RW but I said I would hold for the AC on final. Twr said ac was a GCA missed approach, low approach. I said I would still hold. T-bird made low app and I saw the hood up in the back and front seat pilot really giving us the once over. We took off and as Dave said, the element was joing up when Dave dropped down slightly, back in formation, then broke left. There was a BIG bang and the cockpit filled with smoke and I had no control of the AC.. I was forced to the left side of the CP at which time I pulled the ejection seat ring between my legs. I was forced to the left side of the CP and when I went down,(yes downseats at that time) my elbow hit the console. Everything worked like it was supposed too and the moment my chute deployed, the engine of the T-33 came right by me, burning my jacket, some of my face and part of my G-suit. CLOSE. I looked around and a B-45 was heading right for me. He max turned the bird to miss me. I then saw some Zippers flying by. I waved but they didn't see me give them the thumbs up. Looking down, there wasn't anything below me but oak trees. I crossed my legs, threw my arms up over my face and hit the trees. I came to looking up hanging by my straps in the tree. I said to myself, I've got to get out of this tree. I looked down and I was about 10 inches from the ground. I quick released my chute and dropped to the grnd. I was smoking then and had 2 quick cigs. I then felt something warm in my left glove and found it full of blood, bleeding from a slash in my elbow. I pulled my chute down, rolled it up and headed for a farm house I saw on the way down. I had not gone more than a 100 yards when a farmer and his son met me. I told them I needed to make a call to the base. We walked another 100 yards and a staff car pulls up. It was the Base Cmdr. He was really shook and I assured him I was OK. On the way back to the field, he was so shook up, he ran into the ditch once. I told him to slow down, I didn't want to be killed in his staff car. Any way we made it. As a matter of record, the T-Bird pilot was stationed at Vance AFB, OK. The cadet did not have his D-ring fastened to his chute, therefore did not have an automatic chute. He separated from from the seat but was too low for his chute to open. The T-Bird pilot saw us on the end of the RW and wanted to shine his apple and make a pass on the Zippers. He got the T-bird going full speed on the deck and came around for a pass on us after we took off. We were at 3500ft and he did not see Dave and I, but was making a pass on the element, thinking it was Dave and me. the accident bd gave the T-bird pilot 90% pilot error and I got 10% for not writing up a weak radio receiver. As a matter of record, the work force at tinker had just gotten off work and there was over 450 witnesses. Also that night, the CG of Flt Safety was the guest speaker at the dining in at the O club. His topic that night was on Mid Air Collisions. Hope this gives you a little more info. The Zipper is still one of the greatest AC that was ever built and my favorite.