The Cornfield Bomber -- Pilotless Landing of 58-0787
Pilot: Lt Gary Foust (Maj Ret)
Personal Accounts Below by those who were there! And video interview with Maj (Ret) Gary Foust himself
On 2 Feb 1970 a 71st FIS F-106A (S/N 58-0787) entered a flat spin forcing pilot
Lt Gary Foust to eject
at approx 13-14,000 feet. Un-piloted,
the aircraft recovered on its own and miraculously made a gentle belly landing in a
snow-covered Montana field. It became know as the "Cornfield Bomber", although the pilot
Lt Foust isn't sure why, since it wasn't a 'cornfield' and
the F-106 certainly wasn't a bomber. In his words it should have been known as the "wheatfield fighter". At the time of the incident
the tail markings belonged to the 71st FIS out of Malmstrom AFB, however the 71st FIS was later changed to the 319th FIS,
Malmstrom. Retired Colonel Wolford (Major at the time) was the Chief of Maintenance at the 71st FIS at the time. His name was stenciled on the
side of 58-0787 as the pilot, however, Major Wolford wasn't flying the bird at the time of the incident.
As accounted by Col Wolford and IP Pilot Maj Jim
Lowe, three F-106s were on a ACM (Air Combat Maneuvers) that day when 58-0787 went into a flat spin and according to
procedures Lt Gary Foust bailed out somewhere under 15K feet
(13-14K according to Lt Foust). One of the accompanying F-106 pilots, Instructor Pilot
(IP) Major Jimmy Lowe, observed the ejection and also observed
58-0787 straighten out right after ejection and reportedly transmitted "Gary - you'd better get back in it!". Major Wolford got a call from the
sheriff about an airplane sitting in a field with the engine running and wanted to know how to shut it off. The sheriff was advised to just let it run
out of fuel. The plane was resting gear up, engine running, on a small amount of snow, with a slight downhill grade and as the snow melted under the
aircraft, it would creep forward some, which had the sheriff rather excited.
One often discussed possible explanation among the
pilots and engineers as to why the aircraft recovered from
its flat spin after Lt Foust ejected is that the ejection
seat rocket blast was enough to change the attitude of the
aircraft to get back into a normal flight. During the
recovery efforts Lt Foust took prior to ejection, which
were all by-the-book, standard 'Spin Recovery' procedures,
was to trim the aircraft back to 'neutral trim', which means
taking hands-off the stick, hitting Takeoff Trim and see if
the aircraft recovers itself. In this case it didn't
work, however, when he did finally eject, the aircraft was
in fact in that takeoff trim configuration, a perfectly
trimmed aircraft, and as Maj Lowe reported the minute the
ejection seat left the aircraft, the aircraft nosed all the
way down and began to "fly off into the sunset" perfectly
level because it was at this point a 'very well trimmed'
airplane. So, the blast force of the ejection seat was
probably just enough force for the aircraft to level out...
as is expected during Spin Recover procedures, just with the
pilot in it. Seeing Lt Foust successfully ejected
and was safe, Maj Lowe, joined by now by the other wingman
Tom Curtis, both followed the aircraft until it 'landed' in
the wheatfield... not a cornfield.
A depot team from Sacramento Logistics Center, McClellan AFB later
came in, took the wings off, put everything on a railroad flatcar (a railroad set of tracks was conveniently located about a mile from the
landing site), and shipped it to McClellan AFB, CA where it was repaired. Colonel Wolford said he'd like to have flown it out of there but after the
aircraft was lifted up, the under side damage was greater than thought. The Stable Table had exited the bottom through the 05 panel area and crunched
its way back to the rear of the plane ruining the armament bay doors. The wings were in perfect shape.
Account of the incident by the other IP pilot on the flight, Tom Curtis
"I was the other IP in that flight. The mission was a 2V 2 ACT training
My wing man, Larry Mc Bride, aborted when his drag chute deployed on the
ramp prior to take off. So it turned out to be a 2V 1, me being the one
We took off as a flight of three. Gary Foust was leading with Jim Lowe in
the chase position. We then split up I went to one end of the training air space and they proceeded to the other end of the air space. We had about a
twenty mile separation. The controllers turned us into each other so we
passed head on with a thousand feet separation. The ROE (rules of
engagement) were we had to pass head on with no tactical advantage to either
flight. After passing the fight was on. The object was to gain a tactical
advantage on the opponent and maneuver in to valid firing position. After
landing we would review the film and try to reconstruct the engagement. Of
course, this was a big ego thing. who was the winner etc.
I figured I could handle Gary pretty easy but I did not trust Jimmy. I
figured he would probably break off and come after me. With this thought in mind, I came at them in full afterburner I was doing 1.90 mach when we
passed. I took them straight up at about 38,000 ft. We got into a vertical
rolling scissors. I gave him a high G rudder reversal. He tried to stay with
me, that's when he lost it. He got into a post stall gyration. This happens
just prior to a stall. The aircraft violently rolls left and right and
sometimes swaps ends, a very violent maneuver. His recovery attempt was
unsuccessful and the aircraft stalled and went into a flat spin which is
The aircraft looked like the pitot tube was stationary with the aircraft
rotating around it. Very flat and rotating quite slowly. Well,. Gary rode it down to about 15,000 feet. All this time Jimmy Lowe was giving the spin
recovery procedures. Part of the spin recovery procedures is to actuate the
take off trim button. This trims all the control surfaces to a take off
setting, which is a bout the same as for landing. So when Gary ejected the
aircraft was trimmed wings level for about 175 knots a very nice glide
When he ejected the aircraft straightened out and glided toward a perfect
landing. I couldn't believe it ! Jimmy sez "get back in there." The aircraft landed in a snow covered field and Gary landed in the
mountains. This was in February in Montana. Our concern was Gary's safety. However, the Indians got him out ok on their snow mobiles. The sheriff
climbed upon the wing of the aircraft, engine still running and the radar
still sweeping. when the aircraft started to slide forward a bit he got down
off the wing. He said when the rotating beacon went off he figured the engine ran out of fuel.
Pat, this has been a long story but an experience I will never forget. There
are people who don't believe it." Tom Curtis, 26 Jan 2005.
58-0787, The Famous "Cornfield Bomber" as told by F-106 Forums member 'Viper Pilot', 18 March 2009
In 1970, while
assigned to the71st FIS at Malmstrom AFB, Montana, its pilot ejected during an
in-flight emergency. The pilot somehow got himself in a flat spin -- this is
considered generally unrecoverable in an F-106 and the book says to get out.
After the pilot did just that, 58-0787 recovered itself from this unrecoverable
position. In a vain attempt to recover, the pilot had trimmed it to takeoff trim
and engine throttle back. After it recovered itself, it flew wings-level to the
ground and made a near-perfect belly landing in a farmer's snow-covered field.
When the local sheriff arrived on the scene, the engine was still running. On a
slight incline, the F-106 would move slightly as the snow under it melted which
got the sheriff quite energized. See the attached photos.
A depot team from McClellan AFB recovered the aircraft and it was eventually
returned to service. When the 71st FIS was disbanded in 1971, 58-0787 went to
the 49th FIS, my first squadron. Some considered it a lucky ship, others a jinx
ship. We all referred to it as the "Cornfield Bomber".
We would occasionally run into ex-71st FIS guys at William Tell and ragged them
unmercifully about the "emergency" so dire the plane landed itself. 58-0787 is
in its 49th FIS markings at the USAF Museum and I have been to see this old
friend several times. As pleased as I am to see the 49th FIS Eagle immortalized
for millions to see, a part of me wishes they would paint one side in 71st FIS
markings to ensure visitors know it wasn't the 49th that abandoned this
perfectly good airplane.
I read with great interest the article about 1st Lt. Gary Foust's mission out of
Malmstrom AFB, Mont. ["Gary,
You Better Get Back In It!," April, p. 68]. I was the weapons controller
assigned to control that mission, call sign Huntress 36, in the SAGE building
only a few blocks from the 71st FIS flight line. The flight checked in minus one
I was informed that that one aircraft aborted the mission. After a radar hand
off from ATC, the flight of three proceeded to the training area north of
Malmstrom, where I proceeded to set a one-on-three mission. Shortly after the
lead called a “judy,” I listened to Lieutenant Foust's wingman try to help him
recover his aircraft from the flat spin. After he punched out, the flight lead
confirmed a good chute, followed by a call that he was safely on the ground.
I've visited the National Museum of the United States Air Force several times
and always go by to visit 787 on display there.
Col. Bill Hall,
McClellan Maintenance Scare in 1972 by Albert 'Al' Durden F-106A 58-0787... I worked on this one at McClellan in 1972. I was on the ground performing leak checks
during the first engine run after being repaired.
I was in the right main landing gear wheel well checking for
leaks when all of a sudden the landing gear tried to retract. My nose was about two inches from the MLG
actuator when I watched it retract about one inch and old 787 started jumping up and down and shaking. I called up to the man in the cockpit and asked him what he just did and he said, I just turned on the engine
anti-ice switch. I said, turn it off and don't turn it back on again.
After the engine run, I wrote up the defect
and our electrician did his troubleshooting. He found the wires crossed in the RH, main wheel well between
the engine anti-ice and the MLG control valve which placed power directly to the control valve bypassing the
landing gear safety squat switches so the landing gear said lets go up. The only thing stopping it was the
downlock safety pins. If they had sheared off or not been installed, I would have been a sardine in a sardine
can and 787 would have been flat on the floor.