Sixty Years Ago: The Georgia Air National Guard Enters a New Decade on High Alert

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Georgia Air National Guard TSgt. Swain and MSgt. Way load rockets into an F-86L Super Saber’s rocket pod during alert operations at Travis Field in January 1960. (Photo courtesy of Georgia Guard archives)

by Major William Carraway, Georgia National Guard

William Carraway
Major William Carraway

The sun had not yet risen on the first day of 1960 when the Savannah-based 158th Fighter Squadron was put on alert status and prepared to scramble fighter interceptors at a moment’s notice. The 158th was one of 21 Air National Guard Squadrons across the nation to participate in a readiness exercise designed to test the ability of National Guard pilots and aircraft to take to the air in response to the detection of incoming enemy aircraft. Additionally, the alert tested the ability of Air National Guard units to conduct sustained operations against a possible enemy attack.[1]

With the sound of a siren, two Georgia Air National Guard pilots, Capt. Kenneth Davis and Capt. Harry Morrow sprinted from the ready room at Travis Field in full flight equipment and boarded two rocket-armed F-86L Saber Jets that had been prepped and started by dedicated crew chiefs. Within seconds of reaching the Saber Jets, the pilots taxied the aircraft to the runway then rocketed at full afterburner over the Atlantic Ocean. The response was so rapid that the pilots did not receive their approach vectors until after take-off. The 702nd Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron, based at the nearby Hunter Air Force Base, provided the pilots with their initial mission briefings by radio. The pilots then used their Saber Jets’ internal radar to close the distance on the target aircraft. Moving into firing position, the Guardsmen identified the aircraft as friendly or hostile, a hostile intercept resulting in simulated launch of pod-mounted 2.75-inch rockets. At the completion of the intercept, the pilots returned to Travis Airfield for debriefing.

Captain Kenneth Davis and Capt. Harry Morrow of the Georgia Air National Guard’s 158th Fighter Squadron sprint to their F86L Super Sabers during a high alert exercise at Travis Field in January 1960. (Photo courtesy of Georgia Guard archives)

Throughout the exercise, the squadron’s fighter pilots served 10 to 14-hour shifts as did the aircraft ground crews. On January 16, the Marietta-based 128th Fighter Squadron had joined the 158th on alert status. Pilots and ground crews of the 128th conducted 24-hour operations scrambling aircraft to meet potential threats emanating from South Georgia.[2] More than 1,000 Georgia Air National Guard personnel participated in the exercise, including members of the 116th Tactical Hospital which was charged with evaluating and evacuating simulated casualties.

At the conclusion of the alert exercise, Col. G. D. Campbell Jr., United States Air Force Inspector, praised the Georgia Air National Guard noting particularly the in-commission state of aircraft and the rapid rate of turnaround for aircraft upon returning from missions.[3] These two factors demonstrated that the Georgia Air National Guard was indeed capable of rapidly responding to threats in an increasingly uncertain world.

[1] Georgia National Guard Magazine Jan, Feb 1960, 2.

[2] Ibid, 6.

[3] Ibid, 7.

 

 

 

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