Horrifyingly, Lieutenant Gary Foust has lost all control of his jet fighter. Now, he finds himself in what is known as a “flat spin,” with the body of the aircraft rotating repeatedly around its nose. Then after trying in vain to get the plane back on track, Foust finds himself with no choice but to hit the eject button – a potentially dangerous decision. And while the pilot miraculously survives the 15,000-foot plunge to the ground below, the fate of his Delta Dart is more astonishing still.
Of course, Foust’s day shouldn’t have seen him go through such an ordeal. The pilot had originally been part of a two-on-two training session for himself and his fellow Air Force servicemen, Captain Tom Curtis and Major James Lowe. Unfortunately, the fourth participant had had to leave when their aircraft’s drag chute deployed.
Rather than practicing air combat, then, Foust, Curtis and Lowe engaged in a two-on-one race through the skies. It wasn’t a straight-shot battle to the finish, either. When Foust and Curtis crossed paths at 40,000 feet, for example, the pair embarked on some airborne acrobatics, flipping around each other’s plane in a vertical scissors pattern.
Yet while this part of the process may have gone off without a hitch, Foust ultimately began to flail as he tried to keep up with Curtis. Then, swiftly, his plane went into a post-stall gyration, which, according to website HistoryNet, Curtis described as “a very violent maneuver.” And although Foust subsequently tried to straighten out his aircraft, he ultimately couldn’t manage to level the Delta Dart.
So, Foust had no choice but to eject from his plane at that point. And, fortunately, as he flew through the ice-cold Montana skies from a height of about 15,000 feet, he finally landed safely back on the ground. But as the Delta Dart continued to spin in the sky, its fate was still in the balance — and practically no one could have imagined what the craft would do next.
The Delta Dart itself was an interceptor – a type of plane that serves a very significant purpose. Specifically, these fighters get in the way of the enemy’s offensive, often defending against both reconnaissance planes and bombers. And while smaller, lighter aircraft can act as defence at short range, heavier-weight interceptors can travel longer distances for similar purposes.
Meanwhile, the history of the interceptor dates back to 1954, when the newly formed U.S. Air Force — created to replace World War II’s U.S. Army Air Force — began to restructure itself with a handful of internal organizations. Two of these sections, the Air Defense Command (ADC) and the Tactical Air Command (TAC), were particularly keen to create fighter planes that could be mobilized swiftly to help safeguard the nation.
The ADC had the task of keeping the country safe from enemy attacks; in other words, that department covered defense. The TAC, by contrast, focused on the offensive methods that the Air Force could adopt – although fighter planes were still needed to protect the military branch’s assets.
And that’s precisely where the interceptor came in. Initially, then, interceptor aircraft played an important role during the Cold War, as they could keep an eye out for Soviet bombers and other long-range dangers. The ADC also focused its efforts on creating a vessel that could intercept such threats at a supersonic speed.
The ADC had very specific requirements, too. Most notably, the command wanted each aircraft to be flown by a single pilot – despite the very complicated radar system planned for installation in these planes. And while the new range of interceptors would have autopilot features to make the vessels easier to fly, the task at hand was still a tall one, as the ADC wanted these planes up in the air in 1954.
Then, in the mid-’50s, the program produced the Convair F-106, also known as the Delta Dart. At first, the aircraft disappointed Air Force officials for its less-than-stellar performance. And as a consequence, the military branch ultimately cut its order for F-106s from 1,000 to just 350, with the model also receiving a subsequent redesign.
The Delta Dart — often referred to as “The Six” for its model number — made an impression in 1959, though. That year, Major Joseph W. Rogers sat in the cockpit of an F-106 and hit a world record for speed by flying at 1,525.96 mph. Then, months later, Charles E. Myers bested this by traveling at 1,544 mph in the same aircraft.
When it wasn’t being used to break records, the F-106 served as a domestic defender, zipping around the contiguous U.S. states and Alaska. Yet while The Six did see some international patrolling in Iceland, South Korea and Germany, it never went into combat. The Air Force also decided not to lend the interceptors to foreign allies, even though Canada had considered purchasing some of the planes.
But, perhaps most importantly, pilots loved the Delta Dart for its muscular performance, which had been honed after initial testing failures. One scary shortcoming uncovered in the early models was the plane’s ejection seat. Alarmingly, the first dozen pilots who had used this feature had all been killed as they had attempted to exit the aircraft.
By 1970, though, many of the Delta Dart’s kinks had been ironed out, and engineers had enhanced the plane’s features. So, when a trio of Air Force pilots set out in their interceptors in February of that year, they likely couldn’t have predicted what would happen next. They were only meant to be training, after all.
And taking off from the Malmstrom Air Force Base meant that Curtis, Foust and Lowe would be met with freezing cold skies. You see, the USAF hub sits just outside of Great Falls, Montana, and on February 2, 1970, snow was blanketing the ground in the area.
Initially, Curtis, Foust and Lowe were also supposed to have a fourth member of the Air Force joining them on their training excursion. But as previously mentioned, the fourth aircraft’s drag chute ejected prematurely on the ground, meaning it couldn’t participate as planned.
So, Curtis — the instructor pilot — came up with another plan: the remaining three men would go two-on-one instead. The simulation would have the trio splitting up as they flew to the far end of their training airspace. After that, they’d turn their vessels and pass each other — head-on.
Of course, the two-on-one battle had rules. For example, Curtis, Foust and Lowe all agreed not to try and take the lead until they had completed the planned pass. And the point of the whole exercise? As Peter Grier put it for Air Force Magazine in 2009, the flight would enable the men “to outmaneuver one’s opponent and gain a valid firing position.”
On the fateful flight that he, Foust and Lowe were about to take, Curtis was also quoted on the F-106 Delta Dart website as saying, “Of course, this was a big thing, who was the winner, etc.” And while the captain “figured [he] could handle [Foust] pretty easy,” he added that he “did not trust [Lowe]” during the intense exercise.
To prevent Lowe from taking the advantage, then, Curtis decided to come at his trainees “in full afterburner.” He continued, “I was doing 1.9 Mach when we passed.” And that’s when the combat training truly took off. The instructor whipped his aircraft to 38,000 feet and pulled both Lowe and Foust into a move called the vertical rolling scissors.
In such a twisting maneuver, the aircraft with the best rate of ascent will come out on top. Curtis likely had the upper hand, as he recalled sending Foust into “a high-G rudder reversal” after the scissors. The captain continued, “He tried to stay with me, [and] that’s when he lost it.”
Rather than staying with his opponent, Foust went into what is known as a post-stall gyration – a rotation in which the plane is spinning on all three axes. Nonetheless, there was the potential for the Delta Dart to even itself out, meaning the lieutenant could yet salvage the situation.
But in Foust’s case, it seemed that the F-106’s post-stall gyration was too much for him to reverse. Curtis said, “His recovery attempt was unsuccessful, and the aircraft stalled and went into a flat spin, which is usually unrecoverable.” That’s because the plane starts to rotate much like a frisbee disc or a boomerang — and it can’t stop.
Still, Foust tried his best to right the aircraft, and he had Lowe to help him. The major shared techniques with the lieutenant, instructing him to activate the aircraft’s takeoff trim button. This switch reverts the plane to its takeoff settings, which are similar to the ones needed for landing.
Yet the Delta Dart continued to spin with Foust at the helm, and so at 15,000 feet he pressed the eject button and ditched his interceptor aircraft. The lieutenant had, indeed, tried his hardest to re-balance the vessel; he had covered four altitudinal miles in the attempt to do so, in fact, but to no avail.
Then, after Foust launched himself into the frigid Montana air, he likely wondered what would become of his F-106. But he’d soon find out. Ultimately, the plane slowed down to 175 knots – the correct speed for the interceptor’s landing. And then the impossible happened: the Dart stopped spinning and righted itself to the proper flying position.
At this point, Lowe made an unforgettable witticism to Foust as he floated through the air. “Gary, you’d better get back in it,” the major quipped. But, of course, the lieutenant could not make such an ambitious return to the cockpit. Instead, he glided safely to the ground, parachute on his back.
In the meantime, the fate of the F-106 hung in the balance as it too made its way toward the ground. And while its descent was a decidedly gentle one, this didn’t mean the danger was over yet. Indeed, if the interceptor collided with something — or someone — on the ground, it would be a disaster.
However, somehow, the F-106 touched down as though a pilot still sat in its cockpit. The plane made a soft landing in a wheat field close to Big Sandy, Montana, sliding across the snowy terrain until it stopped. And, soon enough, a local sheriff attended to the lucky craft, finding it running without anyone at the helm.
Fortunately, the Delta Dart’s main pilot had penciled his name onto the plane’s canopy, meaning the lawman knew exactly who to call about the unmanned aircraft that he had just found in a snowy field. And Major Wolford would give instructions over the phone so that the interceptor’s running engine could be turned off.
But the sheriff couldn’t just take the key out of the ignition and call it a day. Instead, he had to get into the cockpit, pull a lever and then flip the F-106’s master switch. Once he climbed into the aircraft, however, the plane began to move, as the engine had melted the snow that had cradled the craft upon its landing.
So, as the Delta Dart skittered across the snow-covered field, the sheriff had a decision to make: like Foust, he’d have to bail from the cockpit. But when should he carry out this tricky maneuver? Well, without any Air Force training, he made the wise decision to stay at the helm until the interceptor ran out of fuel.
Somehow, the Delta Dart managed to slide over a 400-yard stretch until its fuel tank finally ran dry. And while the sheriff defused that situation, Foust got a hand, too. Some snowmobilers had found the pilot who had parachuted from the now-stalled interceptor, and they managed to rescue the uninjured lieutenant from his landing spot.
Then there was the crowd who had gathered to see the downed interceptor plane. They also got away unscathed, as they had the good sense to back away from the Dart even after it had come to a halt. This was vital, as the plane’s nose was still sending out its radar with the intensity of a microwave oven.
Finally, a team from the McClellan Air Force Base made their way to the wheat field to retrieve the downed aircraft. And as it turns out, the lucky Dart only had damage on its underside. As such, one pilot reportedly commented that, if the bottom of the vessel hadn’t been affected, he would have flown the F-106 back to base.
But the plane’s next destination was a decidedly unglamorous one. Ultimately, it ended up on a railroad flatcar on a journey to the Davis Monthan Air Force Base just outside of Tucson, Arizona. There, it went into storage for nearly a decade until it was time for the famous vessel to re-emerge.
Subsequently, the Delta Dart received a slew of upgrades before returning to U.S. Air Force service once again. This time, it joined the 49th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron’s fleet. And, interestingly enough, Foust got a chance to fly the very same plane while training with the 49th – a jaunt that presumably went off without a hitch.
In the 1980s, though, the Air Force began to replace its F-106s with a new model, and so the Delta Darts became part of the Air National Guard units. As for the craft that Foust flew and flipped that fateful day? Well, it eventually ended up in Dayton, Ohio’s National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. And the vessel has earned a pretty peculiar nickname: the Cornfield Bomber.
In a February 2016 video posted to the ArmedForcedUpdate YouTube channel, Foust gave his critique of his former plane’s current moniker — and what he thought it should be called. He joked, “Someone named it the Cornfield Bomber. Not being a bomber and not being in a cornfield, it’s interesting that it was named that. I don’t know who named it that, how it got that name. It should be the Wheatfield Fighter.”
However, more than four decades later, another plane sadly met a more tragic fate. Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared in 2014, and even to this day it’s still not known what happened on the craft’s final journey. The full wreckage from the vessel hasn’t yet been recovered, either.
When Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 (MH370) seemingly disappeared without a trace in 2014, the world waited for news of the whereabouts of the missing plane. But as the days and weeks passed with no breakthrough from searchers, the fates of both the craft and the 239 people aboard looked increasingly grim. Then, on the ocean floor, investigators looking for answers made an incredible discovery.
MH370 had left Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 12.41 a.m. on March 8, 2014. The plane was en route to Beijing Capital International Airport, where it was expected to touch down at 6:30 a.m. after a journey of around 2,700 miles. And as the weather at take-off was fine, it may have seemed likely at first that the flight would be a smooth one.
On MH370 that day were a total of 227 passengers and 12 crew members. People from 13 different countries were represented, although more than 50 percent of those on board were either Chinese or Taiwanese. A further 38 passengers were Malaysian, five were Indian, and three were from the United States.
Of the American citizens traveling on MH370, two were children: toddler Yan Zhang and four-year-old Nicole Meng. And there were three other passengers aged below five on the flight, the youngest of them being 23-month-old Wang Moheng. He was traveling home to Beijing with his parents after a vacation in Malaysia.
Sadly, though, none of the passengers or the crew on the ill-fated flight would make it home again. And soon after MH370’s departure, the plane started to behave strangely. While the craft was able to rise to its intended altitude of 35,000 feet, its Aircraft Communication Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) was unexpectedly deactivated shortly after 1:07 a.m.
The purpose of the ACARS is to give information on the aircraft’s performance – data needed during a journey. But the deactivation of the system wasn’t the only strange development. Around three-quarters of an hour after the flight had departed from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian air traffic monitors were no longer able to trace the plane. And, tragically, it was never to be heard from again.
At the time the authorities became unable to contact MH370, the craft was traveling over the South China Sea that separates Malaysia from Vietnam. Controllers had spoken to the crew just a few minutes earlier, in fact, to inform them that they were about to cross over into Vietnamese airspace. Acknowledging the information, MH370 had then responded, “Good night. Malaysian three seven zero.” This was the final time that anyone heard from the flight.
While MH370 had dropped off the Malaysian authorities’ radar, though, it was still being observed by military equipment. Consequently, it was noted that, bizarrely, the flight had turned away from its scheduled route towards China and was instead moving westward over Malaysia. The plane subsequently traveled out of range of the monitoring equipment when it was somewhere above the Andaman Sea.
Then, while MH370 ultimately dropped off the Malaysian military radar at 2:22 a.m., an Inmarsat satellite situated above the Indian Ocean continued to log regular signals from the plane until 8:11 a.m. An Inmarsat transmission sent at 09:15 a.m. wasn’t acknowledged by the craft, which had been due to arrive in Beijing at 6.30 a.m.
In the hours that followed, the relatives of those on board MH370 then began to arrive at Beijing Capital International Airport, awaiting news about the missing plane. And on March 9, 2014, it seemed that there was finally a clue to MH370’s whereabouts when a low-altitude airplane saw a rectangular object on the surface of the sea.
Seven ships and six planes departed from Vietnam to try to find the reported object, although unfortunately they were unable to do so. And while subsequent search efforts focused at first on the South China Sea, these later switched to the Andaman Sea and the Strait of Malacca after the last known movements of MH370 became clearer.
Then, seven days after MH370 had vanished, the search area changed yet again. Data from Inmarsat determined, you see, that the aircraft could have been anywhere on one of two paths. One of these routes arced to the south of the Indian Ocean towards Australia; the other went north towards the Asian nations of Vietnam and Turkmenistan.
Ultimately, then, the search for MH370 came to span the waters off Australia and large sections of the Asian mainland. But a blow was dealt when Najib Razak – the Malaysian Prime Minister – later declared that the plane had come down far from land in the Indian Ocean. It was thought, too, that all the passengers and crew members were presumed dead.
The investigation into MH370’s whereabouts would go on to become the most expensive of its kind, with the plane’s disappearance remaining a mystery even six years later. And with no definitive official explanation as to what became of the aircraft or those on board, a number of conspiracy theories have emerged.
It’s been said, for example, that MH370’s pilot had embarked on a convoluted murder/suicide plot. Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah – who had been at the helm at the time – had been an extremely experienced pilot, having amassed more than 18,000 flight hours during his career. Shah had also worked for Malaysia Airlines since the early 1980s.
Still, there had apparently been nothing unusual about Shah’s conduct in the lead-up to the flight – casting the theory of pilot suicide into doubt. The actions of the first officer, Fariq Ab Hamid, and the plane’s cabin attendants were also all in line with normal practices, making it unlikely that any of the crew members were responsible for the aircraft’s disappearance.
A potential hijacking was similarly put forward as an explanation for MH370 vanishing, yet no person or entity ever came forward to claim that they’d caused the aircraft to go missing. It also appeared implausible that hijackers would have directed the jet out over the Indian Ocean.
Others, meanwhile, have suggested that MH370 met its demise following a mechanical failure or a fire on board. And there have been even more bizarre theories put forward to explain the plane’s disappearance. Some of the particularly out-there opinions include the notion that the aircraft had been abducted by aliens; alternatively, it’s been posited that MH370 may have somehow flown into a black hole.
While conspiracy theorists were busy putting their spin on MH370’s disappearance, however, the real search for answers was underway. And, unfortunately, the investigators’ efforts were made more difficult by the remote nature of the crash site in the Indian Ocean – 1,500 miles off the coast of Australia.
Yet there was a glimmer of hope for search teams on April 6, 2014, when an Australian ship detected signals that could have emanated from MH370’s flight recorder. Promisingly, the position of the possible black box also matched the location of the last satellite signal received from the plane. And as a result, the race was on to locate the recorder before its battery went flat.
But when an unmanned submarine was deployed to seek out the MH370 black box, it could find no traces of the aircraft. Tests also determined that a malfunctioning cable in the Australian ship’s monitoring equipment could have been responsible for the signals that had been picked up. For months, then, the fate of MH370 remained a mystery.
In fact, it wasn’t until July 29, 2015, that the first debris from MH370 was finally located. A piece from one of the aircraft’s wings had washed up on the shores of Réunion – a French island that lies more than 2,000 miles from the original search area in the Indian Ocean. Then, over the course of the following 18 months, more plane parts were found on beaches in Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, South Africa and Tanzania.
Of these 27 fragments of washed-up debris, three were definitively confirmed as belonging to MH370; a further 17 were deemed to have probably been part of the aircraft. And owing to the locations at which the parts were found, investigators were then able to limit the search to regions of the Indian Ocean – specifically, those areas from which it would be conceivable for wreckage to have washed up on the shores of Africa.
Nonetheless, following investigation operations that spanned three years and in excess of 40,000 square miles, the search for MH370 was called off in January 2017. And although a U.S. firm named Ocean Infinity continued to look for the missing aircraft until May 2017, its investigations also proved inconclusive.
In 2017 the MH370 Tripartite Joint Communiqué therefore released a statement announcing the end of the search for the missing plane. This message read, “Despite every effort using the best science available [and] cutting-edge technology as well as modeling and advice from highly skilled professionals who are the best in their field, unfortunately, the search has not been able to locate the aircraft. Accordingly, the underwater search for MH370 has been suspended.”
Still, the hunt for the missing aircraft hasn’t been completely fruitless. Indeed, while the investigation tragically failed to provide answers for the families with loved ones on board the doomed flight, it did provide some insight into what lurks beneath the Indian Ocean. And some of the discoveries made as a result have proved quite amazing.
As part of the search for MH370, you see, a team of Australian investigators made a series of intricate maps of the bottom of the Indian Ocean. And while the detailed graphs didn’t lead to the successful discovery of the missing aircraft, they have allowed us to view the depths of the vast body of water.
Yes, these maps were made public in July 2017 – six months after the official search for MH370 was called off. And they have revealed the breathtaking landscapes hidden beneath the waves in a remote region of the Indian Ocean – an area where the aircraft is believed to have vanished.
The Australian team’s search was conducted in two phases. Initially, the depths of the waters were measured in order to produce a comprehensive picture of the seabed, with researchers even able to use sonar technology to distinguish the varieties of sediment down there. During the process, the group also pinpointed unusual features below the surface that would need further investigation.
The initial phase of the Australian search was then used to inform the second stage: a submarine search of the seafloor. For this, investigators used sophisticated sonar technology that was attached to underwater robots in order to create high-resolution maps of the subaquatic landscape.
So, while the Australian team didn’t locate MH370, they did discover sunken vessels, ocean valleys and underwater mountains. And their detailed maps have documented the sub-aquatic world with extraordinary precision, making the data produced potentially invaluable in our future understanding of the depths of the Indian Ocean.
Among the discoveries that investigators made were a vast volcano-lined rift valley; there were also sub-aquatic mountains that are taller than Mount Everest. And the resulting maps cover close to 50,000 square miles off the west coast of Australia, meaning the project is one of the most extensive investigations of its kind in human history.
Currently, the planet’s deepest oceans remain largely unmapped, with less than one-fifth of their waters having been charted in the manner done by teams looking for the missing MH370. Prior to those investigations taking place, our knowledge of the search area in the Indian Ocean was derived from satellite data, which could only provide low-resolution maps of the seafloor.
The remote location of the MH370 search area also made the new maps special, as the area they document lies well over 1,000 miles from the Western Australian city of Perth. And as it can take close to a week for ships to travel to the remote region, charting the ocean there may have proved too labor-intensive an endeavor under less urgent circumstances.
Furthermore, as the new maps of the Indian Ocean provide an in-depth look at a little-explored section of water, they may supply both scientists and fishermen with invaluable information about the area. The documents could also help researchers in studying tsunamis in the region, as undersea mountains help to absorb the destructive energy of these phenomena.
In 2017 Charitha Pattiaratchi, a coastal oceanography professor from the University of Western Australia, explained to Reuters why the maps may be useful to ocean trawlers. He said, “There are the locations of seamounts which will attract a lot of international deep-sea fishermen to the area.”
Among the locations explored in detail for the first time during the hunt for MH370 was Broken Ridge – a 7,500-mile-long oceanic plateau. This was created, it’s thought, when Australia broke away from Antarctica back in the Jurassic period. And at more than 40 million years old, the ocean floor at Broken Ridge is therefore considered to be the earliest of its kind to have formed within the boundaries of the MH370 search area.
By contrast, the youngest seabed was found at the Diamantina Escarpment. This was deemed to have been created as the result of “seafloor spreading” – a consequence of shifts in tectonic plates. But these differences in the ocean floor weren’t just down to age, but also to topography. And this makes the MH370 search area highly complex.
Stuart Minchin is the chief of Geoscience Australia’s environmental division. And while commenting on the significance of the new data, he told the Daily Mail, “It is estimated that only ten to 15 percent of the world’s oceans have been surveyed with the kind of technology used in the search for MH370, making this remote part of the Indian Ocean among the most thoroughly mapped regions of the deep ocean on the planet.”
So while the fate of MH370 remains one of the greatest and most tragic aviation mysteries that the world has ever seen, the search for the aircraft did lead to some valuable discoveries. And investigations may yet continue in the future if new evidence arises. In 2017 the MH370 Tripartite Joint Communiqué suggested as much, saying, “We remain hopeful that new information will come to light and that at some point in the future the aircraft will be located.”