The Earl T. Ricks Memorial Trophy A Forgotten Jet Age Championship
By Brig. Gen. Kennard R. Wiggins Jr. (Delaware ANG Ret.)
Abstract: This paper provides a brief history of the Earl T. Ricks Memorial Trophy Race, an Air Force Association sponsored cross country jet race by Air National Guard aircraft and crews. This paper discusses the first ten formative years of the competition within the context of the growth of the nascent post-Korean War Air National Guard. The event began in 1954 as a simple jet race for the best time over distance. It gravitated from a race to an aerial competition, involving ground controllers, maintenance and photo interpretation teams reflecting the greater complexity of the mission. The competitive rules became more sophisticated with each year as the Air National Guard itself became more capable. The event was a mirror of the ANG leadership priorities and the advancing professionalism of the ANG. It was a key factor in winning public support and active component confidence in the Air National Guard.
Introduction: This project began as a simple straightforward account of the 1956 Earl T. Ricks Memorial Trophy Race, won by Lt. Col. David F. McCallister. I was privileged to come across his vivid first-hand account of the event. It was an interesting race, and it was conducted by several very colorful characters. As I began to dig a little deeper, I found a series of races that initiated in 1954 and grew curious about them. I began to encounter more participants, and was able to interview or correspond with some of the original actors. A story began to emerge about the early days of the Air National Guard, at the dawn of the jet age, its struggle for recognition, and its emerging operational role in the nation’s defense.
The airmen who advanced the cause of airpower in the Air National Guard after the Korean War were not famous commanders, and headliners on the world stage, but their deeds and their accomplishments are nevertheless important foundation stones for today’s Air Force. They were important pioneers of air power who lived in a time of change. They were accomplished and skillful individuals, and they clearly enjoyed doing their job. Air Guardsmen had recently served with distinction in the skies over Korea after a troublesome mobilization. The difficulties of mobilization forced the Air Force to re-evaluate its Air Guard component relationship. Funding was provided, and resources distributed, to modernize and equip the Air Guard with increasingly more sophisticated weaponry. Guard and Reserve volunteers began to support active component missions. The result was an early harbinger of the Total Force including an operational role for the air reserve components. The ANG was given wartime missions and met the same training standards as their gaining command required from its active counterparts. Most of these initiatives were led by Maj. Gen. Winston P. “Wimpy” Wilson, the Chief, Air Division National Guard Bureau. Wilson was an Arkansas Guardsman who served at the Bureau for 21 years from 1950-1971. His vision transformed the Air Guard from a gaggle of veteran aviators with obsolete equipment into a fighting force. A highly visible manifestation of his ambitious agenda was the Ricks Trophy competition.
The Earl T. Ricks Memorial Trophy:
A now-forgotten celebration of the post Korean Air National Guard was initiated in 1954 with the Earl T. Ricks Memorial Trophy Race, among the most noteworthy series of jet races ever held in United States. The Ricks competition was named in honor of Major General Earl T. Ricks, an Arkansas native, former Chief of the Air Force Division, and deputy chief of the National Guard Bureau, who died an untimely death in January 1954. His fellow Arkansan, Maj. Gen. Winston Wilson filled his leadership shoes for the Air National Guard as the Air Division Chief.
This annual cross country jet race was conceived by Edmund F. Hogan of the Air Force Association. Hogan was a dark-haired, gravel-voiced Irishman who had been a newspaper reporter and a Washington D.C. Air Guardsman. He was a war correspondent in Korea, but in 1951 he was called up along with his unit and assigned to active duty in New Castle Delaware as the 113th Fighter Wing public information officer. He subsequently wrote for Flying Safety magazine, a publication of the USAF Directorate of Flight Safety Research at Norton AFB California, and after his release from active duty, he became a Public Relations officer at the National Guard Bureau before joining the Air Force Association staff in March 1954. He had written for the Air Force magazine earlier (“ANG ANGles”) while still on active duty as a Captain. He specialized in Air National Guard and Reserve Affairs, editing a regular monthly feature called “the Ready Room”.
Edmund Hogan was very likely inspired by the recent (January 2, 1954) feat of Colonel Willard W. Millikan, the Commander of the 113th Fighter Interceptor Wing, DC Air National Guard, who made a record setting cross country flight in an F-86F Sabrejet from Los Angeles to New York in four hours, eight minutes and five seconds. This feat kicked off a nationwide Air National Guard recruiting drive. Millikan was a highly decorated World War II triple ace and a demonstrative proponent of the Air National Guard. The Air National Guard was facing the prospect of a difficult rebuilding project after the Korean War. It had to replace significant personnel losses, as well as transition to jet engine aircraft, and take on new missions.
Hogan was able to sell his race idea to both the Air National Guard (ANG) and the Air Force Association as an exclusively ANG race. Such a race would bring positive awareness to the public of the capabilities of their Air National Guard jets, and the men who flew and maintained them. It would be a boost to its recruiting efforts. The race was an opportunity to showcase the capabilities of these machines and the organizational talents of the then relatively new Air Force component of the National Guard. It was also designed to point up the proficiency of ANG pilots, according to Gill Robb Wilson, AFA President.
The Air Guard had recently (1953) taken on an operational role standing air defense alert around the country. The prevailing slogan of the time was “Sleep well tonight, your Air National Guard is awake”. Air National Guard fighters stood ready to defend the country’s skies against Soviet bombers. A high visibility demonstration of the Air Guard’s capabilities would underline the message to our potential foes.
The ground rules for the first race would be a straight out, best elapsed time affair. Each of the 23 jet- equipped fighter wings at that time was invited to participate. The pilot had to have a valid green card with 500 total jet hours and 100 hours in the type of aircraft he would fly. Those units with two-seat F-89s and F-94s also had to be represented by an observer. The Wings had to provide their own refueling arrangements. External tanks could be carried, but not dropped. The event was officially timed by the National Aeronautics Association.
The first Ricks race was held on July 24, 1954, and was won by 1st Lt. Charles J. Young Jr., of the 108th Fighter Interceptor Group/119th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, New Jersey Air Guard flying an F-86A from Ontario (Los Angeles) California to Detroit. The race was the featured event of the 7th International Aviation Exposition in Detroit. His winning time was three hours, 27 minutes, 13 seconds at 560.438 mph. He broke the record set by Brig. Gen. Keith Compton in an F-86 at 553.7 in the 1951 Bendix Race. Second place went to Capt. Robert A. Johnson of the 157th Fighter Bomber Squadron, South Carolina Air Guard at 557.36 mph, and third went to Colonel Willard Millikan of the DC ANG at 555.08 mph.
At the time of his win, Young was an unemployed Korean War veteran who hoped that his feat would lead to a job . Young’s route included stops at Petersen AFB in Colorado Springs, and Des Moines Iowa, where he discarded his drop tanks. Young credited his victory to his ground maintenance crews who were able to limit his ground time to about two minutes at each stop. This being a publicity event, he was met by Anita Ekberg, the Swedish actress who greeted all the incoming pilots .
The field numbered fourteen competitors. The event was marred by tragedy when Capt. George G. George of the 172nd Fighter Squadron, Battle Creek MI, perished in the crash of his F-86 “Blackpool Bat IV” at Albuquerque on his way to Ontario CA to be an alternate for the Ricks Trophy Race on July 21, 1954. Capt George was a combat veteran of Korea and WWII with 72 missions in Europe.
Young retired in 1988 as a Major General and commander of the New Jersey ANG. He was the first of a long line of race contenders who went on to greater glory and achievement. Most of the competing aviators were mid-career airmen who had seen service in World War II and Korea. They were at the height of their powers and had been selected as the best from an elite pool of fighter pilot talent. Generally, only one pilot could compete from any given unit, so only the very best were selected. Very few competed more than once, so it was a singular opportunity for most.
The second Ricks Trophy Race was held on Saturday, July 2, 1955. It was planned in conjunction with the 8th International Aviation Exposition in Detroit. The route was from Ontario California to Wayne Airport, Detroit, Michigan, a distance of 1935.6 statute miles. Six different aircraft types were entered. Each wing was authorized a support team at the take-off point consisting of a T-33 with one pilot and one crew chief. Because of the disparity in performance, a handicap system was devised that seemed to please no one. Authored by Major Maxwell M. Gurman the Public Information Officer for the 8th International Aviation Exposition in Detroit, sponsored by the Aero Club of Michigan, the handicap system was an attempt to equalize the capabilities of each aircraft, making the event a test of pilot skill and flight planning. The winner would be the pilot who got the best performance from his airplane. Maximum performance figures in basic combat configuration at the optimum altitude were derived from the USAF characteristics summary conducted by the Wright Air Development Center and used as a primary computation. In addition, a period of time was allowed for each refueling stop, computed on the basis of one second for each four gallons of fuel in the largest internal tank of each aircraft, plus one minute hose handling time for each fill cap including tip tanks and drop tanks.
The event was billed as a proficiency test in flight planning and ways of wringing the best performance possible out of the aircraft and crews, including the volunteer support teams. Pilots were personally responsible for selecting their route, fueling stops and arranging with base commanders for use of facilities.
Handicap Table for ANG Aircraft 1955 Ricks Trophy Race
Type A/C Max TAS Time Req’d. to fly Basic Time Fuel Stop At Opt. Alt. Non-stop 1709 N. Miles Allowance Allowance
F-89 B&C 463 kts 3:41 26 min 6 min 30 sec F-94 A&B 426 kts 3:58 43 min 3 min 16 sec F-80 C&RF 440 kts 3:52 37 min 3 min 41 sec F-84D 462 kts 3:41:30 sec 26 min 30 sec 3 min 16 sec F-84E 461 kts 3:42 27 Min 3 min 48 sec F-84F 523 kts 3:15 --- 4 min 23 sec F-86A 512 kts 3:19:30 sec 4 min 30 sec 3 min 32 sec
Lt. Col. James Poston of the 121st Fighter Interceptor Group, 166th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, Ohio ANG, won the 1955 race flying an F-84E in a crowded field of 22 aviators, 19 of whom completed the event. Poston was a veteran of 165 combat missions in World War II, and another 19 in Korea. His actual flying time was 3:32:30, but it was corrected under the handicap system to 2:57: 40, at 546.505 mph.
Second place went to Capt. Arnold G. Wackerman of the 107th FIW, Tonawanda NY and his observer, Bob Ferris of CBS, a newscaster in an F-94B at 2:59:09. Third place was awarded to Capt. George C. McGrory of the 146th Squadron Pittsburgh in an F-84F. He had the best flying time overall at 3:09:59, flying at 611.27 mph, but when adjusted for his handicap it was 3:01:58. Fourth place was given to Capt. Jack M. Burden of the 11th Squadron, Houston Texas flying an F-80C in 3: 02:08.
The handicap system described above offers a pretty good airspeed performance comparison for jet fighters of the day. Despite the grumbling competitors, the handicap system seems to have worked as designed. Eight different types and models had been entered, and one of each had finished in the first eight places. The spread between the first ten airplanes was less than ten minutes; only six minutes and 45 seconds separated the first five aircraft.
Competitors included the previous years winner, 1Lt Charles J. Young Jr., and Lt Col Staryl C Austin flying an F-86A “Gal O My Dreams”, for the142nd FIG/123rd FIS OR. Austin would later become the Assistant Adjutant General for Air in Oregon. He wrote, “I had a difficult time getting permission of our Chief of Staff, Brig General G. Robert Dodson, to fly the race. He did not want any mishaps, which he made very clear to me, but in the end he gave me his silk scarf (which I still have), and wished me luck.”
His preparations included polishing the airplane, and taping the gun ports. He carried drop tanks to Denver (Buckley) where he left them on the base and continued on to Des Moines. He adds, “My own Oregon Air Guard crew was there. I think I lost the race there. We landed down wind, and I underestimated wind speed, so I had to make a quick 360 on final - keeping General Dodson's admonitions in mind - that probably cost me a minute or a little more. It seems to me that I was the only F-86 to arrive in Detroit with no drop tanks. “
The refueling crews typically were volunteers who received no pay, nor per diem. But they handled themselves so professionally that the average refueling “pit stop” was something under four minutes.
Three aviators were forced to quit en route. Capt. Charles Carmichael of North Carolina withdrew after his tires blew out on landing at Des Moines. Capt. Walter R. Miller of Connecticut was forced to retire at Battle Creek because of low fuel, and Capt. Phil C. Brockman of Michigan was second to land, but lost on the basis of corrected time because he had popped four bucket of his turbine, which sharply cut his speed.
The competing pilots were greeted at Detroit by the actress Ann Francis who was making an appearance in conjunction with the International Aviation Exposition. Over 35,000 attendees were at the opening of the Exposition and dignitaries include AFA President General George C. Kenney, Air Force Chief of Staff General Nathan F. Twining, and Chief of the Air Force Division, National Guard Bureau, Maj. Gen. Winston P. Wilson.
The third Ricks Trophy race was conducted on July 28, 1956. It was an all F-86 model race so there was more equity among the participants. Maj. Gen. Winston P. Wilson, Chief of the Air Force Division, National Guard Bureau decreed a single type race (and for subsequent races) as a result of the controversy surrounding the previous year’s handicap system. This also served to simplify logistical support and make the race a simple elapsed-time event. Major Billy Means was the National Guard project officer. The route was 1922 miles from Hamilton AFB California to Moisant International Airport New Orleans. We are very fortunate to have several detailed first-hand accounts of this particular race that are illustrative of how these early races were conducted. Before the race could begin, each contestant had to plan his route and devise his strategy. They had to consider range, speed, and load, and most importantly their fuel margins. Ground crew personnel, equipment needs, crash trucks, and other local factors made the contest a difficult and somewhat expensive logistics exercise, not to mention weather and winds. Hardly any two plans were the same among the seven participating racing teams.
On Thursday July 26, at a pre-race briefing, the competitors met and Ed Hogan drew numbers from a hat to determine takeoff slots. Major David McCallister won the first slot, and would be followed by Captain Bob Railey in the second slot. They were followed, by jets from the California, North Carolina, Indiana, and New Jersey Air Guard.
Every pilot then had to divulge his flight and refueling stops. That night a party was held at the Hamilton AFB, Cabana Club hosted by North American Aviation and General Electric that included the press corps.
Captain Bob Railey was Commander of the 121st FIS, D.C. Air Guard at the time. He recounts, “There really weren't any rules or restrictions for the race. Each pilot could plan his own refueling stops, and the maintenance people could "soup up" the airplane as they saw fit. I solicited the advice of the best maintenance man I knew - Warrant Officer Leo Cleary. Leo selected the airplane with the hottest engine and proceeded to add ‘mice' (small metal plates) inside the tailpipe to increase exhaust gas temperature, thus increasing thrust.”
Major David F. McCallister characterized the race in this way, “Since all the aircraft in the race were going to be F-86 Sabre Jets…the outcome of the race hinged on three things: pilot skill, pilot knowledge, and the proficiency of the refueling crews, the latter being just as important as the first two factors.”
According to Master Sergeant C.T. Lee, a crew chief for McCallister, some physical modifications included sealed off gun ports, and bolted leading edge slats. “We polished it up and tried to get rid of all of the parasite drag that we could”, he said.
McCallister described the pre-race preparations his team took. “Feverish activity erupted at New Castle County Airport as teams were organized and began practicing rapid refueling of every F-86 landing at the “airyard”. Competition between crews became excitingly keen as they tried to outdo each other. As the days passed, the refueling times got lower and lower until it seemed as though they couldn’t be reduced. There were six tanks to be refueled (525 gallon capacity) and it was discovered after a time that it was always the rear fuselage tank that took the longest time because fuel kept kicking back in the filler neck.
Master Sergeant Vince Riley, (whom everyone called “Rex’ after the Air Force flying safety comic strip character), had an idea to solve the problem. It seemed to him that if they could fill the tank from the bottom up instead of from the top down, it would eliminate the fuel kickback”. Sergeant Lawrence Wiggins made an extension on the end to fit on the end of the fuel hose nozzle “and doggone if it didn’t clip five seconds off the refueling time. The extension went all the way to the bottom of the tank and GI ingenuity saved the day.”
The favorites in the 1956 race were Major J. Ray Donahue, a North American test pilot, and commander of the 195th FIS Van Nuys, California ANG, and Major Hank Bosserman, a Lockheed test pilot and commander of the 115th FIS, California ANG. Both were assumed to benefit from the technical expertise that could be provided by their civilian employers, particularly Donahue who worked for the manufacturer of the Sabre Jet. His manufacturer-recommended strategy was to make only one refueling stop at Clovis AFB, New Mexico, but the penalty would be high altitude flight cruise to get high mileage at the expense of high speed. Bosserman had a similar strategy with one stop in Winslow Arizona.
Captain Bob Railey had a different strategy: “By 1956, I'd been flying the '86 for three years and was fairly well versed on the climb and cruise performance by race day. I elected to depart Hamilton with a stop at Kirtland where I'd drop the wing tanks; proceed to Fort Worth for fuel, then on to New Orleans.”
Captain Charles Carmichael would refuel in Arizona, and Major Lee Cranmer of New Jersey would overfly Nellis AFB. Major Dave McCallister of the Delaware ANG and Captain Vernon Jersey of the Indiana ANG would fly identical routes of Hamilton-Nellis-Kirtland-Carswell-New Orleans with three refueling stops each; the only entrants to do so. The distances were roughly equal for each leg, approximately 420 miles, 485 miles, 580 miles and 440 miles respectively.
The F-86E had a maximum speed of 679 mph at sea level, and 601 mph at altitude (35,000 feet). Its service ceiling was 47,200 feet. The F-86 had an unrefueled range of about 600 miles, extended to 925 miles with drop tanks. That range was reduced when operated at full power, however. McCallister explained his route selection this way: “I went over every possible route, altitude and configuration the F-86 could be flown between fuel stops to attain the highest ground speed. I reached the conclusion that I had the winning flight plan, providing I didn’t spend more than three minutes fifteen seconds on the ground at any of my refueling stops.”
McCallister’s strategy required relatively low altitude flight. Low flying means higher fuel consumption, albeit faster groundspeed. Each of his six fuel tanks was serviced by a separate fuel truck at every stop he made, a logistical headache for airfield commanders and POL managers. Viewing Captain Vernon Jersey as his chief competitor, McCallister remarked on his airplane. “It is a thing of beauty. Alongside the wrinkled, warped, dented and patched “Cindee Lind 7th” (McCallister’ s, F-86E serial number 51-13003) , Vernon’s aircraft looks like one that just rolled off the North American assembly line. Just by looking at his sleek unrippled machine, I can tell it’s at least ten knots faster than mine.” Like McCallister, Jersey had also competed in the 1955 race.
McCallister added, “The race depends upon the configuration Vernon flies. If he goes clean, no drop tanks, I’ve got him beat; and if he carries two drop tanks I’ve still got him beat, but if he carries only one tank , which is an oddball configuration upon which I’m hinging victory, he’s going to win. The only reason I even thought about running performance checks with one tank is because Lt. Col. Vermont Garrison, (Korean War double ace), told me there were times in Korea when fuel tanks were so short pilots only carried one. (It was) something I heard at a bar.” When a spectator asked about the novel arrangement, McCallister quipped, “I intend to fly sideways if the sun gets in my eyes.” The beginning of the race near Novato California was witnessed by several hundred “blue-suiters” and their families on Saturday morning at Hamilton Air Force Base. Miss Airpower of 1956, Joanne Alford of Baltimore was among the crowd. The jets were towed to the runway for the start. David McCallister’s thoughts at the pole are described: “I move up to the starting line two minutes ahead of time and look at J. Ray (Donohue) and the other jockeys. I know that J. Ray is going to be almost running on fumes to make the distance with just one fuel stop. The starters in black and white striped shirts are standing at the end of the runway. The flag comes down, and down the runway “Cindee Lind 7th carries me, pulling me to the right side of the runway because of the extra thousand pounds of fuel and drop tank are on that side. I manage to keep it straight with nosewheel steering. In a few seconds I’m off and streaking low across San Pablo Bay letting the airspeed build to almost 500 knots before I climb to 18,000 feet.
In minutes, I’m past Richmond and thundering over the Diablo Range. The steely scream of the gas turbine engine fills the cockpit with a smooth euphony that’s music to my ears. At 18,000 I level above the green patchwork quilt of the beautiful San Joaquin valley that is a little hazy in the early morning light. What I see ahead over the Sierra Nevada Mountains does not please me... thunderheads, gigantic clouds with lots of glaze ice and turbulence in them.
But I hold my course and bore right into them, tightening up my shoulder harness and locking it to keep from getting thrown around the cockpit too much. For interminable minutes I battle the turbulence and finally break out over Death Valley. In another twelve minutes, I’m stopped on the runway at Nellis and it’s an interesting sight to see the familiar faces of my Delaware Air Guardsmen go into motion and refuel the aircraft without any lost motion. Three minutes and fifteen seconds after my wheels touch the runway at Nellis, I’m back in the air, with the throttle bent over the stop and boring a blistering hole toward Albuquerque.”
Bob Railey describes his start, and his first leg of the race. “I made a fast climb to 42,000' and headed for Albuquerque. I bent the throttle past the firewall and the EGT (Exhaust Gas Temp) was indicating about 702º - 12º above maximum. About 100 miles from my first stop, I let down at full throttle, crossed over Kirkland at 300' at over 600 knots heading southeast. I figured I'd kill off my airspeed with a high G pull up and a left turn heading west for landing. However, when I pulled up and turned, I blacked out from the high Gs and held the stick back until I thought I was in position for base leg and gear down. When I released the back pressure and could see the airspeed indicator, I was still doing over 250 knots. I threw the gear lever down to help slow up, hoping the gear doors stayed on.
I landed to the west where two fuel trucks waited for me with enough room for me to make a 180º turn, and pull between the two tankers. Two mattresses were on the ground for me to drop my external tanks on. I took off to the east and headed for Carswell. Total time on the ground was two minutes and forty five seconds!”
Meanwhile McCallister had begun his second leg. “The bluish-green waters of Lake Mead fades behind, then the Grand Canyon slips by on my left and ahead is nothing but desert wasteland. Leveling at 31,000 feet I watch the Machmeter climb to .91 and the needle vibrates in its cage. The aircraft shudders and shakes, buffeting in the early stages of compressibility caused by the oddball configuration of having only one drop tank. But it’s moving over the ground at nearly 600 mph and that’s faster than anybody else in the race is making.
To the south I see a line of thunderstorms in the vicinity of Winslow where Bosserman is supposed to refuel and I know he’s going to lose precious minutes making a letdown there. Through the earphones I hear a lot of excitement back at Nellis but can’t figure out what’s happening. There weren’t enough clues to let me know it’s Bosserman pitching into Nellis for fuel because he can’t get his external tanks to feed properly.
Without a single radio checkpoint to help me between Nellis and Albuquerque I have to pay close attention to the land underneath to keep on course. There’s next to nothing in Arizona to use for checkpoints, dry river beds, small Indian villages, an occasional unpaved road. It’s a tough course to navigate. Not until I see Gallup New Mexico just to my left am I certain that I’m right on course and on time. I tune station KOB, Albuquerque, on the radio compass and the needle points to the top of the dial, indicating Albuquerque is directly ahead. Fifty miles out, I see Albuquerque and begin letting down with the throttle at 100%. The bird nips, tucks, buffets, shakes and feels as though she is going to tear itself apart, but it doesn’t. She’s a good strong bird.
Kirtland Tower tells me the landing runway is 26 to the west and I enter on the downwind indicating 350 knots with the speed boards extended. The speed bleeds off rapidly to 200 knots and I ram the landing gear handle down and reef onto the base leg. At the far end of the 13,000 foot runway I see the four yellow fuel trucks on the right hand side with a space for a Sabre to fit with safety. I pass the 5000 foot marker on the runway and chop the power. At the 8000 foot marker, the bird drops in a full stall and I immediately get on the brakes.
As I come up on the fuel trucks I whirl around behind them as Delaware Air Guardsmen jump on the wings and begin removing fuel caps. Before the aircraft stops, the fuel hose are on the wings, and fuel is pouring into the tanks at an astronomical rate.
According to Master Sergeant C.T. Lee, “We used to practice refueling until we had it down to about a minute, just like a pit stop on one of those race cars you see. I think we stretched about every safety rule in the book. We serviced the airplane with the brakes smoking and the engine running.” McCallister continued, “I look through the windscreen, over the gun sight, and thirty feet in front of the aircraft is my Ops Officer, Capt. John Schobelock. He’s grinning from ear to ear and giving me two “OK” signals with his hands. I glance to the right and see S/Sgt “Gabe” Galbraith hunched over a fuel nozzle as it pours the precious stuff into the fuselage tank.
Lt. Jack Koch, one of my fighter pilots, smiles as he puts oxygen into the receptacle on the right forward side of the aircraft. The engine is running and making a lot of racket so I don’t try to say anything. I just smile and give him an “OK” signal with my right hand. Schobelock gives me the signal to rev up the engine as the men pull the hoses away from the aircraft, then he breaks for the edge of the runway and waves me off. I’m back in the air exactly three minutes after touching down. The Delaware gang is really putting out to win today!
In the meantime, Bob Railey ran into a spot of trouble. He writes, “All was going well at altitude with the throttle still bent, when over Reese AFB, TX, I heard a loud thud and a very high pitched whine, followed by some severe vibrations. I knew some of the buckets had departed the engine and throttled back to make an emergency landing at Reese. The airplane was vibrating so badly that the radios didn't work. My race was over, even though I knew I was in the lead.
After landing, I coasted off the runway and shut down, waiting for someone to come out and pick me up. After no one came, I turned the radio back on and called the tower. They were unaware that on this bright afternoon, an airplane had even landed on their runway! A short time later the fire trucks and Duty Officer came out and took me to Base Ops.”
McCallister continued on his third leg and toward his last refueling stop at Carswell AFB near Dallas Texas. “A few minutes from Carswell I see a lake directly ahead and I know it’s the body of water off the north end of the Carswell runway, so I begin letting down, the throttle still at 100%. There is a broken layer of clouds underneath obscuring much of the ground and I can’t see Carswell AFB, but I know its just south of the lake. Shuddering shaking and buffeting, the aircraft bores down through the big hole in the clouds and as I turn south and look, my heart skips a beat. There’s no Carswell AFB and no long concrete runway!
My hand starts to tremble and I search frantically for the runway and see it a few miles south. I rock back and forth in the seat as though the bird was a bobsled and the motion of my body would add to its speed. I get on the radio to Carswell tower for landing information, which they give me along with information about where the fuel trucks are parked.
“Snapper Leader,” a voice says, “how are you making out?” It sounds like Capt. Bill Hutchison’s voice.
“I got trouble,” I reply. “Goofed my letdown and I’m behind flight plan by a minute already. Tell the guys to give me a load of fuel faster than they’ve ever refueled an aircraft before or this race is lost.”
I entered on the downwind leg and made a tight pattern and almost gave the tower operators a couple heart attacks when I flew 7000 down the runway before touching down. I braked to a stop and came around fuel trucks with wheels skidding. The men jumped on the wings before the turn was completed, yanked off the caps and had fuel going into the tanks before I stopped. It was sheer wizardry.”
McCallister drank a carton of milk and took on 524 gallons of fuel at Carswell. He had been on the ground for two minutes and thirty five seconds. The refueling crews had given him back thirty seconds but he was still one minute behind his flight plan schedule. The winds dropped off and he lost another minute before streaking low over Moisant Airport below the level of the control tower, to cross the finish line. He parked his airplane in front of the reviewing stand, and was greeted by his wife Cindy, as well as General Winston P. “Wimpy “ Wilson, Chief, Air Force Division, National Guard Bureau.
“I climbed down from the bird a nervous wreck,” wrote McCallister. “For the next half hour I paced back and forth on the reviewing stand, drinking beer and sweating Vernon Jersey from the Indiana ANG. Bob Railey, DC ANG blew the turbine blades out of his engine, but made it safely into Lubbock Texas. A tough break for a fine fighter pilot. His wife was there with Cindy and we all spent some tense moments till we learned Bob had gotten the bird on the ground safely.”
Meanwhile, Bob Railey describes his final move: “I didn't want to miss the post-race party so I called Lt. Wayne Icenhower at Kirtland to come to Reese in his trusty T-33 and pick me up. When he arrived, I had a flight plan already made out. We gassed up, took off and headed for New Orleans. Lt. Larry Horton met me with a change of clothes and we got to the hotel just as the party started. We lost, but the partying went on well into the night.”
Vernon Jersey came thundering across the finish line and they computed his time at three hours, thirty two minutes and nineteen seconds. McCallister’s winning time was two minutes, eleven seconds faster, and he established a world’s record for the flight. It had taken forty-eight Delaware Air Guardsmen to support the effort at three different refueling sites as well as the launch and final destination. The actual trophy was presented at the Air Force Association convention in New Orleans the following week.
A fourth Ricks Race, and the longest route to date was held in 1957 from Fresno California to Washington DC. It was won by Major Pete Philippy of the 112th FG, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania ANG flying an F-84F in just 4 hours, 13 minutes and 42 seconds; top speed was an astounding 638 MPH for a new world record . The F-84 now on display in front of Base Headquarters in Pittsburgh is the very aircraft that captured the 1957 Ricks Trophy and set the Coast-to-Coast Speed Record. This proved to be the last pure point-to-point elapsed time race. It was the last record setter of the event as well. It marks the point at which the race turned from a public awareness vehicle to a technical competition.
The 1958 Ricks Trophy Race was flown from Jacksonville to Dallas on Sunday September 21, 1958 prior to the AFA convention. For the first time, the race included more than a simple elapsed time over distance convention. It was designed for F-86D interceptors which were required to make a successful three phase intercept of a T-33 “intruder” during their run from Jacksonville to Dallas in the area of Tyndall AFB. It was the first nighttime race, with a take-off after dark.
Each pilot was teamed with a controller to track the bandits by radar. The controllers were from Air Guard Tactical Air Control units in New York, Mississippi, and California. The winning pilot was Clarence Christensen, Jr., flying an F-86D for the 173rd Fighter Interceptor Squadron, Nebraska Air National Guard, completing the course in one hour, 48 minutes, 20 seconds. He won by an 18 second margin and less than two minutes separated the first four finishers. His mount is still on display at Lincoln ANG Base, Municipal Airport, Nebraska. Christiansen was teamed with a ground controller who shared winner’s honors with him. His controller was 1st Lt. Lyle B. Griffin, Jr. of the 117th AC&W Flight Savannah Georgia. Also sharing the honors was his crew chief, M/Sgt Duanne Hamm and his five man maintenance crew from Lincoln Nebraska.
Nine entries started the race but only eight finished this event which included radar-controlled intercepts. Six of the nine made successful Phase 3 intercepts according to radar tape recordings evaluated at New Orleans by USAF judges. Thunderstorms shrouded the intercept area and helped to point-up the real objective of the event – to demonstrate the Air Guard’s all-weather intercept ability. It was a harbinger of future Ricks Trophy events with less emphasis on the race, and more on the technical competition. Its raison d’etre shifted from a publicity stunt aimed at recruiting and public support, to a capability demonstration whose objective was to convince the Air Force that the ANG was ready for its wartime mission.
The runners up were Lt. Arthur R. Allen of the 122nd Fighter Interceptor Squadron, New Orleans Louisiana, only 18 seconds behind the lead, Lt. Elvin R. Ruthstein of the 151 FIS Knoxville Tennessee, and Capt. Bobby W. Hodges of the 111 FIS, Houston Texas. The entrants were awarded transistor radios manufactured by General Electric, makers of the J-47 engines used in their aircraft. Air Force Vice Chief of Staff, General Curtis LeMay presided over the awards program at a banquet at the AFA convention in Dallas. Major General Winston Wilson aided by “Miss Dallas” presented the trophy to the winner.
In 1959 the Ricks Race was configured as a photo reconnaissance competition. Ten RF-84F squadrons were invited to participate. The winner was Michigan ANG pilot Capt. Donald K. Reid, the Air Operations Officer for the 171st Tac Recon Squadron. Reid was a combat veteran of 102 tactical support missions during the Korean War.
The September 2nd race required combat recon photos as well as distance over the ground. Reid averaged 570 mph for an elapsed time of one hour 29 minutes and 10 seconds for the 850 mile course. He found holes in the heavy cloud cover to get three excellent pictures at Maxwell AFB, and Fort Rucker Alabama, and Graham Air Base at Marianna Florida. Contenders were required to photograph at least three of eight targets on the ground requiring a certain amount of luck finding holes in the clouds from their 25,000 altitude.
Second place went to Capt. John T. Neher of the 160th Tac Recon Squadron, Montgomery AL averaging 560 mph. Another Michiganer, Capt. Merwin F. Read of the 107th TR Squadron placed third. Fourth placed was awarded to Capt. Gilbert Browning of the 106th TR Squadron Birmingham Alabama. They flew Republic RF-84F Thunderflash jets against eight other pilots in a simulated air combat photo mission from Memphis TN to Miami FL. The second pilot into the air, Lt Robert G. Graham of Nashville actually flew the fastest time at 1:28:39 but two of his three reconnaissance photos were judged to be unacceptable due to cloud cover. The event helped to kick off the Air Force Association annual convention in Miami. The winners were greeted by Maj. Gen. Winston P. Wilson, Deputy Chief, National Guard Bureau, and the Air Force Association’s “Miss Space”, Norma Maxey.
The 1960 Ricks event was a challenging two-day, seven part competition, opening with a weapons meet on the range at George AFB, southern California and ending with a speed run from George to Hamilton AFB, California, near San Francisco. The September 1960 winner was Maj. Milan R. Forkapa, commander of the 112th Fighter Squadron, Toledo OH, flying an F-84F. A veteran of the Sicily/Italy campaign in World War II, he placed first in a field of twelve. Forkapa placed first in only one of the seven categories but his overall score of 658 of a possible 1000 was well ahead of his nearest competitor.
The November 1960 National Guardsman magazine described the competition as including skip and dive bombing, strafing, high level bombing and delivery of a simulated nuclear weapon at a pre- calculated time. The later event utilized the so called LABS technique in which pilots literally toss the nuclear weapon into the air by releasing it from the plane at the top of a full loop, then streak away from the target before the weapon bursts. Joe Gill characterized it as an “over the shoulder” drop where the airplane released in a fast climbing turn. Points were awarded not only for accuracy but also how closely the pilot met the pre-announced schedule, a vital component when nuclear weapons are used.
Top score for the speed run went to Lt. Col Paul E. Hoover commander of the 166th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Ohio ANG. He won 350 points in the speed run to vault him to second place with an overall score of 532.
Awards were presented by Secretary of the Air Force Dudley C. Sharp and Maj. Gen Winston P. “Wimpy” Wilson at the AFA annual convention. General Wilson was himself awarded by Milton Caniff, the famed cartoonist and conference emcee, who presented a special plaque from the AFA attesting to his accomplishments in bringing the ANG “to the highest state of operational readiness in its history”.
The 1961 Ricks Memorial Trophy Race was a one-of-a-kind, featuring multi-engine aircraft for the first time. An initiative by General Wilson brought large four engine transports to six ANG squadrons in the Air Guard for the first time in 1960 in the form of C-97s the Air Force had earmarked as surplus to their needs. He had broadened the scope of the ANG mission, and challenged the ability of ANG personnel to maintain and fly these complex aircraft.
Six C-97 crews competed in the 1961 Ricks event. Each eight-man crew participated in a transpacific cargo training mission flying some 14,000 miles from Travis AFB California to Tokyo via Hawaii and Wake Island and back over a seven day period. For final measure the two finalists added a cross country run to Philadelphia two days later to signal the opening of the AFA 1961 convention. Four Military Air Transport Service umpires checked every aspect of the mission from preflight planning, to engine shutdown. In the words of MATS Commander General Kelly, “It was the longest check ride in Air force history.” It served as proof that ANG units were capable of flying and maintaining complicated multi-engine aircraft. The experience level of the people in the organization and the longevity of the personnel were contributing factors to the success of this transition.
The aircrews had to contend with unusual weather as well. Hurricane Carla was churning the Midwest air when they departed their home stations for Travis. At Tokyo, typhoon Nancy sent the teams scurrying out of Tachikawa twelve hours ahead of schedule. And the two finalists reached Philadelphia between gusts of Hurricane Esther.
The event was won by the 195th Air Transport Squadron of Van Nuys California led by Capt. Robert Reardon scoring 23,215 points out of a possible 30,000 to beat out the 139th of Schenectady NY by less than 700 points.
The Earl T. Ricks Memorial Trophy event for 1962 was held at Tyndall AFB Florida 15 through 21 Sep 62. This marked the first time a century series jet was in the competition. The even began with a two day interceptor weapons meet under the auspices of Air Defense Command. Then after a days rest, the pilots made a speed run from Tyndall to Las Vegas on September 21, with two intercept exercises and refueling en-route. “Rules of the event are designed to test the capability of ground crews and aircraft controllers as well as of the pilots,” said Maj. Gen. Winston P. Wilson, Deputy Chief of the National Guard Bureau. The winner was determined by the best overall score in the weapons meet and the speed run, but each pilot was required to make two valid intercepts during the run to Las Vegas.
It was won by Capt. Earl A. Mead of the 146th FIS at Pittsburgh flying an F-102. He scored a 89.21% mark in the event. The competition included a cross country navigation mission from Brookley AFB Alabama to Tyndall AFB Florida. This was followed by aerial missions firing Hughes FALCON missiles at Ryan FIREBEE targets on the range. The pilots also made simulated but unarmed intercepts on B-57 target aircraft which used electronic countermeasures and chaff to frustrate the defenders. The competition also included a ground crew phase which included preparing and maintaining the airplanes for scheduled flight. The final flight to Las Vegas was not part of the actual competition, but was held to lead off the Air Force Association annual meeting there.
Runners-up in the event were Capt. Wallace Green Jr., of the 159th FIS Jacksonville in second place; 1st Lt . Ritchie Kunichika, 199th FIS, Honolulu in third place, and Major Jack Burden, of the 111th FIS Houston fourth place. The Competition was climaxed by a redeployment run to McCarran Field Las Vegas. The teams were awarded their trophy by Maj. Gen. Winston P. Wilson, Deputy Chief, National Guard Bureau.
The 1963 Competition was an all-RB-57 photo-recon event held at Shaw AFB, South Carolina. The five competing teams in the combat-simulated competition flew six photo missions across six southeastern states (WV,TN, GA,NC,SC, FL) over a three day period. Points were awarded on factors such as pre-flight procedures, quality of aerial photographs, caliber of photo processing, and accuracy of photo interpretation. Each mission was timed and judged by photo recon specialists from the Tactical Air Command.
The winner was the 152nd Tactical Reconnaissance Group, Reno Nevada with a 16 man team led by Lt. Col. James W. Dalzell with 18,710 points, 3140 points short of a perfect score. The aircraft was piloted by Major Wayne B. Adams Jr., Lt. Keith Ernst, co-pilot, and the mobile control officer was Major Homer Riggs. Other team members included Lt. Robert L.Chambers, photo interpreter, and TSgt Robert W. Wolf, and SSgt Meyers Robinson, ground crew members.
Second place went to the 189th Tac Recon Group, Arkansas ANG with 17,370 points. At the end of the competition the winners flew to Washington DC to accept their trophy at the AFA Convention.
The 1964 Ricks competition was a weapons meet. Its purpose was to demonstrate the ability of ANG Air Defense units to carry out their share of the NORAD mission as effectively as their active duty counterparts. Once again, Tyndall AFB was host to this Northrop F-89 Scorpion three day competition in late August 1964. The Duluth Minnesota 148th Fighter Group prevailed among the eight ANG teams who competed. Their F-89J aircraft crew included Major Albert J. Amatuzio as pilot, and Capt. John Arotta as Radar Observer.
Guided by rules similar to those used in “William Tell, “ the USAF’s worldwide weapons meet, the 1964 event was staged at the same firing range, over the Gulf of Mexico. Weapons used were the GENIE air to air rocket, standard equipment on the F-89 Scorpion. Five separate events made up the meet: two firing events using the GENIE against high speed jet drones, one non-firing electronic countermeasure event at very low altitude, one non-firing intercept of a supersonic target (F106) at very high altitude, and weapons loading and “turn-around” event for the ground crews.
Each team consisted of two planes, with their two–man crews, plus weapons loaders, maintenance Specialists and Ground Controllers. The competition was designed to test the capabilities of Aircraft Controllers and ground crews as well as the flying personnel. The event was umpired and judged by personnel of the Air Defense Command. The Minnesota ground crew earned 1610 points, and the North Dakota ground support team won 1800 points toward their team totals.
The F-89 units tended to be from the cooler northern tier of the United States, so the hot and humid weather in Florida in August was a big factor particularly for the ground crews. The competition was particularly dramatic. The Fargo North Dakota “Happy Hooligans” of the 119th Fighter Group were in the lead going into the last day of the three day event. They were overtaken when aircrew Major Al Amatuzio and Captain John Arrota flew two “perfect” high altitude intercepts in “522” against an F-106 flying at supersonic speed. At that time, the F-106 was the latest state of the art supersonic interceptor, matched against the aging subsonic “Lead Sled” Scorpion. If the Rick’s Trophy had been a baseball game, Duluth won it in the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs.
The team took off knowing that the meet outcome depended on their success. According to “Ammo” Amatuzio, “We were flying at 45,000 feet when Arrota acquired an F-106 coming in at Mach 2.5.” To close, Amatuzio lit the F-89’s afterburners. When he did that, all the instrumentation, including the radar went blank in both cockpits. In order to allow his radar observer to get a fix on the target, Amatuzio said he had to take the Scorpion out of afterburner, get an acquisition on the 106 band then go back into afterburner. They repeated this procedure several times.
The pilot also realized he had to lighten the aircraft to gain needed speed. Not sure how much fuel he had, due to his instrumentation problem, Amatuzio radioed his wingman Captain John Skomars and asked him how much fuel he had remaining. When Skomars replied, Amatuzio calculated he had enough fuel to get back to base so he began venting fuel out of the wing tanks. “I told Jack we have enough fuel to get home, to hell with this, so I punched the fuel off,” Amatuzio recalled. The pilot realized that dumping fuel when your quantity is unknown was not recommended on the checklists, but he decided to trust his instincts. “You know when you go the feel of the airplane”, he noted. When it came time for Arrota to get the final acquisition on the target for the kill, the lightened Scorpion allowed Amatuzio to build up enough airspeed while keeping it out of afterburner. The unconventional tactics employed by the two enterprising flyers paid off as they scored a perfect “MA” on the F-106.
However, when they landed back at Tyndall, they were in for a surprise. The judges ruled they had to re-fly the intercept because the F-106 was flying two thousand feet lower than it should have. Amatuzio and Arrota promptly re-flew the mission, and once again scored a perfect kill to cinch first place for the Duluth team.
The 1964 winners were feted at the Air Force Association annual meeting on September 8 in Washington DC.
During the first four years the event was a pure time over distance race. The subsequent six years saw it transform to a team competition that included elements of a race. By the mid-1960s it was no longer a competition. The Earl T. Ricks memorial trophy is still awarded annually for “outstanding airmanship demonstrated by ANG aircrew members”, but it is no longer a race event or even a competition. Presumably, the race was discontinued for financial reasons. The large logistical footprint made it an expensive endeavor. One surmises that training and operational requirements superseded such activity. Additionally, the newer generation “century series” fighters were becoming operational in the Air Force and the earlier model jets the Air Guard flew were no longer a showcase item by comparison. One can conjecture there may have been safety concerns as well. The competition almost exactly matches Maj. Gen. Wilson’s tenure as the ANG Chief, and so a change in leadership may also have shifted priorities. For whatever reason; interest and support flagged, and the race faded into obscurity and is now all but forgotten. But in its day, it was the annual highlight for the Air National Guard during a time in its nascent development.
Conclusion: The Ricks Race/Competition had made its point, and had demonstrated to our foes the capabilities of the Air National Guard. It had made the same point with the Congress, the Administration and the Air Force. The Ricks competition mustered public support for the ANG and aided in its recruiting efforts by increasing the visibility of the organization. It helped to cement the working relationship with the active component and prove that the ANG could compete to the same standard as the gaining commands. The Ricks event offered visible evidence the ANG could ably perform the wartime missions to which it had been assigned.
The jet race may be history, but the Earl T. Ricks Memorial Trophy lives on as an annual presentation sponsored by the Air Force Association “for outstanding airmanship demonstrated by Air National Guard aircrew members” and remains an active award. It can be awarded for a period of service or a single event that occurred during the nomination period.
The author would like to thank the research librarian at Air Force magazine, Chequita Wood, and the research librarian at the National Guard Memorial Museum, Cathleen Pearl. Both professionals were generously helpful and knowledgeable. He appreciates the contributions of Kristin and Cindee McCallister who inspired this paper, Ricks participants Charles Young, Staryl Austin, Robert Railey, and Ed Blackburn. Help was forthcoming from Lynette Cross, James McIntosh, Duncan Curtis, David Menard, William Russell of AETC AFHRA/RS, Jim Koglin, Sam Macaluso of the NV ANG and Debra Thogeresen of the CA ANG.