The world of tactical aviation is filled with all sorts of stories–good, bad, ugly, and otherwise. Here’s one I heard about over the weekend and was pretty astounded by it.

It involves an F-106 Delta Dart  now on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton Ohio. Known as the “Cornfield Bomber,” this particular airplane was involved in a very unusual incident.

On 2 February 1970, three F-106s from the 71st Fighter Interceptor Squadron, the “Ironmen,” took off from Malmstrom Air Force Base near Great Falls, Montana for an Air Combat Maneuvering (ACM) sortie. At point point during the engagement, the aircraft departed from controlled flight and entered a flat spin. The pilot, Captain Gary Faust, was unable to return his jet to controlled flight and ejected.

Now here’s where it gets weird.

This image shows the initial point of impact where an F-106 Delta Dart fighter, S/N 58-0787, belly-landed in a snow-covered field in Montana without its pilot. (Photo Courtesy of the USAF Museum)
This image shows the initial point of impact where an F-106 Delta Dart fighter, S/N 58-0787, belly-landed in a snow-covered field in Montana without its pilot. (Photo Courtesy of the USAF Museum)

Apparently the weight and balance of the aircraft was altered enough during Faust’s ejection sequence that the airplane recovered from the spin and re-entered a stable flight envelope. The F-106, unmanned, flew off on its own and all of the pilots involved in the mission assumed it crashed somewhere beyond their visual range, ending its service life in a short-lived fireball and shallow crater somewhere in the Montana countryside.

Nope.

The airplane actually belly-landed in a snow-covered field near the town of Big Sandy. The local Sheriff’s Department received a phone call about an airplane sitting in the field with its engine still running. The airplane was flat-bellied in the field, which had a slight downward grade, and the Sheriff advised to just let the engine run until it ran out of gas.

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A depot team from the Sacramento Air Logistics Center at McClellan Air Force Base, California, was dispatched to the scene to assess the situation and get the aircraft out of there. Once the wings of the airplane–still in perfect flying condition (?!)–were removed from the aircraft, the fuselage was lifted up and all parts were placed on a rail car and sent to California by train. The fuselage sustained relatively minor damage and the aircraft was restored to flying status.

This F-106A (S/N 58-0787) was involved in an unusual incident. During a training mission, it entered an flat spin forcing the pilot to eject. Unpiloted, the aircraft recovered on its own and miraculously made a gentle belly landing in a snow-covered field. (U.S. Air Force photo)
This F-106A (S/N 58-0787) was involved in an unusual incident. During a training mission, it entered an flat spin forcing the pilot to eject. Unpiloted, the aircraft recovered on its own and miraculously made a gentle belly landing in a snow-covered field. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The “Cornfield Bomber,” even though the F-106 was a fighter and landed in a wheat field, last served with the 49th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, and was ultimately retired and placed into care of the museum in 1986.