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Chapter 56

Debbie Reynolds and the Blue Tail Fly

By 1980, the F-16 Fighting Falcon manufactured by (GD) General Dynamics at it's Fort Worth plant had gained quite a reputation. Third World Countries wanted it, GD and the USAF wanted to sell it...with reservations. They did not want a version that would compete with the production model. Thus was born the F-16,J-79 or as we called it, The Blue Tail Fly. The Navy and Air Force had a large surplus of J-79 engines and with some slight modification, it could be used to power the new airplane. A little history here about this versatile engine.

An important GE engine, the J-79. It became the first true engine for supersonic flight. With it, the Lockheed F-104 fighter flew at twice the speed of sound. In May 1958, US Air Force pilots used this airplane to set a world speed record of 1,404 miles per hour (2,260 kilometers per hour) and an altitude record of 91,249 feet (27,813 meters). With supersonic flight in hand, the next frontier in jet-engine progress called for engines of very great power, suitable for aircraft of the largest possible size. The key concept proved to be the "turbofan," also called the "fanjet."

Production Model B-2, a two seat version, was leased from the USAF and work began in early 1980. By October that year the aircraft moved to the flight line for a series of flight tests. The three tests that were conducted were so successful the decision was made to move it to Edwards Air Force Base in California where we flew it two and three times a day in every configuration imaginable. It did everything we expected and more but I wander.

Our Foreman on the trip had ice water in his veins, not an ounce of true American red blood. He was a retired USAF Chief Master Sgt. and wouldn't change his clothes without orders.. in triplicate! We are almost to Debbie Reynolds, the subject of this chapter.

We were scheduled to stop flight operations the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and return to Fort Worth the next day for the holidays. I asked the foreman why we were booked on a flight that would put us in Fort Worth near midnight, the day before Thanksgiving. And, why couldn't we change our tickets for an earlier flight. His answer was, "No way, Braniff will not change the reservation." I told him it was worth a try and surveyed the other crew members. Three of them and our inspector agreed to the change if I could get it done. Next morning, I called Braniff reservations. "Why of course we can change your reservations Mr. Worden. When would you like to leave?" I said, "Early Wednesday morning." With the stroke of a keyboard we were booked on a "red eye" out of LAX at 0700 Wednesday morning. Bear with me.

Our seats were in the very back of the airplane. There seemed to be some confusion up front but I didn't pay much attention until I spotted a lady carrying a drink in one hand and dragging an expensive mink coat behind her down the aisle. My jaw about dropped, it was Debbie Reynolds in the flesh. The only vacant seat was next to me and that is where she sat down. She introduced herself and I told her, "You don't have to tell Jonah about the whale, I know who you are and I am really glad to meet you. Then I introduced to the rest of the crew. By the time we were airborne and headed east, she knew all about our trip. She was drinking Chivas and water and ordered a round for us. By the time we got to Dallas, we were great friends.

My wife Nonie was waiting along with my granddaughter Amber, who was eleven at the time. Debbie and I walked out the gate together arm in arm and we headed towards Nonie. Up to now, Nonie had been smiling. I introduced her to Debbie and then Debbie did something I thought was very innocent. When I introduced her to Amber, she reached out and patted my granddaughter on the head. The temperature around us dropped to zero. She didn't say anything until Debbie left with a gentlemen but then she let me have it. "The very idea, her patting Amber on the head like some puppy!" To this day, Nonie boils when Debbie is mentioned. Won't even watch any of her old movies.

This photo was taken while the "Fly" was over Carswell AFB and General Dynamics flight line.

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