Patterson Air Force Base. “We had to turn off the equipment when the Russian satellites went over,” he said.
Retiring in 1982, Lannon took a hiatus from flying, but he con- tinued to work in the aeronautical engineering field. Having earned his master of science in aeronau- tical engineering degree while in the Air Force, he went to work for what is now BAE Systems, assisting on such varied projects as turning F-4 Phantoms into drones; devel- oping new electronic countermea- sures equipment; and introducing a new aircraft, the Israeli-built C-38 Astra, into the Air National Guard’s inventory.
Back in the Saddle
Lannon found he couldn’t keep away from flying forever, and about 15 years after retiring from the Air Force the flying bug bit him again. He heard there was a Piper Cub, the same type he had learned to fly at 16, available for rent at a nearby grass strip. Reliving his teenage years in the Piper Cub inspired Lannon to get involved with the Central Texas (Centex) Wing of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF), based at San Marcos Municipal Airport, where he flies the CAF’s B-25 Mitchell Yellow Rose. However, it wasn’t enough, and in 2000, Lannon purchased a 1943 North American Harvard Mark IIA (basically equivalent to the AT-6C Texan) with co-owner Ron Dietes.
“Our T-6 was in South Africa from 1943 to 1995 when it was sold [by the South African air force] with all the others,” he said. “It was shipped in a crate, put together in McKinney, Texas, and not repainted. It still had the faded international orange paint scheme with giant buzz numbers on the yellow background. I talked my partner into putting it in Mos- quito colors because I knew about the FACs flying T-6s in Korea.”
Not only is Lannon and Dietes’
Harvard painted in the colors of the Mosquito Squadron but it also recognizes a particular Mosquito, LTA-555, known as Triple Nickel, shot down on May 19, 1953. U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Jack Taylor, a cur- rent member of the Mosquito As- sociation, flew that mission with Army observer 2nd Lt. Ben Reb- man. Both survived the subse- quent bailout and life as prisoners of war (see sidebar).
Although the colors and mark- ings represent riple Nickel, the nose art, featuring a headset-wearing mosquito sitting on a large caliber bullet, is a combination of Mos- quito nostalgia and serial number 88-12054’s South African heritage. “The airplane’s buzz number was 7303, and that’s close to a .30-cali- ber bullet, so its nickname in South Africa was Bullet,” Lannon said. “The nose art is a combination of Bullet and riple Nickel.”
While in South Africa, Lan- non and Dietes’ Harvard served a number of roles, including flight and weapons training, weather spotting, and aerial photography. Armed with two .30-caliber ma- chine guns, 88-12054 still has the photo doors on the bottom of the fuselage and hard points on the wing that carried eight 5-inch Ma- tra rockets, two piggybacked on each wing. To complete the Mos- quito’s plumage, Lannon would like to carry dummy WP rock- ets, but the hard points are “all wrong” for the 2.25-inch rockets normally carried by the Mosquito Squadron T-6s. Instead, he may be able to modify the current hard points to carry the 5-inch WP rockets used early on.
“The 2.25-inch rockets would slow the airplane down too much, and with the South African hard points, I can’t figure a way to do it,” he said. “But it’s easy to put one [5-inch] Matra rocket on each side. None of the other Mosquito airplanes have ordinance on them when they fly, so I’m sure they’re running into the same problem.”
Normally the Mosquitoes flew reconnaissance at 4,000 to 5,000 feet, but on this mission U.S Air Force pilot Jack Taylor needed to get down to 1,500 feet to attempt to find the activity on the ground. At this low altitude, the T-6 was hit by what Taylor suspected to be quad .50-caliber machine guns. [U.S. Army observer Ben Rebman later said that it was anti-aircraft fire that shot them down; he had seen one round go through the right wing without exploding.] The rounds started an engine fire and shot away the controls.
After Taylor told Rebman to bail out, he jumped but delayed open- ing his parachute. Rebman had not heard the call to bail out, and in turn had been trying to tell Taylor that he was wounded from shrap- nel that pierced his back. Rebman tried taking the controls, but both rudder pedals went to the floor and the stick was loose. The airplane went into an uncontrollable dive and was heading straight down at 450 mph. Rebman turned around and jumped between the horizon- tal and vertical stabilizers.
Just after Taylor opened his chute, he hit a tree and was sus- pended 10 feet above the ground. He released one leg strap but had to cut away the other, and he fell to the ground in the middle of the communist Chinese trenches. When he looked up, he was sur- rounded with several AK-47s aimed at him.
Meanwhile, Rebman had opened his chute, with trained enemy guns on him, though none hit. He went through a small tree and stopped upside down about 2 feet above