Foster Air Force Base and Jets: The T-33 and F-86

Congratulations to Bryan Stinekens for correctly answering the question about the balloon registration number N7927A! It is the same registration number used on the E-1, Arnold’s world record setting airplane. And now, back to pilot training.

After finishing primary flight training at Goodfellow in early September 1953, Arnold was assigned to Foster AFB for advanced training. Foster AFB was located near a small town named Victoria, close to the Gulf Coast. Even in September, the heat and humidity were oppressive.

The cadets were assigned to small “flights” of three students, each led by an instructor. A flight with two Belgian students and a Norwegian student was appropriately named the “Falstaff Flight,” but Arnold’s “riff raff Flight” seems to have been assigned as a whim by the pilot training leadership. Other cadets endured colorful names such as “Yo Yo,” “Odd Ball,” and “Moonshine.”

At Foster, the cadets first flew the 800-horsepower T-28A. Once they were used to flying the more powerful airplane, they switched to a jet trainer, the T-33A. Arnold’s first flight in the T-33 was on the Monday before Thanksgiving, on November 23rd.


Arnold flying T-33s at pilot training, Foster AFB 1953
From Arnold Ebneter personal collection

The Air Force commissioned Arnold as a second lieutenant and awarded him his silver pilot’s wings on March 15, 1954. After graduating, Arnold took two weeks of leave before reporting for his next assignment at Nellis Air Force Base, just north of Las Vegas for additional training. With no time to spare, he made a mad dash to St Paul and married Colleen on March 18, ending her patient two-year wait as he romped around the United States flying airplanes.

After the wedding, the furious pace continued unabated; Arnold and Colleen drove west to Las Vegas, arriving in time for a short honeymoon before beginning the next phase of his training.

At Nellis, Arnold learned to fly the F-86, which was then the Air Force’s frontline fighter. After F-86 training, he returned to Foster, along with five of the other top cadets in his class for his first real assignment, this time with Colleen in tow. Although Foster had been a training base when Arnold left, by the time he returned it was an operational fighter base assigned to the Tactical Air Command, which was responsible for most of the fighter aircraft in the Air Force.

The F-86 could fly faster than the speed of sound in a dive, and the pilots started “booming” Foster AFB every afternoon at 4:30 to announce the beginning of the retreat ceremony that signaled the end of the official day. One pilot would climb to a high altitude directly over the base, and then point the nose of his airplane at the ground. As the airplane accelerated through Mach 1, a loud cracking noise shook the ground below, rattling windows and waking babies. Although the nearby Victoria residents loved the daily air show, senior Air Force officials weren’t amused and soon told the pilots to knock it off.

11 thoughts on “Foster Air Force Base and Jets: The T-33 and F-86

  1. I flew T-birds at Foster in 1953. I was grounded 2 days before graduation because I had been found to have “split vision” 2 months earlier. After 5 days at the School of Aviation Medicine, the AF medics recommended a waiver, since I had excellent flying grades. I completed all required flying requirements and my class graduated in June 1953. Two days prior to graduation my instructor told me that my waiver had been disapproved in Washington, D.C. (about 4 weeks prior to truce in Korea). My family did not know of this until they drove from Toronto, Ontario to Foster Field, taking 5 days, and then I informed them that I would not graduate. I reverted back to my prior rank as A2C and finished out my 4 year enlistment I Mississippi. I then received a BS degree in aeronautical engineering and 12 years later was promoted to CEO of Tokheim Corporation, the top manufacturer of service station dispensers (gas pumps). I am now 81 years old and live in Ft. Wayne IN.

    • It’s great to hear from you! I’m sorry to hear that your waiver wasn’t approved — sounds like the Air Force missed out on a good pilot! I would love to hear any stories and memories you have about Foster AFB. My older sister and I were both born while my father was stationed there.

  2. I was at foster from March 1955 till July 15 1958.
    I made the trip to osan Korea in nov. 1957.
    I was in the 721 & the723. I was loaned. To the group that
    Went to Korea .
    In most part is enjoyed my time at foster afb.
    U. G. Wilson 80 years old.

    Do they ever have a get togather?

    • Sgt Wilson,
      It’s great to hear from you! I am not aware of any Foster AFB reunions, but that is a great idea — maybe we can start something.

  3. I was stationed at Foster from 1957-1958.I was assigned to the motor pool.I have good memories of Texas.Any reunions?I am 76 yrs old.

    • It’s great to hear from you! Unfortunately, I’m not aware of any reunions. Maybe we should try to put one together? We could advertise in Air Force Times and other Air Force/military-related publications.

  4. I was stationed at Foster from 1952 to 1955. First it was air training command the we went to TAC with F86’S then in1955 we changed to F100’s. I was a crew chief for the Squadron commander Major Craig.

  5. What do you know about t-33’s penetrating thunderstorms? My dad was there as an instructor teaching thunderstorm penetration to pilots. I think that was a short lived idea, he said they shut it down because they tore up to many airplanes!

    I got to fly corporate jets with him for about 10 years and learned more about getting around thunderstorms than I’d ever learned in the USAF or civilian classes

    • Hi Wayne,

      That’s the first I’ve heard about T-33’s penetrating thunderstorms! I’d love to know more, as I’ve been thinking about writing an article or essay about pilots who intentionally fly into thunderstorms for research. Did this take place at Foster?

      Thanks for writing!


  6. Under Tactical Air Command, the 4h Fighter-Bomber Wing, was activated at Foster, on 1 July 1954, replacing and absorbing the assets of the 35h PTW. Four operational squadrons (7h, 7t, 7 and 7) were assigned to the 4h Fighter-Bomber Group, initially being equipped with the North American F-86F Sabre .

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