This is a two part story. It all happened in about a month, but it is two separate events. F4s have mounting points on the centerline and the wings. All sorts of things can be mounted, external fuel tanks, missile pylons, bomb racks, etc. One thing they all have in common was that they can be jettisoned in an emergency. Electrically detonated explosive bolts clean up the bottom of the plane, releasing whatever was being carried.
Electricity will release just the bombs at the command of the pilot, with switches in the correct configuration and the release pulled. All of this involves wires. Wires that had to be regularly tested. Connect each cannon plug to the box, throw the appropriate switch, press the right button, see the needle move and the light come on. Simple enough. Ordnance checked their own connections. They had written procedures, meant to be closely followed. If a problem was found, they called the electricians. Might be equipment, might be wires.
If an aircraft was going to be moved into the hanger, every cannon plug connection to every explosive bolt was disconnected and connected to a dummy fitting with a red streamer or flag. Safer that way, part of the procedure to prevent bad things from happening in a hanger. Once that was done no electricity could reach the explosive bolts. In it's own way, it was like checking for a clear chamber before trying the trigger on your rifle.
In the cockpit, behind a bit of safety wire, was
the triggera big button with the label EXT STORE EMER REL.One quick troubleshooting step electricians would use in the hanger, if testing showed a fault on any particular station, was to push a screwdriver past the safety wire and depress that EXT STORE EMER REL button. Since the actual purpose of this button was to send an electrical signal to every explosive bolt on the underside of the plane, if the tester lit up with that button pushed, you knew the wiring was okay and the problem was elsewhere in the equipment. This was a common practice and you can see the screwdriver marks on the face of the button behind the safety wire in this image.
So, one afternoon, a young ordnanceman was sent out to perform the bomb release checks on a plane on the flightline. Not a plane in the hanger, mind you, just another F4 on the flightline with a loaded centerline tank ready for the next launch. He disconnected all the bolts on the bomb racks and proceeded to run his tests. And when he found one that failed the initial check did he call for an electrician? No. Did he realize that neither he or anyone else had disconnected the cannon plugs on the centerline tank mounting bolts? No. He took the next step, the one he had seen others take. He pushed his screwdriver past the safety wire and depressed the EXT STORE EMER REL button. I don't know what result the tester gave him.
Boom, boom! Both charges worked as designed and the centerline tank left the aircraft, jettisoned as it were, to fall a foot and a half to the concrete below. Everyone in the hanger and the shops came running out to see what the sound was. What they found was a stunned Lance Corporal, a cracked centerline tank on the deck, and a wave of JP, maybe 8 or 10 inches high, rolling down the flightline toward the storm drains. 600 gallons, give or take a few.
Crash crew responded, although there was no fire. Even back then, there was some environmental reporting and cleanup. The tank was no longer of any value. The plane was down for a couple of days. There was a medium sized tree's worth of paper used in the follow-up reports.
In the end, as part of his non-judicial punishment, the young ordnanceman got to sew different rank insignia on all his uniforms and was sent off to
Siberiato the barracks for 60 days of police detail. Away from the flightline and off to somewhere he could do no harm.
And so ends part one.