4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline

It must be so tempting, staring down an awesome piece of military hardware… just sitting there, waiting for someone to take it for a spin. The maintainers know everything about their plane, tank, or other vehicles, right down to the last detail.

Imagine anyone’s surprise when one of these vehicles just up and leaves when its not supposed to. Sounds unlikely, but it’s happened a lot more than one might think.

1. Sergeant Paul Meyer gets sick of his wife, steals a C-130

On May 23, 1969, Meyer, a U.S. Air Force crew chief stationed at RAF Mildenhall, England, took off in a C-130E, and very quickly crashed into the English Channel. His body was not found, but he was assumed to have died on impact.

enlisted troops

The USAF investigation showed Sgt. Meyer was “under a considerable amount of stress” in the days leading up to the theft. He was married just eight weeks before his deployment to England and his wife constantly badgered him to come home – because she was being sued by her ex-husband.

On top of his marriage difficulties, he failed to pass for promotion despite allegedly being better qualified than his peers who did get promoted. Meyer was grounded and restricted to barracks for being arrested in an alcohol-related incident.

The same night he was arrested, he called the fuels unit on the base to fuel up his C-130. He then took an officer’s flight clothes and GOV, then drove to the flightline.

enlisted troops

A C-130E at REF Mildenhall in 1984.

He did not crash on takeoff. He climbed, turned north, and made his way over the Channel. He called his wife over the radio until he lost control and crashed.

2. An Army PFC takes a Huey to the White House

Army Pfc. Robert K. Preston washed out of Army flight school in 1973. The 20-year-old was apparently determined to get under the rotors of an Army aircraft – by any means necessary. On Feb. 17, 1974, Preston stole a Bell UH-1 Huey Helicopter from Fort Meade, Maryland, and flew it down the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, stopping at a trailer park along the way.

enlisted troops

Screenshot of NBC’s coverage of the incident.

Preston, who held a civilian pilot’s license for fixed wing aircraft, completed 24 weeks of Army aviation training before washing out for “deficiency in the instrument phase.” Yet, Maryland State Police pilots who chased Preston called him “one hell of a pilot.”

enlisted troops

Preston (center).

The helicopter buzzed the Washington Monument and the White House itself before touching down amid a hail of Secret Service buckshot. Preston was injured in the gunfire, sentenced to one year in prison, and fined $2,400.

3. A USAF Mechanic steals an F-86 Sabre, regrets nothing

When the F-86 Sabre appeared in the Air Force fleet in the 1950s, pilots needed a year of training to fly it. Airman 1st Class George Johnson, however, took the initiative. On Sept. 20, 1956, he hopped in the cockpit of a Sabre and went for a ride.

Airman George Johnson in a T-33 in late 1955. (George R. Johnson)

Johnson was a mechanic with dreams of flying. Unfortunately, a burned retina from staring at an eclipse meant a plane like the F-86 was forever out of reach. As part of a routine functional check one day, he asked the tower to clear the runway for a high-speed taxi test, which was actually a thing.

Except when it reached the right speed, Johnson took off with the plane – literally. But he had no way down. No chute. No experience. The officers of the day had to talk Johnson down. Johnson was court-martialed and fined almost $200, sentenced to six months confinement and loss of rank to Airman Basic.

He later served the rest of his enlistment.

4. A Marine becomes a mechanic – then steals an A-4M Skyhawk

Lance Cpl. Howard Foote couldn’t become a Marine Corps pilot because he got the bends during a glider test. He had to settle for becoming a mechanic.

But the dream of flying a USMC fighter never left him. One day in 198 he gassed up a Skyhawk and took it for a joyride.

enlisted troops

Read More: That time a Marine mechanic took a joyride in a stolen A4M Skyhawk >

Foote landed his plane much easier than anyone else – he was an accomplished pilot already. But he still served time in the brig for his chicanery.

BONUS: U.S. Army soldier steals a tank, goes on a rampage

In 1990, a California veteran named Shawn Nelson lost a medical malpractice suit to a local hospital, who counter-sued for thousands. His wife filed for divorce in 1991. Both parents died of cancer in 1992. His brother became hooked on meth.

By 1995, his business went defunct and he lost everything and was facing homelessness. In April of that year, his live-in girlfriend died of a drug overdose.

On May 17, 1995, Nelson calmly drove to a California National Guard armory in San Diego and forced his way into a 57-ton M60A3 Patton tank. Though unarmed, Nelson still drove the tank off the base.

For 23 minutes, he led police on a slow-speed chase through local residential neighborhoods as he rampaged over utility poles, hydrants, and at least 25 cars.

Eventually, the tank got caught on the median of State Route 163, where police ordered Nelson to leave the vehicle. When he instead tried to free the tank, the police shot him. Nelson died from his wounds, the only fatality.

TOP ARTICLES
This is how long South Korea thinks it will take to conquer the North

South Korea says they are developing new plans to defend against advancing North Korean threats after a data breach left their outdated plans vulnerable.

This stunning video shows how well 100-year-old ammo works today

While original 1911 pistols surely still function today, turns out so does the ammo from that era.

This could be the Army's next rifle — and it's totally awesome

Textron debuted its newest rifle, the Intermediate Case-Telescoped Carbine, at AUSA. It's lighter and more deadly than the current M4.

16 jokes Germans could die for telling under the Nazi regime

The Nazi Party was well short of a majority when it came to power. So it's easy to believe that not everyone was a big fan of Hitler or his ideas.

These really smart people say bigger is better when it comes to building aircraft carriers

In an effort to reduce its fiscal footprint, the Navy is looking at making smaller ships. But these defense researchers say it's a terrible idea.

Now that ISIS is on the ropes, these guys have turned the guns on each other

Two US allies, which were armed and trained by US forces, have turned their weapons on each other, and there isn't much the US can do about it.

This is the definitive history of the world's most advanced fighter jet

The new F-22A Raptor fighter jet is the most advance fighter jet in the world, and it dominates on every level imaginable.

This is how the $102 million B-1A almost replaced the B-52

The plan was to buy 240 B-1As to replace the B-52 as the Air Force's primary strategic bomber, but eventually, they each found their place in the force.

ISIS has finally been defeated in Raqqa

U.S.-backed Syrian forces liberated the city of Raqqa on Oct. 17 from Islamic State militants in a major defeat for the collapsing extremist group.

How North Korean special operators plan to invade the South via paragliders

North Korean special operators may be planning to paraglide into South Korea in an attack the country simulated in mid-September, according to South Korea.