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USAF Operation Mobile Zebra, Transoceanic Tactical Fighter Jet depolyment, November-December 1957 (page down for more images)

These photos show the 386th FBS/TFS squadron (F-100) portion of that Air Force operation.

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1/Lt. William Starr flying an USAF F-100D Super Sabre (SN 56-3150) over the Pacific Ocean, during Operation Mobile Zebra, November-December 1957, with the 386th Fighter Bomber Squadron (later re-designated 522nd Tactical Fighter Squadron).

Operation Mobile Zebra was the first large-scale trans-Pacific deployment of USAF tactical aircraft using in-flight refueling, then in its infancy. Multiple US squadrons were simultaneously involved. The March 2015 issue of Aviation History magazine published an article about this operation, and its smaller Atlantic crossing sister Operation Mobile Baker.

From the plaque below: Mobile Zebra, 12 November to 6 December 1957. Sixteen F-100D's from the 386th Fighter Bomber Squadron. Route: Clovis AFB (later renamed Cannon AFB), George AFB, Honolulu, Guam, Philippines, Formosa, Okinawa, Korea, Japan, Honolulu, George AFB, Clovis AFB.

Dad's middle initial is botched. It should read "J" not "C". It is signed by 312th fighter bomber wing commander Col Blood.

Caption: "Me (Lt. William Starr) taking off on Mobile Zebra, November 1957 (Cannon AFB)"
USAF F-100 number 56-3150. Departure from Cannon Air Force Base would have been the start of the operation for this squadron. It's likely that a squadron photographer took photos of this and each jet as they took off - js

Caption: "Take-off from George, Mobile Zebra, Nov 1957" (USAF F-100, likely from 386th FBS, taking off from George Air Force Base, November 1957. This would be the second base in the sequence-- they'd be crossing the Pacific after this take-off.) Photo likely by Lt. William J. Starr, USAF.

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USAF F-100D from the 386 Fighter Bomber Squadron approaching Mt. Fuji, Japan during Operation Mobile Zebra, Nov-Dec 1957. 

Above: Two F-100s of the 386th fighter bomber squadron (Cannon AFB) approach landfall in Hawaii during Operation Mobile Zebra, November-December 1957. Photo by Lt. William J. Starr.

Caption reads: "150 at Guam sans tanks. Mobile Zebra Nov 1957" (F-100 number 56-3150 was my father's assigned jet. Dad's notation "sans tanks" inicates this might be a photo taken on the outbound leg: in 2012 Col. Arlie Blood told me that an odd emergency forced dad, flying Arlie's wing, and he to both drop their wing tanks over the ocean before landing in Guam. See below.)

From Col.Arlie Blood, 11/2012:

"On mobile Zebra, which was to be the first and longest over water trip for single engine jets ever attempted, I chose Bill to fly my wing. Prior to departure I had listed all of the emergencies that could possibly occur and the proper procedure to correct them. Each pilot was given a copy to paste on his knee pad. I had one of those emergencies. After inflight refueling over Wake Island, fuel continued to flow overboard out of my aircraft. This was one of the emergencies I had listed and the proper procedure was to drop external tanks when empty, climb to 35 thousand feet and fly to Guam. When my externals were empty I signaled to Bill to drop empties. He said “Why, mine are working fine”. I said “Bill” and he immediately said “Sorry” We dropped tanks,climbed to 35,000 and arrived at Guam safely. When they inspected my plane they discovered that at the factory a canvas cover that is usually placed over the top of the main tank to keep debris from falling into the tank, had fallen into the tank. It was wrapped around fuel gage arm and kept sending signals to the gage that the tank was empty."

If I interpret this correctly, dad had to drop his working tanks so his jet would match Arlie's jet's profile and climb to the same fuel-efficient altitude and stay on his wing.
- John Starr

BELOW: photos of the squadron landing/landed at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii.

Caption: "Major Obensharn (sp?) between George (Air Force base, California) and Hickam (Air Force base, Hawaii)" This would have been on the out-bound leg of Mobile Zebra, just starting out on the mission. (F-100 a/c ID 56-3155)

Caption on back of above photo reads "Jimmy King and Col. Blood parking at Hickam. Mobile Zebra Nov 1957". Colonel A. J. Blood in F-100 56-3151. Nose stripes on the F-100 usually indicate wing commander's a/c.

Caption: "Colonel Blood arrived at Hickam. Mobile Zebra, November 1957". (Col. Arlie. J. Blood, 386th FBS, USAF. F-100 a/c ID 56-3151.

Colonel Arlie Blood (wearing parachute), 386th FBS, Hickam AFB, Hawaii, after landing this leg of Mobile Zebra, Nov-Dec 1957.

No caption written on this photo. Looks like somebody taking a celebratory swig after a long flight and 24 hours before another.

An F-100 pilot seated in the cockpit of 56-3142 (ID'd for me by a former squadron crewman), likely shortly after landing at Hickam, AFB, Hawaii during operaton Mobile Zebra, 1957. 386th FBS based at Cannon AFB, New Mexico. Notice the straight fuel probe. These were later re-designed with a deliberate upwards bend in them to facilitate in-flight refueling.

Captoin reads: "The 386th parked at Hickam. Mobile Zebra, November 1957". (the only F-100 a/c ID I can make out is 56-3142)

A pilot walks on the tarmac near F-100s parked, likely Hickam AFB, Hawaii. 1957, during Operation Mobile Zebra. (this squadron pictured here is not the 386th)

Caption: "Jessop Black" RF-101's, Hickam, Mobile Zebra, November 1957". (RF-101 a/c ID 41512. I don't know what it meant by "Jessop Black", but suspect it might be the flight code name for these birds. - webmaster)


Caption: "Capt. Smith briefing at Hickam (air force base) for leg to Guam. Hales, McCarter, Hildreth, Myhoum. Mobile Zebra, November 1957"

High-resolution scan of some of the names on the blackboard at the Hickham Air Force base briefing room pictured above. Some a/c and pilot pairings are readable: Col. Blood in bird 151; Starr, 150; Obeshain 155; Siran 147; Glasscock 152.

Lt. William J. Starr returning from operation Mobile Zebra. Dad's notes on back of photo read "Return from Mobile Zebra, Cannon (Air Force Base) Dec (19)57" The "scarf" around his neck is not a Hawaiin lei, but the remains of the conical refueling drogue. See below caption. (During re-fueling, these early drougues could sometimes ensare on the F-100's fuel probe)

He wrote these notes on a second copy of the above photo:

The caption transcribed (to aid web searches):

"Lt. William J. Starr, immediately after landing at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico in December 1957 after participating in "Mobile Zebra". The aloha shirt is one of those bought by all Mobile Zebra pilots in the 386th Tactical Fighter Squadron in Hawaii during the trip, which was the first test of a tactical trans-pacific fighter plane deployment.

The ragged scarf is the remains of a refueling "drogue" which I accidentally ripped-off of the aerial tanker during the flight from Hawaii to California (and carried the rest of the way home on my aircraft). The "Hesperia Inn Drink Flag" is a memento of the party thrown by North American Aviation Company, in Apple Valley, California on our successful completion of the New Mexico - California - Hawaii - Guam - Philippines - Okinawa - Korea - Japan - Hawaii - California - New Mexico flight."

I suspect it was dad's experiences with operation Mobile Zebra that inspired him to write the song "In Flight Refueling" which was recorded by Oscar Brand in the late 1950s. (click here to read about those albums). Below is that song dad wrote.

In Flight Refueling, By 1/LT William J. Starr, USAF


Oh, that in flight refueling,
Don't leave much time for fooling,
The bastard won't fly when the tanks they run dry,
You depend on that in flight refueling

I took off from George (AFB), it was early one morn,
And the weatherman said 't would be balmy and warm.
Well, I wish he flew with me to see how it feels,
I passed o'er the coast with a storm at my heels.
I flew on for hours, it seemed like much more
I sat at the stick till my buttocks were sore;
Finally got to that point far from land
Where there were supposed to be tankers at hand.


You probably guessed it, no tanker was there,
Nothin' in sight but the ocean and air,
The guage stood at zero, my courage did too,
Then one lousy tanker flew into my view.
"What ho" called the scanner, "it's under your wing,
"And if you don't hook up now, you're likely to ding."
The funnel it hit me*, one hell of a blow,
I looked with alarm at the water below.


The engineer called, "Sir, you're takin' on fuel!"
Well, the bastard was lying, a dirty old fool.
I called to the scanner, "The valves are still shut,
"Turn 'em on fast, or I'll kick in your butt!"
"I can't get 'em open, sir," he said with a grin.
Why, you know, there are days when you just cannot win.
That's the end of my story, I'm sorry to say.
And my old F-100 lies out in the bay.

*Dad said that if you missed the hook-up and slipped your jet past the funnel, it would gyrate in the slipstream along the fuselage and sometimes ding the aircraft. In one embarrassing incident, my father was flying an F-100F two seat model demonstrating in flight refueling to a VIP in the back seat. Dad missed the hook up and let the funnel slip behind him, it began gyrating and he heard a loud impact, followed by an intercom transmission from the VIP in the back seat saying "We've lost the canopy." The funnel had smashed the cockpit canopy open. They landed without incident.