New resident lived his dream, made headlines as a pilot in the Air Force
As a 22-year-old Air Force pilot, Arnold Weber made news when he bailed out of a plane at 35,000 feet — almost seven miles in the air.
It was June 1954, less than a year after the Potwin (Kan.) High School graduate earned his wings. He was on a training flight from Ellsworth Air Force Base in North Dakota when one of the engines exploded.
The Minneapolis Tribune recounted the harrowing chain of events in a news story published a few days later:
“‘I heard one explosion — maybe two,’ said Lt. Arnold F. Weber, El Dorado, Kan.
“‘The engine died right then — tried to pull back on the throttle but it stuck.
“‘Then my wingman radioed, ‘Leave it boy, you’ve got a…’ I didn’t hear the rest. I was on my way out.’
“He was catapulted out of the F-86 fighter plane by an ejection seat.”
The young pilot didn’t deploy his parachute until he reached about 15,000 feet. Arnold landed safely in a field, though he did suffer a few abrasions.
“So strong was the wind that Lieutenant Weber hit the ground about fifty horizontal miles from the point at which he left the plane,” reported the El Dorado newspaper.
At the time, it was the highest anyone had ever bailed out of a plane and survived.
Arnold joined the Presbyterian Manor community as a resident of the PATH (Post-Acute to Home) Program, and now resides in the assisted living neighborhood.
He says he joined the Air Force because he was interested in becoming a pilot.
“When I was a kid, I wanted to fly,” he said. The opportunity to do so was his favorite part of his service.
“I just enjoyed it,” Arnold said.
The emergency at 35,000 feet didn’t slow him down, either. Arnold served in the Air Force for 23 years and went on to another big “first.” Arnold and seven other pilots set the unofficial endurance record for jet fighter aircraft with an F-4C Phantom II flight he led in the mid-1960s.
The flight, designed to test the endurance of both the aircraft and its crew, departed MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa for San Juan, P.R., then Bermuda. From there, the pilots flew a long circuit around the continental U.S.: some 10,000 miles in total.
Later, Arnold earned the Distinguished Flying Cross “for heroism in military operations in southeast Asia.” By then, he was a major and had been awarded the Air Medal 10 times.
Arnold was even selected to appear as a pilot on an episode of the “High Adventure” TV film series.
Many thanks to Arnold and his family for sharing his personal military history with us.