The Beautiful F-86F, And For Some Reason, Not Dying

I’VE BEEN WORKING a bIt, flying and making some of Puff’s details a little bit righter.  I work in a quiet hangar, and I’m used to the tests I’m given.  I’ll drop a bolt and it takes two minutes to get it again, I need a tool and it takes minutes to find it, everything takes a lot of time just to do the simplest tasks.

But I’m happy with that, and the time is well spent.   I knew, many years ago, that some day I’d be reading many books and learning much about death and dying, and when I’m not fastening some part of the airplane or greasing fittings or setting a new instrument in place, that’s what I’ve been studying.

Answers About the Afterlife, by Bob Olson, seems mostly the way things are, according to my own inner truth-meter.  In Michael Newton’s book The Destiny of Souls, there’s even a diagram of a meeting-room I entered when I had a near-death event in Argentina.  It was startling, since I had that experience before the book was written, and here it was, a drawing of the curved desk, the elders, me, my spirit guide behind me on the left…on page 206.  It didn’t mention the elders could laugh at me.

I realized in time that “death” is a term coined by very young souls.  Shifting into our next world was too much for them.  Wiser ones could have termed it “Life.”  Those who have been there, say it’s brighter, more colorful, we move instantly from one belief of a site to another, there is no judgment, no punishment unless we prefer to live a life that will give us the feelings we gave to others, which many of us do.

While I was tightening bolts in the landing gear, a simple two-minute job that took me 20 minutes, I was thinking about dying, back to the moment when I very nearly flew into the ground.  All the feelings are still there, and I lived them once again, fifty-eight years later.

The airplane was a North American F-86F Sabre: single engine, single seat, and for its time it was very fast.  It’s easy to think about, since it is one of the two most beautiful aircraft ever designed (the other is the Supermarine Spitfire).

I was training on a gunnery range, which existed since there were no computers to simulate the practice.  There were three of us that day, who were learning how to shoot.  They had told us the day before, “You’ll want to be careful, gentlemen.  Target fixation will kill you.  We lost an airplane yesterday that way, he flew into the target.  If your pass isn’t working, don’t try to make it better.  You’re going too fast to watch your burst and correct it.  Just pull up early and try it again.”

It was easy to say Yes, sir.

The things that have haunted me all my life were these:

It was a cold morning in the desert south of Phoenix, Arizona, January, 1958.   The four of us were to take off at 0700.

My position was Number Two in a four-ship formation, I was wingman of the instructor’s airplane.

The weather was fine: cold, but no clouds.

Like the other students, I had memorized what was to happen.  We’d fly a square pattern around the Applied Tactics range, which was old trucks and tanks parked in the desert), and today we’d load all six machine guns in the ’86.

Till then we had only loaded two guns.  This time we were going to feel what it was like to be in a combat situation.  We’d keep our hands on the windscreen before takeoff, so the armorers knew we weren’t going to pull the trigger while they armed the guns.  When they were finished, they’d slap the nose of the airplane, and the guns would be ready to fire.

An easy flight to the range, a nice low pass and the leader pulled up into the range pattern, I counted one, two, THREE! and pulled up to follow him.

Set the switches to make the guns hot, my finger not touching the trigger on the control stick.

Then the leader called “Champagne’s in and hot,” and started his gunnery pass.  I was next.

“Two’s in and hot.”  That was me.  Watch the airspeed as I slanted down.  Three hundred fifty knots for the pass.  The gunsight was a bright pattern, a circle of diamonds, the pipper was a little white ball in the center, the image where the bullets would converge.

There were the targets, coming up, coming up, and I touched the trigger when the diamonds circled a truck.  The first movement of the trigger started the gun camera, the second was the muffled sound of the machine guns.  They seemed faraway, distant.  I smelled the gunpowder in the cockpit, and the airplane slowed from the recoil of the six guns.  The truck flashed beneath me, gone in a second.

I pulled up for the next pass.  I couldn’t tell if I had hit anything, the bullets were striking as I pulled up.

“Three’s in and hot.”  A nice pattern.  Not what it would be if we were ever going to use the airplane in combat, the patterns would come from different directions.

My turn again.  “Two’s in and hot.”  Wish I could see the bullets.  How do I know if I hit the target when I can’t see my burst?

Three hundred fifty knots.  There was the little truck under my gunsight.  Right about NOW, the guns were popcorn, harmless.  I held the trigger and there, I could see the ground coming apart to the left of the truck, looking close now.  I banked a tiny bit to the right, and all of a sudden I could see there were little flowers on the sagebrush.  The door on the truck was hanging loose and rusted untouched by my flying, though they might be after the rest of the bullets rained down.

That’s when I knew I was dead.  The ground was directly in front of me, suddenly huge.  I knew I had done the same thing that the pilot yesterday had done.  He had seen his own bullets hit the target.

The impulse to snatch the control stick was in my wrist, It could take a hundredth of a second to affect the controls.  Way too late.

Everything went black.  No gift of death, but of a huge updraft directly beneath the airplane.  The G force snapped my head down and I saw nothing.  By the time could see, a couple seconds later, the F-86 was several hundred feet above the ground, the impulse in my wrist had pulled the stick back and we were flying.

I heard a voice, the first one I had ever heard, not someone on the radio, not someone in the airplane:

“The hand of God.”

I checked the recording accelerometer, it was well above 8 G’s, well over the maximum G for the airplane.  I no longer cared about shooting, that day.  I called for the leader:

“Champagne, it’s Two.  I’ve overstressed the aircraft.”

A brief silence.  “You WHAT!”

In a few seconds he was flying alongside of my airplane, sliding below me, looking for panels missing.  “Let’s go home.  SFO.  Fly it easy.  Three, you’re leader, finish the mission.”


A simulated flame-out pattern is a big lazy circle to land.  My ’86 lowered her wheels when I asked her to, landed with no difficulty.  Guns unloaded, taxied to the ramp, shut down the engine.  When the crew chief came up the ladder, I told him what had happened.  He frowned, nodded, went down to the ground, began looking for failed rivets.  I don’t know whether he found them or not.

So here I am today, working on Puff, asking the same questions, getting no answers.

Why wasn’t I killed in the desert?  Other pilots told me it was an updraft, that saved me.

But the morning was cold, there are no updrafts in icy mornings.  Let alone updrafts at that precise instant, and with enough force…

I figured it out.  An airspeed of 350 knots, going down, in an airplane that weighed 15,000 pounds, it would have needed a updraft of at least 120,000 pounds, sixty tons fired upward, at the instant I happened to be there, in that calm air, so close to the ground — that is not possible.

The hand of God?  Poetic, and I didn’t disagree.  But the physics… it isn’t possible.

Yet here I am, in the belief of here and now, working on Puff’s landing gear.  Another voice saved me years later than the desert God.  Are the angels, is there something that keeps me from dying?  That bet I plan to win, for the fun of discovering – rediscovering, death.  I guess they decided not call it Life, since everyone would have rushed there forgetting they had tests to meet in this lifetime.  But it’s true.  Has my amnesia worn off?  Am I homesick for Life again?

Puff thinks not.  She rarely talks when her engine is stopped, but it sounded like her.  How can you be homesick, when our home is with our spirit, every minute?

She had died in the crash two years ago, she had been pure spirit till we finally rebuilt her body.

I know that’s true, what she said.  Our home is now, forever.  Yet it’s my test.  I’ve got to prove it, before long.






46 thoughts on “The Beautiful F-86F, And For Some Reason, Not Dying

  1. So many things must seem so trivial in your world now as it is-with this insight. How does our mind work to compensate for having this knowledge? What must it be like to undertake daily tasks? A beloved plane and a loving pet may seem even like a handful. These are thoughts that come to mind after reading this diary entry today.

  2. Very interesting, inisghful, piece…

    Somehow I feel that for a person like you, with your wisdom and never ending curiosity, the lines between this space time and others, become less solid. Puff is right, our home is now and everywhere! Your only problem is that it has become too easy for you to look thru the boundaries. At least a million times easier than it is for me!

  3. It makes you wonder if this isn’t the reason why it’s so much fun for us to enter this illusion again and again. What saved you? It’s impossible, if you believe in time and space, but there’s no such thing as impossible on what’s true. We enjoy the belief of limits, of a beginning and an end, and that’s why we’re here. The story. The adventure. Overcoming limits that seem so real. The thrills! And sooner or later we finish one story and begin the next. What thrills and adventures do we seek next? How we love the seeming wonders and miracles. How we love these stories! 🙂

    • I suggested once to a priest friend that we are probably here to make and experience stories which we can share in our after-life. He was a great teacher of observation for writing and speaking. His comment to me was, “I’ll buy that!”

  4. You were talking about NDEs, and I was reading along, thinking about the conference call I was just on in your state for home funerals and green burials and how great that is, and your story started. What a breath-grabbing story! Told simply, truth-by-truth, it was great. An editor told me yesterday her favorite story of mine was a story about a land mine going off in Vietnam (only time in my life I ever told this kind of story), so I wonder if there’s something about combat-related content–but it has to be told well and yours was! I still feel its truth.

  5. Perhaps our ‘death’ is the same event as our ‘birth’ – we can re-imagine the miracle as many times as we choose, but the event is complete for all time… and what is time if not the ultimate illusion?!
    Keep writing Richard – we love it!!

  6. Paul called me shortly b 4 he died. He also wanted 2 talk about death & what he was going 2 experience. We agreed probably one experiences what one expects. Thanks 4 _Illusions_ death reference. No matter how many times my dying husband chose a page from “Messiah’s Handbook” he always chose “Don’t laugh. ..people will think u r crazy.”

  7. We have unexpected help throughout this process whatever we want to call it; God, angels, The Truth. So thankful you did that chilly morning in Mesa. Over the years, every time a small Cessna or Piper would fly by we’d say aloud, “there goes Richard”. Thanks for being you. Have you read Robert Monroe’s “Ultimate Journey”? It’s preparing me to go Home. ~Happy Flying

  8. I read your words for so many years, Richard. And so often they remind me of this:
    “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
    The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
    Hath had elsewhere its setting,
    And cometh from afar:
    Not in entire forgetfulness,
    And not in utter nakedness,
    But trailing clouds of glory do we come…”

  9. And prove it you shall. I just hope it takes you a while. The world of Illusions would be a lonelier place should you decide to leave.

  10. ~ i guess we never know what we know until we know it, and then even maybe not ~ enjoy ~ very nicely written piece ~

  11. Michael Newton’s books throw a lot of light on a very vast, infinite realm, spiritual reality, such as instant reaction to choices which completely change our experiences there. Could be that your pulling back on the stick was your own Divine choice, an act of God!

    • Possible. My experience, though, was that I had not touched the control stick. The airplane was pointed down, I knew the ’86 would hit the ground. I had thought “Pull up!” but the impulse had not reached the muscles of my hand. Even if they had, it would have taken microseconds for the nose to rotate upward, and then it would still be going down for another few microseconds. Updrafts (called “thermals”) are little things above the hot surface, and they get bigger as they rise. Nothing had that kind of power at such a low altitude, no matter how perfectly it was placed. For all these years I’ve considered how it could have happened, and all I know, from a fair amount of sailplane flying in the desert since then, is “Impossible!”

      • Hello. I seldom speak up, usually do only if I really need to say something. I think you did it Richard. That plane needed to move THEN, and so you moved it. Not impossible for a master of illusions. I think it happens more often than we like to admit.

        • I hope that’s true. I was just a kid, and knew that I would die in the next half second. Have you heard of others, moving out of danger? I had a couple of warnings by voice in airplanes. I did what the voice said to do, and survived. Yet this crash into the wires nearly two years ago, not a word saying look out.

          • I wonder why you didn’t hear voices this time, during Puff’s crash. What have you deduced?

          • I think that sometimes when we “need” or seek to learn something, then conditions happen in the current of our illusion to help us acquire that knowledge. These conditions can range from being something we hear to an event we experience. Occasionally others cam can be our teachers and friends and help us to better understand what we learned.

          • I have heard of others, and am as certain as I can be that I have done it myself, or something similar, on two occasions. And I agree that the crash with the high tension wires was something that your higher self was aware of… You would not be aware in advance because you needed the lessons from the experience, and instinct would likely have helped you avoid it.

  12. Very nice story. Thank you. I look at life this way, every single night, we die, and wake up again every morning. Every single night, we let life go with so much trust, we don’t even think of what we’re doing. We just let go.
    Don’t we all know more than we consciously acknowledge. Playing the part, getting immersed in the story we are writing. So immersed, we think it’s real.
    Ah, what an experience this earth is. What a beautiful stage to play our part upon.
    Blessings to you Richard.

  13. Richard,

    This is a link to a similar experience of a carrier pilot many years ago. He had an instantaneous spiritual experience then; Allen Roland is now 80. He just recently wrote this:

    My point is that we naturally think that in this time-space existence we are always subject to the laws of physics, but it is possible that we can transcend the laws of physics because of Who we really Are, not separate from the Divine. You might share your experience with him and see what he thinks.

    • Precisely, Michael ~ it’s very possible Richard totally surrendered to his fate but in less than a microsecond he was in the Unified Field, a state of consciousness that exists beyond time and space but is also deepest within ourselves and beneath our deepest fears, and from a place of timeless and fearless clarity he did what he needed to do to survive ~ just as I did in my F3H Demon on the South China sea. The resultant G forces on the pull up perhaps would have blacked him out from remembering the full details of his experience.
      The magic word here is surrender ~

  14. You refer to yourself as a “kid” but you AREN’T really, are you, you’re a compendium of all the knowledge and all the experience throughout all of your lifetimes. I think you pulled off a miracle, plain and biggie! Long time listener, first time poster, just wanted to say thanks so much for the “sound” of your voice Richard, reminding me and prodding me in my own life’s journey…

  15. It is my belief that that time some force gave you a hand, literally. If we are not done with what we came to do, if it is not our time to leave and there’s something important for us to do as part of our learning then our guides will proctect us. Sometimes with a warning, sometimes taking action themselves. I believe your guides may have helped you then. Maybe they were even playing a bit with you, giving you some proof of their existence, watching with a smile as you tried to explain to yourself what happened. I also believe you needed the accident the second time. And you needed to survive for some reason. Only you know why, what you’ve learnt from the experience. What you are still learning. But both events were an important part of your life. And you are learning from both of them right now, aren’t you?

  16. While at the Monroe Institute attending a program, a fellow attendee took me aside and said she needed to share an experience which she had years previously, but had never shared with anyone. She was driving home when a semi went through a red light in front of her, blocking her path. Hitting the semi was inevitable, and she had no doubt she would die. She screamed; “MY KIDS!!” the message conveying who would care for them now? The car flew OVER the semi. She wasn’t entirely sure, leaving open the possibility of the hand of the Creator or Angels; but she felt SHE did it. She made the car fly. I told her I agreed. I believe she did it, and we can all do it.

  17. My point, Richard, in my previous post is that I believe you forced your F-86 off the desert floor, whether by using the stick or by other means. I flew A-6s in Vietnam, and have other episodes of undetermined intervention.

    • I didn’t use the stick. Would you believe that the gun camera stopped at that instant…the high G’s? Tell us about a few of those episodes, please.

      • I crashed on the USS Midway returning from a night single aircraft low level mission. I had two 500 lb bombs hung that wouldn’t release by normal means. Here is the url telling the story.

        Left unsaid is that I was guided to ride it out, saving my life, while my bombardier-navigator and 4 others lost their lives.

        • How much of the story is not part of the records, Bruce? So much of every soul there had unseen reasons for playing a part of the event. Deaths to us mortals, but perfect life for every one who died. Did you ever get a glimmer from your navigator and friend after the event, dreams or feelings from him? Disasters for us, harmless adventures in the world of this belief for them.

          • While at the Lifelines program at the Monroe Institute, I contacted my BN Bix, and he enveloped me with love and conveyed that he was doing very well in spirit. As an aside, I also contacted two of my uncles who had recently passed, as well as several other family members. Quite an experience.

          • How many of us can share events when we’re touched by souls we love? My guess: lots of us.

  18. I’ve had a few near death experiences that I barely escaped, but there was never a clear voice, only a knowing, an instinct, and the means to escape and survive. Very difficult to explain. It is so inspirational to read your thoughts, Richard. You come closest to explaining the unexplainable.

  19. I, for one, am glad that someone saved you. You, in turn, got me through some very difficult times in life. Thank you.

  20. Hi Richard!
    I read your book ´´The Bridge Across Forever´´ at least a dozen times (THANKYOU) 1993-2004 and it inspired my Quest for my soulmates – I found 2 of them and am still with the 2nd ever since 2004. I havent thought about you or your books since 2004 until today when I clicked on a link from Kermit Weeks and read your F-86 lesson. Afterwards I went for a 45 minute bike ride to and through a beautiful park along the bay and at the halfway point something clicked. Remembering your threads of light from the shared dream passage the image of a bicycle hub in the centre of a cauldron of cooked spaggetti popped into my head.On the way back after feeding bread to some ducks I now interpret that image as meaning Everything (aka God aka NOW aka the collective consciousness of life) is a hub where all times are now and all forms of consciousness are individual strands of light emanating from that hub that like spag, always in touch (connected) with each other at the hub when ALL TIMES ARE NOW and at again at different points in linear time which of course is represented by the individual strands strands which twist and turn into all sorts of loops & knots. For our 3rd dimensional births existence can only move further out along our individual string of linear time but upon death like a yoyo we rebound back to the hub of God where it is always NOW. The past & the future are always wrapped up in our personal linear time strings of light 🙂

    • I started ‘The Bridge’ a while back but I wasn’t into relationships then and I sort of left it linger on the bedside table… You sound so like me Richard in your mountain retreat far away from anywhere a good fine lady might find you! Say, maybe it’s time we both read that book again 🙂

  21. Richard, I was devastated when I learned of your accident in Puff, and I am so glad to see you writing again. My hard cover copy of “Stranger to the Ground” is still with me along with many of your paperback books. Over the years, I have had a few very serious illnesses and have been close to checking out a few times. Once I had a severe lung infection and was in the hospital getting 100 percent oxygen, but I was dying. I fell asleep and was in a line of people about to board an airplane. It had beautiful lines like the Lockeed Constellation and as I started to board, the captain stopped me. He looked at his clipboard and told me that it wasn’t my turn to board yet, and I would be getting a later flight. I awoke as the nurse was trying to revive me and she asked me what was I dreaming. I told her and she was very interested because she felt that I had almost died. That morning my lung specialist told me that he had figured out what was killing me and gave me prednisone . I had to be on massive doses of it for two years, but I recovered. I’m glad you are back with us, Richard. The world needs you.

    • I’ll be here for a little while, John, just as you decided to. We have gifts yet, for our family on Earth, and they have gifts for us!

  22. “The afterlife of Billy Fingers” and “My son and the afterlife” are two more wonderful books to read on the subject. And other Michael Newton’s books are great too.
    I believe miracles happen and your story is one of them. but i also believe that it’s us who make them happen)

  23. Richard,
    This was as close as I’ve come (that I know of). Not quite like your “impossible” recovery (different timeline now?)
    I have had several jobs involving high voltage equipment of one kind or another, both R&D jobs and work on existing equipment. But I’ve only had one time I had to ask myself, “Am I dead?”
    We were in the early stages of developing a long thin water cooled arc lamp for semi-conductor processing. The first power supply I put together was “Godzilla” a 480 volt arc welder controllable output power supply connected to a transformer to up the voltage to 480 volts. You turned on the power with a giant knife switch, pushed a button to supply a 60,000 spark to the lamp, and controlled the power to the lamp by turning a large crank handle on the top of the welder. My nickname at this place was “Igor”.
    This setup worked quite well, but was good only to develop the arc lamp itself. We needed and electronic power supply that could be computer controlled.
    The next supply was a modification of an existing supply used to generate plasmas in vacuums. It had a bit of a reputation of killing a few techs that were less than careful when servicing it. This became “Rodan” our beta power supply. The development phase involved a lot of sparks and electrical explosions.
    The development version was hooked up to the 60,000 starter that had been used on “Godzilla”. The latest changes to “Rodan” were not going well, I would bend down to push the trigger button for the 60,000 lamp start and the supply would blow up and send walnut size sparks bouncing across the floor. The manufacturer’s tech was on the phone to the company owner after every attempt. Another set of parts, and another set of changes to the machine and I was asked to try it again. I reached down, pushed the button, and there was total darkness amid total silence. Instant transition. My thought “Am I dead?’
    After a moment I realized I could feel my feet against the concrete, I could hear the water flowing through the cooling system, and my eyes began to adapt and I could see light leaking around the back door. The secretary (correct title, this was the 1980s) came through the door and read us the riot act for turning off her computer. I think she got the picture fairly quickly and went back up front.
    What happened? The 100 amp circuit breaker for the machine was not tripped, but the 400 amp building service circuit breaker was tripped. We found it was set to “minimum” we turned it to “maximum” turned the power back on.
    The manufacturer’s tech examined the power supply, found nothing wrong. So I got to bend over and try it again. This time it worked, and this was a big step towards having a usable power source for our product.
    About a week later the secretary came in back to sign me up for accidental death and dismemberment insurance. As we now had seven people in the company, we qualified to buy it. The secretary said “You are our most at risk employee”. I replied “If anything happens to me back here, all you will need is a dust pan and a baggie”.

  24. Hello Richard! I’m so glad that you have chosen to stick around this space and time and continue to share with us the lessons you have learned. I followed your, um, adventure? that you and Puff went through… all the while, wondering what you were learning. Thank you so much for your reports from the places that you visited during that time.

    When I read “The Beautiful F-86…” I had a couple of thoughts (well, more than a couple… but I don’t want to take up several pages writing about them!). The first thought was your statement about the F-86 being one of the most beautiful aircraft in the world, a statement that I agree with. And of course, you warmed my heart by mentioning the Supermarine Spitfire. Don’t know if you remember, but I do believe that I have had previous experience in the Spitfire during WWII… and also believe that you and I must have met during that time. Don’t know for sure… but it feels right.

    The other thing that popped into my head was a film by Akira Kurosawa called, “Madadayo.” The film is about an old man who seems to refuse to die. Every year, his former students attend a party, where they ask him, “Mada kai?” (“Are you ready?”) And his response is always, “Mada dayo!” (“Not yet!”) Clearly, you are not quite ready for that particular next step…

    Being a pilot (first and foremost, a *glider* pilot…), I agree with you 100% about the “impossibility” of what happened during your gunnery run in the F-86. I have had similar experiences, knowing for a virtual certainty that I should have died. Me, I attribute quick action by my ever-vigilant guardian angels in saving me. Those guardian angles… man, they do know how to bend the “laws” of physics, don’t they? I think I’m on at least my third set… the first two sets are in rehab somewhere… And I do say “set” of guardian angels, for I think we have two angels: one to come up with and present us with learning opportunities, and the other one on hot standby to yank us out of trouble if we have difficulty learning the lesson. Anyhow, that’s my theory…

    Very glad you’re here, Richard.

    Mada kai?


    With warm regards,


    • Ray, i think I remember why you and I flew so low in the desert, years ago. It was to frighten me so that I would fly carefully for the rest of my life (except for wires).

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