A Post-War Hero: The Last Flight of Captain Francis T. Evans, Jr.

When World War II ended and the 371st Fighter Group returned to the States in November, 1945, and inactivated, the former group members scattered to the winds. Many left the military service in the big post-war demobilization, eager to get back to their civilian lives after serving the country. Some kept a tie to the service and joined the Air National Guard, and a few stayed on with active duty.

One of these who left the service, but later joined the ANG was Captain Francis T. Evans, Jr., who flew with Frisky’s 405th Fighter Squadron. He was the son of Col and Mrs. Francis T. Evans Sr. Col Evans was known as Marine Aviator Number 4, who had a distinguished career in Marine Corps aviation.

THE EVANS FAMILY Left to Right: Francis T. Evans, Jr., Francis T, Evans, Sr., Douglas K. Evans.  (Courtesy Earlyaviators.com)

THE EVANS FAMILY
Left to Right: Francis T. Evans, Jr., Francis T, Evans, Sr., Douglas K. Evans. (Courtesy Earlyaviators.com)

During World War II the younger Evans joined the Army, became a fighter pilot and completed 101 combat missions with the 371st Fighter Group. He also received the Distinguished Flying Cross.

First Lieutenant Francis T. Evans Jr. pictured during his service as a P-47 Thunderbolt fighter pilot with the 405th Fighter Squadron of the 371st Fighter Group.  (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

First Lieutenant Francis T. Evans Jr. pictured during his service as a P-47 Thunderbolt fighter pilot with the 405th Fighter Squadron of the 371st Fighter Group. (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

A source indicates that after the war he became a member of the 121st Fighter Squadron of the Washington D.C. ANG, and as such he was likely involved in the call-up to active duty during the Korean War which occurred in early 1951 and lasted until 1952. In that period, the unit became a fighter-interceptor squadron with an air defense mission in the northeastern United States.

Evans apparently decided to stay on active duty after the war, as in 1953 he was assigned to the 95th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron. On a fateful day in 1953, however, the combat veteran faced another split-second life and death decision, and this time gave his own, that others might live.

This shot of a 95th FIS F-86D, taken during an airshow at Andrews in 1956, shows off the slats and rocket tray to advantage, as aerospace writers are wont to say from time to time.  (Isham Collection via Replica in Scale)

This shot of a 95th FIS F-86D, taken during an airshow at Andrews in 1956, shows off the slats and rocket tray to advantage, as aerospace writers are wont to say from time to time. (Isham Collection via Replica in Scale)

The heroic, if tragic story, is recounted on “The Francis T Evans Jr Story webpage, which this web log writer viewed last week. But sadly, since that viewing, the page appears to have gone down with no indication if it will be restored. A cached version of the front end of it, sans all the details attachments and links, has the following information to describe Francis T. Evans Jr’s heroic deed on 16 June 1953, just outside Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland:

“Tuesday – June 16, 1953

At 14:54 First Lieutenant Leon A. Blackmon in Skyhigh 22 and Capt. Francis T. Evans Jr. in Skyhigh 16 took off from Andrews AFB on runway 19 due South on a training mission. First Lieutenant Blackmon was going up for his F-86D “VFR Instruction Check” with Capt Evans being his instructor piloting the “chase plane”. They rose to 20,000 feet for maneuvers before descending for more.

At 15:00 the bell rang at Forestville Elementary School signifying the end of the school day and, on this particular day, the end of the school year. Parents picked up some of the kids, most of the walking students started walking home while some of them stayed to play with friends they might not see for 3 months, and those who rode the first of the three bus trips that were required to get students to and from school each day got on their bus. The rest of the students started playing in the large playground.

Some “moments” before 15:19, the jets’ Adapter Drive Spline, which connects the engine to the hydraulic pump for the normal flight control hydraulic system, sheared due to material failure. This failed system controlled the Aileron and Elevator. At this time Capt. Evans activated the electrically driven alternate flight control hydraulic system.

At approximately 15:19, while approximately 30 miles southeast of Andrews AFB at an altitude about 7000 feet, Capt Evans radioed his student pilot that he was returning to base due to hydraulic failure and that he should continue his mission.

At about 15:21 Capt. Evans contacted the control tower asking for landing instructions and informing them he still had about 2500 pounds of fuel remaining and was operating on the alternate flight control system. The tower radioed all planes in the area to stay out of the area for 5 minutes for an emergency landing and alerted the crash equipment to the end of runway 19. Capt Evans then entered a normal overhead pattern for runway 19.

On the downwind leg he slowed down to 185 knots and lowered the flaps and landing gear. About 7000′ north of the runway he turned onto base leg at which time he discovered the alternate flight control hydraulic system had failed. (This failure was caused by a short circuit in that system.) This left him with only the throttle to control the aircraft. On jet aircraft there is NO direct connection between the pilots’ controls and the flight control surfaces. Without hydraulics there is simply no way to operate the aileron or elevator. His last transmission to the Control Tower was Negative Hydraulics which, unfortunately, meant he was unable to execute the last turn he needed to make before landing. This left him heading straight for the playground.

Seconds later the kids and teachers on the playground and those standing in line waiting to board the second of the three bus trips turned their heads towards the sound of a jet being way too low. (The final approach for runway 19 is very close to being directly over the school itself so the students and teachers alike were very familiar with the sounds the different planes made as they took off or landed.) He then ejected the canopy. A second or so later he saw the playground full of kids. Virtually everyone on the school property just froze in place with eyes fixed on the too low jet that had now come into view not too far above the treetops.

At 15:23 Capt. Evans, 44 days shy of being 32, USAF jet fighter pilot, husband, father of a 3 year old daughter with their second child due in 3 months, made a fateful split second decision and pulled the throttle back hard and as soon as the jet was in a 45 degree dive (another split second) he pressed the eject button. The ejection seat tumbled uncontrollably through the air at a 45 degree angle to the horizon and Capt. Evans was unable to pull the ripcord even after he and the seat separated (see ejection seat note below).

Capt Evans had managed to crash the jet 30 feet into the woods. The 30 feet of woods protected everyone from the flying pieces of the jet. Had Capt. Evans taken one second to make his next to last split second decision, the jet would’ve crashed in the playground. The ensuing explosion broke at least a third of the windows on the north side of the school some 300 feet away. No other building damage occurred. No child, teacher or school employee on the ground was injured in any way.

USAF Capt. Francis Thomas Evans Jr. had achieved his #1 goal.

Tragically, he was unable to achieve his secondary objective. Captain Evans Jr. was 31 years old, leaving behind his wife, soon to be 2 daughters, father, mother and younger brother.”

All F-86D Sabre jets were grounded pending completion of the investigation on this mishap.

Archived newspaper photo of wreckage at Capt. Francis T. Evans, Jr.'s, plane crash site. Article retrieved from The Francis T. Evans, Jr., Story. (Washington Post photo/Charles Del Vecchio, via JB Andrews)

Archived newspaper photo of wreckage at Capt. Francis T. Evans, Jr.’s, plane crash site. Article retrieved from The Francis T. Evans, Jr., Story. (Washington Post photo/Charles Del Vecchio, via JB Andrews)

The accident report on Capt Evans crash attributed the cause to mechanical failure, as mentioned in the broken Adapter Drive Spline mentioned above. The report made the following recommendations:
– Ejection seats were to be improved to operate without tumbling during low altitude / non level flight ejections.
– Determine a better metal for the Adapter Drive Spline.

Grateful citizens, younger and older, remember Capt Evans’ sacrifice that day. The Forestville Elementary School placed a portrait of Capt Evans and a plaque which hung for many years in the old Forestville Elementary School. It was in an auditorium that was built in his honor. Of note, a grateful President Dwight D. Eisenhower was aware of the incident, and wrote a personal letter.

Archived newspaper article from Capt. Francis T. Evans, Jr.’s, memorial service, original source is unknown. Article retrieved from The Francis T. Evans, Jr., Story. (Courtesy JB Andrews)

Archived newspaper article from Capt. Francis T. Evans, Jr.’s, memorial service, original source is unknown. Article retrieved from The Francis T. Evans, Jr., Story. (Courtesy JB Andrews)

The picture of subsequent events is not quite clear with regard to the school memorial. Between 1994 and 2006 the portrait and plaque were moved to the “new Main Entrance” foyer when public access to the auditorium was removed. In the same time frame, someone had the plaque restored. The old Forestville Elementary was replaced by a new school, and the old school building was repurposed as government offices.

In 1968, Francis T. Evans Elementary School opened, named in honor of the brave captain. Fast forward to 2014, and US Air Force Airmen from Andrews AFB were involved in a project to improve the display inside Francis T. Evans Elementary in honor of Capt Evans. Master Sgts. Matt Cagle and Phillip Allen, 744th Communication Squadron, built an oak display case to display the Evans portrait, plaque and other memorabilia of the school’s namesake.

Master Sergeants Phillip Allen and Matt Cagle, 744th Communication Squadron program managers hold up the former memorial display in front of the newly dedicated memorial display case specially made for the school May 2, 2014. The case is on display at the Francis T. Evans School, located just outside of Joint Base Andrews, Md., and will encase memorabilia of the school’s namesake, Capt. Francis T. Evans, Jr. (U.S. Air Force photo by Aimee Fujikawa)

Master Sergeants Phillip Allen and Matt Cagle, 744th Communication Squadron program managers hold up the former memorial display in front of the newly dedicated memorial display case specially made for the school May 2, 2014. The case is on display at the Francis T. Evans School, located just outside of Joint Base Andrews, Md., and will encase memorabilia of the school’s namesake, Capt. Francis T. Evans, Jr. (U.S. Air Force photo by Aimee Fujikawa)

It was unveiled to the students and staff on 2 May 2014, nearly 61 years after Evans’ sacrifice.

Dr. Deborah Stone, Francis T. Evans Elementary School principal, thanks members of the 844th and 744th Communication Squadrons for the memorial display case built in honor of the school's namesake May 2, 2014. The case is on display at the Francis T. Evans School, located just outside of Joint Base Andrews, Md., and will encase memorabilia of  Capt. Francis T. Evans, Jr. (U.S. Air Force photo by Aimee Fujikawa)

Dr. Deborah Stone, Francis T. Evans Elementary School principal, thanks members of the 844th and 744th Communication Squadrons for the memorial display case built in honor of the school’s namesake May 2, 2014. The case is on display at the Francis T. Evans School, located just outside of Joint Base Andrews, Md., and will encase memorabilia of Capt. Francis T. Evans, Jr. (U.S. Air Force photo by Aimee Fujikawa)

It is always sad to see the loss of a comrade in arms. In war such a sacrifice may have a military purpose, which is maybe harder to see in peacetime. But the military has to train well in peacetime and sometimes that training takes a toll, as it did on 16 June 1953.

It is a testament to the character of 371st Fighter Group combat veteran Francis T. Evans, Jr., that on that day he passed the ultimate gut check and gave his live to save the lives of others. As Jesus said, recorded in the Book of John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
References

Francis T. Evans, Sr., Wikipedia entry, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Thomas_Evans,_Sr.

FRANCIS THOMAS. EVANS, Early Aviators website, at: http://earlyaviators.com/eevans.htm

History of Francis T. Evans Elementary School, at: http://www1.pgcps.org/francistevans/index.aspx?id=97122

Fujikawa, Aimee, “Airmen go above, beyond for “Bonehead”” Joint Base Andrews webpage, at: http://www.andrews.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123409822

John 15:13, Bible Hub website, at: http://biblehub.com/john/15-13.htm

John 15, Bible Gateway website, at: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+15

F-86D picture at:  http://replicainscale.blogspot.com/2011_08_01_archive.html

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5 Responses to A Post-War Hero: The Last Flight of Captain Francis T. Evans, Jr.

  1. Cindy Van Kirk says:

    My name is Cindy Evans Van Kirk. I am the daughter of Tom Evans (he went by Tom, not Francis). Would the person who set up this webpage please contact me?

  2. Rick Ferguson says:

    I was on the playground that afternoon waiting to get on one of the school buses when the accident happened. My family and I would later learn that the school had been named after Captain Evans. Flash forward to October 1958 when my own dad, Major Richard T Ferguson, was killed in Korea in a training accident with a ROK pilot. He had survived WWII and the Korean War. I ended up flying helicopters after a couple of infantry tours in Vietnam. To this day, I always remembered the day Captain remained in his aircraft until he was sure it would not hit the playground loaded with kids. He was a brave man willing to die so we children would live. God Bless Him and his family.

    • Cynthia E Van Kirk says:

      Mr Ferguson. Thank you for responding. My father was a hero, as was yours. What saddens me is he nver got to know my sister, Nancy, as our mother was 6 months pregnant with her at the time of the crash. He also now has 3 grand children and 11 great-grandchildren.

      I am in touch with Gary Zager who was also on the playground that day. Another fellow, Jeff McDowell who lost his father in 1970 on his approach to Runway 19, He was also a flight instructor.

      I pray life has been good to you.

      Blessings
      Cindy

  3. Rick Ferguson says:

    I was probably in the third grade that day with a brother, Steve, in the first. Our little brother, Robert was at home. My mom cried when I told her there had been a crash.
    After WWII, my dad had stayed in 4 engine aircraft until he was assigned to Andrews. Here, he got checked out in the T-33. Later he flew F-89s, and on to a training detachment in peacetime Korea where he died.
    Me, I went back to Vietnam 18 months after flight school to live my dream of flying helicopters 72-73. After Vietnam, I resigned my commission, worked overseas flying helicopters and on the Gulf Coast, but later got recommissioned and got into a reserve medevac unit in Little Rock, Arkansas. Anyhow I survived. I know a lot of people who never made it to retirement, including infantry soldiers, helicopter pilots, and fixed wing pilots. Got a purple heart on the ground and a couple of helicopters shot up just like my Dad’s A-20 in WWII. Had some tough memories and once I was asked if I count sheep. I said nope, I count dead soldiers and pilots. It just occurred to me last night that I would never have gotten this far without your dad sticking it out for a couple of more seconds. God Bless Him Again, and thank you for your kind response. Your dad was part of my life, and my brother Steve’s life. God Bless You. So long.

  4. Pingback: Memorial Day 2020 | 371st Fighter Group

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