The Flying “Mormon Meteor”
As told by Thales A. “Tad” Derrick–As a young boy growing up in Salt Lake City, Utah in the 1940s, Ab Jenkins, the racing mayor of Salt Lake was my hero. (His race car, the Mormon Meteor III, was a wondrous machine for the time. Mayor Jenkins was interested in endurance racing and ran his car on the salt flats west of Salt Lake City. He set records for 24 hours and 48 hours. Over the period of his racing career, Ab Jenkins always gave credit to his keeping of “The Word of Wisdom” as the factor that allowed him to stay alert and sharp at high racing speeds over a long period of time. I vowed I would follow his example.) My interests in the 1950s while at South High School, included cars and jet aircraft. I helped organize a car club that we named the “Meteors” in honor of Ab Jenkins.
The interest in aircraft led me to United States Air Force pilot training. I graduated first in my pilot training class at Greenville, Mississippi in August of 1957. I selected fighter aircraft as the type I would fly. Soon I was a qualified fighter pilot flying the F-100 Super Sabre, the first aircraft to exceed the speed-of-sound in level flight. A bit later as an instructor in the F-100, I chose the name “Meteor” as my call-sign, wsed whenever I was leading a flight of other fighters.
The United States was embroiled in the Vietnam conflict by the mid-1960s. The squadron to which I was assigned was the 481st Tactical Fighter Squadron, part of the 27th Tactical Fighter Wing, stationed at Cannon AFB, New Mexico. The 481st was named the top squadron in Tactical Air Comman, and as such was selected to be one of the first full squadron units sent to Vietnam. The squadron, “The Crusaders,” deployed to Vietnam in June 1965 flying their F-100s across the Pacific Ocean.
Not long after arriving in Vietnam, the squadron decided to adopt the long standing fighter practice of naming aircraft. Pilots chose names that reflected their personalities or honored their wives or girlfriends i.e. “The Shadow” or “Pretty Penny,” etc. I chose to name my F-100D “The Mormon Meteor.” (MSS 2350 no. 1158)