Warren F. Rosenbaum
Flying Experiences

Some  of  My  Flying  Experiences


Introduction with Description of the US Air Force Boeing B-47 Strategic Bomber


Initially I have four stories to tell of my experiences in the B-47, while accumulating about 550 flying hours in that aircraft. Yup!  Ridin’ that pony for 550 hours you will pick up a few stories and a few grey hairs along the way.  These four events occurred while I was a combat ready crew member with the 359th Bomb Squadron, 303rd Bomb Wing stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona.  Our Wing Commander was Colonel William Bacon.  The motto of the 359th Bomb Squadron was “Caveat Emptor” a Latin phrase translating to, “Let the buyer beware.”  We wore an embroidered patch on our flight suits identifying our 359th Bomb Squadron with “Caveat Emptor” written on the patch.   We were somewhat proud of our motto and it added to the morale of all the personnel.  There was the feeling that we were “The Big Dogs on the Block.”


For a young, new pilot, the B-47 was not the most exciting, nor the most safety-inspiring aircraft to be assigned to.  After single engine prop-type aircraft in Primary (Pilot Training) and single engine jets in Basic (Pilot Training), the big, ponderously performing, 6-jet bomber was a bit overwhelming, and never a real confidence booster. Possibly because the B-47 was on the cutting edge of technology, being the first swept-wing bomber at the time, it experienced some engineering shortcomings and idiosyncrasies common to being a pioneer in any field.  It is generally agreed among aviation designers that the B-47 was the starting point from which all current large jet aircraft came.   It is in their heritage


There is no question that the B-47 was the fastest and highest flying bomber during its first few years of combat ready status.  Its high performance, smooth operation, and ease of flying could be misleading.  It was also an aircraft that demanded respect for its less-than-forgiving nature.  Only a total fool would become complacent while flying it.  And even proficient pilots were given a handful of problems they could not overcome.  Some were self-induced, others were apparent surprises to the crew and beyond their control to surmount.  Loss of life often occurred in either case.  I have several vignettes I will add to the end of this autobiography to further support this statement.

Just after arriving for Primary pilot training at Bartow Air Base in Florida I read about a B-47 shedding its wings causing the loss of Colonel Michael N. W. McCoy, who was posthumously honored by naming an Air Force base after him near Orlando, Florida, only 45 miles from where I was training.  There were rumors of B-47’s experiencing catastrophic wing failure when practicing the LABS tactical maneuver.  This engineering flaw was said to be corrected by "Operation Milk Bottle" where large milk-bottle shaped pins were installed to help keep the wings on. The LABS maneuver was to deliver a nuclear weapon on target in a high speed climb, essentially “tossing” the bomb in an arching trajectory as the aircraft performed a half loop.  The bomb was released at the optimum point in the climb to effectively toss the bomb while the aircraft continued to the top of the half loop.  Now inverted at the top of a half-loop, the pilot rolled the aircraft to the upright position (an aerobatic maneuver called an “Immelmann”) and dove away going in the opposite direction.


Later investigation confirmed that Colonel McCoy was “hot-dogging” the aircraft at low altitude while showing its capabilities to a visiting Royal Air Force visitor.  At very low altitude and at a high rate of speed Col. McCoy apparently pulled up abruptly, breaking the airplane apart.  The B-47 was “Redlined” (meaning “Do Not Exceed”) at .92 Mach (92% of the speed of sound at whatever altitude it was operating).  Possibly that operational limitation was exceeded.  On the other hand, giving McCoy the benefit of the doubt, especially in light of the many hours he had logged flying the B-47, there is a high likelihood that the aircraft made him and the two crew members innocent victims of a structural failure that no one could have survived.  With this news I declared then and there that the one aircraft I didn't want to be assigned to was the B-47.  And of course, that was exactly my assignment less than a year later!  To the old saying, “Beware of what you want, you just might get it” I must add, “Be aware of what you don’t want, you just might get that too.”


My first assignment out of Pilot Training was to the Strategic Air Command (SAC).  Training in the B-47 was at McConnell AFB, Wichita, Kansas, with Captain Jay Stiles as our Instructor Pilot.  My Aircraft Commander was Captain Al Gathercoal (wife Molly), with whom I was teamed at McConnell during ground school before we started flight training in this aircraft.  Due to Molly’s health and apparent need for a dry climate, Al and Molly were assigned to Davis-Monthan AFB, in Tucson, Arizona, on a health or compassionate assignment.  I and my wife Alberta accompanied them because Al and I were trained to be a crew.  A SAC, B-47 experienced navigator, was to be assigned to our crew upon our arrival at our permanent station which was often referred to simply as D-M.

The B-47, wingspan 116 feet and length 107 feet, was a jet-powered bomber with swept wings and six engines, three on each side.  The wings were mounted high on the fuselage and slightly behind the canopy and tandem cockpits of the two pilots.  Two engines were mounted in a single pod slung under and slightly forward of the wing on each side and a single engine was suspended under each wing near the tip. The landing gear was referred to as a “bicycle gear” with the two double-tired struts in tandem near the front and rear of the fuselage.  Smaller struts, with small single wheels, extended from the engine pods on each side for stability and were called “outriggers.”  The gear was extended or retracted electrically by the copilot in the rear cockpit on command from the Aircraft Commander (AC), the pilot who was in the front cockpit and in charge of the aircraft.   The flaps, at the trailing edge of the wings, added lift to the aircraft during take-off and landing and were extended and retracted by the copilot, again, on command of the AC.


This Boeing designed bomber carried a 3-man crew, the aircraft commander (AC), a copilot, and a navigator.  I was the copilot during my B-47 days.  The AC and copilot sat in tandem on the flight deck near the top of the fuselage with a clear glass or plastic canopy enclosing their cockpits. The navigator sat about four feet below and six feet in front of them in the nose of the aircraft.  Visibility for the AC was good with a heavy glass windscreen in front and the clear canopy on the sides and above.  The copilot had very poor visibility forward due to the AC’s ejection seat in front of him but to the sides, above and behind, visibility was very good. 


The navigator’s outside view was limited to two windows, each about the size of a 19 inch flat-screen computer monitor, mounted in the fuselage about 45 degrees above each shoulder when he was facing forward.  Interestingly, if the navigator had to eject from the aircraft, he had to be securely strapped in as the ejection seat ejected downward and pulled him out of the aircraft as opposed to the pilots whose seats shot upward and pushed them up and out of the aircraft.  When operating close to the ground, such as during take-offs and landings, the navigator’s seat was not an effective escape mechanism.  Below about 600 feet, ejecting from the navigator's position would just shoot him right into the ground.  At low altitude he might have a chance for safe egress via the ejection seat if the aircraft was in a 90 degree bank or inverted.  (And heaven help us if we were in that attitude close to the ground in a B-47.  Interestingly, we almost were one night taking off from D-M.  I'll cover that a little later.



My Four Stories, A Humorous Success, Two “Hairy Ones”. And a Curious Air Refueling Flight

The four stories I mentioned in the opening paragraph are:  1) The fuel in the cockpit incident, 2) the night take-off for Top Rung when we almost when into the desert at a 90 degree angle or upside down, 3) the successful Top Rung mission, and 4) the air refueling in the clouds experience.  The first three were with Captain Al Gathercoal, Aircraft Commander, and 1st Lt. John Snow, navigator.  The fourth incident was with Major George Thurber, Aircraft Commander, and Captain Don Huffman, navigator.  This is the order in which they occurred however they are better told in the order I’ve selected starting with a successful mission first.



A Humorous Success, “Bombing” Bismark, North Dakota, Mission Name: Top Rung

Our first attempt at Top Rung was the night take-off when we almost (really almost!) went in upside down in the desert about 1 AM.  More on that later.  Let’s look at the fun-stuff first.  Our second attempt at the Top Rung mission, number 3) story mentioned above, was a successful mission with some humor involved.


We took off from Davis-Monthan in Tucson, Arizona, about 60 miles north of the Mexican border and were to simulate bombing Bismarck, North Dakota, about 160 miles south of the Canadian border.  This was a daylight mission as opposed to our unsuccessful night mission a couple of days earlier.  The objective was to acquaint the aircrew with the high speed, low altitude flight characteristics of the B-47.  Our war plans always called for high speed operations when nearing the target area but our training was always at conventional speeds of 280 to 320 knots.  At higher speeds the aircraft behaved differently and the crew also had to adjust to things happening faster.  We were to fly the bombing portion of this mission at 425 knots.


All bomb runs required the aircraft to successfully get to a geographical location called the Initial Point (or IP) from which the aircraft was turned, often 30 to 45 degrees on the compass, to align with the target and then proceed in a straight line directly to the target.  To get in a good bomb run according to our war plan and in compliance with the mission, the turn should be made and completed within a quarter to a half mile of the IP.  From the IP inbound to the target the navigator had to assess and adjust for wind and the track of the aircraft across the ground as opposed to the heading of the aircraft to maintain that track, and the ground speed because of headwind or tailwind components at our altitude and other stuff only navigator/bombardiers know about.

The purpose of this mission was to familiarize the AC and the navigator with how fast the Initial Point (IP) approached, make the turn, find the target on radar, calculate the climb point so we could be at our proper release altitude with minimum exposure to enemy anti-aircraft weapons, release the “bomb” (a radio signal), then drop down to egress altitude and get the heck out of there.  That’s the mission. 


Not only did the B-47’s wing bend (the tip was known to travel through a 17-foot arc from resting on the ground to a fully loaded flight configuration) but it would twist substantially at the higher speeds and at 425 knots the twist was so great that the airflow over the wings almost missed the ailerons.  Airflow against the ailerons causes the aircraft to bank and then turn.  Without the airflow pushing against the aileron, the aircraft doesn’t bank and doesn’t turn.


We departed D-M shortly after daybreak, climbed to normal operating altitude (28,000 to 32,000 feet) for the best fuel economy and proceeded at conventional speed until within a couple of hundred miles of our target.  As we descended to our tactical altitude we accelerated to our wartime tactical speed and headed straight for the IP.


So we’re smoking along at 425 knots (489 mph) and 1500 feet above the ground.  The beautiful green rolling terrain, sprinkled profusely with small lakes and ponds, was passing beneath us at a little over 8 (eight) miles per minute.  That’s one mile every seven and a half seconds, which was pretty fast 48 years ago – and still is for that matter.  (This is statute miles that the reader will be more familiar with, as opposed to the 7 (seven) nautical miles per minute used in our navigation.)  It’s a beautiful morning about 11 AM.  The navigator alerts the AC that we’re approaching the IP.  Al turns the yoke to the left as we normally do in training and there is no response from the aircraft. Remembering our mission briefing about slow aileron response, Al turns the yoke more.  Still no response.  Finally he twists it all the way to the stop.  We’re still blasting along at 425 knots and still going in the same direction.  He told me after the mission, “With the wheel cranked all the way to the stop and it wasn’t banking and no heading change, I was thinking, ‘Oh s___! Now what do we do?!”  Within three or four seconds the airflow over the wing and against the aileron, slight as it was, began to bank the aircraft to the left and we gradually changed direction.


Instead of lining up for a direct run to the target within a quarter to a half a mile of the Initial Point (IP) as we were supposed to do, we missed the IP by about 15 miles which made for a very different bomb run.  I can just imagine the Air Force personnel on the ground monitoring our bomb run on radar and wondering, “What in the hell are those guys doing?” And then asking the next obvious question, “If we have to go to war, do you think we’ll win?”  By the time we got lined up with the target on our bomb run we must have looked like a single aircraft invading force coming from Canada.  Other than that, everything else on the mission was normal.  We approached the target, did our “Pop-Up” maneuver (explained after this bomb-run story), second station (when the navigator/bombardier temporarily takes control of the aircraft), bomb bay doors open, “Bombs Away” (announced by the navigator and a radio tone we are hearing abruptly stops), bomb bay doors are closing as we dive for the deck simulating an evasive maneuver to get beneath the enemy’s radar. 


During the Pop-Up and leveling at bomb release altitude I was being rated on “Local Defense” meaning protecting ourselves from enemy defenses.  I’m monitoring several radar frequencies in my head set listening to the ground radar sweeping our aircraft.  “Zup… zup… zup” and then a steady tone “Eeeeeeee” indicating a “lock-on.”  A “lock” means the enemy is now tracking us and will shoot us down with anti-aircraft defenses such as guns or missiles.  My job was to wait for the “lock” then actuate our radar jammers which were intended to “fuzzy-up” their radar screens, break the “lock” and render their anti-aircraft defenses impotent.  When I heard the “lock” I immediately flipped several toggle switches which were acknowledged by a ground station with “(our aircraft call sign) cease Local Defense” and I would turn off the jammers.  I got real good at this and was the top 359th Bomb Sqdn. performer in Local Defense Runs one month.  That may have been one of the deciding factors in crewing me with Major George Thurber (AC) and Captain Don Huffman (Navigator) about 8 months later when their co-pilot was upgrading to AC.


So, we “got the heck out of there” at low altitude for about 5 or 10 minutes as I called and received clearance from “Center” to climb to altitude and return home.  For a fairly new co-pilot, the mission was exhilarating with the high speed and low altitude, the Pop-Up, the Local Defense, the bomb bay doors open (there’s a lot of noise from the wind and drag as they are open), the bomb release, diving to the deck and then exiting the area, all with quickness and precision. In spite of missing the IP by about 15 miles, we successfully recovered and effectively performed the mission.  The day after returning I turned in a letter to the Squadron Commander about the mission with my enthusiasm bubbling over in the phrase, “I felt like we had just won the war!” 


            “Pop-Up” explained:  This tactic of coming in low, presumably under the enemy radar that controlled anti-aircraft guns or missiles, then climbing to the proper release altitude was called a “Pop-Up” maneuver.  As you climbed you became more vulnerable to enemy defenses so a fairly low release altitude was preferred by the air crew.  The weapons were delayed from detonating shortly after release by a special parachute that retarded the bomb’s decent until sufficient time had elapsed to allow the crew to escape the blast effects.  We trained for two release altitudes.  Climbing for a low altitude release was called the Short Look.  Climbing for a mid-altitude release was called the Long Look.  For a while, due to some technical difficulties I won’t get into, we were required to train for a high altitude release, above 28,000 feet altitude.  This would take us about 15 to 20 minutes to achieve from our low level dash to the target.  So, for a while, we had high altitude release training in addition to the Short Look and the Long Look.  Being cognizant of the additional exposure to the enemy’s defenses that could blow us out of the sky during a 20-minute climb to 28,000 feet, and with the typical stoic military humor that so often creeps into less-than-desirable duties, the flight crews called this Pop-Up maneuver the Last Look.



“A Hairy One: Our First Attempt to Fly the “Top Rung” Training Mission

Our first attempt at the “Top Rung” training mission was a memorable one.  Aircrew members refer to situations like this as “a hairy one.”  The type that stays as a memory you’ll never forget.  The usual events prior to take-off were routine.  We were scheduled for an early morning take-off; about 0110 hours (1:10 AM) with the active runway 12, heading into the Southeast desert with no city lights nor other lighted visual references.  It was an especially dark night with no noticeable moonlight or starlight, simply “black” from the ground all the up.  Under these circumstances, as you lift off and leave the runway lights behind you, you are strictly on instruments with a positive reading on the “Rate-of-Climb” indicator, a direction of 120 degrees on the “Heading” indicator, level wings and a “one-bar-width” positive rate of climb on the “Artificial Horizon.”  Naturally there are other readings you are watching or cognizant of such as airspeed, RPM in a percentage reading, EGT (exhaust gas temperature), (landing) gear indicators, flap position indicator, and the old standby, Needle and Ball indicator. 


As the aircraft cleared the runway with a positive rate of climb, the AC called, “Gear up.”  I raised the landing gear lever and within a few seconds we could feel the landing gear “thump” into the “up-and-locked” position, the landing gear indicators going from “down” to “in transit” hash marks, to “in the green” (lights) meaning the landing gear doors were closed and locked also.  About this time we are going into “totally black” with the runway lights dropping down and back in my peripheral vision.  No exterior visual references whatsoever.  Next in the normal sequence was, “Flaps up.”  On this command I put my hand on the flaps lever, if it isn’t there already in anticipation, and monitor the airspeed, retracting the flaps in periodic moves, as necessary, to maintain our lift as the airspeed increases.  As we are “cleaning up” the exterior of the aircraft for our smooth aerodynamic configuration, the AC is reducing the power from “Take-off power” (100 %) to climb power – as I recall, about 92% - and he is adjusting the attitude of the aircraft as the flaps come up and we feel a slight settling of our seat and the AC is tilting up of the nose slightly to increase our angle of attack to compensate for the reduction in our lift that has been provided by the flaps. 


The flap lever is under my right hand (about where you will operate your mouse when at your computer).  I would never take my hand off the flap lever as I focused on the flap retraction procedure, keeping a prescribed percentage of flaps extended relative to a prescribed airspeed to guarantee our lift as the airspeed increased.  On this take-off, instinct told me something wasn’t right.  Seat-of-the-pants flying supposedly went out with leather flying caps, goggles, open cockpits, and a wind-blown scarf over the shoulder, but it is still there, at least for some of us, in spite of closed cockpits, more sophisticated machinery, triple the speeds, and all the other changes from yesteryear.  When something isn’t right, if you are blessed with “seat-of-the-pants” flying instincts, something takes over inside you faster than you can think about it.  Like a startled, alert animal, you are totally focused and aware of your surroundings at the slightest sense that something isn’t right.  And even more so when you are close to the ground!  You can read the whole instrument panel with a fraction of a second visual scan.  I could read the whole instrument panel completely twice in the time it takes you to say, “One second.”  Transiting from about 160 to 180 knots takes about 7 to 10 seconds in the climb-out.  Within one to two seconds of the time the flaps started up, the instinct, the animal in me, was working -- at peak awareness.  With no exterior visual references - just “black” – the movement of the control wheel slightly to the left, the left rudder pedal moved an inch or so, then the heading indicator and the artificial horizon tilting toward a right turn plus an unnatural “rolling” to the right – all these things, not a part of the “pre-programmed expectancy and maneuvers”, put my instincts into high gear.


Can we say that when we are operating in a realm that is faster than we are thinking, that God has taken over?  I can say, “I did (such and such)”, when I wasn’t thinking fast enough to process the rationale behind the proposed action but was, instead, reacting instinctively.  Can we say, when we are beyond our own thinking processes that God is operating inside of us?  Some people don’t have that instinctive reaction and “buy the farm”.  Can we say that God was not with them in their predicament?  Maybe!  Anyway, though I did not know Him at the time, in retrospect, I concede that someone else was in charge.  I can remember the thought processes that occurred within seconds and fractions of a second.  It is not within our natural thinking ability to evaluate the problem and available solutions then react appropriately in such a limited amount of time such as half-a-second.  Like a boxer counter-punching an opponent’s punch, he doesn’t think about it and then do it, he just reacts instinctively.


In a period of about 5 seconds the whole scenario was unfolding.  The AC was trying to stop a roll to the right by turning the control wheel to the left and pressing further on the left rudder to stop the rotation and the heading changing from 120 degrees to 130 then 140.  The artificial horizon was tilting to a 30 degree bank to the right and the heading change was picking up speed – we were turning and banking faster.  As our airspeed was getting faster the roll-rate was increasing also.  In this approximately 5 seconds of flight experience, I realized we are heading into a flight situation (a performance envelope) I don’t want to go into.  I knew that where we were a couple of seconds ago (that performance envelope), was okay with acceptable flight conditions and aircraft performance we normally operate in.  I instinctively wanted to “back out” of where we were going and position us where we were a couple of seconds ago.  I wanted to return to that place as quickly as I could.  I knew instinctively and instantly that in less than 3 seconds we will be at 60 degrees of bank and beyond recovery and another 3 seconds we will hit the ground.  That’s taking it up too close to the edge.  At that point I reversed the position of the flap handle, stopping the flap retraction and returning them to a “going down” action.  As the flaps reversed direction, Al, the AC, in an obviously strained voice, called a one word command, “Bring’emdown!Bring’emdown!” 


I answered immediately, “Their coming down!”  Fortunately, I had started them down one to two seconds before his command.  This action was stopping the uncontrollable roll to the right and restricting any further increase in airspeed due to the drag the flaps naturally cause.  My three words told the AC that I was aware of the control problem he was experiencing, that I was in complete agreement with these actions, and that we were in the process of correcting this problem as a team.  He also reduced power to decrease our airspeed as he called for the flaps down knowing that the flaps would give us the lift we would need to stay in the air as he reduced power.  We needed extra lift to sustain flight as the airspeed reduced.  We had been banking to the right at 10 degrees per second or more.  If we had reached an angle of bank of 45 degrees, which would have happened in another one or one and a half seconds, 60 degrees of bank was next and at the low airspeed we were at and the weight (usually about 140,000 lbs or more) we would not have had sufficient lift from the wings to allow us to recover before we hit the ground.  All of this was done totally using instruments for we had no exterior references to a horizon or to the ground.  We were less than 600 feet above ground at this point in our flight.  At 160 knots we were traveling at 269 feet per second.  If the roll had continued we would have fallen out of the sky and impacted the ground in about 6 seconds, with the wings giving us no lift and perpendicular (90 degrees) to the ground.  Two seconds made the difference.  “What a Difference a Day Makes”, sings Dinah Washington and “what a difference a second makes” many aircrew members will say.


That was one you don’t forget.  The banking and turning to the right stopped and as Al regained control of the aircraft with the power reduced, a stabilized airspeed and the flaps in the down position, he rolled it into a 10 degree bank to the left and continued our climb so we would have a little more ground clearance to work with.  Naturally, as soon as we got control of the aircraft I called Air Traffic Control about our emergency and we were soon in touch with the SAC Command Post.  The whole thing resolved with the SAC Command Post having us continue our left turn for several hours while we burned off enough fuel with the landing gear extended and the flaps still down to reduce our weight to a landing weight.  As the airfield came into daylight conditions and we burned off the extra fuel to a landing weight, we reverted to normal flight procedures and brought it in for a landing without further incident.  After debriefing about the flight, a routine procedure that took longer due to the peculiarities of this flight, I got home about 10:30 AM.  My wife (and kids) were out to a neighbors for coffee, so I poured myself a stiff one, sat in the kitchen for about 15 minutes while I drank it, and went to bed to get some sleep having been up all night.


According to “Maintenance” no mechanical problem could be found.  There was some conjecture that the rudder may have been deflected due to the directional damper being turned on before take-off, a fairly new addition to the Before Take-off Checklist.  How it might have cured itself after we recovered and while the incident was still in progress was never explained by those who proposed that idea.  After all these years I conclude we may have had a split flap condition, one side coming up and the other remaining down.  When some aircraft mechanic makes a mistake and you bring the aircraft back after an emergency, do you think the maintenance people will admit to a gross oversight?  Do you think the Maintenance Officer and his staff will admit they did something wrong, forgot to replace something or tighten something?  Fat chance!  If we did have a split flap condition because someone didn’t hook something up or failed to secure something, preventing one side of the flaps from retracting, don’t you think by letting Maintenance check it out, that they would fix the problem and not admit to any error on their part?  You bet!  The name of the game is CYA. 


A big thing was made of the incident and Colonel Bacon, the Wing Commander himself, flew the aircraft to prove it was okay and allay any concerns of other flight crews regarding that particular airplane.  Commanders got the word around about Colonel Bacon personally flying that airplane that morning.  While not specifically ordered to be present, a lot of the crews not flying that day were “conveniently” watching the mid-morning take-off.  The “unordered assembly” was supposed to remove any mounting concerns about B-47 aircraft and especially that particular B-47 as well as build a respect for Colonel Bacon as a leader and commander.


Al, the AC, commended me a couple of times when talking to others that I was ‘the man’ on the flaps.  Almost with incredulity, he seemed to reflect that, if ever he needed someone extremely responsible, I filled the bill that early morning.  I never told him I started the flaps down before he gave the command.  Maybe he knew it.  When it comes to “going over the edge”, we were close enough and I wasn’t going to allow us to get any closer.  He knew in his heart my controlling the flaps that morning saved our butts.


Some 21 years later, about 1981, I remember seeing a black column of smoke from the I-5 freeway in Sacramento one morning about 10 AM as I was driving to Dave Harvey’s house (the libertarian).  It was a B-52 that had just augured in right after take-off from Mather AFB.  I’m not sure if a cause was ever determined.  When a plane crashes like that, there is not much to examine for cause.  The take-off scenario was similar to ours many years back at D-M only this was in daylight.  Shortly after takeoff the plane wings over and hits the ground.  That sight, the ugly column of black smoke, brought back old memories.


Rate of Roll of Aircraft and Some Personal Memories

Regarding the rate of roll of an airplane, banking an aircraft at 10 degrees per second is right on the edge of going from normal, smooth flying to aggressive maneuvering.  To go from 30 degrees of bank to 60 degrees of bank in 3 seconds, with the associated back pressure on the stick or yoke, inducing some G-forces to maintain altitude and stay in the air is bordering on aggressive handling of the flight controls.  So in the preceding situation as we were transiting 30 degrees bank to the right with the controls demanding a left bank and them not responding, less than 3 seconds we would have been at 60 degrees and would not have been able to recover before our right wing (58 feet long) came in contact with the ground.


A side story: I recall in Basic Training at Vance Air Force Base, Enid, Oklahoma, in T-33 single engine jet trainers (a two-seat version of the F-80, Shooting Star, the first operational jet fighter of the USAF) the word got around that you could achieve a rate of roll of 240 degrees per second by turning off the aileron boost, pressing as hard as you could on the stick to one side or the other, then flipping on the aileron boost, that the airplane would snap around in 240 degrees of roll in one second.  I never tried that but apparently there were some yoyos who did or would.  When you’re in flight school there are nutcases who will try anything.


I was pretty-much a straight shooter, a do what you’re told, fly as you’re trained, type.  But there’s a little hell imbedded in anyone who has gotten that far and it has to come out, sooner or later.  One time when I was training in T-Birds (solo), I decided to see what I could get out of this thing.  So at 4,000 feet altitude indicated with less than 3,000 feet clearance from the ground (not very high for this airplane as we would often operate up to 20,000 feet on training flights) but low enough to get some idea of how fast the ground was going by and also sufficient altitude to eject (bail-out) if I screwed up royally.  So I got it up to 430 knots (494 MPH) in level flight.  That seemed to be tops.  The controls are very sensitive at those high airspeeds.  Just the slightest pressure on the stick and the airplane would react with a magnified change of position.  I also was running the engine at the redline on exhaust gas temperature.  I held it there for 10 or 15 seconds to get the sensation and to see if I could get any more speed out of it and then backed off so I wouldn’t blow myself up.


When I was in Primary Flight Training, flying the T-28, a 500 horsepower, single reciprocating engine, with a two bladed prop, I was doing “acro” (acrobatics) one day and was getting pretty good at the Immelmann maneuver.  After a couple of clearing turns, which were always required before starting any maneuver, you dive the aircraft to pick up speed then pull back on the stick as if to do a loop.  At the top of the loop, while inverted, you roll the wings level and are heading in the opposite direction from the way you started.  The objective was to control your direction in the pull-up and to reverse direction precisely 180 degrees as you roll the wings smartly to a level, upright posture with the nose level (not in a climb or dive).  I was getting pretty good at this, and decided I would do this rollout with a sharp, “military recovery” at the top.  Now inverted, I would push the stick to the side to roll the wings level and use rudder and back pressure on the stick to have a sharp, precision maneuver.  I sensed after one or two successful rollouts that I was flirting with dynamite.  Pulling the stick back and to the right or left, and applying a lot of rudder causes a snap-roll.  So, hot-rock that I was (at the moment), I jerked the stick back and to the left, applied heavy left rudder and the plane abruptly went right through the standard recovery position into a snap roll that put me in a spin.  No problem, but as she went past wings level/nose level and right on over upside down into a spin, for about a lo-o-n-n-g four seconds the airplane was flying me instead of me flying the airplane.  (In retrospect, it’s funny how you can get the s___ scared out of you real quick and then later get the biggest laugh out of it.)  After the initial surprise (and momentarily being scared s___less!) I analyzed what I had done and then, with confidence, I repeated the maneuver intentionally to experience it and thus learned how to snap roll. 


*          *          *

Fuel Vapors in the Crew Compartment

Referring back to the “four stories” in an earlier paragraph.  The fuel in the cockpit was my first real emergency.  With our newly assigned navigator, Lt. John Snow, we were now a new integral crew with probably only six flights together as a crew.  It was a daylight training flight with take-off scheduled for about 0930 hours (9:30 AM).  We cranked up (started the 6 jet engines), taxied out, took the active (lined up on the runway), Captain Al Gathercoal advanced the throttles to 100% rpm while holding the brakes.  The navigator, 1st Lt. John Snow, gave the countdown in seconds for our scheduled takeoff time.  In SAC (Strategic Air Command) everything was precision including “Five, four, three, two, one, take-off.” 


Up until this point I’d been busy with the radios, getting clearance to start engines, to taxi, and to take the active runway, and reading the many items on the pre-flight, start engines, and taxi checklists and monitoring for the correct response from the AC.  After the “70-knot check”, called by the co-pilot, of the two airspeed indicators in the pilot’s cockpits, my next duties on the take-off and climb-out were to retract the landing gear on command of the AC, “Gear up”, and “milk up” the flaps on his command, “Flaps up”, not allowing the flaps to retract too quickly, before certain airspeeds had been achieved, and being certain the flaps were completely up and we were in a clean configuration before we exceeded 195 knots in our climb-out.  As we’re cleaning up the aircraft, the navigator, John Snow, calls on the intercom, “I smell fuel.” 


The navigator’s station had an air-conditioning-pressurization outlet near his work table and it often spewed water droplets at full throttle on take-off. The droplets were a phenomenon of condensation in the system coming out of the lowest part of the system.  The flight deck’s outlets were about 5 or 6 feet higher than the navigator’s and we rarely experienced this condensation.  Only this time John smelled fuel coming out of the outlet.  He held his flight glove in front of the outlet and it became dripping wet in a few seconds with a mixture of water droplets and fuel.  Pressurization of the crew compartment came off the compression-stage section of two (or more) engines, number two and number four if my memory serves me. John took off his glove, unbuckled from his seat, and brought it back for the AC to see and smell.  He also let me smell the glove.  I unfastened my oxygen mask, always in place because the intercom and radio microphones are built into it, and sniffed the glove.  I had an involuntary, repulsive “start”, jerking my head back a couple of inches due to the strong fuel odor.  There was fuel vapor coming into the crew compartment from the pressurization system.  We were quickly becoming a flying bomb. 


To spice up the story a little bit, on this flight, we had an extra crew member aboard, referred to as the 4th man.  The 4th man position on this 3-man aircraft was somewhat of an afterthought it seems.  His seat was the wide step used by the co-pilot to step up to the co-pilot’s cockpit floor, about 14 inches higher.  An oxygen regulator, intercom cable and seat belt were installed to accommodate this person.  It was used when evaluators were aboard, a crew chief occasionally was aboard, and a newly arrived aircrew member rode there for flight procedure familiarization.


A newly arrived co-pilot, 1st Lt. Dick X. was with us to get the feel of how things go on a typical training flight.  This, of course, was not developing into a typical training flight.  Curiously, Dick was in my Primary Flight Training class so I knew him rather well.  Also, curiously, at Primary, Dick was known to inspect his assigned airplane on the pre-flight walk-around with utmost seriousness and concern.  It was a source of comment among other student pilots on how long it took Dick to “Pre-flight” an airplane.  It was more than “cautious”; it was an indication of a deep wariness about this activity called flying.  We each went our separate ways on assignment to Basic Flight Training in T-33 single engine jet trainers.  I went to Vance AFB, Enid, Oklahoma, and Dick went elsewhere.  During the ensuing year and a half, I had completed my Advanced Training (in B-47 bombers) and become combat ready by about 3 months before Dick arrived to be assigned as a co-pilot to a local crew.  The reason for this delay in his aviation progress is not known by me but may have been an indicator, if known, to the eventual outcome of this part of the story.


So, we declared an emergency to ground control and received clearance to orbit east of the field, over the desert and unpopulated areas, at an altitude high enough for safety and low enough to help accelerate burning off fuel so we could land as soon as possible.  We did in-flight trouble shooting using the “Dash-1” (the operating manual each aircrew member was issued) which was always carried by each crew member during flight.  We also had radio communication with skilled maintenance personnel in D-M’s SAC Command Post who were trying to evaluate the source of the problem.  Al (the AC) was flying the airplane while John, the navigator, and I were reading that section of the Dash-1 that covered heating, cooling and pressurization.  Dick, our 4th man, just sat there with no real assignment but to sit there and simply sweat it out.  At the reduced power setting for our orbit the system was at least not spewing droplets into the navigator’s station any longer.  Using 100% oxygen and breathing through our masks, we weren’t subjected to breathing the fumes constantly but we were often unfastening our masks and taking a few sniffs of the crew compartment air in an effort to detect any changes in our condition.  Our primary focus was on isolating the engine that was pumping fuel fumes into the crew compartment.  After throttle reductions to idle on the individual engines that normally pressurize the crew compartment, we would wait a few seconds for this step to take effect and then do a sniff test.  We did this two or three times on each of the pressurizing engines and always with the same negative results.  No apparent change.  This stumped everyone for a while.  Meanwhile, while not stated but thoroughly understood by everyone, especially the four crew members, we’re wondering if something unforeseen might trigger an explosion that would make us a big fireball in the sky.  (This scenario proved to be a much more realistic potential two years later when I became aware of two separate B-47 losses due to in-the-air explosions, in those cases, both at night.) 


Finally, after more than an hour, some maintenance person in the SAC Command Post found a reference in some Tech Order (maintenance directive) that gave a few aircraft serial numbers where the pressurization system was also served by number six engine, attached beneath the right wingtip.  Sure enough, we were in one of those aircraft.  We throttled back number six and soon seemed to detect a reduction in the strength of the fuel odor.  We shut this engine down and flew until our fuel load was down to a safe landing weight.  Nevertheless, the odor was still very prevalent because fuel fumes had permeated the crew compartment and who knows where else in the aircraft there might be raw fuel or sufficient fumes to cause an explosion. 


The landing gear and doors were operated by electric motors and solenoids but could be manually actuated and free-fall into the down position if we used the ELGE (Emergency Landing Gear Extension) system.  It  consisted of 4 pipe-like handles behind the co-pilot’s seat and to the right of that area.  As a safety precaution to prevent possible sparks from the electric motors and solenoids when the gear handle was placed in the “Down” position, the SAC Command Post and we crew members decided to lower the landing gear by pulling on each of the ELGE handles which would release the doors and then the uplocks that held the gear in the up position.  Unlocked, each landing gear should freefall by gravity into a down and locked position.  There was one handle for each of the two main gear in the fuselage and one for each of the two outrigger landing gear in the engine pods. 


I couldn’t budge any of them while sitting in my seat which would swivel around so I could reach them so I unstrapped and got out of the seat to put more muscle behind my pulling.  No luck!  Dick, the 4th man, was asked to help me pull on the handles.  As he was turning around and getting in position to help, he caught the D-ring of his back-pack parachute on something and the chute came out of the pack.  The coiled spring that pulled the pilot chute out popped free pulling the canopy and shroud lines out which plopped all over the area.  Dick’s face turned white, pale like a ghost.  If, for some reason, we had to bail out of the aircraft, he would have to gather this mess in his arms and jump, hoping for the best.  It is funny to think of now, but with the stress we were under, it was no laughing matter then.  Dick recovered from this shock and helped me pull on the handles but to no avail.  We simply could not get the handles to move far enough to release the gear door locks and the uplocks on the gear even after trying several times. 


Coordinating this situation with the SAC Command Post we were left with only one choice; lower the gear with the gear handle and hope there were no pockets of fuel or fuel vapor somewhere that would cause an explosion.  Al said to me over the intercom, “Okay” pause, “Gear down.”  I took a deep breath, paused for a moment, then said, “Gear coming down” and moved the gear handle to the down position.  Everything operated normally, as you can guess, or I wouldn’t be here to tell the story.  We were reasonably confident that there wouldn’t be an explosion but there was no guarantee.  And that potential for disaster was a primary focus until we heard the gear doors and uplocks release – without a big “boom.”  I remember commenting over the intercom, “Well, another day, another dollar” meaning we had earned our pay for the day.  I thought that was a quick way to ease the tension.  We landed without incident and learned the next day that a fuel line on number six engine had cracked or loosened allowing fuel, under pressure, to enter the compression chambers of the engine where it was picked up by the pressurization system and pumped into the crew compartment.


Dick, our 4th man, decided he’d had enough. To him it must have been a “sign.”  A day or so later he SIE’d (Self-Initiated Elimination), deciding he wasn’t going to fly any more and was permanently removed from flying status.  In his defense, I must add that it took courage to evaluate his outlook on flying and make that decision.



Night, In Scattered Clouds, Air Refueling Story

In the Kttty Kat refueling area in the Southwest skies of the United States, on a night refueling flight, we were second in line to refuel, waiting on another B-47 from another Wing that was plugging into the KC-135 tanker as we arrived.  At refueling altitude, about 24,000 feet (Flight Level 240) we flew along side the two aircraft  separated from them by about a quarter of a mile,  They were on our left and it being night, the visual sight was primarily their lights and a lesser view of the two airplanes.  As we awaited our turn, we began going through some wispy clouds for one or two seconds at first, then becoming increasingly more dense with longer periods of time without seeing the other two aircraft.  We watched the other two aircraft between these interruptions staying to their right and abreast of them, maintaining the same separation distance.  Hardly a minute had gone by from the first hint of clouds that we suddenly were enshrouded in the clouds for an unexpectedly long time.  George Thurber, the AC, obviously somewhat concerned that we had lost sight of the two coupled aircraft refueling beside us said on the intercom, “Well, I guess I’ll just continue flying this heading…” his comment trailing off without completion.  We continued flying along, holding our heading, for a long estimated two minutes.  Suddenly we broke out of the clouds into clear, dark skies.  The two refueling aircraft were not there!  Thurber looked up, down, strained to see forward and even turned in his seat looking back to see if we had left them behind even though our speed had not changed.


Don Huffman, the navigator, raised up from his seat and looked out his window trying to see them.  Naturally, I was looking also.  Then it dawned on me to look to the right and sure enough there they were, at the same altitude, exactly abreast of us, only on our right side about a quarter of a mile.  I keyed the intercom and said, “Look to the right.”  Incredulously, we had swapped locations in the clouds, probably missing each other by 200 feet or less.  It was one of those experiences where you can’t believe what you are seeing.  How we managed to cross paths and swap positions is a mystery but I think we all realized if this happened in the future we should coordinate our compass heading with the tanker and climb about two or three hundred feet above the tanker and refueling aircraft so no future dangerous situation would exist.




Then in the C-123, maybe my best story. 


I have never written about this and now that I've started, I have this urge to get it recorded because it is interesting and, on remembering with a lot of clarity and analysis of the way things played out, God's hand in it becomes a probability worth considering.


For background information and to set the stage, I must preface this with the declaration that I was not a born again Christian at that time.  I was 26 years old, had about 280 hours in the C-123, a twin-engine, high-wing medium transport (called an "assault aircraft" because it was capable of landing on dirt - unimproved - runways and even fairly level farm fields - which I did once).   It had a drop-down cargo door at the rear of the fuselage (like a C-130) and a dorsel fin at the top rear of the fuselage for stability with a high vertical stabilizer.  And no auto-pilot.  You hand-flew the thing all the time.  You really learned quickly to trim it for flying or you exhausted yourself in a few minutes trying to hold it in the air all by yourself!  Pilots will know what I'm talking about!  Basically, you control small sections called trim tabs on the ailerons, elevator, and rudder to adjust the larger surfaces into a neutral position so you don’t have to hold that position with the yoke or rudder pedals.


Schilling AFB, Salina, Kansas, had three C-123's assigned to Base Ops.  They were used as support aircraft and, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, flew in support of the dispersed B-47 Bomber Wing stationed at Schilling.  The B-47's were disbursed to civilian airports that could handle the B-47's weight, size (wing-span, length, turning radius, etc.) and long take-off roll when loaded.  Disbursed airports included Columbus (Ohio), Cleveland, Detroit-Wayne International and others.  We also were a courier of classified documents (Top Secret) from Offutt AFB (SAC HQ, near Omaha) to Ellsworth AFB (near Rapid City, South Dakota) and Malmstrom AFB (near Great Falls, Montana). 


A couple of days before the Cuban Missile Crisis of late October, 1962, the Atlas “F” intercontinental ballistic missile crew that I was assigned to was downgraded from combat ready because our MFT (Maintenance and  Facilities Technician) declared he was becoming afraid to go into the silo where the missile, nuclear warhead, noisy diesel engines used for electrical power, and other site essential equipment were operating.  One man dropping off the missile crew required a downgrading until we were assigned another MFT and were checked out as an integral crew again.  For a pilot who was maintaining flight status and flying proficiency by flying Base Ops aircraft, this downgrading of our crew was a sudden blessing as it allowed both myself and my Missile Crew Commander, Major Bob Walton, the opportunity to fly supporting missions to our base’s disbursed bombers giving us a lot of flying time and no underground missile duty.  Bob flew C-47’s (WWII era cargo aircraft known affectionately as “Gooney Birds”) of which one or two were assigned to Schilling AFB and I was checked out in the C-123 aircraft.  I might add that pilots want to fly and missile duty was not our first love.  Enough background info.


One evening, about 8:30, I’m in the left seat (AC) on a takeoff from Schilling.  We were loaded with about four tons consisting of a power cart (mobile generator), tool boxes, personal baggage, and about 10 enlisted support personnel for the base’s disbursed B-47 bombers.   Also aboard was a co-pilot, a flight engineer and a load master.  We were to fly to one of the disbursal airports.


It was very dark with few visual references other than the runway lights.  On the takeoff roll everything was normal until just before takeoff speed.  At about 85 to 90 knots, I had not pulled the nose wheel off the runway yet, the right engine backfired extremely loud and momentarily lost power causing the aircraft to lurch to the right.  Then the right engine power seemed to return to takeoff power, the power loss lasting about one second.  At this point a decision had to be made, in a second or two. 


A flood of 5 or 6 scenarios crossed my mind as if time became spaced-out.  It’s surprising how fast a person can process 5 or 6 alternatives and their consequences.  It would take me two minutes to verbalize the thoughts and consequences that went through my mind before I made my decision which took me less than two seconds.  I saw my speed, thought of the momentum due to the weight of the aircraft, considered the length of the runway - would I have enough room to stop before running out of runway if I aborted the takeoff - I knew instantly that I could not reverse the props because I couldn't trust the right engine to perform and give me symmetrical braking from two reversed props, therefore I had to rely on aircraft brakes alone.  Was it a momentary hiccup of the engine and should I continue the takeoff or would it fail on me as I broke ground and then would not have enough room to put it back down and we would become a fireball off the end of the runway?  If it failed as I cleared ground, would I be above 110 knots (single engine control speed) in order to control direction and climb-out, with this load?  Would it stay in the air on one engine?  Last but not least was the thought in this technical decision making of a glimpse of what the next day's Salina Journal newspaper headlines and news story could be, about the crash of a C-123 and the loss of 14 persons on board.  All of this crossed my mind in a second or a second and a half and a decision was made.


I pressed the radio transmit button notifying the tower with "Abort, abort, abort" as I pulled the throttles, watched my directional control, and climbed on the brakes not knowing how much of the remaining runway I would eat up before we came to a stop.  Fortunately we had ample room to stop this heavy aircraft but the end of the runway was not visible to me due to the darkness.  I must say there is not much that will cause people to snap to alertness from the malaise of routine quicker than hearing the normal roar of an airplane taking off and it suddenly ceases with the concurrent announcement heard over a headset or loudspeakers the words, “Abort, abort , abort”. 


This is not a hero story about me.  This is a realization that God was riding with me or in me which allowed time to be seemingly suspended.  The amount of information I processed in less than two seconds was incredible.  A God blessed miracle - allowing me the time to process the scenarios available to me that had to be considered before a decision was made.  God allowed me to make the right decision. 


New orders were cut, another available C-123 was loaded and an hour and a half later we took off with everyone as we had started earlier.  The flight was completed without further incident.   Military orders, peer-pressure among the enlisted passengers, and the necessity of the mission prevented anyone from declining to fly again that night.  The passengers, support personnel and not being aircrew members as such, will probably look upon this as their "war-story."  I suppose they will tell and retell the story to their kids and their grandchildren of the, “Pitch black night we were taking off from Schilling AFB in a C-123, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and almost ‘bought it’ (Air Force lingo for “buying the farm” or dying in the line of duty).  The airplane was rocking and bouncing as we neared takeoff speed when suddenly we heard a loud ‘bang’, the aircraft lurched sharply to the right.  Then it straightened, the power was cut, and the aircraft was brought to a stop before we ran off the end of the runway. The pilot of our C-123 aborted the takeoff and prevented a crash off the end of the runway.  When we got out, fire trucks and staff cars were arriving and the aircraft's brakes were glowing red-hot.”  It will make a good story.


I became a born again Christian about 21 years later and it's taken me another 26 years to fit all the pieces together and realize that the life I was living that night was special.  To me, at the time, it was just part of the job and while it was a part of my memory, it has taken until now to see it objectively and realize I was involved in one of aviation's more serious types of incidents and with God giving me the time to process all the necessary information to make a wise (and proper) decision, I now see that God was working in me even before I knew Him.  (For "Religion" on my dog tags it read "No Preference".)  And quite possibly, He was sparing me and the others because we had not yet fulfilled our reason for being here.  Who is to know?  Maybe one of the persons aboard got "religion" that night.  There is a reason for everything.


(There is a God!  As I am writing this right now, on XM radio over the computer, they are playing "The High and the Mighty" by Les Baxter. I have not heard that song played on the computerized XM radio before.  I am not kidding!  God just concluded my aircraft writing on this story with an aviation song.  Incredible!  Thank you God, in Jesus name, Amen.) 


Maybe there is a lesson or moral in all of this that the reader can use.  Blessings to you, Warren



Another C-123 story.  Hauling an engine for a KC-97 from Shilling AFB, Salina , Kansas, out to March AFB, Riverside, California, again at night, when we were transiting an area in northern New Mexico that had a minimum flight altitude of about 15,000 feet (this included the 2000 feet vertical clearance above the nearest mountain within about 35 miles of the airway), and we could only get about 13,500 out of the aircraft.  Fortunately, it was a clear night and we didn't run into any unexpected clouds.  We couldn't see the terrain in the dark but we could see the horizon faintly.  We didn't want to put on oxygen masks (Air Force Regulations say, “Oxygen above 10,000 feet”), and I'm not sure we even had some on board, so we would take a few drags on the end of the oxygen hose to help keep our eyesight reasonably sharp and keep us from getting a bit hypoxic.  Major (I don't remember his name) had just lost his little boy of age 4 or 5 to an illness and he was kind of "down."  We went to a club on "E" street in Riverside the next evening while we waited to return some ground crew people to Schilling from March who were there for some training.  "E" for Easy was my memory aid.  It was a strip joint.  We had a few beers or some such and Major (?) did lighten up a bit after the tragedy in his family.  If we had lost an engine on that flight over New Mexico at night with the terrain clearance as it was, we would have been in deep dodo.  Interestingly, that aircraft did lose an engine about two weeks after we returned from March.  It happened to some other pilots, and they had to put it down somewhere in Missouri, Whiteman AFB I believe.  That was about 40 hours after we returned to Schilling on that flight across New Mexico with that heavy engine on board that reduced our altitude ability in those northern mountains.  That was 4 or 5 flights after our trip.


Another C-123 story is the full flaps landing at Schilling.  We always used half flaps on landing as a full flap setting was for operating at or near the edge of the performance envelope.  I was in the left seat and an Instructor Pilot (IP) was in the right seat.  I had just successfully completed a check ride which is a normal periodic evaluation by an IP (or Flight Examiner).  Apparently due to a favorable impression of my performance, as we returned to the airfield the IP asked, “Want to do a full flap landing?”  Does a kid want candy?  I smiled and nodded and the IP cleared it with the Tower, so they would know what was going on, as the maneuver is unusual (to say the least), and as a courtesy because the Tower is in charge of the airfield and especially the air traffic and the runways.  Besides, the IP may have wanted an audience.  We also had an audience in an aircraft (I believe it was a KC-97 tanker) that was holding in Number One position, waiting to takeoff as soon as we landed and cleared the runway.  So instead of having a moderately descending final approach from a couple of miles out, we approached the landing end of the runway at traffic pattern altitude of 1,200 feet.  At 120 knots (ten knots above single engine control speed), as the threshold of the runway was going under our nose, the IP called, “Gear Down” and lowered the landing gear, then, “Full Flaps” and dropped the flaps to full down, I reduced the power to idle, and pointed the nose down, and I mean “down!”  That Medium Transport assumed a flight path steeper than a dive bomber.  I felt that if I stood up out of my seat I would be standing on the rudder pedals instead of the floor.  With a 15 to 18 knot headwind right down the runway our forward progress was nil.  I pointed the nose at the big white numbers 35 on the end of the runway and we came down like an elevator.  The IP talked me through this and told me when to round-out and to watch my airspeed as the airspeed indicator unwinds very rapidly with all that drag from the full flaps.  As we touched down on the main gear I heard, “Drop the nose” and as the nose gear contacted the runway he said, “Reverse” and “Brakes.”  I went into full reverse on the props, pressed hard on the brakes, and I don’t believe our landing roll exceeded the length of a football field.  As our speed dropped to almost zero on the runway, we had to un-reverse and apply power to exit at the first turn-off to the taxiway.  We both knew we had put on a show and that the crew of the Number One aircraft was probably sitting there with their mouths open, saying, “Did you see that?!” and shaking their heads and saying, “I don’t believe it!”  That maneuver is a confidence builder and while I didn’t think I could put the 123 down on a helicopter pad, I was pretty confident about any future short-field landings.


A couple of other stories could include changing runways on short final. I think my copilot might have had a bit of a scare when we were cleared to land at a civilian field that had parallel runways (maybe Columbus, Ohio, or Cleveland). It was night and dark and we only had the usual sprinkling of lights you might experience near the business end of any runway plus the runway lights ahead. From the tower I was cleared to land on runway (blank-blank) right and about a mile out on a short final, they cleared me to runway (blank-blank) left.  I knew we wanted left because it was closer to the area we wanted to taxi to, so I banked left, then right, at about two or three hundred feet altitude and lined up perfectly with the left runway.  I said to my copilot, "I hope I didn't scare you on that change of runway" as we flew across some power pole wires and a road at the end of the runway.  He answered, "Oh, no."  But I knew he was just being a good aviator and wouldn't let on his real feelings to me and that he had never been in that kind of landing before. I really lined up with the left runway like I knew what I was doing, like a real pro.  I'm not sure that it wasn't just luck, but I like to think it was skill.  I wonder what the tower personnel and anyone else who might have been watching thought about this guy flying at night and all they see is his clearance lights and landing lights visible and here he is banking to the left and lining up with another runway on short final.  Probably thought "that guy should have been a fighter pilot or is a fighter pilot misplaced in a transport aircraft."  Or maybe, "That guy must be a hellova assault aircraft pilot the way he brought that in."  (Probably only in my dreams!  But I can dream, can’t I?)  That was another confidence builder, but my confidence building was always within the personal standard I flew by, which was, “There are old pilots and there are bold pilots but there are no old, bold pilots.”  Said another way, its okay to expand your ability but don’t exceed your ability.  However, pilots will be pilots!  Bless them all.


With a little more skill and luck (or bad luck- your choice) I might have been qualified to be one of the Ravens operating in Laos for the CIA.  Incidentally, the word got out by the grapevine that the Air Force was looking for C-123 pilots who wanted to volunteer for a 6-month hitch in Southeast Asia, presumably Viet Nam.  But, now that I think about it, since it was just word-of-mouth grapevine, and you were supposed to check with someone at Base Ops, maybe it was an initial screening for 123 jocks to join the Ravens.  Hmmm, maybe I missed out by thinking about it for 24 hours before deciding not to be a volunteer.  My first thought was that some combat experience would look good in my file (I was a regular officer set for a career at the time - was my number 66208A?? - I've forgotten now) and I could use the extra $65 per month combat pay.  But, I realized that a guy could get himself killed over there.  Had I heard what the Ravens were paid over there I certainly would have been tempted - they got 3 to 6 times my Air Force pay I believe. 


But just like you come to a realization, after you make a few mistakes in any airplane, you could get killed in this job!  And when you know of someone getting killed or see the smoke plume of a crash sight, or the somber atmosphere around a base when it has experienced a fatal crash.  It is one of those gut-feeling realizations that "this isn't fun-and-games, kids, this is the real thing!"  Under the circumstances, I don't think I would have taken on that kind of assignment in Laos with the Ravens or Air America having a wife with 2 kids and one in the hanger.


Then there was the time we were coming back from a trip to one of the civilian airports where the bombers had dispersed during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  It was about 2am and we were over Kansas City and I made a position report probably to Kansas City Center while everyone in the airplane was asleep, including the crew chief, the load master, and my copilot. The C-123 didn't have an autopilot so it was all hand flying in those days.  I was the only one awake on the airplane and I was having a heck of a time staying awake.  Head nodding, eyes rolling, trying to keep everything together, so we all could get home.  It was a memorable time.  I flew 102 hours in the C-123 in 14 days.  That's a lot of flying, especially when I had five days off during that 14-day period.  Today (Wed., Jan. 18, 2006) I was watching some TV coverage about General Curtiss LeMay operating from the Marianas Islands during the Spring and Summer of 1945.  The program stated that LeMay upped the maximum flying time of his flight crews flying B-29's from Saipan, Tinian, and Guam to 80 hours per month from 60 hours per month.  This, of course, resulted in the typical GI griping.  In contrast, I flew 25% more hours (102 hours) in half the time (14 days), with 5 days when I had no flights at all.  Admittedly, his crews were logging combat time but most of their flights were over open ocean with probably less than 1 hour per mission (at 320mph, assuming 160 miles going in and coming out was within fighter/interceptor range) of combat exposure.  I’ll have to admit, the best time I had in the Air Force was during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  We had a purpose, we had a job to do (fly support for the dispersed bombers, their flight crews and their maintenance crews), we flew to different locations frequently, and we just flew our butts off - in the air all the time.  And we really flew - as I stated earlier, the C-123 at that time didn't have an autopilot.


We got pretty good at holding our heading and our altitude.  I remember one day during that period, I was in the right seat flying the airplane.  I had my elbows on my thighs and I was cradling the yoke between my thumb and forefinger with an ever-so-gentle touch. The other pilot was turned around in the left seat talking to another pilot who was a passenger.  As they talked, my pilot made a couple of head-gestures toward me and my flying performance to the passenger pilot he was talking to.  Their interest was the gauges, primarily the altimeter and the rate of climb indicator.  I had them wired!  I was holding altitude within about 20 feet which is barely a movement on the altimeter and the same for the rate of climb indicator, the kind of locked-in needle stability only an autopilot will give you.  I've had that airplane so balanced that if I felt the nose start to come up just ever-so-slightly, I knew some guy in the cargo compartment had gotten up and was moving to the rear of the airplane.  From the balance point under the core of the wing, someone could move back about 5 or 6 feet to look out a window or do something and you could immediately feel it on the controls.


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In primary pilot training my first aircraft was the T-34. It was essentially a Beechcraft Bonanza with tandem seating for two and a conventional tail assembly - horizontal stabilizers and a vertical fin with rudder - as opposed to the Bonanza's V-tail.  (More on this phase of my flying experiences later.)  Also the T-28.


Can you believe this?!  Here it is, Tuesday, February 19, 2008, and I just now realized that just prior to my arrival at three flying facilities, an aircraft and its crew had been lost from that installation or, in the case of Bartow Air Base (not Air Force Base), a civilian contract flying school used exclusively by the Air Force for Primary pilot training, a few weeks before (Instructor Ives and a student had a mid-air collision resulting in the loss of the other Instructor, student, and aircraft (a T-28).  However, just a couple of days before or after I arrived there, Pinecastle AFB in Orlando, just 45 miles away, lost its Wing Commander, Colonel Michael McCoy, and three others in a B-47 accident.  I never put the events together before.  I’m somewhat astounded at this late realization and I sit here somewhat puzzled as I try to figure out what significance that has, if any, but certainly a coincidence, and a feeling of strange awareness of putting this all together.  Ives, whose table with students was right next to ours, that of Paul Miller (NMI) – no middle initial – our instructor, had the mid-air in the class just preceding ours as I remember it.  Our class was 59-D so that must have been 59-C.  We had no accidents nor significant incidents and were congratulated by the head honchos who, I believe, received a bonus if there were no accidents.  Anyway, besides Ives, there was the McCoy accident within a few days of arrival at Bartow.  When I went to Vance AFB, Enid, Oklahoma, the base had lost an aircraft the night before we arrived. 


Our first night there we stayed in a motel as did several other arriving trainees and around the swimming pool in the afternoon there was a lot of buzz about the loss of a T-33 and the Instructor and student.  They went down in a thunderstorm near Ponca City.  It was called “get home-itis”, meaning they ignored wise safety precautions and flew into the thunderstorm trying to get home rather than diverting to another base.  For all these years, that is the only one I recognized as a “lost aircraft” just before I arrived.  But sitting here now, I realize the McCoy accident was about the time I arrived in Central Florida, and I also remembered the somewhat avoided subject of Ives mid-air.  And now I also remember that just before I arrived at Davis-Monthan AFB, Tucson, Arizona, they lost a B-47 as it returned to D-M around midnight a day or two before I arrived.  I was assigned to the 303rd Bomb Wing and the lost aircraft belonged to the other Bomb Wing that was stationed there at the time.  That Wing was relocated or dissolved about 6 or 7 months after we arrived freeing up a lot of on-base housing and Alberta and I – a new 1st Lt. with very little seniority to qualify for on-base housing – were able to move on base which was highly desirable over living off base, which was significantly more expensive. 


The lost B-47 had dropped down earlier in their flight to 10,000 feet altitude, probably to refuel behind a KC-97, prop-type tanker, (remember, this is at night, desert darkness, ground not visible) and the crew apparently forgot they were at the lower altitude when they began their penetration (a teardrop – out and back – maneuver to bring the aircraft down from altitude for landing).  All penetrations were started from 20,000 feet altitude and were headed outbound from the desired landing field with a turn initiated at about 10,000 feet (above ground) turned the aircraft back toward the landing area.  This maneuver covered about 50 miles of ground while the aircraft descended with the landing gear down to induce a lot of drag.  The aircraft was so streamlined that it was difficult to get it down otherwise.  As I recall (after 45 years has elapsed) we slowed the aircraft at altitude (20,000 feet), lowered the landing gear, then flew our teardrop penetration at 270 knots.  Well, this unfortunate (and apparently inattentive – see Note below) crew began their penetration at 10,000 feet and went into the Santa Rita Mountains, south of D-M about 50 miles, at 270 knots.  It was reported that a highway patrolman south of Tucson, saw the fireball as the aircraft hit the mountain.


Soon the investigation turned up the fact that the aircraft had reduced altitude somewhere back in their flight profile and nowhere could the investigators determine that they had climbed back up to 20,000 feet.  The altimeter has 2 needles and a triangular marker on the perimeter of the face.  It’s one of those things where “the big hand is on the seven and the little hand is on the three” type of thing.  The big hand reads the hundreds of feet and the little hand reads the thousands of feet.  The face has numbers from 0 through 9, spaced around the face similar to a clock.  If the little hand goes all the way around to 0, you are at 10,000 feet, at which time the triangular marker has moved along the perimeter to the 1 position, meaning 10,000 feet.  On the little hand’s second trip around the face and back to 0, you are at 20,000 feet and the triangular marker has moved to the 2.  A new procedure was initiated after the investigation and we put it into practice within a few days of the accident.  All three crew positions had an altimeter and we were required to coordinate the readings on our altimeters over the intercom before penetration.  “The ten-thousand foot marker is on the two, the thousand foot marker is on the zero and hundred marker on the one” or some such. The crash just before I got to the base resulted in that new checklist procedure which I believe was initiated SAC-wide.  So, every base I went to when my primary job was flying, had an accident just before I got there.  Strange.  I’m thinking this is somewhat uncommon.  Also strange that I didn’t put this all together until just this evening.  I don’t know what to make if it.  Gotta quit now, its 12:33 AM, Wednesday, February 20, 2008.  I’ve been writing since about 8:10 this evening.  Finished the Leaving Fresno note to the Joggers and then realized the phenomenon about the bases and lost aircraft.  I’m still shaking my head over this.  This dates back to early November, 1957, then June, 1958, then September or October, 1959.  Come to think of it, I was at McConnell AFB, Wichita, Kansas, and I never heard of a recent crash there before I arrived.  Well, 3 out of 4.  I’ve written about 1,100 words on this tonight.  From 6,355 to 7,459. 


Note: Can you imagine the inattentiveness of these guys?  Three crew members, all with their head up their ass at the same time!  Cost them their lives.


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An email answer to Bernie Giannell regarding an email where he wrote to me, “Glad you saved the day!”



Hi Bernie, I think that is a "Mighty Mouse" phrase.  I should have used that at the end of my email as I always liked Mighty Mouse.  That would have been something, to paint a picture of Mighty Mouse on the nose of a C-124 (like the old B-17's of WWII with their nose art) and under it print out "We Are Here To Save The Day."  What a way to motivate the crew and get a few laughs from the ground crews when we landed.  We might have   substituted "We Are Here To Save The World."  That would have been even more tongue-in-cheek.


Some of the C-124's would have had to put Mighty Mouse leaning on crutches as a symbol of our reliability in getting into the air.  How many times were we on one of those airplanes and either had an airborne emergency (wobbling prop, lost an engine, etc.) or were broke on the ground and we had to pound the ramp for 2 or 3 hours before we got into the air? 


I remember being at Clark AB in the Philippines headed for Tan San Ute (??? I don't know how to spell in Vietnamese) near Saigon and the airplane was broke.  With a 6 hours ramp time maximum before required crew rest, the plane came into condition after 5 hours and 45 minutes so we were committed to go rather than go back into crew rest.  Off we went, "Into the wild blue yonder" going in on "Green" (and later coming out on "Red" - or "Blue" or something - or the other way around, remember they gave the airways going in and out a color name?).  Anyway, we took off in late afternoon, arrived at Tan San Ute about midnight and the area was so active and crowded that we were required to unload and get off the ground in about 2 hours. 


Bill Welker (the navigator) and I wanted to get some sleep but we dare not lay on the ground anywhere as we might get run over so we climbed up on a 4-foot high stack of lumber and tried to sleep but we really couldn't because it was so noisy - airplanes at three different traffic-pattern altitudes (the fast-movers about 1500 feet, the transports, etc. about 1000 feet and the puddle-jumpers -O1's, O2's, utility aircraft, etc. - about 500 feet, or some separation such as that) and all the traffic patterns were in use even in the middle of the night.  Fortunately, nobody came by with a forklift and decided to move the lumber we were on or we might still be there! 


Colonel Michael or someone else, had to start either 2 or all 4 engines, put the props in reverse, and "gun" the throttles to back that sucker up from our parking place to get on the taxiway, in the dark, with ground crew using flashlights to signal and the pilot couldn't see "back" , not even a rearview mirror!  They got it back about 150 feet on the taxiway without incident, not going too fast, not hitting the brakes too hard which could cause the tail to pivot on the main gear and hit the ground (like a kids "see-saw") and no "broke airplane" that time, so we got out of there as required.  A Mighty Mouse painted on the nose under those circumstances would have been great!  We recovered to Mactan Island in the Philippines arriving in late morning, about 10 or 11 AM, got into a crew bus which then drove onto an old WWII, questionably seaworthy, landing craft and powered across the water to Cebu Island where we checked into the Magellan Hotel in Cebu City


The landing craft had a flat, drop-down door that was like a ramp to drive in and out of the boat.  The door didn't seal water-tight and you could lean out of the window of the bus and see water splashing through the seam between the boat wall and the retracted door/ramp.  There was enough to cause everyone in the bus to look out and see the water coming into the landing craft.  It was a bit unnerving.  (We survived going in and out of the war zone and now might sink and drown in the crew bus!)  Fortunately one of the enlisted men had a quart of whiskey in a brown paper bag that was passed around - twice - and we all took a big hit straight from the bottle.  With very little sleep and food, the booze got to us quickly, and we soon disregarded the water coming into the boat.  There was a "C'est la vie", what ever will be, will be, attitude that soon prevailed. The Filipinos manning the boat were unconcerned and we landed on Cebu Island without incident.  Did you ever fly that route, Hickam, Wake, Guam, Clark, Tan San Ute, Mactan, Guam, Wake, Hickam, Travis??  I did that one once.   It was about a 12 day trip. 


As a side note, Col. Michael got mad at the slow service in the hotel dining room the next morning.  Our crew bus arrived to pick us up and our breakfast that we ordered hadn't been served yet.  Regardless, Michael said let's go, we had to pay for our breakfast that we didn't get, got on the plane, over-flew Guam and landed at Wake Island well after dark where we finally got something to eat.  There were no flight lunches on board so we flew about 14 hours (as I recall) before we got some food and we started without breakfast.  Somebody had a

box of soda crackers and shared them among the people aboard (I'm not sure if they gave Col. Michael any) so everybody got 2 or 3 crackers.  Oh the joys of a hard-nosed commander. 


Well anyway, I thought you might like to read and reminisce about "the good ol' days" and a trip that would have been a little more complete with a Mighty Mouse painted on the nose.  I am also somewhat-of-a-fan of Underdog!  That also would have fit on the nose of a C-124!  But I'll let my musings on that possibility wait for another email.  I hope you read through my story and received a bit of good nostalgia as you progressed.  Stay well, active and happy, as all of us "good-ol'-flyboys" should do, Warren


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This is an email between Bernie Giannell (Lt. Col. USAFR, Ret.), a longtime friend and fellow USAF reservist. October 15, 2008.  I answered an email “puzzle” that he forwarded to me, see “Subject” below.


Glad you saved the day!

Sent: Tuesday, October 14, 2008 12:42 AM



Bernie, I just about didn't read this email because I thought you sent it to me by mistake!  "Intelligent" friends?  Since when do I fall into the class of "intelligent??!!"  Oh well, I felt I would take a peek into the way the other half lives because no one would know if I read it as an imposter or not.


Anyway, I got it within about 25 seconds.  Only the way I spotted it was to drop the first letter and the rest of the word was the same, backwards and forwards.  Under those circumstances if you insist on placing the dropped first letter at the back and read it backwards, that apparently was the answer as the ultimate goal.  However, I was practically there by discarding the first letter and seeing the forward/backward similarity.  So, us dummies can now be called "intelligent" maybe. 


You can send my certificate and diploma for graduating from "dummy" classification to "intelligent" classification to my email address so I can frame it and display it prominently.  I'm glad I made it before I get too old.  I might have died and on my tombstone they would have chiseled, "Rest in Peace, You Dummy".  Now they can leave off the "You Dummy" part.


All for now, Warren



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Another story.  During Basic Pilot Training at Vance AFB, Enid, Oklahoma, a student pilot on a solo flight crashed at the end of the runway one morning.  I believe he was one class behind my group.  He and a flight of four other aircraft had been on a formation training flight.  From what I heard, he was considered an up-and-comer, and was holding good formation position as a fairly new student of that skill.  He probably was mishandling the throttle and causing the engine to be subjected to unreasonable stresses to hold good position as a new pilot to that skill.  Anyway, whatever happened we will never know.  As the flight was returning they positioned themselves with proper spacing on approaching the field (on the “45” to the Initial, and about that time this student pilot called a “red light engine on fire” and elected to do a straight in approach rather than take the time to fly the Initial leg, go through a pitch pattern, and proceed to land as we always do.  Either way would have been curtains under the circumstances.  Another option would be to eject (bail out).  Probably 5% of pilots put in that position would have elected to eject.  Ninety-five percent would opt for a straight in approach and landing.  And the ninety-five percent would have been wrong!  The tail burned off the airplane according to the student’s flight instructor who was in another aircraft in the flight of four and observed the situation.  The tail come off a few hundred feet above the ground and the aircraft crashed a few hundred feet short of the runway.  That was when I became familiar with the black column of smoke that results from an aircraft crash.  I was in our flight room where we met with our instructors when I heard about the crash.  I went outside and saw the smoke.  About 20 minutes later I heard the instructor in the outer hall coming into his flight room next to ours and someone asked him about his student and the instructor said in a disgusted voice, “Nah! He’s dead!”  Three words that I still distinctly remember.


We were advised by the Flight Leader, I belief his name was Captain Sontag, to call our wives and not say anything about the crash but just call so they know we are here.  I called Alberta and said Hi, just thought I would call and say Hi cause I had a few minutes.  She was obviously puzzled about the call since I never called when I was out at the base.  The point was that in case she heard on the radio or on TV that there had been a crash, that she would know that it didn’t affect her and her family.  So that was one of the memories I have of Basic Training that should be recorded.


I also should record that my instructor was 1Lt. Darby Clendennon.  He didn’t think too much of my formation flying “in trail’.  I was quite good at standard formation flying, wing tip to wing tip.  But when following another aircraft close and staying with him, Clendennon did not think I was doing well.  About this time I flew with another instructor for some reason, either to see if there was something he could teach me or maybe Clendennon wasn’t available or he was flying with one of the other students (Tom Schucott or  ?? Welch) and I was available for this instructor.  So we went up and joined in a formation flight.  I was put into a “trail formation” situation and aced it.  I damned near flew up the lead’s tailpipe and was right on his ass the whole time.  When we got back I was rated an A+ in trail formation.  I knew I was good at it.  Clendennon just didn’t give me a chance to show my aggressive flying abilities.  The subject never came up again.

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