Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Well Done

Click Image to see the full article published October 1962
Where do I start with this another chapter in our Air Force life? I thought it might be interesting to talk about another ordinary day in our life in England and how better to do that than to develop a story that actually happened and had visibility of two similar but different sides.  We were assigned to the 47th Bomb Wing that consisted of 4 flying squadrons.  There was the 420th Air Refueling Squadron, (KB-50J's) the 84th, 85th and 86th Bombardment Squadrons flying the B-66B Destroyer.  I was lucky enough to be assigned to the 86th--always thought it was the best but then those that belonged to any of the other squadrons would argue that they held that spot in the grand scheme of things.  Truth be known we were all good and did the Air Force proud.  August 8, 1961 wasn't much different than any other day.  Our squadron was assigned the morning flying period and I was on that day's schedule for a standard flight that probably consisted of invading France and making a bomb run on Niece and then back to London Bomb Plot and if I had any luck there would be a tanker available for hook ups.  As I recall, it was a somewhat bleak and windy day (typical of this part of England) our briefing that morning consisted of weather and guidance from the Operations Officer, George O'Neil a salty WWII officer who appeared hard as nails but always looked after his troops.  After the briefing, my crew Fred Shaffer the Bombardier/Navigator and the Gunner, (his name escapes me for now) grabbed out parachute, helmets and professional kits, we boarded the crew bus and were dropped off at the hard stand to preflight the aircraft and prepare for flight.  I check hooked up the ships battery, did an interior check and did a visual walk around inspection.  I hooked up the drag chute and climbed aboard.  I loved that airplane, I strapped in and we ran the checklists, started the engines, got taxi clearance and away we went.  It was a normal day and a normal flight or at least it started that way.

  The clouds were hanging low, the usual for where we lived and the wind was picking up.  As I remember, it was a brisk wind from what I remember out of the west.  Anyway it was a left crosswind and I would have to compensate for it during the takeoff roll on runway 31. I was cleared for takeoff and taxied onto the runway and did a rolling takeoff.  Engines normal and airspeed was building--hey Vance remember to compensate for the cross wind-- really that came naturally but I did think about it.  A little left aileron and then all of a sudden the right wing abruptly dropped and I immediately picked it up and said to myself,  "sure hope Major O'Neil didn't see that"  then it was rotate and off into the morning gloom.  I retracted the gear and flaps then checked the hydraulics and all was Ops Normal.  Nothing to do now but to contact Anglia Control (the departure radar) until I departed the UK for France.  At 10,000 feet we contacted our Squadron Operations to report Operations Normal and our remaining fuel status.  With that report we would be on our way for another routine training mission.  When I called in with my report Fred Wright acknowledged and said "standby one" then there was a pause--this was followed Fred saying "Daveeeee", "ah, did you have any problems on takeoff" and my response was a crisp "Negative" everything seemed OK.  Of course my immediate thought was Oh S---t!  George saw my wing drop and he is going to chew on me for letting the cross wind get to me.  Major O'Neil was a very good Operations Officer but he could really get a piece of you from time to time and I was afraid that this young Lieutenant was going to share a piece of his anatomy with George.  Then there came another "Standby".  I continued toward France and stayed on the squadron frequency wondering what in the world would come next.  Then after what seemed like an eternity, Fred came back on and said that they found one of my wheels and they wanted me to return to the VOR (a radio navigation aid) and establish a max endurance holding pattern till they could decide what to do.  I switched back and forth between the squadron and Anglia Control and turned back to the VOR to comply with their instructions.  Fred told me that Major O'Neil would come up in a T-Bird (T-33) to check me out.  So I waited at the VOR for further guidance and Major O'Neil.  Soon I was joined by a T-33 and Major George O'Neil to see what would come next.  While we were holding in a two minute circuit I was watching a huge squall line with obvious thunder storms developing to the Southwest and it seemed to be moving in the direction of the base at a good clip.  Major O'Neil had me lower the gear and subsequently evaluated the damage from his vantage point of close formation flying.  Based upon his assessment we would develop our next plan which was to get the bird back on the ground.  I guess there were broken brake disk parts in the fuselage and elevator from when the wheel came off and the wing dipped.  Apparently it, the brake rotors and discs, exploded into many little pieces but the strut and all of the hydraulic lines were intact--really lucky! 

Well, now the dye was cast and we were to descend, lower the gear and do low approaches until our fuel was down to 5,000 pounds.  Not a bad idea but that squall line was rapidly moving North and toward the base--I knew that it had strong winds and heavy rain, turbulence and who knows what else associated with it and I really wanted to get on the ground before it hit.  We made what was called a jet penetration from 20,000 feet and contacted the Ground Controlled Approach (GCA) about 13 miles Northeast of the field.  I lowered some flaps and the gear when inbound to the airport to burn the fuel as rapidly as possible.  I really wanted to get on the ground and kept telling the powers that be that a storm was rapidly approaching--yes they knew and were keeping an eye on it--maybe they were but I was watching it closer and would be a bur under their saddle till they cleared me to land.  I think I made about three or four very low approaches (50 feet or so) followed by a go around and then set up for another.   On what I determined to be my last low approach before my attempt to land I noticed that the storm was just a few miles away and moving toward me at a fast clip.  As I applied power to go around I was in the heart of what I really didn't want to be in--My thunder storms, the squall line had arrived with a vengeance.  It was raining hard, we were being tossed around like a ball and now I didn't have enough fuel left to wait it (the storm) out.  "OH Sh--t"!! now what?  Well that was obvious, I was to rendezvous with a tanker (Photo Below) and pick up another 5,000 pounds of fuel.  Well that should be easy and I was very good at getting the tanker--just fly formation and it was a snap. 

My aircraft, the B-66B had what was called a probe that stuck out in front of the aircraft about 5 feet and the tanker had rubber hoses with a three foot round basket that trailed behind the aircraft.  The process was to roll out about 60 feet or so of hose behind the tanker and the bomber would stick the probe into the basket to complete the hookup and take fuel.  Did I tell you that the air was turbulent from guess what, the storm?  Did I mention that the basket behind the tanker was bouncing around in different directions than my aircraft was?  Well I missed my first try and I was trying to second guess where the basket would be for the next attempt.  My Nav was a little anxious and chided me to get on with it.  I moved in close and timed the basket movement with my next stab and I made the connection.  We bounced along at 5,000 feet till I got enough fuel to wait out the storm and set up for the final approach and landing.

As I remember it, I started the final approach from about 13 miles and we were in the clouds at a thousand feet.  The GCA guys were guiding me for the approach and landing that was going to be a little different in that the right wheel assembly was missing.  Now with the front past the wind favored runway 13 and the cross wind was from the right.  I wasn't going to go around again, I was intent on landing and setting foot on Terra Firma.  The GCA shack was in the infield to my right and at about 10 miles the controllers asked if I was visual yet and I said negative.  Then they requested that I inform them as soon as I saw the runway so they could vacate the GCA shack.  I, of course, agreed and understood that they wanted to avoid being trapped in the shack should the aircraft veer right upon landing and hit their shack.  With the right wheel gone there was concern that the aircraft right strut would dig into the tarmac and spin off to the right infield.  I laughed to myself thinking that such a thing would never happen but that I would be happy to oblige.  I called runway contact at about three miles out and subsequently chuckled when several men ran from the GCA shack to a waiting Morris Minor that whisked them to safety, it looked like a circus act of some sort and it made me smile.  Well, I continued the approach and touched down on the left side of the runway at about 135 Knots, deployed the drag chute, shut the left engine down and held the right wing up till I was running out of speed.  I was still going straight down the runway when I lowered the right wing and the right strut and wingtip touched the tarmac.  I had full left brake to keep from going to far to the right then the aircraft was starting to rotate around to my left toward the oncoming fire trucks.  I was now turning left onto an inactive runway and appeared to be slowly chasing the fire response team away from me--I had to laugh out loud again! It was about then, with the right wing on the ground that I heard a bang, the gunner hatch flew off and I saw the gunner running down the wing as the aircraft continued to slow toward a stop.  His parachute was banging behind his knees--he was soon followed by the navigator and I watched them hit the ground and keep on running.  Guess they were afraid that there was going to be a big bang or a fire or something bad.  Well, there I was, probably a little shook  but making sure that I did a proper shut down so Major O'Neil wouldn't chew my a--.  I guess I didn't realize how long I spent trying to do everything right.  Then Don Keating, the assistant Operations Officer climbed up the right wing into the cockpit and said "get your ass out of here I will make sure things are shut down".  I did get out and don't remember if I used the belly hatch or the right wing as a walkway.  I really don't remember much about after we were on the ground other than I had to write a statement before leaving the squadron and in the next day or so had to take a check ride so I could go flying again.  Seems that we did everything right and there was no criticism that I remember--even Major O'Neil didn't chew me out.  Guess we did OK.

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