Captain Mike Daciek’s stories

Captain Mike Daciek’s stories
Captain Mike Daciek’s stories

TIMING

By

Michael R. Daciek

I turned my head to glare at my new flight instructor. You retard, I thought. This isn’t a negative perspiration situation!

He poked a rigid finger at the cockpit windshield and barked: “Don’t look at me, watch for other planes!”

We were cruising a thousand feet above the Texas desert in a B25, a twinengine retread from World War II. It was August, at least a hundred and ten degrees in the trainer, and my flight suit was soaked. I wiped my brow with the back of my hand.

I glanced briefly out the corner of my eye at my soul mate, Buck Stone, sitting on the jumpseat. Let Buck try this sweatbox! I wanted to shout at Captain Lance Kelly, our instructor.

Without warning, for the sixth time since our early morning takeoff, Old Dragon Breath retarded a throttle to simulate an engine loss and called, “Engine failure!”

Instantly the left engine, still at cruise power, began pulling the plane to our right. I shoved in full left rudder to compensate, pushed both fuel mixtures to rich; the propellers to full increase, and advanced the left throttle to Maximum power.

After confirming the right engine had failed, I pointed at the button to feather its propeller. If Kelly nodded, I’d push it and stop the prop blades knife-like to the wind for minimum drag.

“That’s enough,” Kelly said, reaching for the flight controls. “I’ve got it. Climb out. Give Stone a chance.”

Kelly began flying the plane, brought the right engine to cruise power, and I unstrapped.

The next morning at our briefing table, Kelly asked me if I was ready to solo.

“I was born ready, sir!” I answered, cross checking Buck’s eyes, catching his nod.

“Good,” said Captain Kelly, handing me a flight plan form. “You are scheduled for takeoff at zero-eight-hundred, in aircraft Seven-Eleven. Stone will be with you. Mike, you fly in the left seat as aircraft commander.”

He stood up quickly and said, “Enjoy.” He spun on his heel and left the flight shack.

Grabbing Buck’s arm, I whispered, “Let’s go terrorize the natives.”

Excitement rose as we approached our aircraft. Buck started the external walk-around and I climbed up the ladder into Seven-Eleven, moved forward to the cockpit, and slipped into the left seat. Buck soon followed, settling into the co-pilot’s seat, grinning like a little boy in a candy factory.

“What’s up? I asked.

“Ain’t this just heaven?” Buck said, staring out the window. “Imagine, seventy-two piston engines all firing at the same time. That tower operator is going to be busier than a one-legged man in a 100 meter dash. I love it!”

We completed the “Before Starting” checklist and I pushed the starter button. Left engine start was normal, but number two, on our right, took many more cranks and finally ran in sync.

We taxied to position for engine runup among three dozen B25s, angled at forty-five degrees, perfectly spaced like racehorses at the starting gate.

SevenEleven,” radioed the Goodfellow controller. “You’re cleared for takeoff.”

“Roger Tower,” transmitted Buck. I steered to the white runway centerline, advancing both throttles, the engines reaching maximum power. Buck pointed at the right fuel pressure, indicating low, but within limits.

We broke ground and climbed rapidly.

“Gear up, flaps up, climb power,” I requested.

I eased the throttles back an inch and Buck reset the props. I pointed to the right fuel pressure gauge. It had dropped below normal.

We traded glances, and I leaned to tap the glass on the gauge. The needle dropped to zero. Damn!

The engine was still running smoothly, which suggested a faulty gauge, but I was convinced there was a leak.

“It doesn’t figure,” said Buck. “The engine’s running normally. So what’s with that needle?”

“I don’t know for sure, but let’s keep climbing,” I answered. “We might need the altitude.”

As we ascended, Buck scanned the aircraft systems manual for information on fuel leaks. My mind raced, suddenly realizing that this one could be for real!

“Remember what they taught in ground school about fuel leaks?” I asked.

“Extend the gear,” Buck answered.

“Precisely, my dear Watson,” I said, both of us nodding.

“The gear down creates suction effect,” recalled Buck, “drawing any fumes inside the cockpit.”

Cruising at eight thousand feet I mentally reviewed my single-engine procedures.

“If we smell fumes, don’t retard the right throttle,” Buck cautioned.

“Thanks, Buck.” His warning was a good one. We didn’t want to disrupt the airflow across the engine for fear of igniting fumes. I took a deep breath, signaled down with my thumb, and said, “Gear down.”

Fuel fumes instantly filled the cockpit! I reached for the right mixture, pulled it to idle cutoff, and pointed at the right fuel valve.

Buck twisted it off, the engine shut down, and my left leg tensed. I was pushing on the left rudder to compensate for yaw, an uncoordinated turn.

“Feather number two,” I said.

Buck poked the feathering button and the right engine shuddered, but its prop continued to spin.

“It didn’t feather!” yelled Buck.

“No kidding, Dick Tracy!” I exclaimed, imagining the windmilling prop throwing us out of control.

Buck leaned forward, twisting to his right. “It’s still windmilling!” he shouted. “There’s too much drag!” His skin was flushed and the veins in his neck bulged.

“Gear up!” I yelled. Streamlining the aircraft would reduce the drag.

“Hold her straight,” Buck motioned with his left hand toward twelve o’clock. “We’re still turning.”

“I’m standing on the rudder,” I said, my leg fully extended, the rudder bottomed out. “We have to trade power and altitude for control.”

“Gotcha,” Buck answered, through clenched teeth.

By manipulating airspeed and power, we were able to control the yaw and head straight for Goodfellow.

Buck looked dubious. “We can’t make it descending a thousand feet a minute, Mike. Wanna bail out?”

“No way, Jose,” I said. “Let’s slow it down till she approaches stall. Reduced air flow against that prop might be just enough to allow it to feather.”

Airspeed decreased rapidly as I stopped our vertical descent, but I could feel a bucking motion in the controls–the first indication of a stall. Will my chute open? I wondered, tightening my straps.

As the aircraft surged forward and the yaw to the right reversed, our airspeed increased suddenly. It felt like a roller coaster ride traveling full speed downhill.

Buck twisted to his right looking out the window. “The prop feathered!” he reported, motioning with thumbs up.

“Hot damn!” I shouted. “Let’s get this baby on the ground!”

“Goodfellow, this is SevenEleven,” transmitted Buck. “We’re declaring an emergency. Our right engine’s shut down due to a fuel leak. We lost fuel pressure.  Have fumes in the cockpit.”

“Roger, SevenEleven. What’s your position?”

“We’re at five thousand feet, twenty miles northwest, inbound to Goodfellow. Estimate pattern entry in ten minutes.”

“Seven-Eleven, say fuel remaining and number of souls on board,” requested the controller.

“Two solo SOBs,” Buck answered, smirking, “and two thousand pounds fuel.”

     “Roger, SevenEleven,” the operator said, pausing. “We’ll alert the crash crew.  Winds are two-five-zero degrees at ten knots. Active runway is two-one. Altimeter is 30.01. Cleared for approach and landing.”

“SevenEleven, Roger,” Buck answered.

As Buck talked to the tower, I thought about the critical point when making a singleengine landing. When I put the flaps down at three hundred feet and one hundred forty-five miles per hour, we were committed. No go-around possible. No second chance. It’s all in the timing.

I reduced the power on the left engine and began our descent to Goodfellow.

     Suddenly I felt a burning in my chest. I looked at Buck.  His hand was over his mouth suppressing a cough.

“Mike, I feel nauseated.  What’s–?”

“Damn it!” I said, grabbing my oxygen mask. “Buck, oxygen–!” I gasped, donning it, inhaling pure oxygen. My chest heaved and then relaxed as my breathing returned to normal. We’d been breathing raw fuel fumes.

As Buck adjusted his mask, he checked the condition of the engine. His head snapped back!  “Fuel gushing from right engine!” he blurted.

What more can we do? I thought. We’ve got the mixture off, the fuel valve closed, the engine shut down, and still fuel is flowing.

“Here we go again!” I yelled, rechecking the straps on my chute. Dark perspiration stains showed on my flying suit and along the edges of my chute straps and seat belt. I looked at Buck. “This definitely is a positively profusely perspiration situation,” I said.

“Dear-oh-dear,” he responded resignedly, exaggerating a nod.

We were descending steeply, about to enter the traffic pattern, and I suddenly knew. “Buck, fuel has pooled inside the engine nacelle compartments and now that we are nose down, it’s spilling out.”

“Yeah,” Buck said. “Maybe when we level off it will stop. Right now it’s streaming out like smoke in an air show.”

Our earphones crackled. “SevenEleven, are you aware of the fuel streaming from your right engine?” The tower operator’s voice had gone up a couple octaves. 

“Affirmative! Nothing we can do. Seven-Eleven entering final, straight-in,” Buck added.

“SevenEleven, you’re cleared to land,” advised the tower operator. “Fire trucks standing by.”

“Flaps ten,” I said.

“Flaps ten,” Buck acknowledged.

“Buck, the instant we’ve stopped, you evacuate first,” I said, signaling, and calling for gear down.

“Gear down,” Buck echoed, checking for three green lights, calling, “Three green.”

We descended to decision point–three hundred feet–with my airspeed indicating one hundred forty-three, and I increased the power.

“Looking good,” Buck said.

“Full flaps,” I called.

Adrenaline filled me as we descended the final fifty feet. I began reducing power, pulling back on the control column, rolling in the back trim, waiting for the wheels to touch.

“A greaser,” Buck boomed. “You keep performing like that and someday you’ll be Air Force Chief of Staff.”

“It’s all a matter of timing; as for Chief of Staff, I’ll just settle for completing pilot training,” I replied.

  On the landing roll, I flipped the battery switch off, cut the left mixture, and the left engine went silent.

“Everything off, Buck!” I shouted, and his hands became a blur, like Liberace playing Malaguena.

“Checklist complete,” Buck reported.

Airspeed indicated seventy miles per hour and decreasing. We coasted with no electrical power and two dead engines, like a canoe on a placid lake. We were down and the danger of fire was greatly reduced.

“Whoa, big fella,” I softly muttered as I stopped the aircraft, setting the brakes. I looked around for Buck.

He was gone.

As I scrambled down the ladder, someone called and I turned to see Buck talking to our Squadron Commander, Colonel Dougherty, waving for me to join them.

“Lieutenant, you did one fine job,” he said, shaking my hand. “You set her down on the sweet spot.”  

I had to smile. “Thank you, Sir. It was a team effort. However, the credit should go to my instructor, Captain Kelly. Yesterday he made our lives miserable practicing single engine landings.  If he were here, we’d be tempted to kiss him. Right, Buck?”

Buck grinned, “Speak for yourself, I’ll just buy him a beer.”

END – Mike Daciek STORY #4