Captain Mike Daciek’s stories

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

MIKE’S SHORT STORIES

Flame-out! My gut tightened into a knot as my right leg pushed against air, stretching for the elusive rudder pedal which had been jammed to its full stop. Too late for a ground abort! My first officer was on top of the situation. The heading held steady, confirming his quick and accurate response to the sudden yaw; his left hand was already trimming off the rudder pressure.

I quickly scanned the rate-of-climb indicator. “Positive rate,” I called, which meant that we were definitely climbing. Now I could safely raise the landing gear. I reached across the cockpit, placed my right hand on the gear lever, anticipating the copilot’s next command.

“Gear up,” responded the first officer, with an assertive voice that quickly conveyed, “I’m in control.” The left engine, unspooling, flamed out. 

The very powerful urge to seize the flight controls vanished. My shoulders relaxed against the seat back.

I complied, raising the gear handle, feeling the aircraft respond to less drag as the gear doors closed, streamlining the sleek Boeing 737 twin-jet. Waiting for the aircraft to accelerate, we retracted the flaps and gained more altitude to allow us time to inform the tower, crew, and passengers to prepare for an emergency landing at Stapleton International Airport in the Mile High City.

A year earlier, flying inbound to Salt Lake City, our fire-warning system had activated. Its bright red light and ringing bell required shutting down the right engine.

The same first officer, who had been flying then, was at the controls, needed too much prompting for comfort; and shortly thereafter, I insisted we go to the simulator to practice single-engine landings. He balked at the idea but I insisted.

Reluctantly, he went; but he didn’t choose to fly with me again.

But now we were together. His scheduled captain had called in sick only two hours prior to departure, and Crew Scheduling quickly assigned the trip to me. When I entered the cockpit, both he and I were surprised and just a little uncomfortable.

This time his procedures were flawless–he skillfully flew the jet to a cushion-soft landing. After clearing the runway, and taxiing past Concourse B, we lost nose-wheel steering! I quickly applied the mushy brakes, making an emergency stop. Another pilot taxiing behind us reported a stream of hydraulic fluid trailing our aircraft. My eyes glanced at the system A hydraulic pressure gauge. It read zero. Not only had we lost the engine but a hydraulic leak had been depleting the system during flight. Loss of all hydraulic fluid in flight would have made a successful single-engine landing extremely difficult.

Had our landing been delayed, the results could have been tragic. My copilot’s quick execution of the required procedures and proper flying techniques, plus the cooperation of the air traffic controllers, expedited our landing. Unaware of the hydraulic leak in flight, we fortunately still had enough hydraulic fluid to maintain system pressure, allowing us to operate the speed brakes, gear, and flaps. Their normal use simplified the abnormal task of a single-engine approach and landing. The emergency had started and ended in less then ten intense minutes of fierce concentration. No time for amateurs.

My first officer had just made the textbook single-engine approach and landing.

We sat in the cockpit of the crippled jet, that odd combination of relief and adrenaline still flowing through our veins, our eyes glued to the scenery of the snow-capped Rockies, as if in a trance. I chuckled as I thought of the definition of flying– “hours and hours of boredom punctuated by moments of stark terror.”

Mechanics would soon arrive with a tug to tow our disabled aircraft to the gate. I thought of my wife and what my copilot and I had experienced today. Would I tell her? That seemingly simple question made my stomach fall, just like a roller coaster dropping out from under you after that first big climb. I began reliving the exciting 10 ten minutes we had just experienced.

Each action of the first officer to protect our fate was a ticket to our survival, a return ticket to God’s green Earth unscathed, or—Armageddon. How many of these tickets did my copilot have to earn on this trip? Too complicated to calculate, but he had won them all. Those snow-covered Rockies never looked so good.

Now I asked myself again, “Would I tell my wife?” Definitely not! No need to worry her-or the girls. We were extremely lucky, as were the three flight attendants and 114 euphoric passengers, who applauded wildly after our emergency touchdown. As my stomach settled, I turned and looked at my first officer, extending my right hand, eager to express my approval. “Good job, Mike!” I said.

He grabbed my outstretched hand, squeezing it firmly, never quite letting it go, finally loosening it a bit, conveying his newly found confidence and trust, finally understanding that tough, crusty captain’s demand for excellence.

He turned to face me directly, revealing a familiar look I had seen so often.

“Thanks, Dad,” he said proudly.

                           

B-36 Peacemaker

“Would you cadets like to see a B-36?” Our heads turned to see an air force officer dressed in a tan short-sleeved summer uniform. The sunlight flashed off of his silver senior pilot wings.

It was the summer of 1953 and ten awestruck cadets stood under the wing of an XC-99, one of history’s largest six engine transport airplanes stationed at Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. We were Aviation Cadets in navigation training stationed at Harlingen Air Force Base, Texas. 

While on a training flight our Convair T-29, a “flying classroom” for student navigators, had developed an oil leak on the right engine so we made an emergency landing at Kelly.

“What’s a B-36?” I asked, still mesmerized by the huge five story tail of the “Aerial Goliath” XC-99.

“It’s Strategic Air Command’s intercontinental bomber,” answered the tall lanky pilot. He reminded me of Jimmy Stewart. He pointed across the field. “It’s parked between those two hangars.”

Joking, I asked, “Is it bigger than the XC-99?”

He laughed, “The XC-99 was built after the B-36 and has the same tail, wings and engines. I think you’ll find it more interesting than the transport. This model is the RB-36H, a reconnaissance aircraft as well as a bomber. It can do photo mapping from horizon to horizon and also do spot jamming of enemy radar.”

“Let’s see it!” yelled Cadet Red Coates.

“I’m Captain Banda,” the pilot said, smiling. “I’ll be your tour guide today. Follow me!”

What we saw was a huge airplane with a wingspan of two-hundred-thirty feet, almost as long as a football field. Standing at the nose of the Peacemaker, Captain Banda pointed at one of the engines. “There are ten engines; six pusher-propellers, nineteen feet in diameter, mounted on the rear of the wing and four J47 turbojets, two on each wingtip, modified to run on aviation fuel.

The wing measures seven feet thick at the wing root, tall enough to work on the engines in flight, if need be. This large wet wing carries enough fuel to fly 10,000 miles without mid-air refueling! It also enables the B-36 to fly above 40,000 feet, out of reach of most piston fighters and early jet interceptors. Its maximum take-off weight of 410,000 pounds makes it the largest bomber in the world.”

Cadet Charles Fletcher asked, “Why do we need an airplane like this?”

“Good question,” replied Captain Banda. “The Cold War began in earnest after the Berlin airlift and the 1949 atmospheric test of the first Soviet atomic bomb. The Russians had become belligerent and antagonistic and we needed a deterrent to keep them at bay. American military planners sought bombers capable of delivering the very large and heavy first-generation nuclear bombs.

The B-36 is the only American aircraft with the range and payload to carry such bombs from airfields on American soil to targets in the USSR, as storing nuclear weapons on foreign soil is diplomatically delicate. The nuclear deterrent the B-36 afforded may have kept the Soviet army from fighting along side the North Koreans and Chinese armies during the Korean War.”

“When did the military first design the B-36?” asked Cadet “Ski” Wislosky.

“Another good question,” Captain Banda said. “Actually it all started in 1941 when the United States feared it would be drawn into World War II and would have to bomb Nazi-occupied Europe from bases in the United States. We needed a plane capable of carrying 10,000 pounds of bombs on round trip of 10,000 miles.

The B-36 was in competition with the Northrup B-35, our country’s first flying wing, a plane way ahead of its time. (Northrup built the B-2A Spirit thirty years later). The B-35 only had an 8,000 mile range with just 2000 pounds of bombs and was very difficult to fly. The B-36 was contracted in September 1945, one month after the war ended. The first plane flew in 1946 and entered production in 1948 just in time to thwart the Russian menace.”

“Why do the Russians fear the B-36 so much?” I asked. “Don’t they have similar aircraft and weapons?”

“Another good point,” Banda said. “We have the Mark 17, thermonuclear weapon, otherwise known as the Hydrogen Bomb, capable of killing everything within a one hundred mile radius, including the B-36 flight crew.”

Wow! That got our attention. “Is that a joke about the flight crew,” I asked?

“Unfortunately, no!” Captain Banda took a deep breath. “During the live drop test in the Pacific, a B-36 dropped a three megaton weapon. The over-pressure from the blast damaged the plane so badly that the aircraft limped home, was grounded, and turned into scrap metal. It’s my opinion that a B-36 cannot outrun a twenty megaton blast. We just don’t talk about it.”

Cadet Al Reis asked, “Have any airplanes and crews been lost since the B-36 went operational?”

Captain Banda stiffened. “Yes, unfortunately over the first two years we lost nine ships and over seventy fatalities. Military flying, even with ten engines, is a risky business when you consider the scope of our mission, global flying under extreme conditions we’ve really done quite well.”

Dumb-founded, we all nodded in agreement.

Banda continued. “We will never attack first so we keep forty percent of our three-hundred-eighty-four B-36s airborne around the clock. Every time a plane lands, another one takes off, flying an average of twenty-four hours on every flight. We have a “Failsafe” or “Go-No-Go” point enroute to our target which is sent in a code whether to proceed on or to return home.”

Cadet Allen Heather raised his hand. “How large a bomb is it?”

Captain Banda put a finger across his lips and spoke in a low tone. “I’ll tell you if you promise not to tell anyone.” 

Playing his game we all whispered, promising not to tell.

Banda continued. “It’s approximately twenty-five feet long, five feet in diameter, weights twenty-one tons, and can be carried internally in two bomb bays.” Grinning, Captain Banda added, “We carry two in case the first one misses. After all it’s just a twenty megaton bomb, one thousand times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.” 

Cadet Bob Grimes asked, “Can we see the inside of the airplane, Captain Banda?”

“Okay,” Banda said, “but the cockpit instrument panels and the navigators’ stations are all covered with black tarps so no peeking. It’s classified top secret.”

We entered the aircraft from the left side which took us into the radio compartment. From there we scanned the cockpit, flight engineer and navigators’ compartment.

Captain Banda squeezed in among us. “If all engines function normally at full power during the pre-takeoff warm-up, the lead flight engineer might say to the AC (Aircraft Commander), ‘six turning and four burning.’ Erratic reliability might led to the wisecrack, ‘two turning, two burning, two joking, and two smoking, with two engines not accounted for.’”

We all laughed.

Captain Banda asked for a volunteer to enter the pressurized twenty-four foot tunnel (paralleling a bomb bay) which takes you back to the camera compartment. “The smaller you are the better,” Banda said.

Cadet Jack Nichols entered the twenty-five inch diameter tube by lying on his back on a wheeled trolley and pulling himself through via an overhead clothesline pulley.

Banda cautioned Nichols, “While crew members are in the tunnel they don’t push against the skin of the aircraft as it is very thin and easy to puncture. In flight, while pressurized, we always close the door behind us because if you have a rapid decompression it will shoot you out like a bullet!”

From the camera compartment was another eighty foot tunnel (Paralleling two bomb bays) which took you back to the ECM (Electronic Counter Measures) compartment. It featured six bunks and a galley for rest and relief on a long mission.

 Beyond that was the rear gun turret. The defensive armament consisted of six remote-controlled retractable gun turrets, and fixed tail and nose turrets, a total of sixteen cannons, the greatest firepower ever carried by a bomber.

Banda continued. “As you can see it’s a large, versatile aircraft requiring a lot of crew members. A standard crew complement is fifteen but we’re always training new people so we might have twenty-five to thirty aircrew members on board.”

Someone yelled from outside the B-36 that our plane was ready to go so we thanked the captain and rushed back to our T-29. We all agreed that none of us had any idea that such a plane existed.

Back at Harlingen we talked a lot more about what assignments we would get after graduating. Everyone wanted to go to MATS (Military Air Transport Service), TAC (Tactical Air Command), or ATC (Air Training Command). SAC (Strategic Air Command) was definitely out of the question!

After receiving my commission and wings in July of 1954 I reported to Travis AFB, Fairfield, California, my first operational assignment with the 5th Bomb Wing, 31st Bomb Squadron. Upon arrival at Travis I went to the flight line to report to Major Bo Bowers, 31st Operations Officer.

My first question was, “What airplane will I be flying, Major Bowers?” 

Major Bowers stood up and motioned for me to follow. We walked to the window and looked out. The ramp was full of B-36 Bombers! “You’ll be flying as a Radar-Navigator-Bombadier on the ‘Aluminum Overcast,’ the RB-36H Peacemaker.”

“Oh, joy!”

The “Peacemaker” served its country for thirteen years, 1946 until 1959, bridging the gap before the B-52, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and nuclear subs came into play and NEVER DROPPED A BOMB IN ANGER. 

 BARTOW AIR BASE

I’m Mike. Mike Daciek. Sitting in this kitchen nook–my thoughts flashed to the summer of ’56, to Bartow Air Base.

“Hot damn,” I said to myself, while standing on the Bartow Air Base flight line. “I’m finally here! This is true happiness.” I watched a steady stream of T-34’s enter a left down wind to land on runway 27.

I soaked in all the sights and sounds of aviation. It was a perfect day down south, and I was feeling great, enjoying the white puffy clouds set against the bright blue sky. Later, in weather-101, I would learn to call those clouds cumulus.

Almost four years after joining the Air Force, I was finally going to become a stick-and-rudder aviator. My Navigator wings would be going into my top dresser drawer, replaced by wings of eagles.

Black smoke rose from an area straight south of the airfield, and my gaze drifted to its spiral, now getting thicker. It was interrupting an otherwise beautiful view.

“Wonder what’s causing all that smoke?” an unexpected voice from my left.

“Probably a plane crash,” I answered, with a glance towards the voice. I was joking, of course, trying to be witty.

We both stood in silence, staring at the billowing smoke. I then turned to introduce myself to this unexpected visitor. “Hi,” I said, extending my hand, “I’m Mike Daciek.” 

He took my hand, “Glad to meet you, Mike. I’m Bob Stein.”

Bob displayed a friendly grin along with a very firm handshake. With a grip like that, I figured he’d just finished a Dale Carnegie course, or read Norman Vincent Peale’s, “The Power of Positive Hand Shaking.”

I eyed his brown Lieutenant bars and the lack of wings on his uniform. Every new student pilot I’d met from our class was a first lieutenant; all were rated, except for a finance officer, an armament systems officer, and an air police officer.

 Bob explained that he had been in an earlier class, but had taken an emergency leave to go home, which led to his being washed back into our class.

When Bob talked to you he looked right into your eyes and his questions were direct and penetrating. We talked for about fifteen minutes. Correction, I answered questions for about fifteen minutes. I thought, who is this guy, son of Clarence Darrow? But he seemed genuinely interested in me, something I seldom experienced. I liked him.

A flight instructor walked by with two students, parachutes dangling from their shoulders, looking in the direction of the spiraling black smoke. I waved at the instructor, catching his eye and called out, “What’s with the smoke, Sir?”

He approached us and stopped to explain. “That was John Hobler. John taught engineering at the ground school for years, waiting patiently for a flight instructor slot. He finally got it and that was his first student. They had entered downwind and were converging on another T-34. Hobler’s’s aircraft made a violent, evasive maneuver up and away, entering a high-speed stall, resulting in a spin. They were too close to the ground to recover.” 

He swallowed as his voice began to fade. “He was my best friend and I have to go tell his wife.” He turned and walked toward the parachute shack

“Damn, Bob,” I muttered after the instructor was out of voice range. “Wasn’t my timing just wonderful?”

“How were you to know?” Bob asked, trying to cover my embarrassment

I’ve thought about that accident many times over the years and it left a very important message. 

Be vigilant, flying can be hazardous to your health.

Greatest Aviator Who Ever Lived

We landed our Frontier Airlines Convair 580 at Riverton, Wyoming. I bolted from the cockpit and rushed into the terminal, salivating at the thought of eating one of their freshly baked cream pies.

Passengers were milling about shoulder to shoulder, talking in a high state of excitement reminiscent of a high school reunion. The small restaurant was packed, standing room only. Bad news, I thought, looking at the empty pie trays.

“I’m sorry,” the harried waitress said following my line of sight, “There’s not a piece of pie in the building.”

“What’s going on?” I asked. “Is the town being evacuated?”

She placed a pencil behind her right ear, wiping her brow with a tissue. “It’s the annual Antelope One-Shot contest. This place is full of movie stars, astronauts and politicians. I even heard the governor talking to a general. At least he called him general.”

I hurried back to the boarding area wondering who the general could be. There stood “Jimmy” Doolittle in animated conversation with a distinguished- looking gentleman.

Backtracking, I approached the Frontier gate agent. “Is Doolittle going to Denver on my flight?”

He nodded. I gave him a thumbs-up sign.

“Wonderful, just absolutely wonderful,” I said out loud as I slowly walked back to the airplane.

Deep in thought, I recalled some of the accomplishments of the greatest aviator who ever lived.

The leader of the “Tokyo Raiders,” Lieutenant Colonel James Harold Doolittle led sixteen Mitchell bombers off the pitching deck of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Hornet in 1942 to bomb Japan. Certain that they had been discovered by a Japanese reconnaissance aircraft, Doolittle’s Raiders elected to execute the mission many miles short of their original launching point knowing full well that every aircraft would run out of fuel before reaching their landing bases in China. 

At age sixteen, he built his first glider from a 1910 magazine plan. He became a military aviator in 1918, excelling in gunnery and flight instruction. In 1922, he served as an experimental test pilot. That same year he was the first to fly across the United States in a single day.  He performed the first outside loop in a Curtiss P-1 pursuit plane. I chuckled over that one.

In October 1925, in an airplane fitted with streamlined single-step wooden floats and designated the Curtiss Navy Racer, RC3-2, Doolittle won the Scheneider Cup–the World Series of seaplane racing–with an average speed of 232.57 mph. The next day on a straight course in the RC3-2 he established a world speed record of 245.7 mph. This was the fastest a seaplane had ever flown.

In 1929, he was the first pilot to take off and land with no outside references, the first “blind flight” in history.

During WWII he commanded the US Air Forces in North Africa and in 1944 commanded the mighty Eighth Air Force in England during the invasion of Europe.

Medal of Honor recipient, Lieutenant General Doolittle left active duty on January 5th, 1946, but remained active in numerous Air Force duties, retiring in 1959.

In 1985, however, General Doolittle was promoted to four-star rank following President Reagan’s nomination and Senate confirmation, thus becoming the first person in Air Force Reserve history to wear four stars.

Along the way, Doolittle had earned a Mining Engineering degree from the University of California, an Aeronautical Engineering degree at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a Doctorate in Aeronautical Science at MIT, had been awarded the National Aeronautic Association Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy, and had been inducted into the International Aerospace Hall of Fame, and the Aerospace Walk of Honor.

The captain and I sat in the cockpit, watching the boarding passengers cross the ramp to the base of the stairs. As we guessed at the names of the astronauts, stunt pilots, and politicians, I finally spotted Doolittle and pointed him out to the captain.

Now I knew what I was going to do. I waved my folded flight chart at the captain. “When we’re established in cruise flight, I’m going to go back and ask him to sign this number seven & eight, September 1975, Jepco Aviation chart.” 

The captain laughed, shaking his head. “I hope he doesn’t embarrass you. I wouldn’t do it.”

Minutes later at cruise altitude, I unstrapped my seat belt and pulled up from the seat. “It can’t be any worse than being refused a dance. Back in a flash.”

Our fifty-passengers Turboprop CV580 was full. Doolittle was seated on the left side about five rows back in an aisle seat. He was talking to an astronaut who was seated next to the window.

I cleared my throat, and Doolittle turned toward me. “General Doolittle, I’m Mike Daciek, your First Officer on this flight. May I talk to you for a moment?”

All the passengers nearby turned their heads to listen.

He nodded. “What’s up?”

“There’s nothing wrong.” I said it loud so all could hear. “Besides flying commercially I’m an Air Force Lieutenant Colonel flying with the Colorado Air National Guard. I flew the Mitchell B-25 in pilot training in 1957.”

“Great aircraft! How did you like it?”

He’s very receptive, I thought, which immediately put me at ease. “Very stable and easy to land, sir.”

“Yes, it was a fine airplane. However, I liked the A-26 Marauder even better, more maneuverable, flew like a fighter.”

“That was the ‘Widow Maker,’ wasn’t it?”

“Yes, but undeserving of that name. It had a 100-mph landing speed and stubby wings which made it tricky to handle. After the pilots received the proper training it became a favorite.” 

I looked back toward the cockpit. “I have to get back to the office but I would like you to know that every time I flew the B-25 I thought of you. I’m very familiar with your history and admire you very much.”

He looked me right in the eye as though trying to figure where I was going with this. I looked at his companion for support. He nodded his head with a friendly smile showing his approval of my behavior. I think he knew. The time was now.

“Would you please sign my flight chart?” I blurted out.

General Doolittle gave me a wide grin as if relieved. “Certainly.”

He unfastened his seat belt and started to stand up. I lightly placed my hand on his shoulder and said, ”You don’t have to get up, sir. I have my chart right here.”

He laughed and started walking toward the cockpit. He stopped and opened the Blue Room door.

Now I laughed. “I see where you’re going.”

He motioned for my chart as the Convair 580 entered some light turbulence.

I handed it to him with a pencil, offering my left hand as a platform while holding the door open with my right hand. He paused, waiting for a steady airplane.

I felt very awkward in that position and blurted out. “Did you get an antelope?”

“No, my team didn’t, we missed.” We entered some smooth air and he autographed my chart.

 

“Who was on your team?”

“Jack Hilger and Bill Bower.” He quickly scanned the cabin looking for his hunting buddies. “They’re both on this flight.”

Damn, I thought, here I am talking to the number one “Doolittle Raider” and there’s two more on my flight. I think I’ll just stick with the General.

“Where did you hunt?”

“We were given a guide who led us to a section of land near Lander.”

“Did you each have a shot?”

“No, just one per team. Bill took the shot.”

“Was there any penalty for missing?”

“Oh, yeah! We had to suffer the indignity of dancing with the squaws. It’s an old Indian custom.”

With an impish grin he handed back my autographed chart and said, “Now I suppose we both have urgent business to take care of.”

This was a general talking. “Yes, sir, thank you, sir.” 

I rushed to the cockpit door, then slowed my pace, entering casually with a somber face.

The captain turned to study my expression. I remained silent as I fastened my seat belt and adjusted my seat.

He shook his head. “You didn’t get it, did you?”

“Of course I did,” basking in my success. “We’re both Air Force pilots.”

The autographed chart has been donated to the “Wings over the Rockies” aviation museum located in a preserved Lowry Air Force base hangar, Denver, Colorado.

Note: “Doolittle’s Raiders” – Flying lead ship number one, Doolittle’s crew bailed out successfully. Bill Bower and Jack Hilger flew first pilot on B-25 aircraft numbers twelve and fourteen, respectively, both crews bailing out over China, all surviving. Jack Hilger and Doolittle have gone “West.” I see Bill Bower once a month at our Daedalian meetings at Buckley AFB.

Other passengers: (but not absolutely sure) Astronauts Jack Lousma and John Swigert. Stunt pilot, Frank Tallman (The Great Waldo Pepper) and Ex-Governor John Love of Colorado.

 

TIMING

                             

I turned my head to glare at my new flight instructor. You retard, 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 oh-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,” (Souls on board) 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!”

“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.

HOW WAS YOUR DAY?

By

Walter T. Potts, Jr. as told to Michael R. Daciek

On Monday morning after New Years Day, 1972, I awakened to a winter wonderland. Yawning, I pulled the curtain back to peek into the darkness as I placed the phone back on its cradle. Iowa lay under a two foot blanket of fresh soft snow left by a fast moving Canadian cold front.

I had called Des Moines Flying Service to alert the lineman to prepare my airplane for a pre-dawn flight to Minot, North Dakota. Little did I know that cold winter morning that my faith and flying ability would be challenged.

 Sue, with one eye closed and still dressed in her robe and slippers, fixed me a hot breakfast. I ate quickly, gave my bride a goodbye kiss, and began my fifteen minute drive to the airport. I observed the clouds had drifted to the southeast and unveiled a black sky full of twinkling stars. 

The airport snow removal team had been working during the night with snowplows making it possible for me to drive to my “T” hangar. My single engine Piper Comanche 400 had been pulled out of the hangar and the lineman was applying heat to the engine. It was twelve degrees below zero.

 “Hi, Mr. Potts, pretty nippy this morning,” he said. 

I rolled down my window. “Sorry to have you working on such a cold morning. I had no choice.” 

I drove into the hangar and unloaded the car. After pre-flighting the plane, I crawled into the pilot’s seat and locked the door. The lineman signaled me to start the 400 horsepower engine.

I taxied to runway 30 Right, checked my magnetos, instruments, and flight controls. The tower cleared me for a straight out departure to intercept on course.

I was on my way to Minot, North Dakota, about six-hundred nautical miles northwest of Des Moines, where I would participate in a real estate condemnation case that afternoon. As a real estate appraiser, it was necessary for me to defend my appraisal in court. The City Attorney was to meet me at the Minot Airport at ten a.m. and drive me to the courthouse for a pre-trial conference before testifying.

It was now seven-forty-five a.m., a beautiful crisp winter morning, the bright sun shining into the cockpit through the window on my right. Grateful for a northwesterly heading away from the sun, I put the plane on autopilot and turned my thoughts to my appraisal and preparation for the court testimony. 

Suddenly there came a terrifying sound, “BANG—CLANKETY CLANG.” All of my senses jumped to full alert and my heart began beating so hard I expected it to jump out into my lap. The oil spraying on the windshield made it difficult to see and the engine shook violently.

 “Holy Hannah!” I blurted out, expecting the engine to shake loose from its mounts. I quickly closed the throttle, pulled the mixture control lever to the lean shutoff position, and began a silent glide. 

I had been cruising at 7,500 feet above the ground when the engine blew. I switched my radio to the emergency channel and called “MAYDAY” three times, giving my approximate position while I scanned the ground below looking for a place to land.

 There was a paved “farm to market road” below me. It appeared to have been partially cleared by the county snowplow, but I feared the snow may be stacked too high for my low wing airplane to clear. 

While spraying crops over fourteen years ago, landing on country roads had become routine. However, the numerous mail boxes, road signs, and electric wires crossing over the roads made it extremely chancy, especially for a glider. 

I thought my chances would be better “pan-caking” a wheels up landing on a snow covered farm field. I prayed for divine guidance and a quick miracle.

Something to the left caught my eye, buildings large enough to be airplane hangars, about six miles to the west of my course. Turning in that direction, I made a rapid cross-check of my rate of descent, airspeed, and altitude. It appeared I could make it, and if not, I could still land wheels up in the snow. 

With oil still spraying on the windshield I could see ahead only by leaning to the left. I used this same technique as a navy pilot watching the Landing Signal Officer, LSO, in making an aircraft-carrier landing. As a Navy Air Corps Cadet, NAVCAD, in WWII, we had to make “slips” and “dead stick” landings to a fifty foot circle in a N2S-5 Stearman. 

One might think that this would be a “piece of cake” but I had my doubts. It’s kind of like your car sliding out of control down an icy street. You know it is going to stop somewhere, maybe against a telephone pole, another car, or in somebody’s yard. 

Fortunately, the apprehension quickly subsided as I firmed up my jelly-like legs and arms and became busy calculating and flying. I recalled a maxim of flying, “Always fly into the crash.”

 The wind was getting a little stronger out of the northwest requiring me to crab into it and slowing my westward progress. The slower progress increased my anxiety, like waiting for an important phone call when you have to hurry to catch a plane. 

Closer now and still no runway in sight my anxiety and adrenaline raced like a pair of greyhounds. I yelled in my exuberance, “Hallelujah!” as a plowed runway came into view. My landing gear remained retracted to reduce drag and extend my glide.

 As I turned on final approach I saw that I had it made and lowered my landing gear. I was a little high so I put the plane in a slip to reduce altitude.  I straightened out and landed safely, coasting to a stop along side of the runway. I couldn’t quite make it to the taxiway to turn off, but it seemed unlikely there would be any airplane traffic that early in the morning.

I got out of the plane and began shaking uncontrollably, like a leaf on a windy day. “He really does perform miracles,” I mumbled. 

I still had some unused adrenaline in my system which I expended while walking up to the office. It was after eight a.m. when I walked into the Airport Manager’s office. 

“I didn’t hear you drive up,” he said.

“I didn’t drive up, I just landed.” I replied, trying to sound casual.

 “I didn’t hear you land.”

“You didn’t hear me because I made a ‘dead stick’ landing!”

He got real excited as my story unfolded and hastened to make several phone calls. He told me the city was thinking about closing the airport and the newspaper planned to run a cover story. Soon a reporter arrived to hear my story.

After my interview I called the City Attorney in Minot and reported what had happened. He was sorry to hear of my forced landing and also sorry he didn’t call me Friday to tell me the case was settled and I didn’t have to testify. What a bummer!

 Then I realized the engine could have blown the next time I flew and maybe I wouldn’t be so lucky in getting it down safely.

I called the Flight Service Station to advise them that I had landed safely. He said he had heard something on the radio but didn’t realize it was a “MAYDAY” so he didn’t do anything about it. Well, I was surprised and a little angry. How can you not recognize three “Maydays?” Should I have yelled “SOS” three times? But I let it go.

 

I made the front page of the Sibley Iowa News including a picture of the plane leaking oil.

I called Des Moines Flying Service Maintenance Department to order a new engine to be installed in my plane at the Sibley Iowa Airport. Then I called my office, the Iowa Appraisal and Research Corporation, to advise my secretary of my experience. She said she had just received a call from City Hall at Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and they wanted me to make a proposal on an appraisal assignment in their downtown urban renewal area. She gave me their phone number. 

After the airport manager towed my plane into a hangar, I made a deal to rent his Piper TriPacer for a round trip flight to Sioux Falls, and then I would pay him to fly me to Des Moines. He cheerfully agreed. I called the Urban Redevelopment Department at Sioux Falls and they agreed to pick me up at their airport and show me their project.

My flight to Sioux Falls and back to Sibley was successful. The airport manager helped me load my stuff in the TriPacer and he flew me to Des Moines, arriving at my “T” hangar about five p.m. I paid him and wished him a safe flight back to Sibley. 

I called my wife and asked her to meet me at the Des Moines Club for Dinner. She thought that would be nice. I didn’t want to tell her at that time about my forced landing.

As I walked I thought about the activities of the day, an engine failure, costing me $26,250. Plus, the attorney had failed to inform me the case had been settled, and Flight Service had not acted on my “Mayday” call. Despite the many errors, my guardian angel had assisted this humble pilot when he placed me in a safe landing location near an active runway.

 It had warmed up that afternoon and melted the snowplowed streets, but now it was dark and getting cold. The street lights pierced the darkness lighting my way. At Sixth and Walnut Street intersection, there was a crowd of people on the four corners watching an activity with awe-struck faces. 

When I got closer I observed a husky, medium sized man throwing a smaller man down on the pavement and stomping him in the face. Without thinking I charged into action, grabbed the attacker from behind, and held his elbows while placing my right foot between his legs for balance. He was leaning over the back of the man who was dripping blood from his nose onto my tan wingtip shoes.

 I ordered the attacker in a calm, firm voice to let him go. He began crying, releasing his rage as I led him to his car. It was then that I saw his wife crying in the car. Apparently the three men he fought had been drinking and made derogatory remarks when the two cars were stopped at the intersection. 

When I released the subdued man at his car, another man came over to continue the fight. I told him to back off or I would take him down myself. Moments later a policeman took over.

My guts felt like churned butter. As I walked to meet Sue, I wondered why someone in the crowd hadn’t tried to stop the fight. Then I wondered why I bolted into the melee. Being of slight stature, my injuries could have been worse than if I had been in a plane crash!

I wasn’t alone that day. Someone guided me safely through those challenging experiences. I know my nerves had a good workout and I must admit that I was getting a little tired and hungry. I felt like a horse that had been “rode hard and put away wet.”

When I got to the club, the Maitre-d led me to our table where Sue was patiently waiting. After a prolonged kiss and a sweet smile, she asked, “How was your day?”

The Mystery of the Crazy Clock

In Glen Eagles Village, an adult community, some of us enjoy swimming between the hours of two and five p.m. A few enjoy swimming laps, while others simply tread water with “noodles,” colorful styro-foam floatation devices about five feet long, while chatting about any subject under the sun. We would never gossip! When we tire of the major news of the day, we tell bawdy jokes. 

Soon we pull out all stops and badger the lap swimmers. Our “chief  badgerer” is Steve, who evidently works early hours because he stops in every day after work around three-thirty p.m. We could set the clock by his arrival.

 

One problem. We did not have a big round moon-faced, outdoor, dependable clock. Former clocks worked for a while then became dormant like a picture on the wall which told the right time only twice a day. It didn’t really matter because the clock was mounted on a wall so far from the pool you couldn’t see it anyway, unless you had twenty-twenty vision, or water proof binoculars. Who, over fifty-five, has that kind of sight? 

This irritated the lappers because timing their swimming was very important. Margaret, a dedicated lap-swimmer who can swim non-stop for a solid thirty minutes or 10,000 laps whichever comes last, and doesn’t like to be disturbed. Early on, Margaret became Steve’s number one “badgeree.”

Sandy, our club manager, had stopped by Wal-Mart and purchased a SkyScan clock. The face of the clock is white with large black numbers and sealed from the rain, wind, and temperature, perfect for the outdoor swimming pool. Sandy was assured that the clock would tell perfect time FOREVER, and it cost only $25.00.

The clock was mounted near the pool and seemed quite ordinary until Steve noticed something strange about the clock. He was in the pool alone and happened to look at the clock at exactly six minutes after four p.m. The hands suddenly began to spin clockwise (which way would you expect them to go, silly?) rather rapidly and did so for approximately three minutes, then stopped at nine minutes after four.

Another oddity was that the second hand moved in two second increments.

When Margaret entered the pool to swim her laps, Steve told her what had happened. Well aware of Steve’s teasing escapades, she was quite skeptical. Others entered the pool and listened to Steve’s fable. Someone asked if he had seen any UFOs lately.

 However, we all became clock watchers as the clock continued to do its job of providing the correct time. We suspected that someone was cuckoo and it certainly wasn’t the clock! 

Days went by and Steve began to wonder if the clocks hands had really spun or did he just imagine it. Every day at six minutes after four he watched the clock. Nothing happened.

It was easy to believe in the mysterious clock’s behavior because of two other strange occurrences in the Glen eagles Village Club. Several times the phones went dead for approximately five minutes and then, like magic, began working again. When the sound equipment is operating and a car drives by, the speakers screech with static. This caused us to believe a possible magnetic field was creating an electrical disturbance. 

 

One afternoon Margaret peeked at the clock in the middle of her lap swim and came to a dead stop in the water. It was six minutes after four and the clock was spinning! “Look everyone! The clock is spinning!” she yelled.

It continued for a couple of minutes, then stopped. We checked our watches to see if the “Crazy Clock” showed the correct time. It did, and continued to do so.

Steve was exonerated and everyday we watched that crazy clock. Just when you thought the crazy clock would never spin again, it would!  

Steve investigated the mysterious timepiece and found that it was an Atomic clock getting a signal from Boulder, Colorado through a satellite. NIST, The National Institute of Standards and Technology, located in Boulder, houses the Master Clock which measures Coordinated Universal Time throughout the world.

For you scientists, Cesium 123 is the most commonly chosen for Atomic clocks, a precision clock that depends on an electrical oscillator regulated by the natural vibration frequencies of an atomic system as a beam of cesium atoms. Whew!

Whenever the clock gained or lost time it triggered a signal to reset. You can’t reverse the direction of the clock’s hands. They must go clockwise(just like I said earlier, silly) which means it takes approximately three minutes to run the clock ahead eleven hours, fifty-nine minutes, and fifty-nine seconds to make a one second correction. If the crazy clock was one second slow you wouldn’t even notice the forward correction of the hands.

You can even set the correct time zone on the back of the clock by selecting one of four buttons; PST, MST, CST, or EST. I’m sure it even allows for Daylight Savings Time!

It has been suggested that Glen Eagles Village arrange for visitors to visit our pool between four and five p.m. to see our “Crazy Clock,” with admission charges, of course!

Flash! “Crazy Clock” is no longer with us. I guess its time was up.

   

                         

 

That Lonesome Old Widow

The aircraft entered a lazy roll to the right. Chuck swallowed and whispered, “Oh, boy! Something is wrong here.” He countered the roll by applying left aileron but the plane kept rolling right. It was now on its back and the nose dipped toward the ground.

Chuck shoved the control stick forward, hoping to halt the aircraft’s descent. No response! 

The engine sputtered as the nose dropped entering a spin to the right. Reflexively, Chuck yanked the stick straight back, hesitated, and shoved the stick straight forward, simultaneously applying full left rudder against the spin. 

Nothing! 

And then the engine quit, the prop as still as a mouse on a cat farm. “Oh, man,” Chuck gasped. “My old man is gonna kill me when he sees this mess.” 

The young pilot had lost control of the spinning airplane. He remembered that his father had told him more than once, “If you ever get into a spin and you can’t get it out, just let go of the controls. Most of the time this airplane will perform its own spin recovery.”

 In a state of total confusion, he relinquished control to the flight gods. Immediately, the feisty airplane righted itself, flying straight and level about ten feet above the ground, gliding toward the airport ramp. Chuck exhaled, unable to assume command, but relieved that the runaway craft had righted itself and would be making a landing on its own.

 

Exactly where, he could not determine. It generally lands someplace on this old abandoned airport, thought Chuck. “But not this time,” he yelled in his excitement, forgetting he was alone. “It’s headed for the old widow’s house!” 

Eleven-year-old Chuck Criger’s world was rapidly falling apart. His dad had warned him not to fly his remote-control model airplane without proper supervision. Chuck had sneaked many flights, and no one ever knew, but now the scary old widow would certainly spill the beans.

Miraculously, the airplane cleared the fence, landed on the grass, and crashed into the base of the stairs that lead to the front porch. A woman’s voice came from the shadowed porch, “Come on in, Chuck. Somebody has to repair that Skyhawk so it will fly again.” The voice was friendly and inviting, and Chuck was surprised that she knew his name. He cautiously opened the gate and entered the large front yard. 

“Thanks, ma’am.” Chuck nervously approached his crippled aircraft. “How did you know my name?”

“I’ve been watching you fly that Cessna with your family and friends. I know all your names from listening to your loud voices. It’s very entertaining.”

“I’m sorry about the airplane getting away from me.”

“They’ll do that sometimes. That’s what makes flying so interesting.”

Chuck looked down at the airplane and scratched his head. “I sure messed up, didn’t I? Dad is going to have a fit when he finds out I crashed his Skyhawk.”

The woman rose from her swing and walked to the railing. “Would you like to have a cold drink and some fresh chocolate cookies, Chuck?” she asked. “After that we can move your aircraft into the maintenance hangar for repairs.” 

“You have an airplane hangar?” Chuck asked.

Chuck could see the woman’s face clearly as she came out of the shadows. A scar ran from her hairline down to her right eyebrow. She isn’t scary at all, thought Chuck. Why does my brother call her a scary old lady?

She laughed, winking. “I once built model airplanes on my back sun porch, like to see my collection?”

 

She must have sensed his reluctance because she said, “You just sit down right there on the bottom step and I’ll bring the cookies out. I’ll introduce myself properly, and then we can talk, since we won’t be strangers anymore.”

***

“Mom, you know that old lady who lives by the old airport?” Chuck asked, placing his radio-controlled airplane on the kitchen table next to his brother.

“So that’s where you’ve been, my little aviator,” she said, wiping her hands on her apron. She    picked up the airplane, examined it, saying, “I thought your father told you not to fly alone.”

Chuck stared at the floor.

“Well, you must have had a good flight–no dings or cracks. Here, put this airplane somewhere else before your dad gets home. I’m setting the table.”

“You mean that scary old lady by the north ramp?” Jimmy asked, Chuck’s fourteen-year-old brother.

“She’s not scary. She’s a really nice lady and she gave me milk and cookies.” Chuck extended his arms upward at a forty-five degree angle making a large victory sign. “And…” Chuck paused, savoring the moment, “She builds model airplanes.”

“No kidding?” Jimmy said, his curiosity aroused.

“No way. You should see her collection. She built a really cool Cessna Skyhawk.”

“You went in her house?”

“Yeah, the airplane got away from me and crashed in her yard. She helped me fix it. She’s really nice. I like her.”

Mrs. Criger sat down beside Chuck, her interest piqued. “What else do you know about her?” 

“We talked about the World War.”

“Which one?” his mother asked.

“I don’t know. She called it the really big one. Her husband was a doctor in the army, and he brought her to the United States from Australia on a big troop ship after the war.”

“I saw her in the supermarket,” Jimmy said, “and she has a big scar on her forehead. She’s scary.”

“Jimmy, I’m surprised at you. Scars alone do not make a person scary,” Mrs. Criger said, before Chuck could defend his new friend. “I bet she was an Australian war bride. What’s her name?”

Chuck laughed. “She has a funny name. I’ve seen it before but I didn’t know it was her.”

“Well, what is it?” Jimmy asked.

“Jane Doe, I think,” Chuck answered, wondering if that was really her name.

“Jane Doe’s not a real name,” Jimmy said.

“That’s all?” Mrs. Criger asked while rising to set the table. “Just Jane Doe?” 

Chuck thought for a second. “Melton—Jane Doe Melton. She said she was Jane Doe in Australia and in the prison camp because she couldn’t remember her real name, and when she got married in Australia, she became Jane Doe Melton.”

“Hmmm,” Mrs. Criger said. “Did she meet her husband because he was her doctor? Sounds like she may have had amnesia.”

“That’s the word she used,” Chuck said, repeating slowly. “Am-nee-sha.”

“Maybe that’s why she has a scar,” Mrs. Criger said. “I bet she was in the war and wounded in a Japanese attack.”

“Right, Mom,” Chuck said. “She said the last thing she could recall was waking up on a British rubber plantation unable to remember anything so they took her to the hospital in Sing-, Sing-, something.”

“Singapore,” Jimmy chimed in.

Mrs. Criger went into the kitchen to take a roast out of the oven. “Jimmy, I hear your father in the driveway talking to a neighbor. Go tell him we’re eating early tonight.”

“Okay, Mom.” Jimmy left the dining room.

 

“Yeah, Singapore,” Chuck nodded. “In the hospital all Mrs. Melton owned was an old flowery dress and underwear so she had no identification.”

Mrs. Criger placed four plates on the table. “What did she do after leaving the hospital?”

“She worked as a school teacher and nurse on the plantation until the Japanese came. I guess that was the war she talked about. They put her in jail with a bunch of British women prisoners.”

 

“Was she Australian or British?”

“The Japanese accused her of being an American. Some of her British friends called her Betsy Ross.” 

“Did she have a husband?”

“She said she was the only single woman in the camp and spent all of her time working as a nurse.”

“Well, was she really British?” called Mrs. Criger from the kitchen, now really curious. “Let’s set the table before your dad gets here. Hide that plane somewhere and set the silverware.”

“Okay, Mom,” Chuck said. “But you know what? Mrs. Melton’s husband told her that he doubted she was from England because of the way she said certain things. Sometimes she talked like an American.”

“Maybe the Japanese were right.” Mrs. Criger stepped back to check the dinner table. “I suppose it doesn’t really matter since she’s been living here so long.” 

“Dr. Melton died about five years ago. They didn’t have any children. She’s alone.” Chuck’s eyes became moist. “A nurse comes by once a week to check on her. I think she’s real lonely because she asked me to stop by anytime. I’m going to visit her every day.” 

Mrs. Criger ran her fingers through Chuck’s hair. “You tell Jane Doe or Betsy Ross that I would like to meet her, okay?”

“You bet, Mom. Can I invite her over to our house?”

“Certainly.”

The next day, anxious to invite Mrs. Melton to supper, Chuck made a beeline from school to her house. He rang the bell and knocked on the door three times, but Mrs. Melton didn’t answer. He checked his watch. His father had told him that when people are looking for someone they can’t find they always look at their watch. But the missing person is never on the watch. 

He turned to leave, disappointed over missing Mrs. Melton. Reaching the front gate, he sensed that maybe something was wrong. I bet she’s on the sun porch.  Not sure why, he ran as fast as he could to the back steps. Hearing a moaning sound, he stretched himself, standing on his tip-toes, looking through the sun porch windows. Mrs. Melton was lying on the floor.

“Mrs. Melton!” Chuck yelled, “I’m coming in!”

Opening the storm door, he ran quickly to her side. Falling to his knees, Chuck gently placed his right hand under her head. “Are you all right, Mrs. Melton?”

She opened her eyes and smiled at Chuck. “I think I got into a flat spin and augured in.”

“What happened? Did you trip?”

“I’ve been having dizzy spells lately. Usually, I just sit down, and they go away. This one sneaked up on me, and I stalled out. Help me up, I’ll be okay.”

 

As Chuck helped Mrs. Melton to her feet, she grabbed her head. “Oh dear,” she gasped, “I banged my head really hard.” And then she screamed, “Hang on! We’re going in!” 

“Are you okay, Mrs. Melton?” asked the stunned boy.

“Please help me to my bedroom. I probably should lie down for a minute. I saw something strange, yet familiar.”

Chuck helped Mrs. Melton sit down on her bed. She looked at him and asked, “Did you just call me Mrs. Melton?”

“Yeah. Is that okay?” Chuck wondered if this could be that ‘am-nee-sha’ thing. Then curious, he asked, “What did you see?”

“Well, I felt a sudden flash explode inside my head. I saw a sandy beach coming up to meet the landing gear of a twin-engine airplane. I was at the controls and next to me was a man strapped in his seat with a horrified look on his face.” 

At that moment, the doorbell rang. “Should I answer it?” Chuck asked. 

Mrs. Melton nodded.

 

Chuck returned to the bedroom to say good-bye. “It’s your nurse, Mrs. Melton. She’s hanging up her coat. I told her what happened, so I guess I should leave now. She said she had to give you a check-up because you fell.”

“Rachel’s timing is perfect. Today she’ll earn her money.” Mrs. Melton held her arms out toward Chuck. “Chuck, I know you’re a big boy now, but would you mind if I give you a hug?”

Chuck didn’t hesitate a second. Mrs. Melton had won his trust.

“Will you come to see me tomorrow?” Mrs. Melton asked. “Promise?”

   

“I promise.”

Chuck kept his promise, visiting mysterious Mrs. Melton every day, learning more and more as her memory returned in bits and pieces. Her failing health made talking difficult.

 

On Chuck’s last visit, Mrs. Melton asked Rachel to leave them alone for a few minutes. The nurse seemed miffed at the request, but Mrs. Melton waved her away. Rachel stopped in the doorway holding the door knob. “Mrs. Melton, I’m going to leave you two alone now so you can have your private talk.”

Mrs. Melton raised her hand in acknowledgment and then motioned Chuck closer. “Chuck, do you like secrets?” she asked in a raspy voice.

“Yeah, for a little while. Most of the time it’s more fun to tell somebody, and then I guess it’s not a real secret anymore.”

“Well, this one will be just between you and me. I don’t think you’ll have to wait long to share it with someone else. After I’m gone, you can tell anyone you want, okay?”

“I don’t like it when you talk like that. You’re not going anywhere.”

“Come closer so I can whisper in your ear. Secrets are supposed to be whispered because little pitchers have big ears.” 

The secret she told didn’t make any sense. He decided this one would be easy to keep.

It was another of those Colorado cold, crisp, September Sundays. The sky was cloudless, providing a spectacular light blue background for white contrails from high flying aircraft. To the west visibility was unlimited, allowing an unobstructed view from the autumn-colored cemetery to the evergreen-laden, snow-capped Rockies. 

The Criger family stood before two tombstones nestled between a pair of tall ponderosa pines. One tombstone read, Colonel Archibald M. Melton, United States Army, Born 14 May 1892-Died 23 August 1980. Next to it, a new, shiny tombstone read, Jane Doe Melton, Born-unknown, Died 1 September 1985.

As they stood in silence, Chuck Criger shook his head and whispered, with a catch in his voice, “It’s not right.”

“What’s not right?” his mother asked. 

“Her name and her birth date.”

“You know that?” she asked with a surprised voice.

“She was born in Atchinson, Kansas, July 24th, 1897,” Chuck answered.

“Did she tell you her real name?” All three Crigers moved closer to hear.

Chuck hesitated, reluctant to reveal his one special, sacred, secret.

“Well, what is it, Chuck Criger?” demanded his curious father.

“Amelia Earhart.” 

The names mentioned in this story have been changed to protect the guilty.

Thelma and Louise, Revisited

I was traveling south on Quebec St. approaching Gleneagles Parkway where I had to make a right turn westbound. Traveling in the left lane required me to cross over two lanes to get in the right lane. I had about one block before my turn. 

 

I looked through my rear view mirror and saw that the center lane was open with a black car approaching about six car lengths back. I signaled a right turn and slid over into the center lane. The black car pulled up behind me at a high rate of speed and began to tailgate me. Since I was traveling at 35 mph, the posted speed limit, the black car was obviously speeding. Two sixteen year old girls, animated and very mouthy, gestured strongly with the standard “finger.”

I laughed out loud, amused at their juvenile antics. I slowed, looking for an opportunity to move further right into the far right lane to make my right turn onto Gleneagles Parkway. This seemed to aggravate them even more. They pulled along my left side, rolled their window down and continued to call me names while giving me the finger. It was no longer amusing. 

We exchanged unpleasantries as I waved them away. My turn was coming up and I moved into the right lane to make my right turn. They evidently interpreted this as an evasive maneuver and decided to pursue me. Curious as to their intent I watched them through my rear view mirror.

Another car was moving up into the middle lane that I had vacated and was now between us. They cut in front of the car to pursue me as I headed westbound. The middle car slammed on its brakes, barely avoiding a collision with the two girls who had made an abrupt right turn from the left lane across the middle lane.

I was in the left lane because Gleneagles Parkway turns ninety degrees to the left (south) and they were in the right lane apparently thinking I was going due west into Palomino Park. Now they made a left turn from the right lane crossing in front of a car coming out of Palomino Park.

Gleneagles Parkway is a no passing street with double yellow lines.  In their panic to catch me (they said later that they were trying to get my license plate number) they were driving with reckless abandon attempting at least twice to pass in the no pass zone and had to brake to avoid a head on collision with oncoming traffic. 

This detained them somewhat and they were dropping behind. I slowed to watch, wondering what these girls were going to do when they caught me. Are they going to shoot me? Pistol-whip me? Stab me? Scream at me?

While I was watching them through my rear view mirror, I was late stopping at a three-way stop sign and went approximately four to six feet into the intersection before coming to a complete stop. When I looked to my left there was a police car monitoring the intersection. I waited about four seconds and the police car did not turn on its lights or move, so I continued on. 

Shortly thereafter, the police car pulled out with lights flashing and I pulled over. The two girls parked behind the police car.

There were two police officers, Officer Laurel, the driver, and Officer Hardy in the right seat.  I talked to Laurel, giving him my driver’s license and registration. Laurel went back to the police car and “Pretty Boy” Hardy approached my car from the right after spending several minutes talking to the girls.

He asked me what happened. I told him about the girls speeding up behind me, tail-gating and giving me the finger and then driving alongside in a provocative manner calling me names. He said the girls accused me of “cutting them off” and that another witness had confirmed that via a cellular phone call. 

He lied to me. The cellular phone call was made by one of the girls in the black car. He gave me about one minute of his time after about ten minutes with the girls. Later he explained that he lied to me to see if I would change my story, which he said I did. THAT’S WHEN HE LIED! I don’t know what he meant by that and he wouldn’t elaborate.

Officer Laurel came back with the ticket, which took about twenty to thirty minutes to write. I remained in my car as ordered

.

I was astounded when I saw I had been ticketed for “careless driving” (four points) and “failure to observe a traffic control device.” (four points) I had penetrated the intersection. (Had I raped the intersection?)

Officer Hardy returned and I asked him if he checked the girls for drugs or alcohol. He gave me that, “Do you think I’m stupid or something?” look. He said that he had been a police officer for many years and didn’t feel it was necessary. 

I told him the girls were acting like “Thelma and Louise,” out looking for an adventure. They demonstrated abnormal behavior, were aggressive, harassed, and provoked me. Now I had the chance to tell him of their reckless pursuit of me and their near collisions. He was unconvinced and unsympathetic.

 

I asked if I could get out of my car to talk to my accusers. I was refused. I said I don’t even know who they are or what they are driving. I asked Hardy if he knew them. He said no. I said I have a right to know and he said, “You can get that information in court.”

I felt this behavior indicated hostility toward me. I’ve since learned that its normal procedure to keep antagonists separated for fear of combat. I had never been in this situation before and was treating it like a “fender bender,” thinking I needed more information, at least their names and addresses. Hence the names, “Thelma and Louise.”  (Later I received this information at the court house.)

I was dumbfounded by the fact that I was being treated like a criminal instead of a sixty-seven year old senior citizen with an uncommonly good driving record and given a ticket at an intersection which I drive on a daily basis.

 I’ve driven in Colorado for thirty-three years and have one speeding ticket–- 45 mph in a 35-mph zone. I’m a retired military pilot with twenty-one years service through three wars. I flew twenty-seven years commercially out of Stapleton International Airport. In over 25,000 hours of flying time in more than twenty-five different aircraft I never dented a plane, had a violation, slid off a runway, or landed at the wrong airport.

 

I did not punch through a stop sign like it wasn’t there. I came to a full stop past the sign. I am not a careless driver and my record proves it. There were no cars or pedestrians present.

Why would he believe two teenage girls over a senior citizen driving home from the hardware store? 

Was I out looking for some action? Was I drunk? Was I foaming at the mouth?  Was I a menace to other drivers? Or were the police officers just incompetent?

The girls apparently did not consider me a threat because they came after me. If I were menacing, I could have had a gun. But still they came. Was I a threat?

This is very bizarre that I end up with the ticket.

The girls demonstrated their angelic charm, their purity, their innocence, while I was the raging bull, scaring those poor little girls to death. Then along came Prince Charming, Officer Hardy, his badge glistening in the sunlight, hand grenades hanging from his thick black belt, night stick dragging on the ground, teenage girl’s eye lashes blinking 1000 BPM’s, Hardy strutting about showing his manliness. Didn’t look good.

My feelings at the time of the ticket were inexpressible. I believe that Thelma and Louise were looking for excitement and adventure by taunting me, provoking me to retaliate in a shouting match and then reporting the incident by cellular phone. Their careless driving 911 cellular report is hearsay. I felt like I was being setup. I have not seen any documents other than the citation. I only know what Officer Hardy told me.

It’s my belief that the reason for the police officers delay in “flashing” their lights at me while I had stopped in the intersection was there intent to let me go. However, the 911 cellular report made them change their mind and pull me over.

As to the girls, lack of civility and rudeness are quite evident in today’s world. It seems we’re breeding people who have no tolerance or compassion anymore. The rise of impolite behavior has become the norm – insults, curses, and the lack of courtesy seem to be prevalent.

It’s a pity they got away with this because they will probably harass someone else and become the victims of REAL ROAD RAGE.

Is there a lesson to be learned here? Yes, there is. Regardless of who is at fault in any future altercation, I intend to ignore the situation without any confrontation. I’m sorry that I lowered my standards down to the level of my intimidators. 

This incident is very much like a football or basketball game where a player is blind-sided, he retaliates and the official sees the retaliation, hits the poor fellow with a technical and kicks him out of the game. This is not a game. We’re talking possible loss of license, higher insurance rates, and loss of respect for the law. 

I’m sorry the young girls had to slow down behind me.

I’m sorry the two police officers were on an ego trip.

I appeared before the County Court and presented this letter to the District Attorney. Under a plea bargain agreement this citation was changed to driving a Defective Vehicle and awarded two points. I accepted the plea bargain not knowing that I would be fined $50.00 Traffic Fine, $18.00 Court Cost, and $18.00 Victim Assistance Fund, for a total of $86.00. What’s next? $1000.00 Immature Teenagers & Police Officer’s Assistance Fund.

Sometimes you’re the dog; sometimes you’re the fire hydrant.

Call me sometimes for a donation to the Police Benevolence Fund.

Brown Recluse Spider 101

About four years ago when we were in Columbia, Missouri my wife and I met a college girl at a party. The subject of recluse spiders came up and the young girl said she had recently been bitten by a recluse spider on her inner thigh midway between her hip and her knee.

She had tossed her blue jeans on the floor before going to bed giving the spider an opportunity to crawl inside.  This was very unusual since the recluse prefers dark spaces and wood piles. 

The next morning she put her jeans on and soon felt a burning sensation on her thigh. Removing the jeans she spotted the spider and had the sense to capture it, placing it in a jar. The doctor said that was a very smart thing to do because the recluse spider was the most dangerous spider in the United States. Now he knew what action to take to begin an immediate treatment. 

She watched her flesh slowly being eaten away for weeks before regeneration began to take place. We were horrified at the circular cratered scar which was about five inches in diameter. She assured us that this was a definite improvement over a very long healing process.

After seeing that you’ll never catch me throwing any of my clothes on the floor, I guarantee. (If this hasn’t got your attention please view the pictures of a man who had been bitten on the thumb. http://denver.yourhub.com/~pilotwriter.)

  

The next day Joan and I drove down to visit some friends near Springfield, Missouri. They lived in a heavily wooded area on a hill top out in the boon docks. After leaving a paved road we drove on a dirt road for about a mile and then entered a trail just wide enough for one car. 

At this point we were seriously discussing reversing course and going back to Columbia…but we couldn’t! We continued on for about a half mile listening to the tree branches as they scraped the sides of the car.

We slowly made our way to our friend’s humble abode which had been built by his Indian girl friend several years before my male friend had moved in with her. Her first husband was an Indian Medicine Man who had been buried next to their garden. His grave site was decorated with various Indian symbols and paraphernalia. (I bet you think that I’m making this up).

Their home was a crooked three-story wood frame on the side of a hill with one room on each floor. At first sight it reminded me of a rundown airport control tower. And, of course, we were met by three large, mongrel, barking dogs and something that quickly darted off into the woods, possibly a large cat or a small domesticated mountain lion. 

Our friends soon appeared, welcomed us as we sat in the car with the windows up, while the dogs jumped against the car doors. I left the engine running. Our friends explained to the dogs that we were harmless.

They had to be extremely intelligent dogs, capable of barking, jumping up and down, and listen attentively all at the same time. Satisfied, the dogs returned to the front porch where they assumed the prone position. 

They welcomed us into their home, gave a tour of the premises, and then invited outside to see the garden, cemetery, and storage shack. We were told to avoid the poison ivy, which we did nervously, as they picked leaves to demonstrate their immunity.

It was inside the storage shack that determined where Joan and I would be sleeping that night. Did I mention that our friends had insisted on us staying over for the night? We could use their bed in the “loft” which was a king size mattress tossed on the floor.

Anyway, inside the storage shack I noticed spiders scurrying hither and yon.

I asked, “What kind of spiders are those?”

“Recluse,” he replied. “They’re all over the place.”

An hour later we checked into the Holiday inn.

Note: BROWN RECLUSE SPIDERS are located mainly in the central Midwestern states southward to the Gulf of Mexico, primarily in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri. However, they are found throughout all of the United States and its bite injects a strong and harmful poison. It is very important to be treated within the first 24 to 48 hours. Capture the little devil so you can show your doctor the real McCoy.

Most bites occur while you are sleeping or getting dressed with clothes that has been hanged on walls or in closets for a long time. Remember, they like dark places but can be found anywhere.

“Eject! Eject! Eject!

By

 

Colonel Robert K. Mock

As told to

 

Michael R. Daciek

On 20 January 1972 a reconnaissance Phantom was shot down 15 miles south of the Ban Ban Valley in Northern Laos during a Barrel Roll mission. This began a day in the life of Major Robert K. Mock, World’s Greatest Fighter Pilot, and occasional hero.

In June of 1971, I arrived at Udorn, Thailand, my third combat tour of duty. I was assigned to the 432nd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, 14th Tac Recon Squadron, World’s Greatest Fighter Pilot in my mind. At that time I wasn’t a hero yet. The Recce motto was: Alone, Unarmed, and Unafraid. At times you could substitute Unafraid with “Scared Witless!”

The monsoon season had just started and there was nothing more exciting than “scud running” at about 480 knots below 500 feet. We carried no protective armament, missiles, or bombs. Speed, surprise, and evasive maneuvers keep us alive. We were doing visual reconnaissance with the RF4Cs called the Sports Model, because it was a sleeker, faster Phantom than the F-4 Fighter. 

We were operating in Northern Laos, an area designated “Barrel Roll.” I had my own secret call sign, Bullwhip 26. Lieutenant John Stiles was my Weapons Systems Officer or WSO. Also called Backseater or GIB, Guy In Back. Frequently we encountered a large number of 37 MM Triple A sites firing rounds the size of golf balls. The rate of fire is tremendous! If one hits you, bye-bye birdie! Most are seven to nine level gunners with experience going back to 1964, so they’re very good. 

A typical visual reconnaissance mission would require flying low at high speed over mountainous terrain, slipping through a mountain pass, and then dropping down into the jungle, a rain forest, where the normal trees are triple canopy. Every 100 feet is a canopy, 200 feet another canopy, and at 300 feet the top canopy. 

Generally, after departing Udorn we would proceed directly to the tankers, KC 135s, orbiting in the Orange Anchor area, the border between Thailand and Laos. Six thousand pounds of fuel would allow us twenty-five to thirty minutes of high-speed patrol. We had very low drag without external stores on the RF-4. Not so with the F-4, carrying external fuel tanks and ordnance, which was similar to flying with the gear down.

 

After working my day job as Chief of the Command Post I went down to the 14th Squadron Operations room to brief with my Wizzo, Lt. John Stiles.

John asked, “Sir, did you get the latest Intel frag?” 

A B-52 cell operating in the Fishes Mouth area had a missile launched against them. The Fishes Mouth was a section of the border between Laos and North Vietnam on a navigation chart, when highlighted, looked like the mouth of a fish. SAC immediately ceased all operations, announcing their bombers wouldn’t fly until someone neutralized the SAM site.

I said, “Yes, I had been briefed on it.” 

Captain “Peppermint Patty,” our Intel Officer, and John Stiles exchanged glances. 

John said, “We don’t think that missile site is in Laos.” 

Peppermint Patty chimed in. “I agree with John. That’s a low threat area.” 

I remember thinking at that moment, maybe there’s nothing in Laos, but chances were good that the site was across the border. 

It was time to move on. “John, let’s make a run up the new road, and then we’ll hit the tanker. After that we’ll do some photo targets of opportunity, all visual.”

Once underneath the clouds we had to go visual because you can’t fly instruments at 500 feet cruising between 480 to 600 knots. We let down right on the deck and started rolling along the road. We weaved at four Gs, which would cause the experienced enemy gunners to lead us for six Gs; difficult to do. 

If level with or below the first tree canopy we’re okay, but if higher, the second and third canopy can block us out. The guns and missiles are all under the trees. It’s not like going down a freeway.

When we started our run we went about three clicks and saw a white object, a transporter erector for a surface-to-air missile. It was an SA-2. John turned his side looking camera on. 

I turned my head, looking back. “John, we’ve surprised them.” 

There wasn’t a round fired so we proceeded on about seven clicks to make them think that we had departed.

“Brace yourself, John,” I called out and entered a wifferdill maneuver. Recce guys can do it and some of the bomber guys can also but with a load of bombs it’s difficult to do. I lit the burners. If I didn’t, by the time I loaded up the airplane to four Gs my airspeed would decay. I pulled up like I was going to do a loop, did a half roll, pulled some Gs, and ruddered it right back down.

This is when we took our first hit. As soon as my nose went through the horizon we started accelerating. At this point the aircraft shuddered and yawed violently. Suddenly, everything in front of me flashed white. The Triple A gunners protecting the site had begun firing at us! When we came in from the west, we surprised them. When we came back from the east, they surprised us!

 For a few microseconds I glanced in my rearview mirror, and there ain’t no tail anymore! Damn! Why didn’t I go to Canada! The rounds were coming up, and they hit the fuel tanks between the cockpit and the tail. The fire erupted out the piccolo tubes, air-conditioning vents on the side of the cockpit. This meant the engines were sucking in flames and the fuel tanks were on fire. When a fighter starts to go, it doesn’t take very long. The whole airplane will explode very violently. I yelled, “Prepare to eject!”

“I can’t,” shouted John. “I’m jammed up against the canopy.” In order to perform his work it required loosening his seat belt and back strap. The G forces from the sudden shuddering and yawing had slammed him violently against the right side of the cockpit and upward numbing his shoulder and arm. “I can’t reach the handle!”

The Phantom had rolled inverted which would have caused a downward ejection into the ground. “Not yet,” I called. “Let me try something.” Somehow I rolled her over. I grabbed the ejection lever and yelled, “Eject, eject, eject!”

 The Command Selector for the ejection sequence was in the vertical position which meant that if I pulled the handle we both ejected. I pulled the handle which automatically caused John’s back strap and seat belt to jerk him down into his seat securing him for ejection. We didn’t have much altitude because the aircraft was sinking. The ejection sequence is; back canopy, front canopy, back seat, front seat, so the back seater doesn’t get scorched. 

We went out in that order. John was gone, and I quickly followed. The last thing I remember is that there wasn’t much airplane left. I closed my eyes because I figured we were goners. There was no way that we were going to live through this. If the exploding rounds didn’t get us the crash surely would. I closed my eyes and said the magic words, “Oh, crap!” two words all pilots say just before they die. 

I could hear, but I had my eyes closed and my jaws were torqued. I felt and heard the cracking sound of tree limbs breaking–crack, crack, crack—as I battered my way through the trees. I must admit it jarred me a bit. All of a sudden – SWOOSH! I’m no longer in the air. I opened my eyes and I’d come down around a piece of karst, limestone out-cropping.

It looked like we had come down in a grove of aspens, except the trees were stripped and they looked like an antenna farm, straight buggy whips, forty or fifty feet high. That’s what we went into, almost supersonic, which gradually slowed us down.

 

As you come out of the aircraft the seat rotates because of the rocket motors. The rocket propelled me just far enough to clear the tail, which in this case didn’t matter because the tail was gone. I didn’t hear the aircraft explode or crash. I sat stunned for a couple of seconds and finally got my wits about me. I looked around, and son-of-a-gun, I’m sitting there in my seat with the lower ejection handle in my hand! The rocket motors had gone off otherwise I would not have cleared the airplane.

The parachute is encased in a kidney shaped affair above your shoulders, a plastic mounted arrangement attached to you and to the seat. The first thing that should happen is a little drogue chute about twelve to eighteen inches wide blossoms out to stabilize the seat and after X number of seconds an initiator fires and a bigger chute comes out to extract the twenty-eight foot canopy, a sequence of three. These shotgun like initiators are built into the side of the seat, which you check on every pre-fight to make sure you have them.

 

Suddenly I heard banging! “Damn, the Gomers are shooting at me!” 

It was the initiator for my lap belt letting go so I could separate from the seat, which had never happened! Now the next initiator can fire releasing the 28 foot parachute. Two of these shotguns sounded and I struggled to find my 9 MM Browning automatic weapon so I could get even. 

I was happy to be alive but my coccyx really, really hurt because I smacked the ground very hard. My first thought was to check my limbs. They are okay. My forehead was bleeding from the shrapnel. I figure that’s no big deal. It’s not a gusher. My carotid arteries and the groin arteries were okay. I looked for my survival radio and my 9 mm weapon. 

I called John. “Bullwhip 26 Bravo, this is Alpha, how do you read?”

He immediately responded, “Five by!”

“I don’t know where you are because of the velocity during our crash,” I said. “I’m okay, are you okay?”

“Well, yeah, but I’m in a tree.”

I learned later that John ejected almost horizontally. He had a streamer. It helped him to slow down even though it never fully blossomed. His parachute caught a limb and stopped him, where he dangled about 100 feet above the ground.

 

I couldn’t stay in my present position because there wasn’t much cover within the Antenna Farm. The slope was pretty steep. I crawled on my hands and knees dragging my survival Kit. Suddenly it became increasingly hard to move. I looked back and saw that my parachute had deployed. Just what I didn’t need, a drag chute! I used my survival knife to cut the parachute loose and left it.

 The one thing I remember besides the buggy whips were the vines that had thorns like hypodermic needles. They broke off from the limbs and stuck into my entire body which hurt like hell and soon began to burn. Now I thought about the ants and the snakes. What else could go wrong today?

Thirty minutes had passed, so I checked in with John. “What’s going on?”

“Well,” he said calmly, “I’m not up in the tree anymore. The lowering rope got me down close to the ground and I dropped the rest of the way to the ground. I’m okay.”

Many years later I learned that he had parachuted into the center of the exploding and burning aircraft. He had descended down a chimney forged by his ejection seat falling through the trees, escaping birds, debris, and heavy smoke. Getting down from the tree he hooked up his tree lowering device backwards and instead of coming down slowly in chunks of ten feet he did a very fast freefall. Along the way his thumb got caught in the cord which he managed to extract without injury. 

On the ground he became aware that one leg of his flight suit had melted from the flames and was stuck to his leg. The enemy soldiers were spraying his area with AK-47s and shotguns and he could hear the pellets falling through the leaves before striking the ground.

“I don’t know what’s going on here.” I scanned the area. “John, you maintain your route. We don’t want to get together until nightfall.” It was now about 1430 hours.

We kept evading and I made a broadcast in the blind, “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday. This is Bullwhip Two Six Alpha. Bravo is okay.” I gave the UT coordinates in the clear. “Anyone hearing this message, acknowledge.”

 

A couple of hours had elapsed, and every thirty minutes I transmitted. John’s doing okay. I’m awfully tired and the thorns are really a drag. They’ve torn my G-suit and vest but to guard against an infection I didn’t want to pull the darn things out.

 

I called John again. “So far, no radio contact, how about you?”

“Not a thing.”

John would listen for about fifteen minutes and shut his radio off. That’s what we had briefed to conserve battery power.

Back at the Command Post, one of the Gibs (guy-in-back) from the Triple Nickel Squadron was Roger Locher, a Weapon Systems Officer for Major Bob Lodge. Roger called the SAC Command Post and checked the status of Bullwhip 26. “Oh yes,” they said, “he took on 6000 pounds and departed.”

 Another hour passed and Bullwhip 26 should have returned to Udorn. However, no one had heard from Bullwhip. Roger started checking. SAC was wrong. The “Whip” had not checked in!

At Ma Gia Pass an OV-10 from Naked Fanny was operating at 10,000 feet. On board was a navigator, Gary” Moon” Mullins, who had flown with me many times and was the first one to call me “Uncle Bobby,” (I was ancient, a 38 year old major) heard my familiar voice call out Mayday. 

“My God, that’s Uncle Bobby!” He used his HF radio to call Naked Fanny and said, “The Whip is down. If the coordinates are right he’s in the Fishes Mouth area.”

 

The command Post at NKP used a secure phone to initiate a Search and Rescue, coordinating with Lt. Roger Locher.

Roger reported to Colonel Gabriel and shared his find. “I know where there are two Air America choppers that can handle the job. I’ve been checking with the command post next door and I discovered that there are two Slick Hueys northwest of the downed aircraft. They can attempt the rescue.”

“Set it up!” Colonel Gabriel ordered.

Roger again called the Air America Command Post.

“Our Hueys are about one hour away from the downed airmen,” they replied.

Roger was elated. He gave the coordinates, the call sign, and the survival codes along with a description of Major Mock and Lt. Styles. 

Air America had assigned the rescue mission to two Huey crews flown by pilot Nikki Fillipi, copilot Lee Andrews, and crew chief Ron Anderson. The second crew was pilot John Fonberg, copilot William Phillips, and crew chief, Bob Noble.

 At about 1600 hours the enemy soldiers had began spraying the jungle with their AK-47s. Between bursts of fire I could hear their voices and the clanking of their tin cans, mess kits and helmets, a practice meant to flush us out.

 I mumbled, “Okay, you retards, John has a .38 caliber hand gun, and I’m going to be the biggest surprise you have ever seen because I am a master of the 9 mm with fourteen rounds and I’m going to take down fourteen Gomers.” 

I made another radio call in the blind. “There are enemy soldiers in contact.” I gave out my coordinates in the clear. I had hoped there was someone from the 13th Fighter Squadron or anyone from Udorn flying in the Barrel. It was very frustrating that several aircraft had passed over but none responded to our calls.

I called John again whose voice had changed just a bit. I told him, “We need to evade up a little bit higher. We’ll go north, using our survival compasses. They’ll be expecting us to go low, down toward the highway.” Then I said something to bolster John’s spirit, “I’m sure help is on the way.”

John responded, “Right!” which made me laugh.

The OV-10 had flown north about 100 miles, and when I came up on the radio I heard Moon Mullins, my ex-Gib say, “Help is on the way. I have their call sign. Are you ready to copy, over?”

And that was it. I immediately informed John.

  

The soldiers were getting closer. I didn’t know it at the time, but there was a barracks of NVRs nearby which housed enemy infantry that had moved into our area. They’re taking their time, very leisurely spraying the area as they approached our position. The guns kept going off and the sounds became closer. There were hundreds of rounds and they were hoping to accidentally hit us with their random shooting.

I called John. “Let’s conserve our bodies and our radios.” I didn’t know what kind of choppers were coming. “Let me do the talking. You just monitor, because your receiver doesn’t use as much power as a transmitter does. If my radio quits, you take over.”

The rescue choppers checked in. “We know where you are but we have to refuel. We’ll pick you up in about one hour.”

I was breathing a little better, and my hopes soared.

When they returned I reported to them. “My Gib is in the deep jungle below a 300 foot canopy. He’s on a 360° heading, climbing up a karst. I guess we’re about 1 1/2 clicks from the road. Pick up John first.” That was the toughest decision I had made in my whole life. “He’s more exposed than I am.”

“Roger that, but it’s not necessary. We’re in two Hueys, so we’ll make individual pickups but we can only make one attempt.” There was a couple minutes of silence followed by an excited call. “We have a parachute in sight!”

A Huey (HU-1) was a Bell UH-1H Iroquois Utility Helicopter.

Now the rounds are getting rather close. Minutes passed before I heard one of the choppers say, “We’ve got Bravo in sight.”

“I’m under your prop wash!” yelled John, quickly jamming his gun and radio into his flying suit. They dropped the penetrator above his head and at that very moment John spotted a figure in black clothing ten to fifteen feet away. His AK-47 was strapped across his chest and he had a wide grin, seemingly unconcerned about the situation.

John shouted at Bob Noble in the helicopter door. “There’s an armed soldier down here!”

“Shall I spray the area?” called Bob.

“No!” John grabbed the penetrator. “You’ll hit me.”

The pilot gunned his engine and off they went.

“We got Bravo!” reported the Huey.

The second Huey barked, “We don’t have Alpha yet!” 

“Okay,” I answered, as I searched for a flare. “I’m firing a flare right now.”

The flare went off, traveled twenty feet, hit the canopy trees, and fell back down, setting the area on fire “Oh, crap!” I stomped around trying to put out the fire. They quickly did a 90° turn, and another 90° turn. I could hear them and I felt a down wash!

 

I looked up and yelled, “You’re right over me!”

Suddenly a rope fell down through the trees. I could hear the engine starting to race which meant it was moving out! 

“Damn!” I lunged for the rope and captured it with both hands as the helicopter began to pick up speed and off we went. We weren’t more than twenty feet above the ground as the bullets zinged by. The 37 MMs were firing and the only way a helicopter can survive is to stay right on the treetops.

 Coming out felt just like my arrival coming in – pow, snap, crack, pop. I hit the tops of the antenna farm, ricocheting like a pin ball, spinning left, then right, hanging on for dear life. I don’t know how I hung on but I did. 

As I was being pulled up into the helicopter the crew member scooped me up and sat me down inside the chopper and offered me a cigarette. I didn’t smoke but I was happy as hell to be rescued. I lit up, took a good deep drag and started coughing and wheezing.

 

My new found friend stared at me. “Are you okay? You look like a porcupine.”

I nodded. “Yeah, I’m fine.” Actually, I was in shock and one tired puppy.

We finally came to a bend in the river, which had to be the Mekong. We spotted an Air America C-123J, a STOL aircraft, made for short take-offs and landings, configured with two props and two jet engines. It waited anxiously on a short dirt strip along the river bank with the engines running.

We landed next to it and John and I sprinted from the Hueys and ran up the ramp of the waiting provider. Before the ramp was closed the C-123s engines were at full power, and we were quickly airborne.

Now it was 2000 hours and we were back in Udorn–we were home. When our C-123 taxied into the parking area John and I bolted out of the plane’s rear end, down the ramp into Colonel Gabriel’s arms and bottles of champagne. The men of the 13th Fighter Squadron  came down to greet us.

We drank up a storm, shook hands, and laughed until my squadron commander, Lieutenant Colonel Harry Brown said, “Well, Bob, I guess we better take you two guys to the hospital.”

Two days later John and I were back flying again. How lucky can we be?

Someday, John and I will look back on this, laugh nervously and change the subject. 

It was quite a day.

 

Colonel Robert K. Mock, USAF(RET), resides in Highlands Ranch, Colorado and currently serves as Professor, Aviation and Aerospace Science Department, Metropolitan State College of Denver.

Update: Bob took his final flight on Sunday 15 June 2008. He died in the hospital two days after an automobile accident in which his vehicle’s air bags deployed. His resulting head injuries at first did not seem serious, but ultimately proved fatal.

 

John L. Stiles completed pilot training and flew RF-4Cs. He retired from the USAF in 1993 as a Lt/Col and resides in Goldsboro, North Carolina where he just completed his Doctorate.

But that is not the end of my story…

At some point during Dan Cherry’s visit to Vietnam, Hong My asked Dan how he had conducted the research that had brought them together.  Hong My’s curiosity was based on the fact that he was credited with the shootdown of an F-4 during January 1972. Dan told Hong My to give him all the details he could recall about date, time, place and circumstances. When Dan returned to the United States he began attempts to verify Hong My’s recall with records kept at the Air Force history establishment at Maxwell AFB, Alabama. In the process of sorting out the dates an F-4 shootdown that stood out was the Bob Mock/John Stiles RF-4 loss in January 1972. Dan contacted John Stiles. (Bob Mock had deceased in a tragic auto accident.)

Finally, after consulting various sources and reconciling dates Dan was convinced that Hong My was very likely the attacker that had shot down Bob Mock and John Stiles. Further, the possibility of a Hong My visit to Bowling Green and the F-4 that had shot him down began to take shape. The trip was arranged, with some help from Dan Cherry and others, and Hong My arrived in Bowling Green. He was able to sit in the cockpit of the very aircraft that had done him in. A side trip to Washington D.C. was arranged in order for John Stiles and Hong My to meet and remember. This meeting put the question to rest. John and Hong My, after an exchange of details, finally determined and agreed they had met before in the skies of Southeast Asia.

The pictures which illuminate these meetings in Vietnam and the United States were all provided by John Fleck, (not shown here) generously and graciously, for our use. John Fleck is a very accomplished photographer whose work appears on the web at (http:www.johnfleck.com). The rest of the credit is directly attributable to Brig Gen Dan Cherry who has gone the extra mile and then some to bring closure to so many people. We also recognize Mike Daciek of the “Eject, eject, eject” story for recognizing the potential in this saga in the first place. 

Contributed by: Editor, Daedalus Flyer, Winter 2009.

 

UFO TRIANGLES

In May of 1996, my wife and I along with our son and his wife, traveled from Highlands Ranch, Colorado to Columbia, Missouri to visit with Karen, our second daughter. We saw her so seldom and our visits were usually brief so we always stayed up late talking the night away.

 

A few days after our arrival we enjoyed a late cook-out with some of Karen’s neighbors on the back deck. By 1:00 a.m. the large gathering had shrunk to five members; myself, Karen, Tom, Michael, and Cheryl.

The front of the house faced due west and the back deck faced due east. Tom sat close to the back of the house facing east. I sat on the north side of the deck facing south.  Michael, Cheryl, and Karen sat on the east side facing west

.

It was a beautiful, cloudless night with the stars clearly visible. Being an ex-navigator I had to impress everyone with my knowledge of the stars, pointing out various constellations. From time to time, off in the distance, we observed flashing strobe and navigation lights from aircraft flying silently by. 

At approximately 1:30 a.m. I went into the house for a sweater. When I returned something caught my eye. I looked to the west over the roof of the house and saw three red dots in a small triangle about twenty degrees above the horizon. It very quickly grew, the triangle getting larger and larger and I yelled, “Look, everyone!” as I pointed up at about a forty-five degree angle.

Everyone began to talk at once, “Wow, do you see that? What is it? Is it a plane? Holy cow!” And in approximately ten seconds the triangle disappeared into oblivion.

The unidentified flying object maintained a straight course, not following the curvature of the earth, rapidly shrinking in size and disappeared into the blackness of the night. In other words, it did not disappear below the horizon.

When it was overhead, one witness reported seeing a dark underside, a black mass. My attention was on the lights. I do recall the lights as becoming slightly fuzzy as though surrounded with an aura, as opposed to being sharp on my initial contact. The lights maintained their rigid relative position with only the size of the triangle changing. There was absolutely no sound, no disturbance of air, and no trailing of smoke or vapor. 

Its altitude remains a mystery. Although it appeared to be very low it could have been 1,000, 10,000, or 100,000 feet above the ground, which also made it hard to judge its actual size. Assuming an altitude of 10,000 feet and traveling from horizon to horizon in ten seconds, it had to be traveling very, very fast! 

 Tom never saw the lights. By the time he got up to look back over his shoulder to the west, the lights had already passed overhead, and by the time he looked back to the east, they were gone. This clearly demonstrates the UFO rate of speed.  

 

I flew in the USAF for twenty-one years and commercially for twenty-seven years. During that time I occasionally witnessed some very strange sightings, most of which were explainable and were not UFO’s. I have seen Sputnik and the Space Lab slowly traverse the sky. I am familiar with the capabilities of the SR-71, the world’s fastest airplane, and what I saw on 18 May 1996 was not like any of those.

I am fortunate there were witnesses to confirm my sighting; otherwise I would not be speaking out now. For twelve years I may have mentioned it two or three times and only with those who were there. Frankly, I’m surprised that I didn’t share it with my pilot friends. What prompted me to speak out was the Tinley Park Story which I recently viewed on the History Channel. The mysterious three red lights and the triangle mirrored our Columbia experience.

I sent an e-mail to The History Channel, UFO Hunters, and quickly received the following reply:

Friday, December 19, 2008

Dear Mr. Daciek,

It was good talking to you today. As mentioned, I am producing this first episode of UFO Hunters, season #3, called TRIANGLES. We are going to be in Houston filming another story for the show on Friday and Saturday, January 16 and 17.

We would love to include your sighting that you had in 1996 in this show. I think it’s a great story and your credibility adds an element of believability to your sighting. We would like to fly you and your wife from Denver to Houston the night before filming. If we need to put you up in a hotel, we’ll be glad to do that. We’d love you to bring the testimony you wrote down in 1996, the day after, and videotape that as well.

If possible, we would like you to draw a sketch of what you saw (the actual craft or light configuration) and FED X it to. We will have a sketch artist do a computer rendition of it, and get your reaction. 

Thanks again for your consideration. If you are willing to commit to this, we just need the date(s) you want to fly, and which airport you prefer to fly into, and your full name to book the flight.

Sincerely,
Kevin Barry-Producer
UFO Hunters
Motion Picture Productions
1601-A Colorado Av
Santa Monica CA 90404
310-829-9933

On 16 January, 2009 I met with the UFO Hunters crew at Hermann’s Park, Houston, Texas by the Reflection Pool at 01:00 P.M. A standing interview was conducted by four UFO Hunters; Kevin Cook, Pat Eskert, and William Birnes, to my right, and Nick Redfern, a UFO expert who was flown in from the United Kingdom, on my left. The filming took three hours due to numerous breaks for technical reasons. 

We then move indoors to the Holiday Inn where we had another half hour filming session followed by a hearty dinner with the crew. I enjoyed the opportunity to be able to chat with everyone and conduct my own interview of Kevin Barry, Cook, Eskert and Birnes. The entire event was an extremely enjoyable adventure.

 

My UFO sighting was first aired on the History Channel, UFO Hunters, Giant Triangles, on 18 March 2009 from 08:00 P.M. until 10 P.M. PST. It continues to be shown at various times on the History Channel.

Michael R. Daciek

mikedaciek@comcast.net

13 December 2009

BARTOW REVISITED 2004

In late January Joan and I traveled to Orlando, Florida for two weeks of fun and frolic. Being too cold for beach combing and swimming we looked for other forms of entertainment. We had lived in Winter Haven in 1956 while I attended primary pilot training at Bartow Air Base so it seemed a perfect time to make a visit.

As we approached Bartow Municipal Airport and Industrial Park I could see two familiar sights, the Bartow water tower and the same control tower, except it was now painted orange. Entering the unguarded gate the road gave you a straight shot at the Fixed Base Operations building located on the flight line. 

For about 300 yards we passed roughly 50 commercial establishments; Army Guard motor pool, trailer parks, electronic businesses, etc., which was pretty impressive. In 1996 the combined airport and park paid out $31,750,000 to 1420 employees. They have been self-supporting since 1967.

 

The ramp initially looked barren and many of the old buildings were gone. We parked near the FBO (fixed base Operations) building, run by Bartow Flying Service. Three of their services include fuel, flight training, and rental aircraft. The airport operated three lighted runways, a daylight tower, approach control through Tampa, flight service, and VOR/DME. 

Walking out onto the ramp I noticed approximately 100 parked light aircraft and several small hangers. The reduced flight activity made me wonder, and then I realized that I was expecting things to be as they were during the busy days of pilot training. I did see a few black and white feathered aerialists which constantly dodged our flights back then.

There were five senior aviators sitting in front of the FBO so I approached them in my most suave and debonair manner. “At ease men, no need to get up. I’ll be in the area all day. Smok’em if you got’em.”

 

They laughed. I explained why I was there and asked if any of them had completed Primary at Bartow. None had. We gabbed for a few minutes until four of them left for the flight line.

However, the fifth, invited me in to sign their Visitor’s Log. I looked for some familiar names, found none, and entered my own. 

Joan and her brother, Bob, joined us. I introduced them to the Good Samaritan, Jim Hardy, who questioned me about my history at Bartow and beyond. I mentioned that I intended to go back to Kissimmee Airport and rent a T-6.

“Why hell, I’ve got a Cherokee Arrow sitting in the hangar doing nothing- I’ll take you up,” Jim said.

Jim got my attention. “How much?” I asked.

“You don’t have to pay me. I was going up anyway.”

“Well, I’m with my wife and her brother and…”

“They can go, too. It’s a four-seater.”

Joan and Bob stood there speechless for a few seconds. Bob flew 31 combat missions over Germany in B-17s with the 8th Air Force, the only survivor of his original crew. He didn’t cherish the thought of getting into a light airplane with a total stranger. It didn’t compute. Joan knew that if Bob didn’t go, she wouldn’t. And she wanted to.

“Bob, let’s live a little!”

We pulled a three-bladed Piper Cherokee Arrow, 200HP retractable gear, out of the hangar, loaded up, and taxied out. We all had voice activated Mics. After the run-up we taxied into position for take-off.

Jim put his feet on the floor and hands in his lap. “Mike, it’s all yours.”

I nodded. “What is rotation speed?

“Ninety knots.”

We took off on 27R. There are two parallel runways now. They made a larger one for T-37s. I climbed out at 110 knots, plus or minus ten. Hell, I was a little rusty. And off we went into the wild blue yonder, flying high into the sun. Making a left turn-out I headed straight for Bok Tower, the greatest landmark in all of Florida. At 2000 feet we circled Bok, took three blurry pictures, and flew almost an hour before heading home.

Jim checked in with the tower.

“Winds, 290 at seven, altimeter, 30.12, cleared to land,” responded the somewhat bored tower operator.

“What should I use for a final approach speed?” I asked, wondering when Jim would take control. The last time I had flown a single-engine airplane was a T-33 at Holloman AFB in 1964. All the others were pretty heavy stuff. And Jim thinks I’m going to land this plane, which I might easily screw-up real bad. Light airplanes kill you at a slower airspeed than big airplanes.

“Use 90 knots, Mike.”

Now I’m turning from downwind to base leg. “Let’s throw out the gear and flaps.”

He does.

I set the power to maintain 90 knots. We’re about 600 feet now and I say, “Jim, I really think you should make the landing.”

“Naw, you’re doin’ fine.”

“No Jim, I’ll probably over-control and I don’t have the right depth perception for such a small airplane.”

I heard Joan say, “Please Jim, you land the airplane!”

But Jim persists, “You’re doin’ just fine.”

I check the altimeter. Three hundred feet now. Then I remembered that saying, Never fly in the same cockpit with someone braver than you.

“It wouldn’t be prudent. Jim. You take it!”

Joan is praying out loud now. “Jim, listen to Mike!”

At 100 feet Jim takes over and lands.

What a wonderful experience for the four of us!

Such a deal, I tell you.

Mike

NO BRAKES!

“When you try to place a square block into a round hole, you’ve initiated the first step into changing a mundane routine operation into a predictable, “AH CRAP!” situation.” 

Mike Daciek- 1959

Once upon a time…

The C123 Provider entered service in 1955. It had two Pratt and Whitney R-2800 piston engines, carried two pilots, navigator, crew chief, load master and sixty fully equipped paratroopers, or 16,000 lbs. of cargo, or it could be converted to carry fifty litter patients, six sitting wounded and six attendants.

It was well regarded for Tactical Troop Transport for its ruggedness and reliability and ability to operate from short and unimproved airstrips.  How rugged was it? Well, the most well known C-123 was called “Patches.” It served in Vietnam flying low level defoliant and insecticide spray missions. During that time it received over 1,000 bullet and shrapnel hits.

Its name is derived from the metal patches that cover many of its battle scars. Its other name was “Measles,” because maintenance crews painted each hit red. “Patches” was awarded seven Purple Hearts and is on display at Wright-Patterson Aviation Museum.

As rugged as it was, the first aircraft lost in South Vietnam was a Ranch Hand C123B-56-4370, shot down on 2 February 1962. By war’s end a total of 54 C123 aircraft were lost.

From 1957 thru 1961 I flew C-123’s out of Sewart Air Force Base, Smyrna, TN.  Combat Airlift was the C-123 forte so we spent a lot of time at all the army forts in the world, stretching from the Rio Hata DZ/LZ (Drop Zone/Landing Zone) in Panama to remote Dew Line sites in Alaska.  In between we spent Mondays thru Fridays at exotic places like Ft. Campbell, Ft. Bragg, Ft. Benning, etc. If it had “Fort” in front of it we were there.

One morning after roll call our Operations Officer, Maj. Seagull, asked me to see him in his office. (We called him that because he squawked all day, crapped all over everyone and you had to throw rocks at him to make him fly). My additional duties were training officer and squadron parties, so it wasn’t an unusual request.

As I entered his office I asked, “Sir, are we having another squadron party?” 

“No, not this time. It’s about Operation Indian River. Our squadron has been tasked to fly fourteen aircraft to Larson AFB, Wash. From there we will work with the 22nd Infantry and the First Battle Group out of Ft. Lewis. Our C-123’s will move them into the Selah assault zone in the Yakima valley.”

This was good news.  For a minute there I thought we were heading to Ft. Campbell or Ft. Bragg again. My second thought was, Why is he telling me this?  Why isn’t he telling everyone?

He continued. “As usual we are short experienced personnel and this is really a big deal. The CO (Commanding Officer) is ecstatic that we were assigned the mission. He has assigned Captain Fuze as mission commander and you will be his co-pilot.”

Oh, wait a minute, I thought.  Captain Fuze, who fly’s even less than Maj. Seagull, is going to lead fourteen aircraft into a 1200 ft. assault strip.

I had flown with just about every AC (Aircraft Commander) in the squadron and not once had I seen Capt. Fuze in an airplane. So, I just spurted out, “Shouldn’t he be flying with an instructor pilot.”

Major Seagull leaned forward in his chair placing his folded hands on his desk, head down, as if to pray.  Slowly he raised his head and stared at me.

That’s a bad question, I thought. Do they teach staring at West Point?

“Captain Fuze is a qualified AC and all of our other Captains and IP’s (Instructor Pilots) are on other assignments,” he said.  “You are our most highly qualified copilot so that’s why you have been selected to fly with the Mission Commander.”

I pondered that remark. Was that a compliment? Was Captain Fuze selected because he was the most qualified or is he the only one available? Was I really the most qualified or was I the only one who would go anywhere, anytime, with anybody? I think it was the latter.

I wanted to say, big whoopee but that would not be prudent at this time. “Thank you, sir,” I said, trying to sound sincere. I wanted to say that the Squadron Commander is qualified, Major Seagull is qualified, the Supply Officer is qualified and the Maintenance Officer is qualified, but are they proficient?

I found out early in my Strategic Air Command tour of duty that sometimes qualified only means the little boxes have X’s in them.  Another reason I knew this was because I was the Squadron Training Officer and excelled in filling squares. We can all land a C-123 on a dry, hard surface, 7000 foot runway on a calm day at high noon.

Already I was praying for good weather. If you break down on a short dirt assault strip the field is closed and the entire mission is jeopardized. The other aircraft have no place to go. And we’re flying the lead aircraft. Not good.

Maj. Seagull stood up. He said, “I understand your concern and I agree Capt. Fuze may be a little rusty so I’m scheduling the two of you for a local flight tomorrow. Be sure to practice several assault landings. Any questions?”

Once again I thought, are you kidding? “No questions, sir.”

While flying the next day, fairly windy, Capt. Fuze lost an engine coming out of reverse on a couple of his assault landings.  We discussed the proper technique to prevent that and he did okay on the remaining landings.

 

I knew very little of Capt. Fuze’s background except that he flew combat missions in WW11, including D-day at Normandy and other major campaigns which followed, earning him numerous combat awards and citations.

 

After our final Squadron briefing for the Indian River mission, many of our pilots gathered at the Officer’s Club for coffee.  Capt. Fuze’s name was mentioned and a copilot referred to him as a “Nervous Nelly”.  Another said he had a short fuse which I found extremely appropriate for a person so short and a name like Fuze.

 It sounded like gossip to me so I just kept my mouth shut. 

On 3 May 1958, fourteen aircraft took to the sky in formation on a 1730 nautical miles, or about seven and a half hours of actual flying time, from Sewart AFB to Larson AFB, just south of Tacoma, Wash. The first leg took us to Ellsworth AFB, Rapid City, South Dakota for refueling. 

About halfway there I mentioned to Capt. Fuze that I hadn’t been on a SAC (Strategic Air Command) base since I left Travis AFB where I flew as radar-navigator-bombardier on a B-36 bomber. SAC commanders were very particular about who landed at their bases so you needed PPO (prior permission only) to land there.

“Yes, that’s true,” he said. ”Colonel Man, our CO, took care of that personally.”

Nine-hundred nautical miles and four hours later we landed at Ellsworth AFB, a rather enjoyable flight with clear smooth weather all the way, and fourteen in-commission airplanes parked at base flight.

 

We were being briefed by Captain Fuze in Base Operations for our next leg which we filed single ship, IFR (instrument flight rules) due to enroute weather, when a heavy set, crew cut, cigar smoking Major stormed into our briefing. 

Zeroing in on Captain Fuze, he said, “Captain, who’s in charge here?”

“I’m  Captain Fuze, Mission Commander, Sir.” 

 

“What the hell do you think you’re doing landing fourteen TAC (Tactical Air Command) airplanes on my airfield?”

Oh my, I thought, that’s no way to talk to my flight leader.

“We landed here to refuel,” Capt Fuze answered, his face turning slightly pink as he moved toward the Major.

“Don’t you know this is a SAC base, Captain?” 

 

“Yes, I do, but I don’t know who you are.”

“I’m Major Bowers, Operations Officer, and you’ve landed fourteen airplanes on my field without PPO.” 

“I have PPO,” with Captain Fuze moving closer still. “If you check your records, you’ll find that my CO, Col. Man got the approval in the customary manner.”

“I don’t recall any PPO from a Col. Man.”  Now they were standing nose to nose.

“Then maybe you should check with your dispatcher or someone who does know?” It was more of a statement than a question.

 Uh Oh, I thought. How do you spell insubordinate?

The Major glowered at Captain Fuze, puffed on his cigar, turned, and hurried away.

Minutes later he returned, cigar in hand. “You’ve got a problem, Captain Fuze.” Now he was saying Captain with a great amount of sarcasm. “There’s no PPO.” 

Capt. Fuze turned beet red and shook his head.  “No, I don’t have a problem.  You have fourteen problems sitting on your ramp. What I want to know is, are you going to give us the fuel or not?”

  

The Major was speechless.  More thoughts of disobedience ran through my head. 

Capt. Fuze said, “So, is it a yes, or a no?”

The Major retreated without an answer.  I wondered if he would return with a couple of Air Police Officers to haul our fearless leader away. 

 

After a few minutes a staff sergeant appeared and advised Captain Fuze that refueling was approved and please leave as soon as possible.

 

We had just witnessed a “short Fuze.” I wondered when “Nervous Nelly” would show up. It wasn’t long.

Our next leg ran 830 nautical miles across many mountain ranges; the Rockies, Wind River, Bitterroots, Cascade, with many peaks exceeding 10,000 ft.  And here we were flying unpressurized below l0,000 ft.  As we crossed the Rockies, Captain Fuze suddenly became awfully interested in our position. “Where are we?” he asked. 

I looked at the VOR/DME and said, “We’re on the 265 degree radial of the Billings VOR, 42 nm/dme.”

“I know that,” he said. ”What’s the name of that lake and town down there?”

I reached inside my brain bag and pulled out an ONC aeronautical chart, studied it, and showed Captain Fuze our position. These questions went on for about two hours. What’s that river, are there any emergency airfields near us, what’s the name of that mountain?  Now I knew I was flying with “Nervous Nelly.”  I’m thinking, this guy needs a tour guide, not a copilot.

Finally I said, “Capt. Fuze, this is wearing me out, can’t we just use the low altitude enroute chart and fly the airway system?”

I saw the color of his face begin to change and quickly asked myself, why did I say that?

Well, I got a lecture on the importance of knowing the aircraft position at all times and being able to locate the closest landing field in the event of an emergency.

After that, I simply said,” Roger” and continued with my map reading.  That’s when I found that “Roger” is a great response when you don’t know what else to say.  We made it to Larson AFB OK.

Well, the big day came. Fourteen aircraft departed Larson at sunrise, flying one minute in trail,  headed east for Ellensberg VOR, about ninety miles away.  Then we turned south for twenty miles descending into the Yakima Valley for landing at Selah LZ.

Our load was two vehicles, a jeep and a ¾ ton truck, plus six infantry men. After landing, we would clear the runway, open the ramp, discharge the vehicles and troops, and taxi for takeoff as the load master closed the ramp.  We would watch the second aircraft land and as he cleared the runway, we would take off.  Following this scenario, all aircraft would be airborne in less than fifteen minutes.

However, that’s in a perfect world. When I radioed the LZ, I got the bad news.  We were landing to the north and the winds were out of the east at ten knots gusting to fifteen.

UM doggies, right at our max for cross-winds landings. That’s what you get with a high wing and narrow landing gear. Oh well, at least we’re not landing on wet PSP( perforated steel planking) which can be as slippery as snot on a brass doorknob. 

We touched down within the first 100 feet right on air speed. Captain Fuze dropped the nose to the ground, entered reverse smartly and applied the brakes.  Real good. Coming out of reverse, the aircraft drifted to the left and he shoved the left throttle forward to correct back to the center line, leaving the right throttle in the idle position. He should have pushed it slightly forward to keep it running. The engine stalled and he stopped the aircraft at the end of the runway. 

He attempted to start the right engine and I suggested he let me do that while he taxied clear of the runway. He agreed and pushed up the power on left engine to get it rolling. He had to make a 100 degree turn to the right and backtrack to the taxiway. His second big mistake was turning the nose gear full travel which was 60 degrees before moving the aircraft forward.  

Meanwhile, I started the right engine. It took a helluva lot of power to turn because the nose gear was acting like a brake in the cocked position and screaming bloody murder! He turned the nose gear back towards neutral and we moved off the runway.  Although the runway was fairly flat, we had landed on the side of a mountain and the taxi way ran uphill very steep. We had straddled the left edge of the taxiway and the load master called for permission to open the ramp. Captain Fuze stopped the aircraft to unload. 

Now we were ready to taxi again. But he did it again, cranking the nose gear full travel without moving forward.  I heard a creaking noise, and I thought, he’s going to break the nose gear steering cable, and then it happened!  There was a loud cracking noise and the aircraft nose flopped to the left about ten degrees and we started rolling backwards down the hill! (That’s a wonderful feeling).

Captain Fuze yelled, “No brakes” and added power to stop the roll.

OMYGAWD! We were in deep kimchi!

I pointed at the emergency air brake bottle to his left and yelled, “Actuate the air bottle!”

He pulled up the levers, firing the bottle and the airplane stopped rolling. The crew chief and load master stuck their heads into the cockpit and demanded to know what was going on.  I saw that the hydraulic pressure and quantity gauges were zero.

I yelled, “Jump outside using the rear doors and chock the aircraft, and use rocks if you have to. Remember, we’re leaving the engines running until we’re chocked so don’t go forward!”  

By this time, the second aircraft had landed and called us on the radio. I answered, “We’ve lost our hydraulics. Can you clear us by leaving the taxiway and cutting across the field? If you can’t do it, you’ll have to advise all the other aircraft not to land.” 

Seconds later they called and said, “No problem, we made it fine.”

I answered, “Great!  Radio back to the other aircraft that there’s a disabled aircraft on the field, but it’s off the runway and it’s possible to taxi around them.” 

As I said that, the aircraft began to roll backwards again!

Captain Fuze had repositioned the air bottle actuating lever back to the normal position, releasing the air pressure. 

I yelled again, “Fire the air bottle again and leave the levers up. We only have three applications!”  

Well, we stopped again. Fortunately, the two sergeants were still inside the airplane. They thought that we were trying to kill them. They finally chocked the plane and we shut down the engines. Then we used wing tie-downs to keep the plane from rocking in the wind and there we sat. 

I really enjoyed sitting there on the side of the hill watching the other planes land and take-off. Especially the wonderful sign language my buddies used as they passed me by. They really loved me! I could hardly wait to go to the club that night.

We were surprised to find that the nose gear steering hydraulic actuator had popped its head off like it had been guillotined. Voila! No hydraulics.

Larson AFB flew in a chopper with an air compressor, hydraulic fluid and a new actuator. We were back at Larson AFB by 1500 which was truly amazing considering our situation.

The only evidence that anything went wrong on that flight was the write up on the form 781, which read: Lost hydraulic system due to rupture of the nose gear steering actuator. Activated emergency air bottle. 

Corrective action: Replaced nose gear steering actuator. Purged hydraulic lines and re-serviced hydraulic system and emergency air bottle.

Except for that incident, the rest of the three day mission went off as scheduled. 

Epilogue

Our squadron was commended twice by an army general and an army colonel, praising us for a flawless performance. If they only knew! I was a slow learner but I kept my mouth shut on that one.

Incidentally, for some unknown reason the army engineers had covered the runway with sharp granite rocks which were cutting large deep gouges and furrows in our tires. Had it not been for a quick response from a C-130 crew bringing in new tires, we probably would not have completed the mission in time. Almost every main gear tire had to be changed before the last mission was flown. Had we blocked the entire taxiway we could have been real heroes, saving the US tax payers a lot of money. 

…and we all lived happily ever after.

RIDING INTO THE SUNSET

Reading e-mails of the trials and tribulations of interrupted travel by several of my Snowbird friends driving to Florida reminded me of a trip I took from Topeka, Kansas to Littleton, Colorado in August of 1967.

After my family settled in Littleton and having finished ground school with Frontier Airlines, I went back to Topeka to retrieve my 18 foot Glaspar boat and Alligator trailer.

My twenty-year-old nephew, Joey, offered to accompany me on the trip which I gladly accepted. I told Joey he would come in handy in the event we were attacked by hostile Indians. He studied my face but did not reply. I wondered how long it would be before he recognized my sense of humor.

He was short of stature, a little on the chubby side, freckles, with brown curly hair. A bit too much pasta in his diet. 

I drove a blue, 1963 Chevy Biscayne which had the original tires and many, many miles of wear. The trailer was a one-axle with two wheels, and due to little use, the tires looked like new.

Driving across Kansas in the middle of August with road temperatures above 120 degrees, pulling a boat and trailer, was really bad timing. Couple that with no air conditioning and bad tires, but who knew?

I liked the idea of having a young man riding shotgun. What I didn’t know was that he had absolutely no knowledge of mechanics or manual labor. This trip proved to be a real education for both of us.

At high noon, just past Hays, Kansas, west bound, with speed matching the Route 70 sign, my boat trailer began to fishtail. I heard a flapping noise as I slowed down. I pulled over and stopped on the shoulder.

My left trailer tire had lost all the rubber around the middle. Joking, I said to Joey, “Look at the mess you got me into this time, Toto,” borrowing a line from Laurel and Hardy.

He laughed and said, “It’s Ollie.”

 “Yeah, but we’re in Kansas.” 

He shrugged his shoulders not understanding the connection between Toto and Ollie.

Looking back up the highway I saw a trail of rubber debris. No big deal, I thought, as I dug out the small trailer spare. However, even before I had started to do the repair, perspiration flowed like a light April shower. 

I removed my sweat-covered aviation sun glasses and shaded my face with my hand as I looked up at the bright, blue, cloudless sky. “Something not right here, Joey,” I said, looking at the huge sun-flowers, the size of dinner plates along the road side and the miles of harvested decaying corn stalks.

Outside of an occasional car going by, there wasn’t any sign of life, not even a bird. “There’s no wind, there’s no breeze, there’s no air flow.”

“What’s so unusual about that?” Joey asked, leaning against the hot car. He pulled away quickly to avoid being burned. Prior to his journey to Colorado he had never gone farther west than Trenton, New Jersey.

“We need some air conditioning.” I grunted and shook my head. “Before moving to Colorado I lived in Topeka three years where the wind blew all the time. I had more fishing trips and picnics ruined by wind then I care to remember. If it wasn’t the wind, it was tornadoes!” I winked at Joey. “Toto, remember?”

Joey laughed and said, “Wizard of Oz, right?” catching my drift.

“This tire change on the trailer is a one man job,” I said. “There’s no sense in both of us getting fried in the hot sun. You can sit in the car and find a good music radio station. Play it loud so we both can hear it.”

I changed the tire listening to “Elvis” and in about twenty minutes we were on our way. I was soaked.

As we accelerated down the highway, I kept my speed at sixty miles per hour. With all the windows down and the wind blowing through our hair, I became totally relaxed. Life is good! Suddenly, I felt a little quiver in the steering wheel, slowed down, pulled over and discovered a left, rear, flat tire on the Chevy. I found the appropriate tools, a tire iron and a lug wrench, and handed them to my faithful sidekick.

“What are these for?” Toto asked.

“You can remove the hub cap and loosen the nuts while I dig out the spare.”

Toto stood there scratching his head. He didn’t know where to start. I took over and finished the tire change while Toto looked on.

As we drove down the highway once more Joey eyed me up and down and said, “You look like you’ve taken a steam bath with your clothes on.”

“I feel like it, too,” I said. “I’ll be okay with the cooling effects of the wind.”

Once again, life is pretty good, but I prayed for a gas station to get the flat tire repaired. The highway heat was doing a real number on those old tires so I slowed once more to fifty-five miles per hour.

I could tolerate this speed until I got the tire repaired. We were on the outskirts of a small town called Teeny-weeny or Haweeny when it happened.

You guessed it! The right rear tire went flat. I pulled over and stopped. I sat there in silence, seething in my own sweat.

“This is really tiring me out,” Toto mumbled. “We’ll never get to Littleton at this rate.”

Just seconds ago I had seen a landmark that reminded me of Holcomb, Kansas, where a murder had taken place. Truman Capote wrote a book about it called “Murder in Cold Blood,” in which two ex-convicts killed an elderly couple for their money.

I remember asking myself, “How could anyone do something like that?” Well, the feeling I experienced at that moment made it easy for me to understand. I looked at Toto and shook my head, embarrassed at what I was thinking.

I told Toto to stay with the car while I took the flat tire into the small town. I rolled the tire down the road and chuckled to myself as I thought of an old joke about a traveling salesman in a similar predicament.

As he pushed his flat tire ahead of him down a farm road he came across an old gentleman on a tractor. He asked him, “How far is it to the next gas station?”

The farmer rubbed his chin and said, “Oh, I’m guessin’ it’s not very far, as the crow flys.”

“Well, I’m happy to hear that,” the salesman said, pointing at his flat tire. “But how far would it be if that crow was pushing a flat tire?”

It was the middle of the afternoon now and still not a cloud in the sky. I thought of stripping down to my shorts.  I had to laugh at that thought because I could visualize being arrested by a “Mayberry” type police officer for being a pervert. I’m in jail and Toto’s stomach is growling because he’s hungry, thinking, Where’s my driver?

I found a station, had my tire repaired, and the owner’s young son offered to drive me back to my car. It was a good move on his part because he could then repair my other tire and fill up my gas tank. Once back at his station, I reconsidered my predicament and bought two new tires while Toto continued to look on.

The rest of the trip was uneventful with Toto asleep most of the way.

However, I did enjoy listening to Toto tell everyone about how, “WE,” in the heat of the scorching Kansas sun, defied the elements and rode off into the sunset. Come to think of it, the sun was actually setting as we crossed into Colorful Colorado.


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HOW WAS YOUR DAY?

  By

Walter T. Potts, Jr.

 as told to Michael R. Daciek

On Monday morning after New Years Day, 1972, I awakened to a winter wonderland. Yawning, I pulled the curtain back to peek into the darkness as I placed the phone back on its cradle. Iowa lay under a two foot blanket of fresh soft snow left by a fast moving Canadian cold front. I had called Des Moines Flying Service to alert the lineman to prepare my airplane for a pre-dawn flight to Minot, North Dakota. Little did I know that cold winter morning that my faith and flying ability would be challenged.

 Sue, with one eye closed and still dressed in her robe and slippers, fixed me a hot breakfast. I ate quickly, gave my bride a goodbye kiss, and began my fifteen minute drive to the airport. I observed the clouds had drifted to the southeast and unveiled a black sky full of twinkling stars. 

The airport snow removal team had been working during the night with snowplows making it possible for me to drive to my “T” hangar. My single engine Piper Comanche 400 had been pulled out of the hangar and the lineman was applying heat to the engine. It was twelve degrees below zero. “Hi, Mr. Potts, pretty nippy this morning,” he said. 

I rolled down my window. “Sorry to have you working on such a cold morning. I had no choice.” I drove into the hangar and unloaded the car. After pre-flighting the plane, I crawled into the pilot’s seat and locked the door. The lineman signaled me to start the 400 horsepower engine.

I taxied to runway 30 Right, checked my magnetos, instruments, and flight controls. The tower cleared me for a straight out departure to intercept on course.

I was on my way to Minot, North Dakota, about six-hundred nautical miles northwest of Des Moines, where I would participate in a real estate condemnation case that afternoon. As a real estate appraiser, it was necessary for me to defend my appraisal in court. The City Attorney was to meet me at the Minot Airport at ten a.m. and drive me to the courthouse for a pre-trial conference before testifying.

It was now seven-forty-five a.m., a beautiful crisp winter morning, the bright sun shining into the cockpit through the window on my right. Grateful for a northwesterly heading away from the sun, I put the plane on autopilot and turned my thoughts to my appraisal and preparation for the court testimony. 

Suddenly there came a terrifying sound, “BANG—CLANKETY CLANG.” All of my senses jumped to full alert and my heart began beating so hard I expected it to jump out into my lap. The oil spraying on the windshield made it difficult to see and the engine shook violently. “Holy Hannah!” I blurted out, expecting the engine to shake loose from its mounts. I quickly closed the throttle, pulled the mixture control lever to the lean shutoff position, and began a silent glide. 

I had been cruising at 7,500 feet above the ground when the engine blew. I switched my radio to the emergency channel and called “MAYDAY” three times, giving my approximate position while I scanned the ground below looking for a place to land. There was a paved “farm to market road” below me. It appeared to have been partially cleared by the county snowplow, but I feared the snow may be stacked too high for my low wing airplane to clear. While spraying crops over fourteen years ago, landing on country roads had become routine. However, the numerous mail boxes, road signs, and electric wires crossing over the roads made it extremely chancy, especially for a glider. I thought my chances would be better “pan-caking” a wheels up landing on a snow covered farm field. I prayed for divine guidance and a quick miracle.

Something to the left caught my eye, buildings large enough to be airplane hangars, about six miles to the west of my course. Turning in that direction, I made a rapid cross-check of my rate of descent, airspeed, and altitude. It appeared I could make it, and if not, I could still land wheels up in the snow. With oil still spraying on the windshield I could see ahead only by leaning to the left. I used this same technique as a navy pilot watching the Landing Signal Officer, LSO, in making an aircraft-carrier landing. As a Navy Air Corps Cadet, NAVCAD, in WWII, we had to make “slips” and “dead stick” landings to a fifty foot circle in a N2S-5 Stearman. One might think that this would be a “piece of cake” but I had my doubts. It’s kind of like your car sliding out of control down an icy street. You know it is going to stop somewhere, maybe against a telephone pole, another car, or in somebody’s yard. Fortunately, the apprehension quickly subsided as I firmed up my jelly-like legs and arms and became busy calculating and flying. I recalled a maxim of flying, “Always fly into the crash.”

 The wind was getting a little stronger out of the northwest requiring me to crab into it and slowing my westward progress. The slower progress increased my anxiety, like waiting for an important phone call when you have to hurry to catch a plane. Closer now and still no runway in sight my anxiety and adrenaline raced like a pair of greyhounds. I yelled in my exuberance, “Hallelujah!” as a plowed runway came into view. My landing gear remained retracted to reduce drag and extend my glide. As I turned on final approach I saw that I had it made and lowered my landing gear. I was a little high so I put the plane in a slip to reduce altitude.  I straightened out and landed safely, coasting to a stop along side of the runway. I couldn’t quite make it to the taxiway to turn off, but it seemed unlikely there would be any airplane traffic that early in the morning. 

I got out of the plane and began shaking uncontrollably, like a leaf on a windy day. “He really does perform miracles,” I mumbled. I still had some unused adrenaline in my system which I expended while walking up to the office. It was after eight a.m. when I walked into the Airport Manager’s office. 

“I didn’t hear you drive up,” he said.

“I didn’t drive up, I just landed.” I replied, trying to sound casual.

 “I didn’t hear you land”.

“You didn’t hear me because I made a ‘dead stick’ landing!”

He got real excited as my story unfolded and hastened to make several phone calls. He told me the city was thinking about closing the airport and the newspaper planned to run a cover story. Soon a reporter arrived to hear my story.

While the reporter was doing his job, I called the City Attorney in Minot and reported what had happened. He was sorry to hear of my forced landing and also sorry he didn’t call me Friday to tell me the case was settled and I didn’t have to testify. What a bummer, I thought. Then I realized the engine could have blown the next time I flew and maybe I wouldn’t be so lucky in getting it down safely.

I called the Flight Service Station to advise them that I had landed safely. He said he had heard something on the radio but didn’t realize it was a “MAYDAY” so he didn’t do anything about it. Well, I was surprised and a little angry. How can you not recognize three “Maydays?” Should I have yelled “SOS” three times? But I let it go. 

I made the front page of the Sibley Iowa News including a picture of the plane leaking oil.

I called Des Moines Flying Service Maintenance Department to order a new engine to be installed in my plane at the Sibley Iowa Airport. Then I called my office, the Iowa Appraisal and Research Corporation, to advise my secretary of my experience. She said she had just received a call from City Hall at Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and they wanted me to make a proposal on an appraisal assignment in their downtown urban renewal area. She gave me their phone number. 

After the airport manager towed my plane into a hangar, I made a deal to rent his Piper TriPacer for a round trip flight to Sioux Falls, and then I would pay him to fly me to Des Moines. He cheerfully agreed. I called the Urban Redevelopment Department at Sioux Falls and they agreed to pick me up at their airport and show me their project.

My flight to Sioux Falls and back to Sibley was successful. The airport manager helped me load my stuff in the TriPacer and he flew me to Des Moines, arriving at my “T” hangar about five p.m. I paid him and wished him a safe flight back to Sibley. 

I called my wife and asked her to meet me at the Des Moines Club for Dinner. She thought that would be nice. I didn’t want to tell her at that time about my forced landing. 

As I walked I thought about the activities of the day, an engine failure, costing me $26,250. Plus, the attorney had failed to inform me the case had been settled, and Flight Service had not acted on my “Mayday” call. Despite the many errors, my guardian angel had assisted this humble pilot when he placed me in a safe landing location near an active runway.

  It had warmed up that afternoon and melted the snowplowed streets, but now it was dark and getting cold. The street lights pierced the darkness lighting my way. At Sixth and Walnut Street intersection, there was a crowd of people on the four corners watching an activity with awe-struck faces. When I got closer I observed a husky, medium sized man throwing a smaller man down on the pavement and stomping him in the face. Without thinking I charged into action, grabbed the attacker from behind, and held his elbows while placing my right foot between his legs for balance. He was leaning over the back of the man who was dripping blood from his nose onto my tan wingtip shoes. I ordered the attacker in a calm, firm voice to let him go. He began crying, releasing his rage as I led him to his car. It was then that I saw his wife crying in the car. Apparently the three men he fought had been drinking and made derogatory remarks when the two cars were stopped at the intersection. When I released the subdued man at his car, another man came over to continue the fight. I told him to back off or I would take him down myself. Moments later a policeman took over. 

My guts felt like churned butter. As I walked to meet Sue, I wondered why someone in the crowd hadn’t tried to stop the fight. Then I wondered why I bolted into the melee. Being of slight stature, my injuries could have been worse than if I had been in a plane crash!

I wasn’t alone that day. Someone guided me safely through those challenging experiences. I know my nerves had a good workout and I must admit that I was getting a little tired and hungry. I felt like a horse that had been “rode hard and put away wet.”

When I got to the club, the Maitre-d led me to our table where Sue was patiently waiting. After a prolonged kiss and a sweet smile, she asked, “How was your day?”

As told to Michael R. Daciek


UFO TRIANGLES

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In May of 1996, my wife and I along with our son and his wife, traveled from Highlands Ranch, Colorado to Columbia, Missouri to visit with Karen, our second daughter. We saw her so seldom and our visits were usually brief so we always stayed up late talking the night away.

A few days after our arrival we enjoyed a late cook-out with some of Karen’s neighbors on the back deck. By 1:00 a.m. the large gathering had shrunk to five members; myself, Karen, Tom, Michael, and Cheryl.

The front of the house faced due west and the back deck faced due east. Tom sat close to the back of the house facing east. I sat on the north side of the deck facing south.  Michael, Cheryl, and Karen sat on the east side facing west

It was a beautiful, cloudless night with the stars clearly visible. Being an ex-navigator I had to impress everyone with my knowledge of the stars, pointing out various constellations. From time to time, off in the distance, we observed flashing strobe and navigation lights from aircraft flying silently by. 

At approximately 1:30 a.m. I went into the house for a sweater. When I returned something caught my eye. I looked to the west over the roof of the house and saw three red dots in a small triangle about twenty degrees above the horizon. It very quickly grew, the triangle getting larger and larger and I yelled, “Look, everyone!” as I pointed up at about a forty-five degree angle.

Everyone began to talk at once, “Wow, do you see that? What is it? Is it a plane? Holy cow!” And in approximately ten seconds the triangle disappeared into oblivion.

The unidentified flying object maintained a straight course, not following the curvature of the earth, rapidly shrinking in size and disappeared into the blackness of the night. In other words, it did not disappear below the horizon.

When it was overhead, one witness reported seeing a dark underside, a black mass. My attention was on the lights. I do recall the lights as becoming slightly fuzzy as though surrounded with an aura, as opposed to being sharp on my initial contact. The lights maintained their rigid relative position with only the size of the triangle changing. There was absolutely no sound, no disturbance of air, and no trailing of smoke or vapor. 

Its altitude remains a mystery. Although it appeared to be very low it could have been 1,000, 10,000, or 100,000 feet above the ground, which also made it hard to judge its actual size. Assuming an altitude of 10,000 feet and traveling from horizon to horizon in ten seconds, it had to be traveling very, very fast! 

 Tom never saw the lights. By the time he got up to look back over his shoulder to the west, the lights had already passed overhead, and by the time he looked back to the east, they were gone. This clearly demonstrates the UFO rate of speed.  

I flew in the USAF for twenty-one years and commercially for twenty-seven years. During that time I occasionally witnessed some very strange sightings, most of which were explainable and were not UFO’s. I have seen Sputnik and the Space Lab slowly traverse the sky. I am familiar with the capabilities of the SR-71, the world’s fastest airplane, and what I saw on 18 May 1996 was not like any of those.

I am fortunate there were witnesses to confirm my sighting; otherwise I would not be speaking out now. For twelve years I may have mentioned it two or three times and only with those who were there. Frankly, I’m surprised that I didn’t share it with my pilot friends. What prompted me to speak out was the Tinley Park Story which I recently viewed on the History Channel. The mysterious three red lights and the triangle mirrored our Columbia experience.

I sent an e-mail to The History Channel, UFO Hunters, and quickly received the following reply:

Friday, December 19, 2008

Dear Mr. Daciek,

It was good talking to you today. As mentioned, I am producing this first episode of UFO Hunters, season #3, called TRIANGLES. We are going to be in Houston filming another story for the show on Friday and Saturday, January 16 and 17.We would love to include your sighting that you had in 1996 in this show. I think it’s a great story and your credibility adds an element of believability to your sighting. We would like to fly you and your wife from Denver to Houston the night before filming. If we need to put you up in a hotel, we’ll be glad to do that. We’d love you to bring the testimony you wrote down in 1996, the day after, and videotape that as well.If possible, we would like you to draw a sketch of what you saw (the actual craft or light configuration) and FED X it to. We will have a sketch artist do a computer rendition of it, and get your reaction. 

Thanks again for your consideration. If you are willing to commit to this, we just need the date(s) you want to fly, and which airport you prefer to fly into, and your full name to book the flight.Sincerely,
Kevin Barry-Producer
UFO Hunters
Motion Picture Productions
1601-A Colorado Av
Santa Monica CA 90404
310-829-9933

On 16 January, 2009 I met with the UFO Hunters crew at Hermann’s Park, Houston, Texas by the Reflection Pool at 01:00 P.M. A standing interview was conducted by four UFO Hunters; Kevin Cook, Pat Eskert, and William Birnes, to my right, and Nick Redfern, a UFO expert who flew in from the United Kingdom, on my left. The filming took three hours due to numerous breaks for technical reasons. 

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