On December 1, 1984 a remotely piloted Boeing 720, loaded with specially formulated anti-misting Jet A, was intentionally crashed at Edwards Air Force Base to determine if the fuel would preclude or suppress a post crash fire long enough for occupants to escape. It was a bold but ill-conceived experiment that went up in smoke.
Ask airline pilots where they want to be during the Christmas to New Year holidays and most say… home with family and friends! In December 1982, we split the difference; being with wives and kids, but on a 707 odyssey to Tianjin, China, celebrating Christmas Eve in a frigid airport dining room with the leaders of China’s airline, CAAC.
I was headed to Pan Am’s flight dispatch center in Hangar 14, grateful for the quick ride in from Jersey because we had a long day – and night – ahead. The year was 1989, and I was picking up dispatch papers for a 4pm 727 ferry flight to Frankfurt with a fuel stop in Keflavik.
Luxury hotels line the idyllic beach today. Forty-eight years ago, it was a bare sugar white expanse of sand and surf and the site of our crude Marine Corps helicopter base known as Marble Mountain Air Facility just east of Da Nang by the South China Sea. Our Marine CH-46 helicopter squadron had flown ashore ten days earlier.
That night in the spring of 1967 our mission was to transport about 15 wounded marines from the Phu Bai marine base, nine miles southeast of Hue on Vietnam’s coastal plain, to the hospital ship USS Repose about 15 miles off the coast in the South China Sea.
Years of crew coordination training went out the window on an unremarkable New York-Washington shuttle flight. Just as our 727 lifted off La Guardia’s runway 04 and the number three engine silently died, it was obvious that a deviation from the integrated crew response to the emergency was the best course of action.
Back in 1968 I was the relief copilot on Pan Am’s Boeing 707 Rome to New York morning flight. I was doing pre-departure checks when the purser entered the cockpit with news that Charles Lindbergh would be traveling with us in first class.