Feeling good about our decision, we continued with the number three engine just above idle keeping all the a/c systems running normally. We had no trouble maintaining FL330 with only a slight reduction of airspeed. For weeks, I wore a smug smile on my face as I told my colleagues what a wonderful job I had done. Then one day I opened my company mailbox to find an envelope containing a curt note from the manager of the company Pratt & Whitney overhaul department.
It’s quite funny to watch someone fall asleep sitting up, a condition described by researchers as head bobbing. The victims’ heads loll onto their chests then some wicked synaptic brain fart wakes them, their heads snap up like the cracking of a whip only to repeat the sequence moments later. The sleep experts and their theories notwithstanding, when you are tired no matter what you do, your brain will eventually just shut you down into a virtual coma.
Early December 1990, cruising at 37,000 feet on a glorious clear day overhead Cheyenne from Los Angeles to Toronto, I thought, “It just doesn’t get any better than this.” Suddenly the data link printer spat out a short message. Even before I read it, I had a feeling that my bubble of bliss was about to explode in my face.
When we approached the button, we saw the visibility had dropped to ¼ mile in S+ and, as we rolled onto the runway heading, there appeared to be half an inch of wet snow on the surface. The F/O was doing the flying and just after V1 he shouted out, “Jim she won’t fly.”
Seeing the aircraft, my heart sank. The forlorn scene looked hopeless. Sundry bits of airplane scattered over the hangar floor, two of the four engines missing and the silly looking Viscount with half its tail feathers missing. I had second thoughts.
Back in the day when props were changing to jets, the Canadian Ministry of Transport contemplated creating a newly required third crew position on the huge DC-8s coming on line. The third pilot crew member would be neither a fully endorsed DC-8 pilot nor a fully endorsed DC-8 flight engineer.
Our drop mission was weather-dependent. It required smooth conditions in a layer up to 1500 ft above ground, to stay below radar, with at least a minimum off-shore breeze of 10 knots. The drop had to be done half an hour before sunset in cloudless, though not necessarily clear, conditions. In fact, a little obscuring haze up-sun would help the stealth nature of the task.