1 October, 1964. After returning from Europe in January, 1963, being trained as an instructor on the T-33, working as a line instructor for ten months, and being sent to coward’s cove (simulator section) for the winter, I was transferred to the Flying Instructors School. The job change was a pleasant surprise as the Advanced Flying School was being moved to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, and had it not been for the posting, I would have been part of the move. I had nothing against Moose Jaw, but I was beginning to enjoy Portage La Prairie.
After four months as an “instructor’s instructor,” I was feeling comfortable in the job and enjoying teaching other pilots to become instructors. According to my logbook, most of the flying was dual time with one of the instructors-to-be; so if a solo trip appeared on the schedule, it was to be appreciated. When such a trip presented itself on the first day of October, it was welcomed like a lost friend.
At the time, we were tailoring our navigation towards the requirements of the CF-104 operations in Europe in the nuclear and the reconnaissance roles. Navigation was taught using “strip” maps that were created by plotting the normal nav tracks on map sheets and then cutting the maps into strips with only about three inches showing either side of track. To save on map stock, there were “canned” trips covered in plastic maptac and placed in folders that could then be used by many. I elected to undertake one of these.
Low-level navigation was conducted at two hundred feet above ground at a speed of three hundred knots (if I remember right… it may have been three hundred and sixty). This translated into five or six miles per minute making maintenance of time along the track and over the target relatively easy. To maintain time, corrections were made by increasing or decreasing speed by 30 knots for ten times the seconds early or late. Sounds complicated, but in practice it was quite easy and often resulted in times-over-target of plus or minus five seconds.
Aircraft 283 had been assigned when I reported to Servicing; I signed for the aircraft and proceeded to the flight line. The ramp, which used to see eighty Silver Stars take to the skies three times a day, was now home to the twin engine C-45 School, a handful of T-33s and a couple of DHC-2 Chipmunks.
My aircraft was in the front row and already connected to a power cart. I exchanged pleasantries with the technician (commenting how warm it was for the first day of October), placed my parachute and helmet on the wing and went about completing the external preflight checks. Nothing was amiss so ‘chute and helmet were placed in their appropriate places and I clambered up the ladder into the cockpit.
Pre-start checks complete, the starter switch was activated followed by the opening of the low-pressure fuel cock at the prescribed engine RPM. The god-awful engine rumbling caused by fluttering auxiliary engine intake plenum doors atop the fuselage eased to a high-pitched whine as the Nene 10 reached idle; the starter was disengaged and the power cart waved away. Unlike the CF-5 and the CF-104, the technician did not stay to assist in the pre-taxi tests. After disconnecting and coiling up the power cord, he inquired as to my status with a “thumbs up” which resulted in my return “thumbs up”, indicating everything was A-OK.
Taxi and take-off checks revealed nothing amiss and with a nod from the tower, I lined up on the active runway. Power was increased to 65 percent and the TOE (take-off and Emergency) switch was selected. As expected, the fuel pump went to full stroke and boosted the RPM to in excess of eighty percent. Temps and pressures were “in the green.” We were good to go.
Brakes were released and engine RPM increased to maximum. In those days, acceleration checks and the like were still in the future and experience was the only guide to a properly performing engine. However, a good push in the pants seemed a good omen and a sustained tug on the stick at around ninety knots saw the nose wheel lift shortly thereafter. Main wheel lift off around 105 knots was followed by retraction of the gear and flaps and a turn to pickup the initial point of the nav trip. Even at this early stage, the large canopy was turning the cockpit into a green house, so the temperature was lowered and maximum air demanded for cooling.
The nav trip was a resounding success; the cloudless, windless Manitoba skies allowed easy maintenance of timing and track that resulted in a perfect time over target. (This is my story and I’ll tell it the way I want…) As the trip progressed, the cockpit temperature continued to climb resulting in going back to the temperature control again and again in an effort to cool off. Finally, after being selected full cold for several minutes with no alleviation in high cockpit temperature, the air conditioning was turned off and all the outside vents were opened. The rest of the nav trip was accomplished in relative comfort.
After delivering my pretend weapons on time and on target, I headed for home for the usual half-dozen touch-and-goes that normally followed any training sortie. After completing the three-mile run-in from initial, the sixty-degree bank, two “g” pitchout was accompanied by the reduction of power to 65 percent and the extension of speed brakes. Rolling out downwind abeam the button at one hundred and ninety-five knots, the landing gear was selected down with three green lights and a “shake test” of the gear handle giving assurance that it was locked into position and not “floating” and unsafe.
As the button of the runway moved to the forty-five degree position aft of the wing, half flaps were selected as the aircraft was banked back towards the runway, maintaining a minimum of 140 knots in the turn. Rolling out on final, full flaps were selected and the speed slowly bled back to cross the end of the runway at the target airspeed: power was reduced to idle and the aircraft allowed to slowly settle so that the vertical sink rate zeroed just as the wheels touched the asphalt. I couldn’t believe they paid me to do this.
At touchdown, the speed brakes were retracted, the flaps re-selected to “half” and the power advance to full. As the airspeed never fell below eighty knots, nose wheel rotation and lift off occurred shortly after the power application. Airborne again, the gear and the flaps were selected up. At one hundred and ninety-five knots, a steep climbing turn was entered to commence the right hand closed pattern. This was too easy.
As the nose passed through about forty-five degrees up with a bank angle of sixty degrees, my morning calm was shattered by an extremely loud explosion underneath me that knocked my heels off the rudder pedals. What the…?
I was immediately transported back in time to my engine failure in Germany some nineteen months before when my aircraft and I alit in different fields separated by time and space. My thought was that this can’t be happening; lightning can’t strike the same person twice. I immediately reduced the throttle to idle, thinking that I’d had a compressor stall; this action was followed shortly by a thought process of: “Now, let me see: I’m forty-five degrees nose up with sixty degrees of bank and I’ve just pulled off any power which might be remaining and the speed is starting to fall. ” Even without the benefit of higher education, I knew this was not good.
I scanned the instrument panel for any answers it could give me…the temps and pressures were in the green for the engine condition I had selected: idle. Hmmmmm. I gingerly started feeding in throttle making sure that I didn’t over temp the engine in my haste to get some thrust back into my life. (The T-33 had no sophisticated fuel control unit; the throttle basically controlled a spigot between the fuel tank and the engine. Attempting to feed fuel to an engine turning at a speed too low to accept it could lead to over temping at the least or turbine blade melting at the worst).
There was no protest from the engine as I fed in fuel; I kept the nose coming down and started rolling off bank as I reached circuit altitude and reduced power to sixty-five percent to maintain one hundred and ninety-five knots. In the process, I shared my predicament with the tower and declared an emergency. As he advised me of the wind and altimeter, the “B” Stand (his assistant) hit the crash alarm bell that alerted everyone on the base with any interest in an aircraft emergency that something untoward was occurring and to get ready. Interested parties included the Base Commander, the Fire Hall, the Hospital, and the like.
Now, it should be noted that the first of October, 1964 was a Thursday, and it was on Thursday mornings at 1000 hours that the Base Commander held his weekly flight safety meetings. All important section heads were in attendance. When the crash alarm went off in the Headquarters, the Base Commander looked at his Flight Safety Committee and intoned: “To the Flight Line.”
So as I was nursing my supposedly crippled ship to a safe landing, the senior hierarchy of Base Portage was streaking for the flight line. Of course, all of this was unbeknownst to me as I dropped the gear abeam the button of the runway and then commenced the turn towards final. Everything appeared to be normal: no lights, no abnormal temperatures or pressures. With a final check to make sure the gear is down, I eased off the power and settled onto the runway. On the roll-out, I advised the tower that I would pull off the runway at the end and shut down to await a tow back to the hangar.
As I pulled off the runway, I could see a cortege of cars coming down the taxiway. Stopping well off to the side of the run-up area, I opened the canopy, turned off all non-essential items, and stop-cocked the engine. I killed the battery switch and undid the seat harness. I wanted to be on the ground when the audience arrived but I sat there for a second or two: the adrenalin was still pumping and I needed to relax.
Lap strap and shoulder harness unbuckled, I stood up in the cockpit but a slight tug at my left side reminded me too late that my zero altitude parachute lanyard was still attached to the aircraft. This lanyard was connected below five thousand feet and, overriding the normal opening system, ensured that the ‘chute started to deploy as soon as the ejection seat started up the rails. It was to be disconnected before standing up to leave the cockpit: if you didn’t, the pins in the backpack were pulled, and the pilot chute popped out, propelled by a spring. Unfortunately, right behind the pilot chute was a half-a-pound or so of chaff, the “cut-to-the-right-length-to-be-seen-by-radar” tin foil that showed up as a large “bloom” on radar showing the ejection point.
I immediately sat down to trap the pilot chute and the chaff, but tin foil swirling around me was a good indication that I had failed. I disconnected the parachute and hoisted myself onto the edge of the cockpit and then slid to the ground just as the Base Commander’s flotilla arrived. I immediately became the center of attention as the Base Commander asked: “What happened?”
I related my story about the closed pattern, the big explosion under my feet, the heroic climb into downwind, and the subsequent smooth landing. As I was relating my tale, the tech warrant officer peered down the intake, up the tail pipe, and then jumped up on the wing to look into the plenum chamber. He reported back to the Commander that he could see nothing amiss.
He then asked me if I had noticed anything different during my nav trip. I explained that the only thing out of the ordinary was that I couldn’t cool the cockpit sufficiently, so I turned off the air conditioning and relied on ambient air from the cockpit vents. With that, the warrant officer dove under the nose of the aircraft and disappeared into the wheel well. The sound of snaps being undone was heard followed by an exclamation of recognition. He reappeared from under the nose and informed the Base Commander that this pilot managed to blow a five-inch air conditioning hose off its mounting, an outcome that was a certainty if you flew around with the air conditioning turned off.
With that, the Base Commander and his entourage headed back to their flight safety meeting. I was left alone with my thoughts and a half pound of chaff still eddying around the aircraft and drifting slowly across the airfield: I had gone from a hero to a goat in less than two minutes. The tow-tug arrived and I was left to “ride the brakes” as the aircraft is pulled back to the flight line.
Fame is such a fickle mistress…