"Roger your emergency; How many souls on board?"

Discussion in 'The Okie Corral' started by Skyhook, Aug 20, 2007.

  1. Skyhook

    Skyhook

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    Got this from my flight surgeon..

    I'm a Navy C-9 pilot, a Commander with 20 years in Navy Reserves, who spends the other
    half of his time flying with the airlines. Here's a riveting typhoon story from the Pacific.

    We were tasked to fly from Atsugi, Japan to Thailand, stay overnight, then we would pick
    up a Navy SEAL platoon, and take them with us them back to Thailand. Then, after an overnight, we were scheduled to fly the SEALS to Guam. Flying to that fairly distant
    Pacific island was an unusually long-range mission for our military version of a DC-9.

    In terms of range, it was stretching it.

    With the SEALS onboard, the mission went fine back to Thailand. However, on the Guam leg with the load of SEALS with their combat gear and supplies . .' gas ' would become an issue for the airplane. The cargo and passengers would cut our usable fuel onboard to only 30,000 pounds. And it would reduce our time in the air to just four and one-half hours. Fine . . if nothing went wrong. But of course -

    things went wrong.

    Three (3) tropical depressions were beginning to stir things up in the Far East. The one west
    of Korea wasn't a factor, but the second one was sitting on our side of the Philippines, slowly drifting toward our refueling point at Manila. The third, now given the name Samoi, was spinning up northeast of our destination at Guam. Its projected track, would carry it 200
    miles north of the SEALS' deployment base.

    Unknown to the forecasters, now tropical storm Samoi was accelerating into super-
    typhoon mode. And it would soon alter its track to a collision course with our ETA . . and churn-up Guam's darkness.

    ****et, Thailand, is a tourist resort area, so while overseas communication was expensive, it was not impossible. I was worried about the weather, so I made long distance to various weather agencies before deciding to press on. With one day to spare, we should win the
    ' race ' with the first tropical depression. With the Navy SEALS and all of their gear on-
    board, we departed ****et early in the A.M.

    About 200 miles into the flight, the first thunderstorms appeared and we switched on the
    C-9's weather radar. The radar had tested out fine on the ground . . and tested fine after take-off. But now it decided to die and not share its imbedded storm detail with us.

    So we turned back to ****et to get it fixed. We carried our own mechanics with us. And
    after we landed they found a broken wire. After simultaneously replacing the fuel we'd burned, we were off again. A couple of hours later than we'd planned.

    The weather into Manila was dicey. But manageable.

    We used our radar to skirt the worst of the storms, landed, and took on replacement fuel. The leg had taken three hours and 40 minutes. And we had shut down with 6,500 pounds of fuel remaining . . just above our legal requirement. By flying East against the sun we had been losing daylight and we had landed at dusk.

    Again, I hauled out my credit card and telephoned around to check the weather. The latest forecast indicated a chance of light rain later that evening in Guam. The forecast stated that
    we should not experience any weather problems. This final leg was projected to last three hours and twenty minutes. And we were confident we'd have fuel to spare.

    Even though it is a small island, there are ( 2 ) two major airports on Guam. This was critically important to a C-9, because almost every time we flew it to Guam, we don't have enough fuel to go anywhere else . . but Guam. That was certainly true this night. But this planned leg appeared to be business as usual. And it was legal by every naval aviation regulation. At that point . . I would have flown it with my family in the back.

    We took off in the deepening twilight, and maneuvered to avoid the storms that our radar began picking up with increasing frequency. On an air-to-air common radio frequency, an airliner pilot told us he'd just taken off from Guam . . said we should have no problems.
    So, oblivious to the havoc . . super-typhoon Samoi would unleash . . we just pressed on.

    We approached Guam at 10 o'clock that night. There was no ATIS informing us our air field had now closed due to worsening weather. But Approach Control was still up and running. And we arrived overhead with 7,500 pounds of gas. About what we'd expected.

    On the other hand, it was certainly not enough fuel to go anywhere else in the Pacific.

    Typhoon Samoi had turned south on us. It was now headed toward Guam. And on Samoi's backside, swirling bands of severe thunderstorms began filling in. Although its center was 150 miles north, its growing mass now encompassed 1,000 plus miles of ocean.

    Both airports in Guam have long, dual runways running from northeast to southwest, creating a huge cross wind problem down below. Surface winds , now roaring out of the back-filling thunderstorms. The cross winds poured out of the West with gusts reaching
    eighty knots.

    There was no way to shoot an ILS with winds that far beyond tail wind limits for a precision approach. So, we set up the TACAN for a Non-Precision Approach to Anderson Air Force Base.

    Anderson's approach comes in over the ocean . . crosses over a cliff several hundred feet high, then touches down on the runway atop the cliff . . less than a half-mile from the cliff's edge. An eye-opener, even on a clear day. But if you factor significant, vertical windshear at the
    wrong time - and not only will we not clear the edge of the cliff - we might not even see it coming.

    At 150 knots, we stared at horizontal rivers of rain. We couldn't see three feet . . let alone the one-half mile visibility required to land. And now, in less than (3) three seconds, an upside
    windshear, boosted our airspeed from 150 knots to . . 230 knots.

    Go-around was mandatory.

    On the second approach the radar was now showing nothing but red on the 30-mile scale. We don't even fly through red . . let alone land in the red. Another go-around.

    Approach Control then told us we'd been right over the runway approach end. Twice. But
    none of us had seen any runway lights . . just torrent-flooded dark windshields.

    Fuel was now 5,000 pounds. I was ready to start bending the rules. I had to get closer to the ground to have any chance to get us down. I opted for an ILS landing in the other direction with a quartering 80 knot, shear-lined cross-wind off our tail.

    Despite the out-of-limit tail winds, we began the approach with Autopilot locked on ILS. The GPS was showing a 40-knot tailwind ( the limit is 10 knots ). But I was out of ideas.

    At around 250 feet, we experienced a problem that usually gets you in the flight simulator . . . the minus 40-knot vertical windshear when you instantly lose most airflow over your
    wings. And there is nothing you can do about it.

    Our airspeed fell to just over 100 knots. At 95, we would have all died.

    I simultaneously clicked off the autopilot . . SLAMMED the throttles to their stops . .
    while trying to initiate the textbook windshear recovery on control's feather edge. I
    glimpsed runway lights. Tempting. But intuitively, I knew that ' going for the lights '
    with the windshear, marginal airspeed and almost zero visibility would've crashed
    us.

    We went around again.

    I asked for and received clearance to Guam International just 20 miles away. Our fuel was
    down to 4,400 pounds . . we declared minimum fuel.

    Approach Control inquired : " How many SOULS on board ?" We knew that information would be passed on rescue operations, telling them the number of bodies
    to search for.

    The controller also said his radar was showing the weather was now getting worse ! And he cleared us for our 4th approach ( another VOR/TACAN Non-Precision Approach ) this time to Guam International. So far, all the approaches had been backed up by my copilot using our homemade Global Position Satellite (GPS) approaches, and he had been calling
    out my centerline deviations.

    Approach called the position of actual terrain obstructions. They gave us unofficial help for centerline without actually have ' precision radar ' and ' legally ' the could not do it for us. But I recognized the controller's ' hints ' for what they were and simultaneously I began cheating 50 to 100 feet on minimum descent altitudes.

    We still couldn't see anything forward . . so we went ' round again.

    The TACAN distance measuring (DME) went dead during the go-around. Sso we were cleared for the non-directional beacon (NDB) using best approximate approach to Runway 24, the only one left for us to try. The fuel gauge read 2,800 pounds and watched deck angle. High
    deck angle on the C-9 was known to cause its engines to flame out when the fuel level read less than 500 pounds.

    We turned on all the fuel-tank pumps . . to include supposedly empty tanks . . then opened all of the fuel cross-feeds. Although we had been over the approach end of the runway each time, we just hadn't been able to see anything. So we went around for ' number five' as I tried to decide the words I needed to say into the airplane's voice recorder . . just before we crashed.

    As we asked for early turn-in vectors to the NDB, our crew chief ( whose birthday was that day ) asked over my shoulder : "OK guys. What are we going to do ? "

    It was unauthorized . . untested method.

    But, I decided to couple up the NBD with GPS computer and the autopilot. I would allow the computer to fly the airplane without any assist on the controls from me.

    I switched on the autopilot-altitude hold, and dialed in an altitude 100 feet below approved minimums. Then I trusted it to allow me to look outside the airplane without my having to focus on flying instruments.

    We drove in and caught our first break . . a gap between the dark waves of thunderstorm cells rolling across the island. In the swirling darkness we both saw the ground. Then, in temporarily moderate rain, there were the runway lights . . less than three-quarters of a mile ahead.

    I immediately clicked off the autopilot and dove off the 100 feet avoiding any possibility of being sucked up into the clouds. Now in close, and pushing us down to the runway threshold,
    a windshear . . started heading us back up. If necessary, I was willing to accept the aircraft damage of a rock-hard landing. I shoved against the shear . . then smoothly but quickly hauled back to level out at . . . ( 5 ) F-I-V-E F-E-E-T !

    Incredible . . we'd ended up with a smooth touchdown !

    As we hydroplaned on the rain-soaked runway, the anti-skid brakes released several times. No other airplanes in that kind of sky, so we stopped on the runway's centerline - with over 3,000 feet of runway remaining. We just sat there for a minute. Each of us thinking our own thoughts. My mind still working, I noticed our fuel gauges were reading 2,000 pounds. Then, the torrential rains closed the sky with rain too heavy to allow us to taxi. Didn't.

    Riotous applause erupted from the SEALS in the back. They had known we were in trouble,
    but only three of us up front knew how much gas we had left.

    One more pass.

    Maybe.

    Thirteen' fuel fat ' inbound civilian airliners also received the same weather report as we did that night. All had started out expecting to land at Guam. But each easily diverted to Tokyo, Manila or Okinawa. We were the only aircraft who made it in that night or for the next day
    or so.

    Around midnight, as we pulled into the gate, our crew chief gazed around the cockpit and said in a flat voice : " Well . . looks like I survived another birthday ! "

    As we parked it with 1,700 pounds of fuel, our onboard ( APU ) power source flamed out . The mechanics measured the remaining ' gas ' with a dip stick. Our fuel guages had been
    reading TOO HIGH. On touch down we had fewer than 500 pounds of usable fuel. So then we knew the C-9's flight deck level during the memorable landing, could have ' done
    us in.'

    Will I ever fly around the Far East with the Navy again? Absolutely. Will I ever fly to an island destination that has a tropical depression nearby?

    Not on your life. Sometimes even your best might not be good enough.

    by Cdr. Dave DeLance

    ( abridged )
     
  2. Beeg

    Beeg Guest

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    That which doesn't kill us makes us smarter.
     

  3. Skyhook

    Skyhook

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    True, that. (Usually.) ;)
     
  4. jacquejet

    jacquejet

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    Are you saying that you non-stopped from Atsugi to (where) in Thailand and then another non-stop from that same place in Thailand to Guam? It is 2860 sm (2490nm) from Tokyo to Bankok and 2965sm (2575nm) from Bankok to Guam; both distances straight line. In a C-9 (DC-9-30)?
     
  5. New

    New Guest

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    All I have to say is:

    Coupled auto-pilot down to minimums at late-***** o'clock after navigating TOO many nauticals :banana:
     
  6. Skyhook

    Skyhook

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    "In terms of range, it was stretching it."--quote from article.;)
     
  7. Skyhook

    Skyhook

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    Major pucker factor.
     
  8. jacquejet

    jacquejet

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    I think it makes a great story. 2575nm Bankok to Guam-great circle-no manuevering. 4.5 hours of fuel (his estimate of range). DC-9 cruises at best .76 mach: 630nm/hour (mach 1) x .76mach x 4.5hours=2155nm. A direct tailwind ain't enough to make up the difference. Am I missing something? When did this happen? Did you have permission to overfly Vietnam (in a Military aircraft-or did you say you were a medivac flight (with Navy SEALs aboard))?

    Check my math and assumptions but I say it "Can't be done!!!"

    I might buy a stop in Manila (Bankok to Manila-1192nm)
    or in Davao City, PI (1534nm) or even Melekeok, Palau (2045nm) but Non-stop, no way.
     
  9. F14Scott

    F14Scott Luggage CLM

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    That story brings back a lot of memories.

    My squadron (VF-154 Black Knights, F-14A Tomcats) was based in Atsugi. Before each at-sea period, we'd fly to Iwo Jima (yes, THAT Iwo Jima; it's now a JMSDF airfield that is used by Americans) to "bounce," i.e. practice FCLP carrier landings over and over.

    F-14As had only a couple of navaids: A TACAN, a very drifty INS, and ACLS needles. (I think we also had an ADF/NDB, but we never used it.) Iwo's approaches were TACANs and PARs, but the PAR was notoriously water-soluable, ironically failing whenever the rain was heavy enough to necessitate its use. We also carried the (then) brand new GPSs with us, although we had no formal training in their use.

    Iwo has one runway. As a simulated carrier, it's a very good anologue, a tiny island in blue water, few lights, and runway height approximating deck height.

    After flying 600NM due south of Tokyo to arrive for a night bounce session, we arrived to find the island socked in, with the weather right at mins and thunderstorms everywhere. Smart men would have turned back, but, unfortunately, none of them were around, leaving only us to land our jets. Delaying CQ would have serious schedule repercussions, and we didn't want to be the weak link in the battle group.

    We pressed on, one at a time trying to land in the driving rain. Of course, with a single runway as our only option in 600NM, our motivation to land safely was high, but, one way or another, we were not flying back to Tokyo. We also knew that crashing on the runway, or sliding off of it, or taking the arrresting gear, or anything abnormal, would doom the rest of the airwing there that night, as we would foul the only active runway. There were contingency plans of landing on the taxiways, but they were untested and, frankly, pretty far out there.

    Down the chute, my pilot and I flew. It was hard to tell we were in the clag, because the torrential rain was so hard we could only see wavy, wet canopy. Of course, the PAR crapped out just as we pushed. So, he was shooting the TACAN with about 20 degrees of right crab due to the crazy and gusting wind, and I had the handheld GPS out, crunching numbers to deliver my very first self-contained PAR. This was done by referencing a waypoint I entered supposing the touchdown point of the runway, toggling between the "heading" and "bearing" screens to determine course deviation from runway heading, and also cycling through the "range" screen and adding the field elevation to the standard boat altitudes for their associated ranges. Just when my brain housing group was about to melt from the math stress, we broke out, about 300' AGL.

    The good news was, we were out of the goo. The bad news was, my pilot couldn't see the runway because of the rain. The semi-good news was, because of the crab, I could see it. So, my GPS PAR turned into an optical PAR, and I became an LSO, another first for me. "We're high," "Left for lineup," and "Keep it coming" were some things I'd never said in the cockpit before, but did that night. My pilot could see the glows of the airfield and the meatball, so he knew we were landing, but his scan had gone to AOA, radalt, listen to RIO, and repeat.

    Right before touchdown, my pilot saw the ball and kicked out the rudder (a detail I had forgotten in all the excitement; glad there were two of us in there). We rolled out uneventfully, pulled off the active, hung a 180 on the ramp, and tried to watch our squadron mates land. Amazingly, everyone made it down safely.

    Afterward, we proceeded directly to the little convenience store, picked up our rationed six-pack of beer each, and went to the BOQ to use it to wash down a lot of smuggled Jack Daniels. For being in the middle of the ocean with no music, food, or women, it was a hell of a party.