After Nav School at Connelly in Texas, my duty assignment was to fly C-124s out of Hill AFB in Ogden, Utah. First off, never heard of Ogden, Utah and secondly, I really wanted to fly C-130s. But, the luck of the draw put me in “ole Shaky.”
When I got to Hill and got my first real look at the C-124 Globemaster, I was in awe. This thing was huge. You had to climb up a ladder just to get to the crew compartment. Once up there, there were the two pilots seats up front, the engineer sat on the right-hand side with a full panel of gauges monitoring everything that plane did. The Nav station was right behind the left hand pilots seat with all the latest equipment, APN-9 Loran (which they told us in Nav School was no longer in line aircraft-Ha!), APS 42 Radar, absolute altimeter and all manner of gauges and compasses. The drift meter was downstairs just behind the nose bulkhead. Some aircraft had a hand held sextant, others had the D1 sextant. One or two of the aircraft actually had the new fangled APN-70 Loran. The unique thing about the APN-9 Loran set is the little switch just below it what did it do, you ask? Well, it let out the antenna, which was on a pole in the tail of the aircraft. What was nice about that switch was the fact that you could kinda tune the antenna length for the different loran stations and get a better signal. The bad thing was if you forgot to reel it in on landing, you had a couple hundred feet of wire and a brass weight hanging off the tail of the aircraft. And, if you lost itwell, it was your tail in the sling. Enough about the aircraft, lets get on with the story
This trip was either my second or third and I was still flying with an instructor. We were departing Hickam AFB, Hawaii for Travis in California, going home. Just our luck, a wandering Flight Evaluator Nav (FE) jumped on board and was gonna give my instructor a no notice check ride. Another ten-hour night flight. We went to the Airlift Command Post (ACP) picked up the computer flight plan and I proceeded to put the charts together and can the first few lines of the nav log. We then got our weather briefing. Smooth flying with a plus 10 wind factor and a clear morning at Travis. That meant we had a ten mile per hour tail wind, no turbulence and a rare clear morning at Travis. With that info, we gave the flight engineer the recommended fuel load and filed Beal AFB, just up the road from Travis as an alternate landing field. All the paperwork done, we were off.
At the aircraft and under the watchful eye of my instructor and the FE Nav all equipment was preflighted and found A-OK. The checklists were run, engines started and we taxied out and took off. About thirty minutes after takeoff, I got my departure fix, on course, on time. The instructor gave me the thumbs up and the FE Nav took the top bunk.
In the 124 we took fixes every hour to an hour and a half. Because of the FE Nav on board, my instructor asked if I would take the first few fixes every hour, not a problem, I could do that. An hour past and I took my second fix, a three station loran fix. It put us about three or four miles South of track and we lost a few minutes on the flight plan. I made a slight adjustment to the heading, did some fuel log updates, and chatted with the instructor. Then he took the lower bunk and said wake me if you need me.
Second fix was a combination three star cell fix and loran. On course, but we lost another few minutes on the flight plan. Mentioned it to the aircraft commander (AC) and he didn’t seem concerned -- we pressed on. Third fix was again a three star and loran, but the loran was now sky waves and not really that good. On course but again lost a few minutes of the flight plan. Wind factor thus far was only about a plus five and seemed to be dropping. Four and a half hours out and approaching the equal time point (ETP) and my latest fix gave us a negative wind factor. I was afraid I had a bad fix, so I woke up the instructor and asked him to get a quick fix. My last fix was right on and in the half hour it took to get another fix we lost more time. We discussed the slowdown with the AC and the engineer and we decided we had enough fuel to press on.
The next fix was a disaster, we now had about a minus fifteen wind factor and lost even more time. I alerted the AC who got on the HF radio and contacted Travis weather Seems the weather pattern had shifted and we would be getting up to a minus twenty-five wind factor and the arrival Travis would have morning fog. By this time the FE Nav was up and he had the instructor take the seat and the two of them started checking and rechecking all the fixes as we slowed down even more.
The engineer now alerted the AC that we would have just enough fuel for one pass a Travis and the off to the alternate. Two hours out and we now had the minus twenty-five wind factor, the AC contacted Travis weather and Travis was now “zero zero” and the field was closed. As we franticly changed all plans to go to Beal, the AC contacted Beal and they were at a hundred and a quarter and going down. They politely informed us that the entire Bay area was covered in fog.
Well, that got everybody’s attention. We were low on fuel, all Bay area airports were covered in fog, what to do next? The AC contacted Travis weather and asked if any airfield close by was above minimums. Travis said to contact Castle AFB a hundred miles or so to the South. The FE Nav and the instructor quickly calculated that we would have just barely enough fuel to make it but could only make ONE approach.
The AC got clearance to fly directly to Castle. So we headed in that direction. Within VHF radio range we contacted Castle approach control. The news that had for us was NOT good. They were currently at minimums and scheduled do go down with the next fifteen to twenty minutes. We were about twenty minutes out.
The engineer was transferring fuel around and caused one of the engines to go lean and start to over speed That got everybody wide eyed. One quick flip of a switch and the engine was back to normal. Now about ten minutes out of Castle and they were holding at minimums. We felt a bit relieved. The AC contacted approach control for landing instructions and we were now under their control.. As we turned on final approach, all hell broke loose, approach said the field just went below minimums for us to enter a holding pattern. The AC explained that we didn’t have the fuel to do that, just get us down or we would be a big black hole in the ground, all eyes were out of the windshield looking for runway lights. Just as the lights showed through the fog, number three engine sputtered, leaned out and quit. As the pilot flared out, the main gear touched the runway, number two engine sputtered, leaned out and quit. As we cleared the active runway, the other two engines sputtered, leaned out and quit and we rolled to a stop. The AC called ground control for a tug and the entire crew breathed a sigh of relief, the mission from hell was over!
Oh, my instructor passed his check ride and I was to get my check ride on my next trip.