While flying the C-124 out of Hill AFB in Ogden, Utah, I received my orders to attend AC-47 gunship training at Hurlbert Field, Florida with a final destination, the 4th Air Commando Squadron, Viet Nam, the year, 1966. After arriving at Hurlbert Filed, we found out that the training classes moved to England, AFB in Louisiana. Upon completion of the AC-47 school and Air Commando training, I was asked if I would ferry a C-47 to Siagon in Vietnam. Being that I was just in C-124s, why not, I would knock off a couple of weeks off the combat tour, so I took the task. The plane would be fitted for the trip at McClellen AFB in California. We assembled an extended crew, three pilots, two navs, and a flight mechanic from the England AFB training classes so we all knew each other. The C-47 wouldn’t be ready for a couple of weeks after training ended so the ferry crew got some unexpected leave before going over.
Upon arrival at McClellen we all gathered at base operations for a look at our home for the next week or so. What a sight to behold. It looked like a regular “gooney bird” on the outside, but what a difference on the inside. From the forward bulkhead almost to the back door was this monster fuel tank that took up almost the entire inside of the airplane. Just behind the fuel tank was a fifty-five gallon oil drum with a hand crank on top of it and a hose taped to the side of the drum. Curiosity got the best of me so, following the hose , I found a tee in the hose and on each side of the aircraft was as hole that the hose passed through going out over the wing to the oil tank for each engine. Are you ready for this??? The hose was taped to the wings with the 1966 equivalent to duct tape. The mission commander asked the chief ground mechanic if that was the way it was gonna go, the answer? “Why, Sir, that’s the way we always do it, but just in case the tape starts to come up there are a few extra rolls in the tail compartment. Every hour or so, one of you will come back here and give that crank a couple of turns and pump some oil into the tanks for each engine.” Boy, that made us feel comfortable about this mod.
Next morning the crew assembled at base operations for the mission briefing and flight planning. It had already been determined by the aircraft movement detachment that the winds were light enough that we would not have to take the longer Alaska route but could go directly to Hawaii, Midway, Wake Island, Guam, The Philippines and then to Saigon, Vietnam. I had flown those legs dozens of times before and was feeling a bit of comfort in this trip. The briefer then stated that the first leg might be a little long, but he’s sure we would have more than enough fuel to make it. “How long,” I asked. He responded: “Oh, about twenty-two hours.”
“Twenty-two hours? All on one leg, of one mission? You have got to be kidding.” I replied.
“Nope, we have the canned flight plan, right here,” was his answer. Sure enough, twenty-two hours and ten minutes. We would have about twenty-eight hours of fuel on board. Can you imagine being in a C-47 for twenty-two hours? My body was already starting to cramp up. . “How long would the rest of them be,” I asked. Only twelve to fourteen hours each was the answer. After a twenty-two hour mission, twelve to fourteen hours would be a piece of cake.
With that kind of day in front of us, we got to bed early that night. Morning seemed to come all to fast, up at the crack of dawn, filled out the paperwork at base ops and filed the flight plan, When we arrived at the aircraft we were surprised to see the tail in the air on jacks. The ground crew informed us that that was the only way to fill the inside tank properly. Oh, goody, I thought, this was not gonna be fun.
When the flight mechanic finished the weight and balance he informed the aircraft commander that we were only four thousand pounds over grossed and it would take us about an hour to climb to our initial cruising altitude of six thousand feet. The AC expected that so there were no surprises.
The second nav and I flipped a coin to see who had the first few hours and he won the toss. He chose to catch a few more winks and let me have first shift. Not a problem with me, and we were off.
I will not bore you with the fix by fix mission details, but it was quiet, smooth and uneventful. And, it really was just over twenty-two hours long. After landing at Hickam, we were stiff, sore and glad to be on the ground. And just think, it twenty-four short hours it would start again.