While stationed at England AFB in Louisiana, and flying the C-47, I had the good fortune of flying some memorable missions, this was one of them. I came to work early that morning and the first thing done was to read the 548th Ops board. On this morning in big bold letters was “101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, KY is being retired, need a highly qualified crew to support a troop drop mission.” This message gave the impression the squadron was looking for volunteers. Hmmm, sounds like a fun mission, I asked the duty officer where I might sign up and he replied, “you already did. As a matter of fact, you, Hotsko and Dysko volunteered, but they don’t know it yet.” I had flown with Tony Hotsko in Vietnam and with Pete Dysko on dozens of missions here, both great pilots and good friends, this would be a fun trip.
Later on that morning when Tony and Pete finally checked in, they got the word that they had volunteered for the Fort Campbell mission. In the afternoon, the Operations officer called us into his office and gave us the mission briefing. “The 101st Airborne Division was about to become the 101st Air Assault Division and they are having a name retirement ceremony, you guys get to lead the troop drop. The other planes in this parade are a C-119, a C-123, C-130 and a C-141.” You will leave the day after tomorrow morning, spend the night, get the command briefing, make the drop, land, off load the Army jumpmaster and remaining jump gear, and fly home. Any questions?”
“No, Sir,” was the reply and it was almost in unison. As we left the Ops Officers office, Pete quipped, “Hey Mike, you have to change your name to Radowsko, then we can be known as Hotsko, Dysko and Radowsko, the three musketeers of the 548th.” We all had a good chuckle over that. The mood was set for the entire trip. Bright and early the following morning, Hotsko, Dysko and Radowsko departed for Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Upon arrival, we walked into base operations and were given our mission packets. These included: number of troops in the plane, run in sequence, the low level route, the Initial Point (IP), the run in to the drop zone (DZ), aerial photos of the DZ and the time over target (TOT). Ok, done, we headed to the Bachelor Officer Quarters (BOQ).
It seemed the whole base was alive with excitement about the ceremony, retirement parties were everywhere. Big Army Brass was there, retired Army Brass was there, as were hundreds of retired 101st Airborne troops, family members of the jumpers and of least importance, news paper reporters. We got to the plane early only to find a large Army crowd looking over our C-47. Tony asked one of the senior Army NCOs what was going on. He grinned and said, “they are bidding on a spot in your airplane.”
“Bidding for a spot in our airplane?” Tony and Pete asked together.
“Yup, seems that these guys had grandfathers or fathers jump out of the ole Goon in World War II or Korea and they want to get a chance to do it too.”
We had to get to the briefing so we let the bidding go on and got assurances that we would have a full load of qualified jumpers.
In the briefing room, the other crews were already there, the C-141 crew had a Major with and attitude for a Navigator. The C-119 and the C-123 crews were National Guard guys who were gonna have fun, just like us, and the C-130 crew was active duty but really a nice bunch of guys. The room was called to attention and an Air Force Brigadier General walked on stage and started the briefing.
We were first given a change, no low level route, just a racetrack at the IP so the jump troops wouldn’t get sick. “The first airplane across the DZ will be the C-47, his TOT is 1300 local time and everybody else will follow at one minute increments,” the General stated. “The string will be the C-47, the dollar nineteen, the 123, the 130 and lastly the 141.” The General then passed the briefing off to the weather man. After the weather briefing, the Army stepped up and explained the purpose of the troop drop, and gave us a thorough briefing on the run in and the DZ and its markings, complete with aerial photos. We were given packets will all the data and photos a second time. The Air Force General stepped back up to the podium and asked if there were any questions. The C-141 nav raised his hand.
“Major, you have a question?” The General asked.
“Yes, sir, what time will the C-47 leave the IP and how fast will the C-47 be flying between the IP and the DZ?” The Major asked.
I quickly spun the distance from the IP to the DZ at 120 Knots and it gave me about a six minute run in. I replied, “we will leave the IP at 1254 local.”
The Major kinda snickered and asked how fast we would be flying. Catching his attitude, I answered; “ between 60 knots and 160 knots, what ever it takes to get the first jumper out of the airplane at 1300 and on the drop zone.”
Then he got pushy. “That’s not a very professional answer, Captain, I can’t put that in my computer.” He snapped.
“Well, Sir, I can’t give you a better one, I will do what ever it takes to get my troops on target, on time.” I replied. Just as he started with another snide comment, the General cleared his throat in the mic and said, “ Major, if the C-47 Navigator says he’ll leave the IP at 1254 and drop his first troop at 1300 on the DZ, you back that information into your computer, sit down and please be quiet…Now, are there any real questions?” A muffled chuckle could be heard from the other crews, there were no other questions. The General said “Well, gentlemen, if there are no more questions, let’s go and get this right!. Dismissed!” As we walked out of the briefing room, the three other navs came up and all complemented me on my gutsy reply. This was gonna be a fun drop.
The crew bus dropped us off at the airplane, preflight was done, by Tony and Pete, I briefed the jumpers. We cranked the engines, taxied out and took off. As we flew to the racetrack pattern, Tony asked me just how fast would we fly from IP to DZ, and my answer to him was the same, what ever it takes. We all laughed. Air traffic control stacked the five airplanes with a thousand foot separation in the racetrack pattern. Luck was not with us, to make our IP departure, we had to cut the racetrack short and fly at about 160 Kts to get to the IP. As we turned for the run in to the DZ, the airplane wouldn’t bleed off speed as fast as it should have and now we were about thirty seconds early on a six minute leg. “OK, Tony, lets hang ‘er on the props until I tell you to get back to 120 kts.” I said. Tony throttled back, we were now doing about 70 kts and started to lose those extra seconds. About a minute out, we were back at 110 kts and I gave the one minute warning to the jumpers. There was the DZ , the smoke and the “A,” we adjusted our track just a bit to allow for the wind, increased speed to our desired 120 kts and at 1300 Local, over the DZ, I yelled “Green Light.” You could hear the jumpers going out the door, in a matter of seconds we got the all clear from the Jumpmaster. He commented “Damn, that was a good drop, last jumper out before the end of the DZ!” We broke out of the drop pattern, entered the landing pattern to land and drop off the jumpmaster and the static lines and bags.
We parked in front of base Ops and were greeted by all manner of Army folks. They came to congratulate us for being the only airplane that was on time and the only airplane to get all of its jumpers on the DZ. Ah, the good ole Goon, what an airplane. And Hotsko, Dysko and Radowsko, the three musketeers of the 548th, what a crew. We went into base ops, filed the flight plan for home and left Fort Campbell, Kentucky with a good feelling. Mission accomplished.