Previously written on 4/26/09:
I am finally getting around with another installment of some of my interesting experiences; they were to me anyway. They may not be for many of you.
1960 was a bang up year for the M.A.T.S. (Military Air Transport Service) Here are some of the operations I was personally involved in; The Cuban Crisis, The Congo uprising against the Belgians, and the worst earthquake in the known history of the world in Puerto Monte Chile. I think I will start with the Congo.
I really got to see a lot of the world that year. We started for the Congo by picking up some troops in Tripoli, Libya who had been bivouacked beside the runway for 2 weeks waiting for transport to Leopoldville, Congo now called Kinshasa, We took them as far as Kano, Nigeria where we went into crew rest and another crew took them on down to the Congo. We let the ramps down on the old C-124 (It wasn’t very old at that time) for them to come on board which was much faster than if they had climbed up through the crew entrance behind the nose wheel. The poor loadmaster took the brunt of the punishment that whole leg of the trip as those troops were extremely Ripe, they had wool uniforms in that hot desert country. We, in the cockpit, quickly closed the door between us and the cargo compartment, we should have done it before they started loading. It is hard to explain but it was a truly traumatic experience and our eyes ran profusely!
Since it was so hot there on the ground I figured I would do them a favor and not turn on any heat, whatsoever, as we climbed out to 10,000 feet where we planned to cruise, as that is as high as you can legally fly without oxygen for everybody. (The C-124) was not pressurized) We were leveled off at altitude and getting comfortable, when I received a call on the interphone from the Loadmaster that they needed some heat back there. When the troops boarded they had been given some box lunches to eat in flight, which they already had done. They had decided it was too cold and had piled all those cardboard boxes in the middle of the floor, while the Loadmaster wasn’t looking, (I expect he was staying as far as he could from the sweat odor) and built a fire to get warm!! Needless to say I obliged. The scary thing about that is that the floor of that A/C was heavy duty plywood.
We got past that problem and by the time we got to Kano the A/C was really a mess! None of those troops except maybe the little Lt. had ever been anyplace civilized so when they used the urinals which just gravity drained out into the slip stream they had used the toilet paper nearby having been told to use it after using the toilet. By the time we got to Kano they had totally plugged all 5 or 6 of the urinals which had run over onto the floor; sometimes a language barrier can be messy! That whole A/C smelled worse than any pig sty that I’d ever seen or smelled by the time we landed.
None of that group spoke a bit of English except for the little Lt. and he could barely understand. He spoke French to the troops. After we landed the Loadmaster made sure that the little Lt. kept all on board till that whole deck had been hosed down and all the urinals etc. emptied and cleaned. We in the cockpit got out of there ASAP after we shut down. The relationship of that little Lt. and the men was amazing. All of the troops were big men, yet the Lt. treated them like dirt; he would be jabbering something to them in French and then suddenly back hand of them and walk off; the strange thing for us was that any one of them could have knocked his block off if they wanted to. I guess some of those people have been mistreated their whole lives and just accept whatever happens to them.
We spent a couple of weeks shuttling between Kano Nigeria and/or Accra Ghana and Leopoldville. All of the A/C kept shuttling back and forth with mostly military supplies and equipment. I really took a special liking to those Ghanaians; they were very smart and well educated as the British did well by them; the British were just starting to give them their independence at that time. I was told that their literacy rate was higher than the U.S at the time. Just as an aside I will jump forward 20 years to the 80s when I went back to Nigeria and Ghana again. During that 20 or so years the Government had been taken over by a dictators; the first being Kwame Nkrumah and the comparison was incredible! They had been ravished by several, or almost continual civil wars and Military Coups for most of that time. The beautiful hotels and the city in general instead of being in excellent condition with happy educated people all around had reverted to almost tribal conditions…Air conditioning didn’t work. Water was unsafe to drink. The comparison was enough to make one want to cry.
We had two interesting experiences during that tour. I’m not sure which order these came in but the first I’ll mention was In Accra. We were taxiing out for Take off, from a crowded parking area. The natives were awed by that big C-124. They had stadium seating around the parking of area which was jam packed with spectators. As we were taxiing out of that crowded area it was my turn to watch for the clearance of the wing tips from the top hatch. The Engineers swapped duties for each flight. The other Engineer was making that T/O and watching the wing clearance while taxiing was my job. The flight engineers swapped duties and made every other Take off and landing, it was my turn in the top hatch as the other Engineer was making this takeoff. The clearance on some light standards around the stadium was very close so we had wing walkers, also watching the clearance. They signaled me that we should stop so I told the AC to hold it, so he hit the brakes but for some reason he hit the right one first which made the left wing which was the one close to the problem; which sent that wing forward faster and the left wing heater climbed that pole, stopped and settled down impaled with the pole sticking up through the forward part of the heater with about a foot sticking through. I must say that colorful crowd was very impressed! I went out on the wing, inspected it and realized that actually no serious damage had been done to the heater and we really didn’t need wing heat in Africa during the summer anyway. We had them round up a hack saw and I had a native cut the pole off below the heater, then since we had no sheet metal people available we used speed tape to patch the holes and were off the ground within about an hour. As far as I know that A/C shuttled back and forth with that speed tape till it rotated back to the States. Several countries were represented during that operation, in fact I was able to get close to a Russian IL-18 A/C which was about the size of our DC-6; I was amazed that they hadn’t developed flush rivets yet when that A/C was built. Their crew wouldn’t let us go into the airplane (I guess it was still top secret) actually I don’t think they wanted us to know just how outdated and crude it was. We took them on a tour of the C-124. Speed tape was a wonderful thing and has even been known to get big jets back home after a bird strike knocking a hole in the leading edge of a wing without peeling loose; it is just heavy aluminum tape that is extremely sticky.
On one of those shuttles to Leopoldville we had and expander tube which is what actuated the brake shoes against the brake drum burst on landing at Leopoldville. We were able to stop with prop reversal but it was not safe to taxi and they had to tow us off the runway over to the terminal. The AC (Aircraft Commander) asked me how long it would take us to get the problem repaired to which I responded that it would depend on how quickly they could get the part to us. We decided to go get a bite to eat in the, very, new terminal before we made any decisions. We had heard some rifle fire outside the perimeter of the airport on our way into the terminal but were not very concerned. The restaurant area was on the 2nd floor. We, engineers, were following the pilots up the stairs when I noticed a few of the banister supports had been hit by bullets which had broken them, then I noticed that the wall had numerous bullet holes and blood splatters covering it; I caught up the AC and told him to go ahead and file his flight plan and that we would have the A/C ready to go by the time he was ready.
I then found the Major who was the acting Maintenance Officer and had him find me some plumbing type plugs for the hydraulic line which fed the brake lines, which he did. I plugged the line but then we needed to re-service the hydraulic reservoir which, if I remember correctly, required 20 to 30 gallons of fluid. I also informed him that we would have to run each inboard engine up to 1800 RPM to bleed the pumps and system. He had the AC towed over to the maintenance area for that operation. When I got there I noticed that he had the tail of the AC pointing directly toward his maintenance office which was attached to the side of the hanger. He had the main tires backed up right to the edge of the concrete ramp and there were several feet of pure sand behind them. I suggested that we should probably tow to another area and explained the 1800 RPM again; he got a bit irritated with me and let me know that he was the maintenance officer and that is where he wanted us; I just shrugged my shoulder and said “Yes Sir!” He had recently purchased a practically new Studebaker Hawk, and had it parked in front of the maintenance office, from one of the exiting Belgians who was anxious to get out of the war zone. I’m sure he had gotten a steal of a deal. We had his maintenance men pour the fluid into the reservoir. The other engineer got in the seat and I put on a headset and went out into the #2 nacelle, established communication with him and he started up the engine and put it up to the required 1800 RPM. I loosened the output line from the Hydraulic pump and bled the air out, tightened it back up and shuttled through the wing tunnel, fuselage and into the # 3 nacelle where we repeated the process. We shut everything down and I came down out of the nacelle over the landing gear. As I hit the ground I was met by an exceedingly disgruntled Major running up saying something which I really couldn’t understand and probably wouldn’t have wanted to. When he got settled down a bit he was irate because due to the door being open to his office the hurricane winds from the props had papers strung all over the place and the room was full of SAND and it was my FAULT! I kinda chuckled and reminded him that I had suggested that we move the airplane before we ran the engines. We walked back to investigate the damage and saw a sickening sight; That beautiful Studebaker Hawk had absolutely no paint on the side that had been toward the airplane. We had done a good job of sand blasting it right down to the bare metal! I suspect that Major had a tendency after that to pay more attention to suggestions from some of the old Sergeants floating around.
In regards to my job I really enjoyed 1960 except that I was gone from home for several long stretches of time.
This is becoming way too long for one setting so I will continue the Cuban Crisis and Chile Earthquake in a later edition.
I LOVE YOU ALL