CALL FOR THE CAPTAIN ASHORE AND LET ME GO HOME


Subject: YAWS

YAWS: A rare tropical skin disease. (really!). However, in this case, it means "Yet Another War Story".


Q: What's the difference between a Fairy Tale, and a War Story?

A: Nothing, except Fairy Tales start off with "Once upon a time" War Stories start off with, "No shit, this really happened."


In days of yore (1979 to 1982), I was hauling Tactical Trash for the 345 Tactical Airlift Squadron (TAS) in Yokota AB, Land of the Rising Yen Rate. One of the missions our squadron had was a Taxi and Shuttle Service between Kadena AB, Okinawa and Osan AB, Korea with intermediate stops at Taegu AB, Korea and Kunsan AB, Korea. (Or as I used to bill it, "Non-stop Whisper Prop Service to Taegu AB with continuing service to Kunsan and Osan AB, Korea"). We would fly down to Kadena on Sunday, and alternate days flying Kadena - Osan, Osan - Kadena.

Anyway, that's the way it was supposed to go. On this particular trip, everything went normal until our first day in Osan. On climb out for our first Osan - Kunsan run, the aircraft experienced a sharp and sudden but not too violent yaw. It was accompanied by a "vroom" noise coming from the left side of the aircraft.

A very quick scan of the instruments indicated that most of the stuff on number 2 engine was rolling back. My first impression was that number 2 flamed out. However, another 2 seconds of investigation revealed that prop RPM was normal, hydraulics were normal, generators were normal, oil pressure was low, but within limits, turbine inlet temperature was normal, fuel flow was way down, but not zero, what was zero was torque. These are the indications of a "prop decoupling" in a C-130. Simply stated, I had what looked like a perfectly good engine, and perfectly good prop. Only thing was they were no longer connected to each other.

So we feathered the number 2 prop, shut down the engine and return to Osan. The Air Force regulations governing the operations of C-130s says that you should declare an emergency whenever you are landing the aircraft in an unusual configuration. Landing with all 4 engines still operational is the unusual configuration for the C-130, but we declared an emergency anyway. Three-engine work in the Herk is no sweat; it really does have it where it counts. As an old drinking song goes, "The 130 will fly on 2 engines, 3 engines is hardly a chore, why some of the old-timers tell me they've seen it flying on 4!"

After landing, I got a chance to see the damage for myself. Normally, the most you can see when you look at the back of a C-130 engine is 2 or 3 stages of turbine blades. In this case, I could see daylight on the other end of that tunnel! I seems that a blade or two in the first stage compressor broke loose. These were eaten by the second stage ... There were no later stage compressors, and no turbine section at all. I was basically running a ramjet while spewing engine parts over western South Korea.

We spent several days in Osan while waiting for maintenance to put on a new engine. On one of those several days, my navigator got drunk, got in a fight with a bar girl over the possession of his wallet, and got involved with the local police1. I got him out of the country before things got too hot and he was put on "international hold.". We picked up a spare navigator, and continued the wait.

The big day arrived; the plane was finally fixed. As we approached the airfield, we could see that right next to our C-130 on the MAC ramp (the most visible, and accessible part of the airport), is parked an SR-71. It was surrounded by MPs with M-16's and guard dogs which looked only slightly less vicious than the MPs. Curious as we were, we decided against getting a closer look. Being laid "spread eagle" on the ramp, kissing concrete with an M-16 barrel pressed against the back of my skull isn't my idea of a fun time.

As we prepared the Herky Bird for takeoff, the SR-71 was ready to go before we were, so we stopped to watch it taxi out and take off. The MAC ramp is about midfield, so we figured we'd get a good view of the blackbird breaking ground. It did get abeam us, but at that moment, it was pulled out of afterburner, drogue shoot deployed, and smoke and parts came falling off the bottom of the aircraft. Upon later reflection, it seemed like a blown tire.

The SR-71 then takes to the grass, and winds up about 45 degrees off runway heading, and about 100 feet into the mud. The canopy opens; the two pilots pop out and go bounding away across the infield.

"OK, guys. Let's run it (the checklist) backwards. Looks like were not going to have an on time take off". I went into the command post and quietly and calmly told the duty officer, "When all the colonels and generals get done with jumping through their assholes, tell them I only need 3,000 feet of runway". I pulled up a comfortable chair in the crew lounge and dozed off.

They were quicker than I expected. In only two hours, they called me back into the command post and told me, "The Commander PACAF (4 stars), and CINCSAC (4 more stars) say that if you can get the concurrence of CINCMAC (yet another 4 stars), you can take off". I retrieved a rather largish tome from my hernia bag2 (where I kept my required publications), and pointed to the paragraph in MAC Regulation 55-130 that said that C-130s only need 3,000 feet (peacetime). I flipped to the back of the book and showed them General so-and-so's signature and stated that I did have CINCMAC approval. We took off with our twelve-star approval from mid field heading away from the wounded bird about 40 minutes later3.

We had an hour or so normalcy as we got to Kunsan without further incident, and then Taegu. On our takeoff out of Taegu, during "gear up", the #3 engine hydraulic pump warning light came on. I told the co-pilot who was performing the takeoff, "Leave it alone and continue the takeoff". I get so one-tracked-minded when it comes to making a safe takeoff.

In a C-130, you can't turn off a hydraulic pump without turning off the engine. It's a mechanically connected pump, not electrical. There is a "turn off" switch which causes a solenoid valve "downstream" to snap shut and a motor driven valve "upstream" to close more slowly. This action traps about a gallon of hydraulic fluid in the pump to keep it cooled and lubricated. This way, you can "isolate" the pump, and keep the engine running. It is the pilot's option to shut down the engine or to keep it running.

After some switch flipping, hydraulic fluid level checking, and consultation with the engineer, I elected to shut the engine down. We discovered the real problem after landing. The "upstream" motor shorted out and closed. There was no fluid trapped in the pump, no cooling, no lubrication, however, there was an excellent opportunity for an engine fire (or worse) if (more like when) the pump disintegrated. However, we knew nothing about the seriousness of the problem just then.

I couldn't go back to Osan, the only base in Korea with maintenance to fix this sort of thing, so I had to press on to Okinawa. Fortunately, there were plenty alternates along the route. By the time they got the hydraulic problem fixed a day later, we were on the leading edge of a typhoon. We were heading out to the aircraft in the crew bus (a "bread truck" with no windows). The navigator -- our 4th this trip -- I won't explain how we lost numbers 2 & 3 -- was sitting up front where he could look out the door. When the driver asked us, which C-130 was ours; he responded, "The one with all the fire trucks around it." I thought it was his idea of a bad joke. It wasn't.

It took maintenance several hours to get the malfunctioning fire detector fixed. By this time, the winds were up to 40 knots direct cross wind. I watched a KC-135 nearly "buy it" on take-off before us. This is one time this pilot added every bit of the gust factor plus a few knots and jerked it off. We immediately weathervaned into the wind, but we were airborne safely and headed back to Yokota.

Enroute, the fuel pressure light for number 1 engine came on. This is almost always a faulty indicator, but it's supposed to indicate fuel contamination in the line. As we were discussing the possibility of shutting it down, the number 4 prop started to "flux" (RPM not steady enough).

The situation was:

Number 1 could flame out at any moment. This would undoubtedly cause a decoupling - been there, done that. Not desirable, but survivable.

Number 4 could "runaway." This is not a big problem in flight. We had enough airspeed to deal with it. However, there was a good possibility it would "hang" at the "gate"(the throttle setting where you go from flight thrust to ground thrust) on landing. "Hung" props stay in flight idle. This condition would cause you to change heading in a hurry during the landing rollout.

-or-

We could shut them both down and fly on two engines. This ranks right up there with "kissing concrete" as my idea of a fun time.

So we did a little in-flight revision of the procedures outlined in the Dash-1. We talked about it, we dry ran it, and we briefed it some more. What we wound up doing was to keep all four engines running; land the aircraft; bring all 4 throttles slowly to flight idle; at my command, have the flight engineer shut down numbers 1 and 4 simultaneously (with co-pilot confirming the shutdown); bring 2 and 3 over the gate; and into reverse to continue the landing roll.

And you wonder why I gave up flying to play with computers. Generally speaking, the crashes are more survivable.

As the Beach Boys said in Sloop John B, "This is the worst trip I've ever been on."

Actually, "normal" missions were nowhere near this bad. I was just "snake bitten" on this one. What did you expect from a pilot named Dan FLAK? I was thinking of changing my name to SAM Flak. Come to think of it, it does sound like a name from Catch-22).

I did much better 2 days later when I had to evacuate another C-130 out of the path of this same typhoon.

P.S. No shit, this really did happen.


  1. At least this time I didn't have to bail one of my crewmembers out of jail. Although I haven't seen it in print, I think it's part of an Aircraft Commander's job description. I still have the "hand receipt" for one of my flight engineers from the sheriff in Alamogordo, NM.

  2. The unofficial MAC regualtion stated, "You can't take off until the paperwork exceeds the gross weight of the aircraft".

  3. I checked the NOTAMS. Osan was closed for a week. We were the last bird out.