|29 Jun 1971||Cam Ranh Bay AFB, Vietnam||Clark AB, Philippines||639734||5.4 hrs|
|30 Jun 1971||Clark AB, Philippines||Kadena AB, Okinawa||639734||5.8 hrs|
|2 Jul 1971||Kadena AB, Okinawa||Local area||624154||1.4|
|3 Jul 1971||Kadena AB, Okinawa||Clark AB, Philippines||624154||6.6 hrs|
|10 Jul 1971||Clark AB, Philippines||Cam Ranh Bay AFB, Vietnam||624154||5.9 hrs|
|Total flying time||25.1 hrs|
This was an interesting mission and certainly gave me a flavor of what flying across the oceans was like in the days before high altitude jet aircraft made it routine. First of all, the Caribou was unpressurized and carried no oxygen equipment, which nominally limited our altitude envelope from sea level to 10,000 feet. Next, the heaters had been removed from the aircraft since they would obviously not be needed in Vietnam. The Bou also carried no long range navigation equipment - we were limited to ADF, VOR/DME, TACAN, and a weather radar, none of which are much use over large expanses of water. Finally, there was no autopilot - we had to hand fly for the duration (one gets very spoiled in a modern airplane like the C-141).
In order to coax the best fuel economy of of the R-2000's, we flew at 9,000 or 10,000 feet as our direction dictated. A little fact about the standard atmosphere table and some arithmetic would show that the standard temperature lapse rate is 2° C per 1,000 feet of altitude. At 10,000 feet, therefore, we might expect the temperature to be about 20° C colder than the surface. Let's see, if the surface is 90° F (32° C), then the temperature at altitude is about 12° C (54° F). The lapse rate, of course, is highly variable in practice and we often found temperatures in the 40's (F) at altitude. Now this really doesn't sound too bad, except that by now one's body has fully acclimatized to the standard 90 - 95° F with about 95% relative humidity and the warmest piece of clothing anyone had was a tee shirt. We were looking at six hours for each leg. It was a cold trip!
Navigation was simple and straightforward. We got the best guess the base meteorologist could conjure up on the winds aloft, figured out what compass heading we needed to hold in view of the wind to make good the desired course, took off and held the assigned heading, and hoped something good would come of it all. This is called "dead reckoning" or DR for short and it works reasonably well if the wind cooperates.
Enroute, as we burned off fuel, we would wake up the flight mechanic at intervals and ask him to pump more into the tanks. Each time an engine "Low Oil Quantity" light came on, we would similarly ask the flight mechanic to serve up another 5 gallons.
The lack of an autopilot was really not a big problem, as the Caribou was very stable and would trim out nicely to hold altitude and heading with only minor corrections from time to time. The biggest problem on the trip was boredom and the droning of the engines. Unlike some of it's larger and more sophisticated propeller-driven cousins, the Bou had no prop synchronization system, so we were constantly fiddling with the prop speed controls to reduce the beat frequency to as close to zero as possible.
The first leg from Cam Ranh to Clark went exactly as planned. It was a beautiful sunny day with little cloud cover and we got a great view of the South China Sea all the way across.
The next morning was a continuation of the fine weather and, although the leg from Clark to Kadena was longer, our route took us over the southern tip of Taiwan at Heng-Ch'un and then along the chain of tiny islands which lead to the Ryukus and Okinawa. The scenery on this leg was much more abundant. It had only been 9 - 10 moths since the last time I had visited Okinawa, but things had changed a lot. On my previous visits, I would have ranked Kadena as one of the most beautiful U.S bases in the world. Now, things seemed to be going to pot. The reason was political unrest. As you may recall, Okinawa was wrested from the Japanese at enormous cost in human lives and suffering during WWII. From that time until our arrival, Okinawa had been administered by the United States. Local pressure was growing, however, for independence from the Americans and, as we all know, Okinawa was returned to the Japanese a few years later. The upshot for us was that the local populace no longer wanted to work on the base and there was no one else to maintain the gardens with their Japanese topiary.
At least we got one day off to enjoy the world and one trip to Ozeiki's Steak House for the best steak this side of the Pacific.
Whenever a military aircraft undergoes any major maintenance, it must be taken up for a "Functional Check Flight" (FCF) before it is certified as airworthy. Being the only C-7 crew on the base, we got to do the FCF. There isn't much which can break on a Caribou, so the FCF was just a nice morning spin around the island which left us with another afternoon off.
Bright and early the next morning we set out to do the flight planning for our return to Clark. There on the weather map was a lovely example of what is called a typhoon in the Pacific. It was still well to the south of the Philippines and Vietnam, however, and would not be a factor in today's flight. We took off from Kadena into another beautiful sunny morning and started out long trip south. We noticed long before we even got to Heng-Ch'un, though, that we had already used more than half of our 55 gallon oil allotment. We had a real oil burner this time, and calculations showed that it would be close at Clark. Passing by Heng-Ch'un, a polite Chinese controller informed us that our radar transponder did not seem to be working and that our VHF radio was weak. Over the stretch of water from Taiwan to the Philippines, it became apparent that our long range HF radio had also bit the bullet. We finally landed at Clark with both engine "Low Oil Quantity" lights on, but no abnormal oil temperature or pressure - we just squeaked it.
We put numerous write-ups in the aircraft logbook for the mechanics to look after and hit the ground running for some more time off. It seems that the Caribou used a peculiar type of radar transponder which had to be sent in from Cam Ranh so it would be a day or two before we could leave. The first replacement transponder didn't work either. (I suspect the whole thing was a wiring problem anyway - but who was I to argue with the maintenance sergeant?) By now, the typhoon which heretofore had been no factor, was bearing down on Clark. A Caribou on the ground in a typhoon was dead meat and I had signed for the airplane at Kadena, so we negotiated a tow to a covered revetment just large enough to accept the Bou's 95 foot wingspan. The typhoon came with strong winds, but mostly torrential rain. As a matter of fact, this was a redefinition of "torrential". By now we had been enjoying the hospitality of Clark for almost a week and the Wing Commander of the 483rd at Cam Ranh had lost his sense of humor. We were sent a direct order to depart the next morning regardless of the weather, the state of the avionics, or any other lame-brain excuse we might come up with. Yes, Sir, Thank You Very Much, Sir, Can Do. We had to move fast. The squadron was expecting a large shipment of San Miguel beer with the return of this mission and we couldn't let them down. We managed to get about half a pick-up load crammed in around the fuel blivets (I don't even want to know what our takeoff weight was).
The takeoff for our final leg was into the the strong wind and low overcast from the typhoon. Although the eye was a safe distance away, we still had 60-70 knot cross winds and solid cloud cover from the deck to well over 10,000 feet. There were periodic areas of moderate to heavy rain - oh yes, I almost forgot, the Caribou leaks in the rain like a sieve. In addition to everything else, we were soaking wet. This must have been our punishment for a week in the world. By the time we got to Cam Ranh, we were not only right on course, the clouds had cleared and we landed without further incident. The San Miguel was quickly stashed in the squadron truck by a number of willing helpers and I was back to reality with six more months to go before I could board the Freedom Bird.
Revised: 24 March 1999