Ferrying to the PhilippinesIn the fall of 1964, some of the B-57s stationed at Clark AFB in the Philippines were deployed to Bien Hoa, South Vietnam. Through various incidents, several aircraft were lost. So a decision was made to replace them. One problem came to light. I don’t know when the decision was made, but aircrews were not selected until the end of December or the first of January 1965, so as not to screw up the Christmas holidays. (Wasn’t that considerate of them?) The Problem: We had to be in Louisville, KY, by the middle of January 1965. Needless to say there was a wild scramble getting orders; getting the kids out of school; making arrangements to get household goods packed up; clearing the base; and then getting the family to a place to live. In my case, that meant a cross-country trip from Biggs AFB at El Paso to South Carolina. (Sound familiar to anyone?)
Charles (Chuck) Ramsey
Nine crews from the three DSES squadrons showed up at the National Guard outfit to pick up the aircraft and start out on the ferry trip. I had been crewed with Mike Chalout, who was also from Biggs and we had flown together many times making the trip much easier. When asked of the Aircraft Delivery Group where we were headed, all we got was that their job was to get us to the next stop and that General Lemay was watching this deployment. Now I have no way of knowing if General Lemay, himself, was watching this trip but in retrospect, somebody way up the “Food Chain” was definitely keeping an eye on this operation. We had a pretty good group of highly intelligent people making this trip, so we thought we would try to figure out ourselves where we might be heading. First, we were ferrying B-57s. Our initial stop was to be the west coast. Second, the aircraft were fitted with ferry tanks, which generally meant long over-water flight. Third, there was only one outfit with B-57s in the Pacific and it was in the Philippines. By George, I think we got it. We were headed to Clark AFB in the Philippines
Then we hit our first glitch. The Air National Guard was either using or had requisitioned back type parachutes and a seat survival kit. Since the aircraft seat was not designed for back type chutes, a long flight with the chute hanging from your shoulders can be quite tiring. All of us had been flying the machine for quite some time and preferred the seat type parachute with a life raft on the back. So the Delivery Group asked where we could get these type chutes already put together. For whatever reason, the consensus was the 4758th at Biggs AFB at El Paso. (Right back to where we had started from.) A phone call and they said go.
Somebody was watching.
Normally, the base Transient Alert would be responsible for servicing the aircraft at Biggs, but not this time. Now can you imagine the phone call that the Commander, Col. Young, received? Something to the effect "You have nine B-57s due there in a couple of hours. You are to “turn them around as fast as possible” and by the way, they will be taking 18 of your seat type chutes with life rafts”.
Somebody was watching.
Normally the jumping off point for trips across the Pacific had been McClelland AFB. For whatever reason we were diverted to (as best I can remember) Moffitt Naval Air Base. This did knock off a few miles for the trip to Hawaii. The weather was pretty much at minimums when we landed and it didn’t get any better the next morning. Ferry Minimums for take off was suppose to be 800 ft and 2 miles. When we reached the flight line the next morning, you could not see the top of the hangers. But the weather people assured us that at our departure time, the weather report would read 800 feet and 2 miles.
Somebody was watching.
Next we found out that the headwind component from San Francisco to Hawaii, at 40,000 ft, exceeded our capabilities. But the winds from Los Angeles were acceptable. So based on that we headed for Hawaii. Estimated time enroute – 6 hours. Estimated time to dry tanks – 6 hr – 30 min.
Somebody was watching.
For those not familiar with B-57’s, there is no autopilot. So we had 6 hours of hand flying the aircraft. (I know – poor us). After leveling off at initial cruise altitude, there was not much for Mike to do except keep track of the fuel. (Nothing to navigate from or with). Since Mike didn’t bring any reading material, he started reading the Aircraft Delivery Manuel. A short time later Mike informs me that he wants to go home. Naturally I asked why because it might be an excuse for me to go home. He said that the delivery manual clearly stated that a fully qualified navigator was required for a ferry mission. Mike, having been trained as an EWO, had only an entry-level navigator rating. It sounded good to me but I don’t think anyone else would have bought it. Anyway, by the time we reached the Philippines, I can guarantee that Mike was a fully qualified Nav and then some.
In order for us to reach Hawaii without running out of fuel, it was necessary to climb as high as possible. Most of us stopped at 48 to 49 thousand feet. One aircraft running a little bit low of fuel, went on up to 51,000 ft. One thing that did for us was to eliminate any thoughts of conflicting traffic. (Unless there happened to have been a U-2 aircraft in the area) No one ran out of fuel, but one aircraft turned final with 800 pounds of fuel remaining. (By any measurement – that ain’t a whole lot of fuel).
The next morning everyone was ready for the long haul to Wake Island except me. One of the boost pumps in the forward fuselage had quit. This tank feeds the engines and I definitely did not want to tempt fate by attempting the flight. Now with some aircraft, operating with one pump is no big deal, but losing the remaining pump at 48,000, and having a tank that will not gravity feed, it becomes a real big deal.
At first, we thought Hickam maintenance would be able to take care of the problem, but were informed that since we had a support aircraft, (I had not seen anything that looked like a support aircraft) that we would sit until the support aircraft came back though Hickam. Apparently whoever had been watching us, had no time for one aircraft. Which meant we were stuck in Hawaii for at least a week. (Nasty break.) We thought a long time on what we might do for a week (about 5 minutes), then we grabbed our bags and headed for Fort Derusy and Waikiki Beach. I knew one person stationed at Hickham, he offered us the use of a car and you bet, we accepted. We did the normal tourist things but then another little problem came up. Since we were between assignments, pay had not been re-established and there were families back home, Mike and I began to run low on money. As anyone who has been to Honolulu will tell you, it is not the cheapest place to stay. Housing was not a problem but food was. But we did find a small restaurant about two blocks from the beach where we could get all the spaghetti and meatballs we wanted for a buck fifty.
After about a week, we were told the aircraft was ready, so we headed back to the base for a departure the next morning. As Mike was working on the flight plan at Base Ops, a navigator from a transport aircraft asked him how he liked that particular Loran chart compared to another. Mike replied that we didn’t have Loran and he was just using that chart because it had both Hawaii and Wake Island on it. Then the conversation then went something like this.
Nav: What are you flying?
Nav: Ever been to Wake Island?
Nav: You’ll be able to get some good radar fixes on the way out to get on course.
Mike: We don’t have radar,
Nav: How about Doppler?
Nav: Can you do Celestial?
Nav: Just what do you have?
Mike: Tacan and a Bird Dog (ADF)
Nav: Well, if you miss Wake Island, you can go on to Guam.
Mike: Noooo, the way I have it figured right now, we’ll have 20 minutes of fuel left at Wake.
At this point, the transport navigator just shook his head in total disbelief and walked away.
So after filing the flight, we were off to Wake Island. One little tidbit that Mike didn’t tell the guy was that after a couple hundred miles out from Hawaii, we would not be able to talk to anyone. We had only one UHF radio. Had this been passed onto the transport Nav, he probably would have wondered what type of idiots were these guys.
As it turned out, we were able to talk to someone. About halfway between Hawaii and Wake, we get a call from a C-130 on UHF saying that Honolulu Air Traffic Control (ATC) was looking for us. We told him to pass along that we were still chugging along and hope to be at Wake at our original estimated time of arrival. We then asked the C-130 what his position was. He gave us some coordinates and Mike said that was about where we were supposed to be. I ask the C-130 to look around and see if could see a contrail. He said there was one to the south of him. I told him I would make a turn to verify. He comes back says, “ Yeah, that’s you”. I said, “ great, tell me where I’m at”. He read off some more coordinates and Mike said “outstanding” (or words to that effect), “we are on course and on time. (See, I told you that Mike would become a fully qualified Navigator) We thanked the C-130 and continued onto Wake Island. By the way, Mike had miscalculated the amount of fuel remaining; we had 25 minutes of fuel remaining.
The remaining two legs from Wake to Guam and on to the Philippines were relatively short and thankfully uneventful.
The following month, the fun started in Vietnam. (Yeah – right)