Thursday, March 1, 2012

Hitching a Ride with the Georgia National Guard


In 1973, I hitched a ride on a C-130 Hercules transport from Denver to Atlanta.  This prop plane cruises at 240mph.  The Georgia Air National Guard flight was scheduled for almost eight hours.  There were 60 high school ROTC cadets aboard in addition to cargo.  The crew gave me a headset so I could help with the high school kids—some of whom got sick, scared or both.  

It was a long, dull ride until about 70 miles outside Atlanta when the plane started to pivot right and then left, like it was rotating on a stick in the middle of the fuselage.  On the intercom I heard the pilots feather one right-wing prop then the next.  The fuel pumps for the right wing died and the plane was swerving like a crab in the sky.

I took the party line and told the kids there was turbulence.  As we descended the co-pilot said we would be going straight in because the remaining engines were overheating.  The pilot then said in a very calm voice.   “I landed one of these bitches in the Nam with just one engine.  We’re fine.”

I went up front and saw crash foam on the airstrip and fire engines on both sides of the runway.  We came in hard, took one big bounce and came to a fairly smooth stop just short of the foam.

As we led the kids out of the plane they knew the crew and I had lied big time about the turbulence.  They could see nothing but emergency vehicles. 

In the terminal the crew chief told me that they would have the fuel line repaired in a few hours and I could fly with them to DC.  I declined, saying I was in a hurry to get home.  I went back outside out of view of the crew and kissed the airstrip, then flew home commercial.

In my admittedly odd life, I have always wanted people around me who could be chased by a raging grizzly bear and think ‘This is a chance to practice sprinting.’

What I did not realize as a young man is that the unflappable folks not only handle the problem of the moment, but calm everyone else around them.