Seaplane Story 3

Here’s an interesting video lasting only 2 or 3 minutes that outlines the development of the P5M-1.One of the interesting innovations was the incorporation of hydro-flaps. They are hydraulically operated appendages built into the rear of the hull that could be energized separately for steering or could be deployed at the same time and serve as brakes when the aircraft was in the water.

Another interesting part of the video is the take-off. As the plane gets up to speed it creates a “rooster tail” higher than those seen at the thunder boat races. At the tail of the plane is a 50mm machine gun turret that has a spectacular view during take-off. The turret was no longer armed or occupied so, with the pilot’s permission you could sit back there during take-off. You are facing backward and as the speed increases, the walls of water get higher and higher until it feels like you are looking down a canyon. What a ride!

Here’s an interesting thing about water take-offs. Sometimes at dawn and for a short time thereafter, San Diego Bay is as smooth as a sheet of glass. No ships or boats have been moving to cause ripples or waves. It sounds like it would be perfect for take-off but you can’t develop any lift and get airborne. On a morning like this, the pilot calls the tower and tells them to watch out for surface traffic while we tear around the bay in circles and try to develop some waves.

I was doing some research and found a YouTube video about the crash of a Martin P5M-2 seaplane from VP-48, my squadron. It crashed in the Laguna Mountains 1/1/1959 on a flight to the Salton Sea. The pilot and co-pilot were killed but 8 members of the crew bailed out successfully. The 2 men in the crew that I knew best were Allen Van Dyke and William Little. The crew roster appears in the last few seconds of the video. Bill Little was an Aviation Electronics Technician First Class (AT1) and we worked out of the same shop so I saw him every day. Both guys said that bailing out was a hairy experience because the plane was just barely clearing the mountain tops.

Dave Thomas
March 15, 2012. Revised February 20, 2015 


It’s for real: Seaplane ended up in and took off from Ascarate Lake

Trish Long / El Paso Times

POSTED: 05/08/2009 11:31:34 PM MDT

Dear Trish, my name is Eddie Bustamante. I’m not from here. I have heard from people that have lived here all their lives that a seaplane landed on Ascarate Lake many years ago. If it is true, what year? And how was it able to lift off the lake? I keep wondering if people are just pulling my leg. Can you help?

They’re not pulling your leg, Edward. On April 10, 1960, a U.S. Navy P5M Martin Marlin seaplane was made an emergency landing on the 3,000-foot long Ascarate Lake.

The pilot, Lt. M.T. Burke, said he made the decision to land in the “pond” when the starboard engine began cutting out every few minutes.

“The trouble started around Yuma,” Burke told the El Paso Times at the time. “But it didn’t get serious until we were 50 or 60 miles out of El Paso.” The officer decided to come to El Paso rather than try for Elephant Butte Lake.

Before landing, much of the fuel was dumped from the seaplane, which the El Paso Times article also referred to as a “flying boat.”

Burke and his crew had left San Diego en route to Baltimore, via Pensacola, Fla. The seven people on the flight were members of a ferrying group that transported planes across the nation.

The plane landed from south to north, then was towed with the assistance of a Sheriff’s Department boat piloted by Deputy Charlie Barker, and a County Recreation Department boat, handled by Earl Thurston, to the north end of the lake.

Additional personnel, tools and spare parts were flown in to help get the flying boat ready for takeoff while Burke held an “open house” so that Mayor Raymond Telles, County Judge Woodrow Bean and other City and County officials could inspect the seaplane — “a rarity in El Paso.”

The landing, however, wasn’t as complicated as the takeoff later.

Four rockets were added to the seaplane, it was stripped of all unnecessary equipment, and it carried a minimum load of fuel to make it as light as possible. The trees at the south end of the lake were soaked overnight and pushed over with bulldozers.

In the early morning of April 23, an Air Force helicopter hovered overhead and emergency crash trucks stood ready in case of trouble.

Capt. Ted Vogel of the El Paso Police Department and two members of the Sheriff’s Department Boat Patrol were also on watch, and Mexican police had an ambulance and fire truck ready on the Mexican side.

At 6:13 a.m., the 77,000-pound flying boat, using its extra jets and aided by small motorboats kicking up waves, took off successfully from Ascarate Lake.

The pilot was Lieut. Commander William L. Schad, and his co-pilot was Lieut. Gordon R. Williams. They flew from El Paso to Corpus Christi and then on to Baltimore, Md.

The pilot mentioned in the next-to-last line, Lt. Cdr. William Schad was the plane commander of Crew 4, SF 4, of VP 48. He was a skilled pilot and I flew with him a number of times.
Dave T


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