Seaplane Story 8: Oops!

We were flying a routine patrol of the China Sea. We left Naval Air Station, Iwakuni and flew across Japan’s Inland Sea which is so picturesque with what seems to be hundreds of islands. They are mountain peaks sticking out of the water and are tilled and farmed right up the hillside to the top. We flew past the southern tip of Korea and were soon scooting along just south of China. It was a stormy day with lots of wind and big black clouds that blocked our view of water most of the time. The wind became so violent we decided to cage the radar antenna to avoid damage. To “cage” the antenna means to put the system on stand-by which locks the antenna in a straight ahead position and doesn’t allow the normal side-to-side scanning operation. We tooled along like this, thinking that we would soon run out of the storm and could resume a normal patrol. All of a sudden there was a break in the clouds and we could see the surface of the water. There was a strip of yellow against the normal brownish color of the sea. looked like a yellow river was flowing into the sea. That’s exactly what it was…the Yellow River! Everybody was yelling as I switched on the radar and the first sweep showed that we were just a couple of miles off shore. We were in the middle of the Cold War and we didn’t know if we would be greeted by the Chinese Air Force or if the anti-aircraft guns would start firing. Our pilot, Lt. Surovik, jerked that plane around and we got the heck out of there. Oops!

Another time, we were tooling along our assigned course and the crewman  who was sitting at the port lookout station in the aft section of the plane comes up on the intercom and says” look out the port side!” We looked out our windows and there was a Russian MIG flying along side us with a Chinese pilot at the controls. Oops! In order to slow down to our speed the guy had his flaps down and his dive brakes extended. He didn’t smile or wave but just stared at us and gave us the “stink eye.” We were in International airspace but there was no one around and he could have bagged us and no one would have ever known what happened. Oops again!

Dave Dunn asked if we ever had any obstructions in the sea lanes when we were taking off or landing in the bay. It was pretty rare to have a problem. The sea lanes were  marked by a series of buoys and the locals were aware of the traffic. Also, when air operations were being conducted there was always a Navy Crash Boat on station. It was painted International Orange and could move fast to herd errant boats away. The seaplanes also had their own Control Tower and the Air Traffic Controllers were supposed to watch for trouble. It did happen that one evening, at dusk, we were coming in and had a little problem. Evidently, the Air Traffic Controllers were tired and weren’t paying attention. I heard our pilot request clearance to land. The tower came back with a “Cleared to land.” The next thing I heard was our pilot saying “Crap!” And then, he said, “Tower, look to your right, at 2 o’clock!” It turned out there was a destroyer chugging right up the bay. Oops! The tower told us to take a wave-off and go around again and then apologized. Well, we went around and then landed and got the wheels on and got pulled up the ramp. The pilot was the first one out of the hatch and said he was going down to the tower to have a little talk with the boys. Well, our pilot, Lt. Surovik,  was 6 foot 5 inches tall and looked like he ate horse shoes for breakfast and picked his teeth with a crow bar. Our crew was happy that we wouldn’t be in the tower when he got there. Oops, oops, and oops!

One day a crew was preparing for a JATO take-off for a training flight. The Ordinance man, Smith, loaded the JATO bottles on a fork lift and headed for the plane. As you will recall, the JATO bottles are hung from the crew hatches (doors) in the aft section of the plane. Smith was approaching the plane slowly, slipping the clutch and trying to baby up to it. We all knew that this particular fork lift had a “trick” clutch that should have been replaced a long time ago but this guy thought he could handle it. Well, all of a sudden the clutch engaged and the fork lift leaped forward plunging the forks through the skin of the aircraft on either side of the hatch! Oops! The forks didn’t strike any of the structural members. They just went through the skin so the damage was minor. However, the damage to Smith’s ego was mighty big and we rubbed it in every chance we got. Oops!

Dave Thomas
March 10, 2012. Revised February 17, 2015

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