Seaplane Story 7: Tender Operations

We were supposed to have flown to Sangley Point, in the Phillipines, to avoid a typhoon that was headed for our base at Iwakuni, Japan. An hour or so after we were airborne we lost an engine and were diverted to Buckner Bay, Okinawa where the seaplane tender, U.S.S. Pine Island, was  currently stationed. The Pine Island had returned from being out to sea for gunnery practice and was tied up at the pier. Our P5M-1 seaplane was to be lifted aboard the ship by the giant crane at the stern and we would have an engine replaced.

The ship’s crew came out in two utility boats (I forget the proper name for those boats) to where we were tied to a buoy and with a boat on each side of the plane maneuvered us to the stern of the ship (see picture 07a). Crew members removed inspection plates from the top of the wings and fuselage to expose the brackets to which the lifting bridle from the crane would be attached. They also attached some ropes that would trail off the wings and could be used by the deck crew to guide or stabilize the plane. One rope or line was placed along the top of the wing almost reaching from wing-tip to wing-tip. This was to be a safety line for those of us to grab in case of emergency. They asked for 4 volunteers to stand in strategic spots on top of the wings. If the plane should become unbalanced while being moved it would be our job to hold onto the safety line and move one way or the other until the plane regained equilibrium.

After the rigging and other preliminary work was done, we volunteers climbed up on the wings and were ready for the thrill of the day. I had worked the “angel board” in the oil fields so was used to working high. I figured that the giant crane would be jerky and that the plane would probably sway while we were in the air. However, the ride was smooth as silk! That crane operator really had the touch and it was a neat experience. I’ve got several pictures of planes being lifted and think only one or two of them showed men on the wings so I’m wondering what the difference is that requires a balancing team on one plane but not the next. I remember that it was overcast that day so maybe they were afraid there would be some wind. Who knows?

I think we were aboard the Pine Island for 3 days by the time we had changed the engine and run it for a few hours. That’s the only time I was aboard a ship during my 4 years in the Navy. The chow was great! I’ve never had a bad meal in a Navy mess hall.

It was a smooth trip back to Iwakuni and the typhoon had missed the base completely.

Dave Thomas
March 7, 2012, revised February 16, 2015

07a Pine Island

07b Aboard the Tender


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