Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Curse of the Cargomaster Feedback

Thank you for the following Comments:

The article was quite interesting and informative and one part in particular caught my attention; the testing at Edwards. It prompted this question.

Is there anybody out there who was at Wright-Patterson during the investigation of the C-133 when all 42 aicraft were grounded? There was an extensive inspection, and testing going on at the same time with two A models, 56-2000 & 56-2008 at Wright-Pat. Just curious?

Robert Houston

Thanks for the articles. I made one flight as a reservist several years after I separated from active duty. A major problem with the props had been fixed and the old birds were making some trips to Vietnam without maintenance delays. A lot of the tension that existed when we were in the 1st Squadron had disappeared. This was before the crash due to the structural failure.

Marion Johnson

I was asked by Gen Wallace to fly an airplane to Warner Robbins to have the plane dismantled and inspected by some of the best aeronautical minds in the U.S. This was done and then Gen. Wallace asked that I go as the FE, retrieve the aircraft, micro preflight the airplane and bring it home when ready. I spent two days inspecting the aircraft and then we flew it home. The first flight at home was with Gen Wallace on board. It is only fair that we give credit to Gen. Wallace as he is the one who insisted we fly our own aircraft to and from on all missions, no more staging C-133’s. He was, in every sense, the aircrewman’s general.

Sandy Sandstrom

My name is Art Szmuriga. I was a C-133 Pilot in the 1st MAS at Dover from July '68 through Jan '70. I went through the 2nd pilot, 1st pilot and AC upgrades before being sent to Cam Ranh Bay (Click on Air Base for history) to fly C-7A Caribous.

I read your letter to Mr. Sotham with great interest. I remember that when I graduated from Moody in June '68, I was extremely happy to get to Dover and accepted the C-133 mission with joy since we would go world wide, no staging, etc. I didn't know about many of the crashes, etc, and we didn't talk about them much at Dover. By the time I started flying the C-133, most of the problems were corrected. I have pleasant memories of flying the C-133 even though I had a few in-flight emergencies that turned out okay.

I would like you to check and confirm the date of the B model that disintegrated over Nebraska. Your letter gave a date of Feb 6, 1967. Please check this for correctness. I was at Dover when this happened and I seem to recall that it may have happened in 1969, but I'm not sure. Since I was at Dover from June '68 through Jan '70, it was in that time frame, rather than 1967. I also recall that they grounded the fleet and put the "belly bands" on after that crash.

If I am incorrect, please accept my apologies for not remembering correctly. If I am correct, you can go from there.

Thank You,

Art Szmuriga
Matthews, NC

NOTE: Art gets the "prize" for catching an inadvertant typo. It was 1969, and our blog post has been corrected.

I really found this interesting, I was on the way back to Dover when the one went in off Kadena, and we heard about it right after we got back.

I was deadheading back to Dover and was originally scheduled to catch the one that blew up over Nebraska, it was due to quick stop Travis about midnight, but I found out just a little earlier that there was one coming through at 0300 and elected to spend another couple hours in bed with my future wife and catch it. As we were through flying that one, we were hauled into Ops and almost locked up in a secure room. We could have no contact with the outside. After what seemed like hours, we were told what happened , taken right back to the plane and launched for Dover. I always had a theory, knowing that some loads I had helped haul out of Nam and found out later had been booby trapped, figured that this one had been, and it worked.

The reason I was deadheading, I'd been through the training on the RC-121 for Korat, and my shipment date was delayed several months, and had taken a short leave, gone back to McClellan to refresh before going to the Batcats.

James Mitchell

Monday, September 27, 2010

Curse of the Cargomaster Update 2

Lou Martin also wrote a fascinating, multi-page letter about his 133 experiences to the author of the article, Curse of the Cargomaster. It's too long to show in its entirety on a blog post, but below are a few beginning and ending paragraphs. I will also forward the entire letter to our current e-mail list, so those interested can access the whole thing. Any questions or comments should be sent directly to Lou at his e-mail address: pilotlou@aol.com

September 2, 2010

Mr. John Sotham
Air & Space Smithsonian
MRC 573 P.O. Box 37012
Washington, D.C. 20013

Dear Mr. Sotham,

Having logged 4,700 hours of pilot time in the C-133 I found your article, The Curse of the Cargomaster, in the September 2010 issue of the Air & Space Magazine very interesting and well done. However, I would like to add a few personal anecdotes regarding my experiences when flying the legendary C-133.
I reported into the 39 MAS in July 1964 and after completing ground school I made my first flight in a C-133 on August 17, 1964 and by mid September was flying missions, mostly to Europe, as a second pilot (the lowest ranking for new copilots). My first impression of the Cargomaster was that it was noisy, vibrated constantly, had a nearly uninhabitable cold uncomfortable cargo compartment and that the aircraft commanders I flew with appeared irritable and somewhat apprehensive regarding the reliability of the aircraft. They seemed ready to abort whenever they experienced a strange sound or a momentary disruption of RPM (burble) in one of the propellers. However, I had flown problematic aircraft in the past so I just carried on, enjoyed the return trips to Europe and the Christmas shopping in the well-stocked military BXs.

On November 7, 1964, when in crew-rest in the Azores Islands we heard of the fatal crash of a C-133 shortly after taking off from Goose Bay, Labrador. My aircraft commander told me that this was the sixth fatal crash of a C-133 with the cause of each listed as “Undetermined.” The flight back to Dover was void of the usual cockpit chatter.

On January 10, 1965, we learned of another C-133 crashing into the Pacific Ocean soon after a night takeoff from Wake Island. This was the seventh unexplained fatal crash of a Cargomaster that had claimed the lives of 50 crewmembers. Compounding the mysterious crashes was that in each accident there were no radio reports from the pilots indicating an impending emergency. Disregarding the fact that the C-133 was becoming more important in supporting airlift requirements for the expanding war in Vietnam, the Air Force grounded the remaining 42 aircraft. This grounding order was accompanied with the following statement, “C-133 Cargomasters will not be allowed to resume flying until a cause factor for past accidents is found and corrective actions are taken to prevent similar loss of aircraft and crew.”
The aircraft was extremely noisy, the tips of the 18 foot diameter propellers spinning at supersonic speed caused a vibration so severe that it could cause bodily discomfort and frequent maintenance problems, the cargo compartment was so cold and noisy that it was not suitable for carrying passengers and rendered the two bunks in the forward cargo compartment unusable and its “Jack-in-the-box” reputation for in-flight malfunctions kept the crew members ever alert for another Douglas Cargomaster surprise.

Unfortunately, the Air force and other aviation related organizations have not recognized the tremendous job the Cargomaster and it crews performed. A few years ago, the official Air Force Magazine published an account of the aircraft flown during the War in Vietnam. I was disappointed and surprised that the C-133 was not included. (I wrote a complaint letter to the editor but received no response.) In addition, I was recently reviewing books in a Barnes & Noble bookstore and came across a large book titled: The Air War in Vietnam. The book was loaded with large color pictures of every aircraft utilized, except the C-133. It was not even listed in the extensive index section. I am pleased that you bestowed long overdue recognition to the C-133 in your article.

Following the ditching accident on April 30, 1967 the C-133s enjoyed nearly three years without an accident and flight crews from both Dover, AFB and Travis AFB were becoming adjusted to the frequent Douglas in-flight surprises and providing critical worldwide airlift support in a creditable manner. However, on February 6, 1969 this record was tragically shattered. A C-133 crashed in Nebraska killing all five crewmembers following a nighttime in-flight breakup from 25,000 feet. The fuselage just forward of the wing constant section had separated from the rest of the aircraft due to a antique crack in the metal skin and suddenly, like a crack in an eggshell. Propagated around the entire fuselage. Seemingly, the metal skin had weakened through thousands of hours of vibration from the sonic boom pulsations from propeller tips rotating at super sonic speeds. (This was the ninth fatal accident of a C-133).

The accident must have been an unbelievable catastrophic experience for the crew as one second they were sitting in a well-lighted warm cockpit and a second later, they were in complete darkness, with no engine sounds and a sensation of falling to earth five miles below. It is estimated that the severed cockpit section took two to three minutes before crashing. All five crewmembers were found still strapped in their seats.

This accident was especially painful for me as the aircraft commander was Major Bill Tabor. We had been assigned to the same C-119 squadron in Germany during the 1950s and a few weeks before the accident he was on an overnight at Dover AFB. We shared several beers in the Officers’ Club while discussing what we were going to do after retirement. Following this accident, all C-133s were inspected for fatigue cracks and to prevent a similar accident 16 steel straps were wound around the forward section of the fuselage. From a distance, these straps took on the appearance of duct tape and the common mantra among crewmembers was; “Now the generals want us to fly aircraft held together with duct tape.”
Your article for further reading recommends Cal Taylor’s outstanding book Remembering An Unsung Giant. I would also, in an unassuming manner recommend my book Close Encounters with the Pilot’s Grim Reaper. I devote an extensive chapter on flying the C-133 from a flight crew’s viewpoint along with many exciting encounters in this memorable aircraft.


Lt.Col. Lou Martin (ret.) USAF
E-mail: pilotlou@aol.com

AND the following further update: A reply from John Sotham to Lou Martin....

Lt Col Martin,

Thanks very much for the letter--the magazine staff forwarded it to me
and I really enjoyed reading it. I sure wish I had known about you when
I was writing the story!

Thanks again for your interest in Air & Space, and mostly for your
service to our country.

John Sotham

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Curse of the Cargomaster Update

Our Crew Colleague, Lou Martin, offers the following commentary regarding the ditching of C-133B, S/N 59-0534 off Okinawa in April, 1967:

I was the pilot investigator for the ditching accident on April 30, 1967. The ten members of the accident board quickly determined that the reason the propellers were stuck in fixed pitch was due to a rupture of the electrical power in the main junction box, due to the inherent vibrations of the aircraft.

When voting on the primary cause, I was shocked as nine members had stated “Pilot Error” with just myself voting “Material Failure.” The contention taken by the board was that if the pilot had not descended to 2,500 feet the engines would not have flamed out. I pointed out that unless Kadena could have raised the airport to 6,000 feet he was going to have to descend in attempting to land.

After more votes we were unanimous in listing the primary cause as “Material Failure.” We now had to come up with a recommendation to prevent similar accidents. I recommended the feasibility of establishing an “Estimated Engine Flameout Procedure” (EEFA), which was met with sarcasm as the board members thought it would be ridiculous to suggest such a maneuver. However, it was coordinated with Headquarters 22nd Air Force and sent to Edwards Air Force Base. The procedure developed by test pilots is outlined on pages 71, 72 and 319 in Cal Taylor’s book Remembering an Unsung Giant and on page 389 in my book, Close Encounters with a Pilot’s Grim Reaper, ACs were required to perform three EEFA approaches until all aircraft were modified. The recommendation, initially scoffed at, was recognized as a significant proposal by the board president and General Graham, commander 21st Air Force wrote, “Please convey my appreciation to Colonel Martin for his outstanding performance during the ditching investigation. His idea of establishing an EEFA was accepted and developed through flight testing and may be significant in averting another accident of this type.”

Contact: pilotlou@aol.com

Ref: Click on the following link (in red) to go to the Aviation Safety Network "Accident Description" for the Flight Safety Foundation.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The "good old days" in the B-36

Thanks to Chet Baffa for the following, with his comment: "...this-makes the C133 seem like a piece of cake!!"

Aircraft Commander 1st Lt. Oliver Hildebrandt, Pilot 1st Lt. Walter Ross, and Co-pilot Captain Wilbur Evans, and a crew of thirteen took off from Carswell AFB in B-36B, 44-92035 of the 26th Bomb Squadron of the 7th Bomb Wing at 5:05 A.M. on November 22,1950. The planned 30-hour training mission consisted of air-to-air gunnery, bombing, simulated radar bombing, and navigational training.

Immediately after take-off, the #4 alternator would not stay in parallel with the other three alternators, so it was taken off-line and de-excited three minutes into the flight. About one minute after the #4 alternator was shut down, flames 8 to 12 feet long erupted from around the air plug of the number-one engine. The left scanner reported the flames to the pilot. Six minutes after take-off, the flight engineer shut down the number-one engine, feathered its propeller, and expended one of its Methyl bromide fire extinguishing bottles.

The mission continued on the power of the remaining five engines. 44-92035 cruised to the gunnery range on Matagorda Island at an altitude of 5,000 feet. It arrived at 7:00 A.M. and the gunners began practicing. Radar Observer S/Sgt. Ray Earl manned the tail turret. The charger for the right gun burned out, so he expended just half of his ammunition. Then the APG-3 radar for the tail turret started acting up, so S/Sgt. Earl secured the set.

Aircraft Commander 1st Lt. Oliver Hildebrandt noted that the vibration from firing the 20mm cannons increased significantly during the fourth gunnery pass. Immediately afterward, radar operator Captain James Yeingst notified Hildebrandt that the APQ-24 radar set blew up and was smoking. Vibration from the firing of the guns was causing shorting between the internal components of the radar. Then the liaison transmitter failed as well.

The cannons in the left forward upper turret and the left rear upper turret stopped firing. The gunners attempted to retract the gun turrets, but the failed turrets would not retract. Gunner S/Sgt. Fred Boyd entered the turret bay, but other problems began to take precedence over the stuck turrets. Boyd was called out of the bay before he could manually crank the turret down.

At 7:31 A.M. the number-three engine suffered an internal failure. The torque pressure fell to zero. The manifold pressure dropped to atmospheric pressure. The fuel flow dropped off, and the flight engineer could not stabilize the engine speed. The pilot shut down the number-three engine and feathered its propeller. The B-36B had only one operating engine on the left wing, so the pilot aborted the remainder of the training mission and set course for Kelly Air Force Base.

Flight engineer Captain Samuel Baker retarded the spark, set the mixture controls to "normal", and set the engine RPMs to 2,500 to increase the power from the remaining engines. Unknown to Captain Baker, the vibration from the guns had disabled the electrical systems controlling the spark settings and fuel mixture. He immediately discovered that the turbo control knobs no longer affected the manifold pressure.

The B-36B could not maintain its airspeed on the power of the four remaining engines. It descended about 1,000 feet and its airspeed bled off to 135 miles per hour. The pilot called for more power. The flight engineer attempted to increase engine speed to 2,650 RPM and enrich the fuel mixture, but got no response from the engines except for severe backfiring. The fuel mixture indicators for all of the engines indicated lean.
The second flight engineer, M/Sgt. Edward Farcas, checked the electrical fuse panel. Although the fuses appeared to be intact, he replaced the master turbo fuse and all of the individual turbo fuses. He noticed that the turbo-amplifiers and mixture amplifiers were all cooler than normal. He climbed into the bomb bay to check the aircraft power panels and fuses, but could not find any problem there.

Kelly Air Force Base had a cloud overcast at just 300 feet and the visibility was restricted to two miles. The weather at Bergstrom Air Force Base not as bad, with scattered clouds at 1,000 feet, broken clouds at 2,000 feet and 10 miles visibility. Carswell Air Force Base was clear with 10 miles visibility, but it was 155 miles farther away than Bergstrom. Air traffic control cleared all airspace below 4,000 feet ahead of the crippled B-36B. Aircraft Commander Hildebrandt was flying on instruments in thick clouds.

The poor weather at Kelly Air Force Base convinced Hildebrandt to change course from Kelly to Carswell Air Force Base, passing by Bergstrom Air Force Base on the way in case the airplane could not make it to Carswell. Bombardier Captain Robert Nelson made two attempts to salvo the 1,500 pounds of practice bombs in the rear bomb bay, but the bomb bay doors would not open by automatic or manual control, or emergency procedure.

There was no way to dump fuel to reduce the weight of the B-36B. The flight engineers resorted to holding down the switches used to prime the fuel system in an attempt to increase fuel flow to the engines. M/Sgt. Edward Farcas held down the prime switches for the number-two and number-four engines while Captain Baker held down the prime switch for the number-five engine and operated the flight engineer's panel. The configuration of the switches did not allow them to prime the number-five engine and the number-six engine at the same time.

The high power demand coupled with the lean fuel mixture made the cylinder head temperatures of the engines climb to 295 degrees C. Flight engineer Baker jockeyed the throttles, decreasing the throttle setting of the engine with the highest cylinder head temperature until another engine grew even hotter. The high temperature caused the gasoline/air mixture in the cylinders to detonate before the pistons reached top dead center, diminishing power and damaging the engines.

Despite the critical situation with the engines, Aircraft Commander Hildebrandt decided to continue past Bergstrom Air Force Base to Carswell. Bergstrom was overcast and its runway was only 6,000 feet long. Carswell offered a much longer runway. By the time the B-36B reached Cleburne , the backfiring on all engines increased in violence. The number-2, number-5, and number-6 engines were running at 70% power and the number-4 engine was producing only 20% power. The airspeed had dropped off to 130 miles per hour.

Aircraft Commander Hildebrandt attempted to restart the number-one engine, the one that had spouted flames on take-off, but fuel was not getting to its induction system. He tried to restart the number-three engine, but could not unfeather the propeller on that engine. As the bomber passed to the west of Cleburne , the right scanner reported dense white smoke, oil, and metal particles coming from the number-five engine.

After a short while the number-five engine lost power, and Aircraft Commander Hildebrandt feathered the propeller on that engine while still twenty-one miles from Carswell Air Force Base. The B-36B could not stay airborne on the power of the three remaining failing engines. It was flying at just 125 miles per hour, seven miles per hour above the stall speed, losing both altitude and airspeed. Howard McCullough and W. Boeten were flying Civil Aeronautics Authority DC-3 N342 near Cleburne . They were notified by Meacham Tower to be on the lookout for 44-92035. They spotted it about five miles south of Cleburne . They observed that the number-one and number-three propellers were feathered and the number-five engine was on fire. They turned to follow the descending bomber. Aircraft Commander Hildebrandt ordered the crew to bail out of the stricken bomber.

Bombardier Captain Robert Nelson had bailed out of airplanes on two previous occasions. He had crash landed twice and ditched once. He was the first man to bail out from the forward crew compartment. He suffered contusions of his lower spine when he landed.

Radar Operator Captain James Yeingst responded to stress with laughter and jokes. He was a bit giddy before the bailout. He was the second man to exit from the forward crew compartment. His parachute streamed after he pulled the rip cord. He passed Captain Nelson going down. Captain Yeingst's parachute mushroomed open just before he hit the ground, but he suffered fatal injuries.

Co-pilot Captain Wilbur Evans was the third man to exit from the forward crew compartment. He had bailed out of airplanes twice before and crash landed several times during WW-II. This time he broke both bones in his lower right leg when he landed.

Navigator Captain Horace Stewart had previously tried to get off flying status because he felt that the B-36 was too dangerous. It is reported that during the hour before bailout, he was tense, nervous, and chain-smoking. He was the fourth man to bail out from the forward crew compartment. He pulled his rip cord right as he exited the forward escape hatch on the left side of the fuselage. His parachute opened and pulled him toward the number three propeller. His head hit the downward pointing blade of the propeller, killing him instantly.

Radio Operator Cpl. Paul Myers followed Captain Stewart out the escape hatch. Myers landed with minor injuries. Flight Engineer M/Sgt. Edward Farcas jumped head first through the exit hatch of the forward crew compartment right after Cpl. Myers. His parachute did not open when he pulled the rip cord. He pulled the parachute out of its pack with his hands and landed with only minor injuries.

Radar Mechanic Robert Gianerakis and Flight Engineer Captain Samuel Baker were the next to escape from the forward compartment. Both landed with only minor injuries. Radio Operator Sgt. Armando Villareal bailed out after Captain Baker. Villareal did not trust his parachute to open, so he pulled the rip cord while he was still in the forward crew compartment. He held his parachute in his arms as he jumped feet first through the escape hatch. Despite his unorthodox method of escape, he landed with only minor injuries.

Pilot 1st Lt. Walter Ross was the next to last to leave the forward compartment. He landed with only minor injuries. Gunner S/Sgt. Andrew Byrne and Radar Observer S/Sgt. Ray Earl were the first two crew members to bail out of the rear crew compartment. Both landed with only minor injuries. Gunner Cpl. Calvin Martin was the third man to exit the rear crew compartment. He was swinging under his parachute as he hit the ground. He broke his right ankle as he landed. He fell backward onto a rock, fracturing his third lumbar vertebra and compressing his tailbone.
Gunner S/Sgt. Ronald Williams followed Cpl. Martin out the rear escape hatch. He landed with only minor injuries. Gunner S/Sgt. Fred Boyd was the last man to exit the rear crew compartment. He called to Aircraft Commander Hildebrandt over the intercom to let him know that everyone had escaped from the aft compartment. When he turned back to the exit hatch, it had fallen shut. He had to open the hatch again to make his escape. He broke the fibula of his left leg when he landed farther to the north than the other crew members.

After S/Sgt. Boyd reported that all other crew members had bailed out of the rear compartment, Aircraft Commander Hildebrandt set the autopilot and jumped clear when the bomber was less than 1,000 feet above the ground. He and nine other crew members escaped from the B-36B with only minor injuries. When McCullough and Boeten in DC-3, N342 saw the parachutes of the escaping crew members, they announced the bail-out on the emergency frequency of 121.25 megacycles.

Each report of Emergency Parachute Jump indicates that the incident occurred 20 miles south southeast of Carswell Air Force Base. The descent of the B-36B was witnessed by Mr. Buck Bell and his wife, who lived about 5 to 7 miles southwest of Crowley , Texas . Mr. Bell saw the crew members parachuting from the bomber, but did not see it hit the ground about one mile north of his house. Mr. James Bandy and his wife were on the road to Cleburne about 4 miles from their house on Route 1 near Joshua when they spotted the B-36B trailing smoke, flying in a nose-high attitude. They saw it hit the ground in a level attitude, raising a cloud of dust.

The B-36B descended straight ahead in a nose-high attitude for a mile after Aircraft Commander Hildebrandt bailed out. It stalled, pitched nose down, and impacted in a terraced field on Less Armstrong's Dairy, 14 miles south of Carswell Air Force Base, 2 miles west of the South leg FTW range, and six miles west of Crowley at 9:50 in the morning. The forward crew compartment separated and folded underneath the rest of the fuselage. The tail section broke off, and the rear crew compartment came away from the mid-fuselage as the wreckage slid 850 feet along the ground and twisted to the right.

The rear sections of the airplane remained largely intact. The elevation at the crash site was approximately 700 feet. Mr. W. Doggett witnessed the bail-out and crash from his home on Route 1 near Joshua. The B-36B impacted about 2-1/2 miles north of his house. He drove to the crash site in his pickup truck and helped the surviving crew members to regroup.

Four minutes after the crash, McCullough and Boeten in DC-3, N342 reported that two Navy aircraft were circling the wreckage. The wreckage smoldered for about eight minutes before a fire broke out in the number-six engine. The 15,000 gallons of remaining fuel consumed the forward fuselage and wings. The civilians and crew members were driven away from the crash site by exploding ammunition and the knowledge of the presence of 1,500 pounds of bombs aboard the airplane.

Read this the next time you think you're having a bad day

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Remarkable New Russian Fighter

I don't know the source of the following text, so can't vouch for it. But the video is "remarkable!"

The red smoke coming from the wingtips is only there to demonstrate to spectators on the ground the direction the plane is actually moving through the air. Normally the smoke wouldn't be there. When the smoke is streaming behind, the airplane is moving fast forward etc. When the airplane is engulfed in smoke, it means the airplane is almost stopped in mid-air.

The maneuverability of this plane is incredible. This plane would be nearly impossible to defeat in a dogfight. Russia may now have the #1 fighter plane in the world...

It is the SU-30MK with Vectored Thrust and Canards.

As you watch this airplane, look at the canards moving along side of, and just below the canopy rail. The "canards" are the small wings forward of the main wings.

The smoke and contrails provide a sense of the actual flight path, sometimes in reverse direction. This video is of an in-flight demonstration flown by the Russian's 30MK fighter aircraft. The fighter can stall from high speed, stopping forward motion in seconds. (full stall). Then it demonstrates an ability to descend tail first without causing a compressor stall. It can also recover from a flat spin in less than a minute.

These maneuvering capabilities don't exist in any other aircraft in the world today. This aircraft is of concern to U.S and NATO planners. We don't know which nations will soon be flying the SU-30MK, hopefully China isn't one of them.. Friends worked with advanced aircraft flight control systems and concepts for many years as an extension of stability control and means of control.

Canards and vectored thrust were among many concepts examined to extend our fighter aircraft performance. Neither our current or next generation aircraft now poised for funding & production can in any way match the performance of this Russian aircraft.