Chapter 3 - Thule, Greenland cont.
Take-off was something else. After starting up and using take-off power to get moving we taxied to the beginning of the strip and pushed the throttles to take-off power. NOTE! no mag check, no check of feathering (the oil is so cold in the propeller dome that the feathering pumps don't work anyway and we are NOT going to stay here regardless!!) The start is very rough and bumpy and as soon as the plane begins to move on take-off we toggle 2 of the 4 JATO units. This gets us moving and at about 40 mph we fire the other 2 JATOs. This is like adding another engine. We pull the plane off the ground about 50 mph and are flying and accelerating up to 100 mph ASAP. Once airborne and up to safe climb speed the climb is pretty spectacular with the JATO helping. When the JATO finished firing, you have to dump the nose forward as we have lost this temporary engine. We then toggle the spent JATO casings off into the snow cap. They soon will sink below the ice cap surface. The sites are constructed with connected corrugated round tubes about the size of a Quonset hut, only completely round. They were built on top of the snowcap about two years ago and when I was there in 1954-55 the had melted\sunk so only the ventilators on top of the buildings and the radar tower were showing above the surface.
During September 1954 I saw a crash of a supply C-124 at our base. A C-124 returning to the States and heavily loaded, lost an engine on take-off. The pilot climbed to traffic altitude on 3 engines and flew the pattern and set up his GCA final. The weather was light snow, visibility about 1 mile and a cross wind of about 20-30 miles per hour. On the C-124's approach back to Thule the GCA operator observed fluctuations of 100-150 feet in altitude, but said this was no worse than they had observed other aircraft to vary during similar winds. The pilot made his approach with three engines functioning. This in itself is not dangerous but the pilot better stay "on top" of things. At about 1.5 miles from the runway he became dangerously low and his left wing touched the ground at approximately 0.75 miles of the end of runway 16. The aircraft nosed over and went completely upside down and burst into flames. The crew in the cockpit were killed but miraculously the Canadian passengers in the rear of the plane lived by the fact that when the plane flipped over the tail section in which they were seated, they were thrown ahead of the fire. I subsequently made a study of the strong winds at our base and how they contributed to this accident.
I was in our mess hall at the time of the accident and saw the whole thing happen no more than 0.5 miles away. Not a pretty sight, especially to a pilot. About December of 1954 two out of base C-47s flew a to site-2 with cargo on the return trip the lead plane lost fuel pressure on both engines (due to ice in the gas lines) and made a engines out landing on the cap about a hour away from Thule AB. The second aircraft was in the air and in contact with the 1st plane when it went down. The second aircraft made a ski landing and picked up the crew of the downed plane took off and flew everyone back to Thule AB. The next spring the base flew maintenance crew out to get the plane flyable. They had to fly in and change two engines out on the ice cap while living in the downed plane. The base had trips out to this downed plane almost every day. It was finally ready in about a week. I was on the crew that took the base operation flight crew out to fly it back to Thule. I have a movie of their take-off and flight back. They had to fly back with their gear frozen down. One plane saved. On the 1st and 2nd of March 1955 my flight records show that I logged 16:50C-124C time.
In March I took leave time to visit my family. Normally personnel would fly to the states on the C-54 MATS flights. We had C-124s arriving and departing almost every day to and from Thule. Due to their poor safety record they normally did not carry passengers. HOWEVER as a weather officer\observer I was authorize to fly on them as a crew member and draw pilot/copilot time. I didn't actually fly the plane but I made all of the astro compass fixes for the navigator. Before leaving Thule I calculated and we used a single flight heading from Thule to Over Goosebay AB. This is done by meteologically forecasting the constant pressure height at our flight altitude for both the departure point and destination. This gives a cross wind component and this is added or subtracted from the true course. You the fly this single heading and drift with the cross-wind but arrive at your destination. It worked well. We landed at Westover AFB in the morning and as we were taxiing into the ramp when another C-124 was just starting its engines for a flight to Albuquerque NM. My C-124 pilot called the pilot of the plane getting ready to taxi and arranged for me to get out and climb aboard the other plane. I arrived at Albuquerque before noon and was home to Orange CA early the next day. Jane, David and Mark had rented a house on East Chapman in Orange. The time that I was on leave was added to the length of my tour in Thule so after 15 days I decided to go back to get my 1 year tour finished ASAP. I caught a flight at El Toro Marine base on a C-119 to the East Coast, on to Westover AFB and on a MATS C-54 back to Thule.
The base had run OK without me. 11 May 1955, a 5th Weather Group Commanders Conference was set up for all the Weather Detachment commanders in our weather group. I flew down on a scheduled MATS C-54 to Goose Bay AB to join the rest of the Det. CO's. On arrival at Goose Bay I saw a C-99 on the ramp which was the one and only Cargo version of the B-36 bomber. We were met at Goose Bay by General Nelson and the Air Weather Service staff and a C-54 equipped with a deluxe interior and "chef". What meals we had on board while flying on this plane! We flew to each base and had a guided tour of the base and weather f acilities. Major William Mellen at Goose Bay, Major Clarence Carpenter at Sonderstrom AB (I knew him from the Berlin airlift at Celle, Germany), Myself at Thule, Ltc Roger Dively at Narsarsuak AB, Major Lewis Neyland at Keflavick Airport (I would work with him later in the I.G. section at Scott AFB), Ltc John Hudson at Ernest Harmon AFB.
From there we flew back to 5th Weather Group Headquarters at Pepperrell AFB, St. John's NewFoundland, however the weather was below minimums at Pepperall. We were able to land at the Navy base at Argentia which was above minimums. From here we took a Navy military bus some 40 miles to Pepperrell AB at St John's. We finished our discussions and I was back to Thule by the 20th of May. During the last week in May or first part of June we had a group of B-36 bombers fly into Thule from Roswell New Mexico. They stayed 1 or 2 days and flew back to the States. These were the type of planes that I was to be Weather Officer for on my next assignment. I have some 8mm movies of them atThule. My replacement Lt Col Estil L. Hamill arrived late June. This man was my Weather Squadron commander when I was DETCO at Chanute AFB. Seemed kind of a demotion for him to go from Squadron Commander to a DETCO.