Monthly Archives: June 2013

Operation End Sweep (part 2)

3-1-2010 11-51-59 PM

A map of North Vietnam with the shaded areas representing mined areas.

Part 1.

It was never the intention of the Nixon Administration to make sweeping mines in the South China Sea a political issue. Nevertheless, on 16 May 1972, the Washington Evening Star quoted Nixon as saying “the mines will go when the POWs (Prisoners of War) are free.” SECSTATE Kissinger saw that eventually minesweeping could be used to help bring our POWs home because the DRV (Democratic Republic of Vietnam) were the one that initially raised the mine sweeping issue in connection with handing over the POWs. By 15 December, 1972 the White House told SECDEF (Secretary of Defense) that the JCS (Joint Chiefs of Staff) should review it’s minesweeping plans for North Vietnam. On 20 December, the JCS responded to the Whitehouse and SECDEF by saying clearing the mines posed an “undue risk to Naval personnel.” However, by that time the peace processes was faltering and Operation Linebacker II commenced, resulting in an increased mining of the waters off North Vietnam. Eventually the DRV did return to the peace table and on 27 January DRV signed a “Mine Clearing Protocol” as part of the so-called Paris Peace Deal.

The most important issues directly related to OES (Operation End Sweep) in the protocol were:

Article 3: consult immediately on relevant factors and agree upon the earliest possible target date for the completion of work.

Article 4: set a meeting between Naval representative from the US and DRV “At a later date. (these meeting actually began before the protocol was signed).” During this time the US Navy gave some rudimentary technical details on how the Destructor mines worked.

Article 5: Specified that DRV should actively participate in clearing/sweeping inland waterways using equipment and training that was given to them by the US.

By 5 February a “Haiphong Clearing Committee” had met to discuss the technical details of minesweeping the Haiphong area. These meetings took place on TF-78 Task Force 78) ships.

On February 6th, MSOs entered and swept the anchorage where the larger ships of TF-78 would stay. USS Impervious swept the area and marked with the path with buoys. Sweeping in the vicinity of the anchorage continued south of Grand Norway Island on the 7th.

Sweeping the northern ports over the southern ports and inland waterways but the problem was the large between in the minefields the DRV had charted and the minefields that the US Navy charted. The sweep plan stated only areas where known mines were and/or had self-destructed or sterilized would be swept. By 7 February the LPH and LPDs arrived at the anchorage while other airborne units continued training at Subic Bay. Another DRV point of contention was the insistence on the Navy giving the DRV towing gear and earth moving equipment to dig-up and move buried mines. However, at the time, the US was unwilling to allow this.

The first merchant ship departed Haiphong around the 7th, before sweeping of area had even begun. These shallow draft ships were empty (having already unloaded military equipment before the mining began) and used US supplied minefield charts to make the run into the South China Sea at high tide. Even before US Navy sweeping operations began, the NVN (North Vietnamese Navy) used Soviet supplied “closed loop” mine sweeping gear to sweep portions of the port of Haiphong.

On 21 February, airborne mine seeping assets arrived on-scene. The first airborne sweep by an HM-12 CH-53D (with a UH-1E in the lead) occurred on  27 February. Meanwhile on 23-25 February, Raydist equipment was installed ashore at Do Son, Cat Bai and Dinh Vu. These were transported ashore by CH-46s from HMM-165. A fourth Raydist was installed on board the fleet tug, USS Tawasa (ATF-92).

Early in the morning on the 28th, sweeping operations stopped because the POWs were not being returned per agreement. OES was being used as the “carrot” to get the DRV to return the POWs but the DRV wanted mine sweeping equipment for sweeping the inland waterways on their own. Agreement to this was reached on 5th March and operations resumed on the 6th.

Magnetic Orange Pipe 1

Magnetic Orange Pipe

3-1-2010 11-51-38 PM Northern ports and villages were swept for the next 6 weeks. Airborne unit Alfa swept the Haiphong area using the MK-105 sweeping gear. Unit Bravo, using the MOP swept the Cua Cam area. On a side note, airborne units, Charlie and Delta never trained with the MK-105 gear.

3-1-2010 11-53-25 PM On 9 March at 1240 local, the first and only mine swept, a MK-52, detonated behind in the vicinity of a MK-105 being towed behind a CH-53D.  Most of the deployed mines by the time of OES had already self-sterilized.

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MK-52 mine.

On the 13th, the Soviet merchantman, Zayson transited the Haiphong channel inbound.

On the 17th, the USS Enhance, had an engine room fire. Enhance was anchored in the outer approach to Passe Henriette. USS Safeguard assisted and brought the Enhance under tow. That same day an HM-12 CH-53D lost it’s tail rotor and crashed. All the crew were recovered.  After this all CH-53s (throughout the US Navy and USMC) were grounded and inspected. On March 25 a MK-105 undertow collided with a “civilian” 12ft wooden skiff. There were no injures but there was some minor damage to the –105.

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An HM-12 CH-53D Super Stallion.

Another CH-53S was lost on 2 April due to a tail rotor failure. It splashed down in Haiphong harbor and the crew was recovered. As a result, a more extensive inspection of all OES CH-53s occurred. Pitch change rod end assemblies were replaced and gearbox inspections were increased to every 10 flight hours. Flights resumed on 6 April.

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The USS Washtenaw County seen transiting the main channel in Haiphong harbor.

By 14 April the USS Washentaw County transited Haiphong’s main shipping channel to demonstrate is navigability but by the 17, this was cut short again because the DRV failed to meet the agreed to cease-fire in Laos and Cambodia. On the 24th, elements of TF-78 departed the area for Subic Bay.

On 24, April the USS Force had and engine fire and sunk about 770 miles east of Guam, on it’s way to OES. The crew was recovered by a Norwegian merchant ship.

Taking TF-78 off the line allowed for TF-78 to undertake a reassessment of OES.  The Navy estimated that most of the mines had self sterilized by the first week of May. As of the 16 April, in the Haiphong area 3 days each of sweeping at Cua Cam and Lach Tray channels and 2 additional transits by Washtenaw County in the main shipping channel were all that remained to be done. In the Hon Gai and Cam Pha, 6 and 2 days, respectively, of airborne screening remained. Remaining operations would be conducted as a check sweep because all mines completed their self-sterilization period of 6 months. There was also an assessment of equipment that the Navy had given to the DRV.

Operations resumed on 20 June and an agreement was also in place to give the DRV more equipment for sweeping the inland waterways, which, by now, they were going to do on their own. Most of the check sweeping was done around Lach Huyen and on the  26 mine sweeping in the north by Haiphong was finished. On 28 June operations shifted to Vinh. Alfa swept near Hon La and Bravo swept Quang Khe.

On 4 July the fatality of OES occurred when a flight deck crewman on the USS Ogden caught in the closing stern door of a CH-53 that was taking off.

Finally, Operation End Sweep, wound down by 20 July 1973. The closing dispute between the Navy and the DRV was over bulldozers. The DRV wouldn’t accept the condition of the TD-6 bulldozers. The TD-6s were thought, by the DRV, to be in poor material condition. There was a final meeting on 18 July 1973 to resolve this issue but nothing ever came of it.

Elements of TF-78 left the DRV for Subic Bay and on 27 July 1973 TF-78 was dissolved 6 months to the day it was formed.

In total, the Haiphong area accounted for 70% of the tow hours. The 3 northern port areas required 87% of the tow hours. Generally the sweeping was carried out to a 95% certainty that no live mines remained.

Here’s a summary of End Sweep units:

CH-53Ds: 37 aircraft

13 USN HM-12

24 USMC HMM-463 and HMM-165

Ocean Minesweepers (MSOs): 10

Mine Flotilla 1 Western Pacific

  Engage (MSO-433)

  Force (MSO-445

  Fortify (MSO-446)

  Impervious (MSO-449)

  Inflict (MSO-456)

West Coast

  Enhance (MSO-437)

  Leader (MSO-490)

  Illusive (MSO-448)

Naval Reserve Training Force ships, based in Hawaii

  Conquest (MSO-480)

  Esteem (MSO-438)

  Washtenaw County (MSS-2)

p.s.

I was trying to find out exactly who the only fatality was. I was unable to find out. If anyone does know, please let me know.  I’d like to dedicate these posts to his sacrifice.

For more information on the different elements of OES see the following:

The Naval Historical Society’s page on OES.

Wikipedia’s page.

Navsource.org has a few more pics of the vessel involved.

102 Minesweepers has some good stuff.

Eagle One has some good info on the history of airborne minesweeping.

Finally, some more history of airborne mine countermeasures here.

2 books provide context and further information:

Hartman’s “Weapons That Wait: Mine Warfare in the US Navy” and the Naval Historical Society’s “Operation End Sweep: A History of Minesweeping Operations in North Vietnam.”

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Making The Best Of A Bad Situation

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1986 was an interesting year for me. I was working as a programmer and in December, I got fired. Got a severance check and I was thinking that (A) The likelihood of my finding another job in December was slim and (B) I wanted to see the South Pacific and if I didn’t go now I’d most likely have to wait 30 years for retirement.

 One either has the time and no money or money and no time for such things.

 Or no health.

 As it happened Qantas (For Queensland And Northern Territories Air Service ) was offering a special ticket – like a EurailPass – where, if memory serves me, I could make up to 20 stops in the South Pacific – I just couldn’t backtrack.

 So I made a general plan as to where I wanted to go – Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia, Fiji and maybe Hawaii. The Australian and New Zealand dollars were at the time about 56 cents (No more!), I was single, no pressure to return by a certain date, so off I went.

 Oh, I decided to send my now ex-boss a post card at each stop.

 Two months later I decided to return. I ended up wandering around Australia for about 6 weeks, but I’m getting ahead of the story.

 And to bolster my contention that God has to have a sense of humor on the first day I was back I went to a Costco box store and who should be just standing by the front entrance – waiting for someone – was my ex-boss. 

 “Sounds like you had a good time”, he said.

 “That I did” was my reply.

 Which all goes to show you that sometimes we can make good things out of bad situations.

 Anyway the trip started a bit ominously. The flight to Los Angeles was delayed, and by the time I got to Burbank – needing a taxi to LAX – the Qantas 747 was about ready to go.

 Like the British Air employee who rushed me down the corridors at Heathrow for my waiting plane 12 years earlier, a Qantas ticket agent rushed me down LAX’s corridors to the waiting 747.

  It would be an 8-hour flight in the darkness to Tahiti (we left about 22:00) but the flight attendants offered all the Queensland-produced rum we wanted (which as I have gotten older learned to moderate).

 So, welcome aboard.

 The next few weeks we’ll tour the South Pacific.

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These guys greeted us some 8+ hours later – they really didn’t seem too enthusiastic 😉

We landed at Tahiti’s capital, Papeete. It I had one sentence to describe it I’d think it would be Honolulu 100 years ago. The French really control building and emigration in Tahiti.

Tahiti is about equidistant South of the equator as Hawaii is north. In fact Tahitians settled Hawaii who-knows-when.

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At the Papeete airport, as soon as I stepped out, this is what I saw – the island of Moorea just 11 miles across the channel. That was my destination – at the Club Med. There were 2 ways of getting there – either a 2 hour ferry ride that left 2x a day, or plane. I took what was probably one of the world’s shortest airline destinations…

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You can see the megalopolis of Papeete as we are departing….

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 Club Med, which started in 1950, was a Frenchman’s idea of allowing inexpensive vacations.

And while this was/is the only Club Med I attended, I like their way of doing things. Everything, other than alcoholic drinks, is included in the price. And for alcohol here they would only accept beads.

Of course the beads had to be purchased with my VISA card 😉

Tahiti had/has 2 Club Meds – the one on Moorea – an island about 40 miles around, and a smaller one on Bora Bora.

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I think Moorea – if not the biggest island, is one of the biggest.

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 This is the Tahitian public transportation – at least on Moorea.

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2nd day I was there – despite the colors being washed 25 years later, do I look a bit red?

Well, because of my late entry onto the Qantas jet my luggage was not with me.

Meaning my sunscreen was going to arrive a day later.

“No problem”, said I, “I can last a day here without it. Well, I got so burned the first day I had blisters. And because sundry items, andeverything else in Tahiti is very expensive, I was too cheap so spring for sunscreen there (at $20 – in 1986!).

So I paid the price. Even diving you’d see me with a shirt on.

I believe that the UV rays in the southern hemisphere are stronger than the north – in fact, I was told the country with the highest incidence of skin cancer is New Zealand.

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Some of the bungalows at the Moorea Club Med…

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Everything here – meals, diving, tennis , water skiing, is inclusive. Do what you want without worry of an extra charge. Which, in Tahiti, was a tremendous bargain.

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Even with my slide colors changing in 25 years you get an idea of the beautiful blue of the water…

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A fairly common sunset in Tahiti – note the rain…

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One of the dinners. The blurriness is because I had to use a slow shutter speed. As I mentioned a nice tradition at Club Med is seating you – you will meet different people from around the world each day.

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The first boat was the dive boat – I made several dives there. One of my most memorable was when the dive-master chummed the water – bringing in reef sharks. After the customary safety lecture “don’t move suddenly, take off any shiny objects” we dove and it was the eeriest sight – seeing these 6′ sharks just glide – silently – past us.

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The sky wasn’t originally purple but the water seems accurate 😉

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Like my shark foray, this was a memorable evening. Sitting on a wooden deck with a wine, listening to Beethoven through the speakers, and seeing this sunset.

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One day I decided to rent a little Vespa scooter and ride around the island. I took my camera and just stopped at whatever interested me. The whole island was maybe a 50 mile circumference and very little traffic

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Hogday what do you think of that crash helmet?

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What you see is the “highway” around Moorea 😉

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This is Captain Cook’s Bay. In traveling around the South Pacific I learned that James Cook had been just about everywhere. And in a bit of historic trivia I recently learned that when the American colonies were lost, and the British still wanted a place to exile their prisoners, an American Tory suggested to Cook that he look into Australia as a prisoner destination.

Anywho, this bay was interesting for a couple of other reasons. Its natural beauty, and a dozen or so sail boats from all over the Pacific – San Francisco to  Sydney – would moor here.

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It was time to head back to Papeete – and catch my QANTAS flight. Since it didn’t leave until late at night I had a day to see the town. BTW in the evening, waiting at the airport – presented a problem unique to Tahiti – the airport had to walls, and if you relaxed too much late  at night the sand crabs would crawl up your leg. Bet that doesn’t happen at Heathrow or O’Hare.

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Downtown Papeete…

I took a tour for a few hours but the highlight to me was the Paul Gauguin Museum. Gauguin lived there for some years and I remember a quote that I had read – that if he could only sell one of his paintings for a few francs he could eat better…

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After the previously-described wait at the Papeete airport, off to New Zealand (next week)

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P-8A Poseidon – P-3C replacement or just another big idea?

I’ll offer this up as plane pr0n to the highly esteemed denizens of the site, along with the querulous query: Will the P-8A become the operational and financial sinkhole that I believe the F-35 series already is?

The new Navy P-8A Poseiden home based at NAS Patuxent River was the first P-8A to visit Naval Base Ventura County Point Mugu. The P-8A flew missions here at NBVC Point Mugu as the Navy gets ready to deploy the aircraft to replace the P-3C Orion in Fleet service. The P-8A made its RIMPAC debut in late July last year while flown by two aircrews from VX-1 at MCB Hawaii in Kaneohe Bay.

The new Navy P-8A Poseiden home based at NAS Patuxent River was the first P-8A to visit Naval Base Ventura County Point Mugu. The P-8A flew missions here at NBVC Point Mugu as the Navy gets ready to deploy the aircraft to replace the P-3C Orion in Fleet service. The P-8A made its RIMPAC debut in late July last year while flown by two aircrews from VX-1 at MCB Hawaii in Kaneohe Bay.

Obviously it can get from here to there summat faster than the venerable 4 turnin and whirlin P-3C, but is the cost per flight hour comparatively lower or higher?

Question: Can it shut one down and still safely conduct the patrol as the P-3 does? Heh!

Can it get low enough and slow enough to effectively prosecute a target, as the P-3 certainly has proven capable of doing?

Has it got the hang time of the P-3, or does it need to have Texaco standing by? (Can it refuel in air? Now, THAT’S a question!)

What, with the bigger airframe and all, does it have for galley? Does it have fold down racks, or does an AW still have to earn their stripes sleeping on the deck?

Can it hang in its belly and on its wings as many toys that go boom as the P-3? Which, just for the food fight that’s in it, I’m not sure they’ve ever maxed out on the P-3 and broken a wing spar by trying.

Admittedly, the B737 airframe has proven reliable and durable enough to become trustworthy, but are the projected unit cost so high and the projected production level so low that those in thin air section at the top are going to be reluctant to put them in harm’s way in the worst of times?
“Umm, we can hang Harpoon on it, but I don’t want it anywhere inside of 500 miles of anything that can shoot back! Besides, I might have a RADM onboard coordinating ISR and getting his flight pay! We don’t pay Admirals to go out and get shot at!”

If the Navy can field the P-8 Poseidon, what about another shipborne, fixed wing, ASW platform? Why not them?

So, there are more questions, but it’s Friday.

Ladies and Gentlemen (don’t smirk!), the 28 June 2013 edition of Battleshots is about to begin.

In five…four…three…two…huh? Oh yeah, thanks.

AW’s and assorted ASW Ossifers get priority shot at this.

So, where was I?

Duh…okay…two…one…fire!

(U.S. Navy photo by Vance Vasquez ) Thanks, Vance. Nice shot!

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Frederick Von Stuben’s NCO “Blue Book.”

You never know what you’re going to run into at the Pritzker Military Library. I’ve been a member now for just under a year and I’m usually there weekly doing research on something for the blog.

Last night was a new member tour and I happened to run into this:

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That’s Fredrick Von Stuben’s NCO “Blue Book.” Published in 1779 (I think) this is one of 3 copies in existence.

Go to Army.mil to find out the rest.

In 1779, Von Steuben’s publication, “Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States,” was ready to be printed. Due to the war, however, there was a scarcity of paper. The first printer decided to bind the book with the blue paper he had on hand. This is how the book got the nickname: The Blue Book. In March of 1779, Congress endorsed it and ordered it to be used throughout the Army. Many of the state militias also adopted the Blue Book. In 1792, Washington pushed through the Uniformed Militia Act, which included the use of Von Steuben’s regulations.

Each respective owner has signed the book as it’s passed on to the next. This copy is available for viewing in the rare book room at the Pritzker Military Library in beautiful downtown Chicago, IL. There are other interesting things here in addition the huge military book collection.

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Cutaway Thursday: Grumman Design 619 (Space Shuttle)

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Note the wingtip location of the RCS and yes, those are turbofans.
Here’s the Grumman 619 in flight:

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Note the outboard toeing of the SRB nozzles and the ventral fins on the EFT.

[UPDATE]:

I went back to stack-‘o-stuff and found this:

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Any interesting physical comparison between the USSR’s Buran and the USA’s STS (Shuttle Transportation System).

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I have the airplane!

Since we have been talking about the 727, thought I’d share a tale.

Can’t remember the date, maybe in the late 80’s, but I do remember both the crew with me and that it was dark (a lot of early life at FedEx was in the dark, daytime ops didn’t kick in for a looong time) and we were flying a 727, going to Milwaukee. Odd that I can remember the faces of both people with me and the airport, but names no longer quickly come to mind.

Anyway, MKE was the enroute stop on the way to Planet Memphis, as we called the center of all FedEx ops at the time. Today the center of FedEx ops is Memphis, Oakland, Anchorage, somewhere in Europe, Sewark (OK, Newark), and somewhere in China, but on this night we were on the way from Chicago to MKE for more cargo, and then on to MEM.

The First Officer was flying the leg into MKE and I was the Captain. I was an instructor in the airplane, did lots of simulator training and flew the line every other month or so to keep current in line ops. You know, I was a schoolhouse weenie. Was supposed to be on top of everything all the time. Uh huh.

The approach was no big deal, a clear and beautiful night with lots of stars. We asked for and got a visual approach, we could see the runway from about 10 miles out. Piece of cake.

The F/O did a nice job setting up for the visual, saving fuel as we descended and holding off on flaps and gear until just the right moment. With the checklists completed we arrived at 500′ with the jet stabilized, the power set, and on speed. Piece of cake. I said that already…

Passed over the numbers exactly where we should be, by the book, with maybe a bit extra airspeed. Then the F/O started the flare, a wee bit early for my taste.

Combine that with a bit of extra airspeed and the 727 would “float.” Go on and on down the runway without touching down, eating up concrete that you really would like to use for stopping.

It didn’t help that the F/O was holding the nose up, holding the nose up, waiting for a soft landing.

From my perspective the remaining runway was diminishing, it didn’t take long for me to say, “Put it down.”

Now, in my mind, “Put it down” means let’s forget about the soft landing thing and get the gear on the pavement. An easy way to do that in the ’27 was to simply roll to the left or right and put a wheel on the deck, which activates the weight on wheels switch, which deploys the spoilers on the wing (big panels that pop up and kill all the lift on the wing) and voila! you are on the ground to stay.

Only this message didn’t register with the F/O, who continued to gently coax the yoke back and await the soft touchdown.

Which wasn’t happening. I became a little bit antsy, about two thirds of the runway remained, but it was only going to be half the runway in a few seconds.

Again I said it, more forcefully this time: “PUT IT DOWN.”

Same results, no discernible change in what the yoke and the F/O were doing other than holding the airplane off the runway for what seemed forever.

I couldn’t wait any longer, I announced loudly, “I have the airplane!” and grabbed the yoke, fully intending to put one set of wheels down and bring the jet to a halt. The F/O quickly acknowledged with “Your airplane” and let go of the yoke.

Dear reader, what happened in the next second after I put my hands on the yoke and owned the landing was not a pretty thing. I put my hands on the yoke at the exact same moment the airspeed and the lift available and the number of Bernoulli’s holding the wings up became less than the pull of gravity on the machine.

We landed. We hit the deck. We whacked the pavement.  The airplane made all the noises of a full garbage truck dropped from 20 feet or so. The impact traveled up the fuselage to the cockpit and it was an occasion for the involuntary “Ooof!” to come out, which it did. From me. If we’d had passengers instead of freight cans they would have been pummeled with baggage from overhead bins popping open. The impact wasn’t enough to call it a hard landing but had all the earmarks of a lousy landing. A really lousy landing. And it was all mine.

I could not believe my timing was so good and my judgement was so bad. Rats.

We came to a halt before the runway ended, thank goodness, and did the after landing checklist. We taxied to the ramp in silence. I know what I was thinking, no telling what the F/O and the Flight Engineer were thinking. We pulled into parking and shut down the engines, it was dead quiet except for the clicking of various switches as we turned off what needed to be off while the airplane was reloaded.

The Flight Engineer completed his tasks at his position, announced that the shut down checklist was complete, then took out his flashlight from his nav bag and stood up to leave and do his normal walk around inspection before we blocked out again.

Before he walked out the cockpit door he turned and looked at me and the First Officer, and without a smile he said:

“I’m going to go look for survivors.”

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Oz. Gone to Kansas

Among The Joshua Trees

Left California on Saturday morning. Arrived in Wichita this evening.
Tomorrow we begin to get the remainder of our stuff from what was our house. It is going back to the bank.

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