Watch out for the doc, part II
Low pass by a French Mirage at Thumrate tower. I don’t care who you are, this is cool.
photo from yahoo
A couple of housekeeping notes before finishing the story. The biggest is that I have been asked by Mr. Josh Magill to join his weekly writing staff. I will be producing new, original works for his audience starting on Friday March 7. The site is geared as an online magazine in the mold of the Huffington Post. I am honored that he thought enough of my writing to ask me to join his staff. You can check out his site here. http://themagillreview.wordpress.com/
The second bit of news is that I typed the final two words on the novel, THE END! It has been a work in progress for almost six years now. I am shocked when I think about how long it took, but considering I started with nothing including any writing experience I am cutting myself a little slack. It is sitting at approximately 165,000 words, I know that is a lot but other than a tight edit I am not sure if there is any place to cut it down, nor is there a good spot to spilt it into two. It is what it is and I am relieved. I am going to let it rest for a while so I can think about how to tackle the next project. It was this time, two years ago that I cut the beginning 30,000 words and started over with a complete re-write. I know it is much tighter now and there are several additional minor story lines that hopefully give context and additional levels of intrigue to the work. I will give it time to rest and sometime in the summer will be a good time to re-visit it, maybe by the end of the year have something for a few beta readers to look over.
Back to story time. When I last left you, I was just informed that Doc Y was going to fly with us to observe one of my crew members because he thought my guy had PTSD.
After Sleepy told me the reason Doc was going with us, I went directly to my crew. I was able to get there before the Doc and I told them everything I knew, which wasn’t much. Of course they were ticked off; especially the guy Doc thought was having problems. I told them to keep it quiet, be cool, and we would get through the day. To be honest, I was seething as well. This isn’t how it is intended to be and I was beside myself with anger. And the truth be known, I should have been the one the Doc was investigating, not the other guy.
The first half of the mission was to fly about 100 miles to Thumrait Air Base, in Oman. Thumrait was being shut down as the entire US military was moving to Al Udied in Qatar. After we went to Qatar, we were going up to Iraq, to bounce around there for the day before heading back 20 hours later. It was just another normal day back at work. The flight to Thumrait was quick but that didn’t stop the guys from picking on the Doc. Flight Crews can be crude sometimes usually picking on those they like. But when someone enters the flight deck in an adversarial position there is only two ways it goes. Complete silence or harsh, cutting comments. The crew went harsh, very quickly because they were protecting their own. I witnessed this a few times during my career and every other time except this one, I asked them to knock it off. The only two people not saying a word were myself and the guy being examined.
Since the examiner was a Flight Doc, the guys were making up fake symptoms trying to get under the Doc’s skin. “Doc is it bad when it burns when I pee?” “Doc, I have some menstrual cramps, do you have any Midol?” “Doc, Rob needs a pelvic exam. Can I watch? Can I help?” “Doc, do you like giving prostrate exams?” “Is it normal for the doctor to have both hands on my shoulders when I get my prostrate exam?” And on and on it went as it de-evolved and got rude, perverted and funny. The bad part is that I don’t think the Doc ever figured out they were picking on him.
We landed and were given a 40,000 pound front end loader to take up to Qatar. This was one of the few times I ever had something that heavy on board. At the time, I didn’t think anything about it. RB, was the only Loadmaster so he was working with the ground guys to get this thing on. The rest of the crew was willing to help but we were more in the way than knowing what to do. Literally inches of clearance on any side, it had to be perfect or they would damage the airplane. While RB worked; the guy under suspicion and I took a little walk to vent, we came back and there wasn’t much to do other than try to get some sleep under the wing.
The unfortunate side to having one Loadmaster, is that there is no one to supervise the entire operation. There is no one to quality check the work being done and to keep the big picture. RB got the monster on before he reviewed the take-off weight and balance with me. The numbers looked right and I remember him distinctly confirming with me that it would be nose heavy. We kicked off the ground guys and started up. It was my leg up to Qatar so when we were at the end of the runway, I pushed up the power. When I fly, I am not the guy that jerks the airplane off the ground at rotate speed. I am the guy that pulls the nose up and lets the airplane fly itself off the ground. This results in climbing out about ten knots faster than planned but I always figured ten knots fast is good and it is within the specifications of acceptable performance.
When we reached rotate speed, I pulled the yoke back and nothing happened. Normally the nose would come up and I would add a little pressure forward to stop its rotation and to hold the deck angle. This time the airplane resisted almost like it didn’t want to fly. I had the thought to reject the take-off but I didn’t feel any pressure from running out of runway. The runway at Thumrait is 14,000 feet long. It is on the alternate list for the space shuttle. It is so long that we could take off, climb to 500 feet and probably still land with room to spare. In the time it took for my mind to process what happened, the speed increased about five knots. When I pulled back the second time, the nose slowly tracked upward and the airplane flew off the runway. I thought we ran the numbers wrong with the speeds being slow but I could feel that the nose was heavier than normal.
Climbing out, I said on the intercom that RB wasn’t kidding when he said it would be nose heavy. Passing about ten thousand feet, RB asked me to come to the back. That is an unusual request but I went on back. He met me at the foot of the steps, pale as a sheet.
“Dude, we can’t land!”
“The airplane will land, the question is will it be under control. What are you talking about?”
“The #@&*(!^&# guys loaded this thing backwards. We are out of CG.”
He showed me his new numbers with the tractor in its current position. He was right, it was too far forward and according to the numbers we couldn’t land. I was off headset so he relayed to Kevin to add fifteen knots to whatever speed he was flying and I would be up in a minute. I figured speed is good and more speed is better.
I went back forward to tell the crew what was going on. Gummy, the Flight Engineer began to run landing numbers, Harry the Navigator began to look at alternates for landing and I let Kevin continue to fly. The Doc sat on the bunk never uttering a word. We talked about dumping fuel but we had a center of gravity problem not a overweight problem. Finally we decided that it would be best to get back onto the ground. The closest airport was Masriah Island, our home base. I knew they had everything we needed there so that was the best answer.
I think it was Gummy’s idea to move the flight deck armor to the tail in order to help balance out the CG. Great idea and we moved the 2,000 pounds back quickly, we even took anything that wasn’t strapped down and put it in the back as well. Book bags, tool kits, loading ramps, ect. After we were set, we did a controllability check at 10,000 feet. Basically we configured the airplane for landing and slowed down to landing speed. It flew fine and at that point, I was convinced everything was going to be okay. I took a peek around and the Doc was still on the bunk wearing the “I’m going to die” look on his face.
I should be more sensitive but I’m not. Remember the Doc couldn’t see my face as I spoke, he just can see the back of my head because his view is blocked by the other guys. Harry was in his position, leaning over Kevin’s seat and Gummy was sitting in the middle seat. I looked at the four of them and smiled before I gave my speech. They all quickly realized what I was doing, I had to trust that RB wasn’t going to do something dumb in the back. I finally got to give a Knute Rockne speech to the boys.
“Boys, I don’t know how this thing is going to go. We are probably 50/50 of pulling this thing off. If it goes bad, I will get it slow and make it look like a car crash. But I don’t think it will matter because the first thing through our brains will be that 40,000 pound front end loader. If we don’t roll out on concrete, there aren’t enough chains in the world to keep that beast strapped down. If anyone wants to take the silk elevator and jump, I am willing to consider it.”
Harry was the only one to respond primarily because Kevin and Gummy were trying not to laugh. He said something heroic like. “Boss we have been in worse pickles than this. You will make this look like a walk in the park, we are right there with you and wont let you down.” I wanted to cry I was so proud because it was our “Win one for Gipper moment.”
The landing was uneventful; the ground guys in Masriah took several pictures before turning the monster around and loading it the correct way. We did get the attention of the entire base as we declared an in-flight emergency. We got the fire trucks, ambulance, and all the Commanders including Sleepy out to watch the crash. They really didn’t understand what the problem was except that we had an issue with the cargo. Fortunately, Doc Y had seen enough. My guy was cool as a cucumber under pressure, he did not have PTSD nor did he have any anger issues. The case was officially closed.
Curiously though, This is the only time someone kissed the ground after one of my landings. The Doc took the rest of the day off to recover and I don’t remember him flying with anyone the rest of the rotation.
Until next time, keep on rockin.