The C-141, Lockheed's High Speed Flying Truck
by Harold H. Martin
The Plane That Can See in the Dark
ALL STARLIFTERS look alike and all MAC crews work alike, and if you have seen one base operation you have seen them all.
Now that that has been said, it is also necessary to say that every StarLifter flight differs from every other, and every flight crew is made up of prideful individuals who react to each other and to their jobs in different ways, and every base from which the StarLifters fly has its own distinct personality.
Warner Robins, in the flat pinelands of middle Georgia, is not only the home base of a squadron specially trained to haul atomic weapons. It is also the Air Logistics Command's vast repair shop, a billion-dollar facility where 20,000 craftsmen rebuild planes and airborne cannon with equal skill. Here the Star-Lifters come at specified intervals to be X-rayed for hidden flaws, stripped of landing gear, tanks, and controls, cleaned of rust, repaired, modified, and reassembled. The plane that flies away twenty-four days later is as good as or better than new.
Kelly, in the heart of Texas, is a vast warehouse, prototype of the huge inland cargo terminals of the future. Charleston, on the flat Delta where the natives say the Ashley and the Cooper Rivers come together to form the Atlantic Ocean, is the great East Coast operations center whose planes from three far-ranging squadrons are in the air 12,000 hours a month. It is the only place in the world, perhaps, where by asking a casual question at the O-Club bar, one can learn from a man who has just left there how the weather was the day before at Easter Island or Reykjavik, Incirlik, Cam Ranh Bay, Udorn, Korea, or Addis Ababa, Karachi, Rome, Istanbul, Brasilia, or Johannesburg. Under the sharp but merry eye of an ebullient operations chief, Colonel John D. Hollowell, crews of the 437th MAW fly out of Charleston to all these way stations as casually as they might drive into town for a bowl of she-crab soup.
The crews from Dover, known amiably as Punkinheads for the color of their caps and scarves, are equally as mobile, but the Dover base is famed primarily as a huge freight warehouse. StarLifters from Charleston, Robins, and McGuire rarely leave for Europe, Africa, South America, or Southeast Asia without first putting in at Dover, to load on jet engines and gun barrels, and helicopter blades and truck tires. As a jump-off point, it is also famed for making last-minute fixes, which home-station crews, fearful of missing a block time, did not get around to making-a burden that Dover's maintenance crews do not joyfully assume. "That's them other bastids' theme song," a Dover sergeant said. " 'Don't worry about it. They'll fix it at Dover.' "
McGuire, in New Jersey, is a cargo port also, but as headquarters of MAC's 21st Air Force it is mainly a passenger terminal through which more than fifty thousand military and their dependents pass each month, bound to and from Iceland, Greenland, and Northern Europe.
Travis, on the West Coast, headquarters of the 22nd, is by far the biggest and the busiest of the MAC installations. As the gateway to and from Southeast Asia, it processes some one hundred thousand passengers every month and twenty-five thousand tons of cargo. Its satellite wings at McChord near Seattle and Norton at San Bernadino are less busy with routine airlift, though each has a special distinction of which it likes to boast. Every astronaut who has set foot on the moon, for example, has been flown home to Houston from Hawaii in a Norton bird, and StarLifter crews from McChord fly the Antarctic run with no more fanfare than they fly the West Coast shuttle.
These short milk runs operate every day up and down both coasts, mainly for the purpose of redistributing aircrews who have returned from overseas missions bringing planes belonging to some other base. At Torrejon, Rhein Main, Elmendorf, and Hickam-the jump-off points for home-the ACP's try to match crews and planes from the same home station, for a crew does not particularly enjoy making a landfall five hundred miles from home. This cannot always be done, and the plane, of course, is not permitted to sit and wait. If a crew is available, it has to go, to be made ready as soon as possible for another mission. The plane's tail number, therefore, and not the crew's homing instincts, determine its destination. The plane is delivered to its hangar door. The air crews go home by shuttle.
There is probably no better way, in fact, to get a close look at the C-141's and to see their crews at work than to climb aboard a shuttle flight. . . .
In the sultry heat of a Charleston afternoon, the Dover bird took on its passengers. For Tech Sergeant Eugene Wright, the loadmaster, an easygoing Tennesseean, it had been a long day. At three o'clock that morning the ACP had called, telling him to report to the flight line in an hour. At six o'clock they had taken off, headed North to McGuire in New Jersey. By mid-morning he was back in Dover, but the day was just beginning. They went on South to Charleston and from there to Warner Robins. Now in midafternoon they were back at Charleston, headed again for Dover. But the day still would not end. They'd go on to McGuire again. From there they'd come home to Dover long after dark.
The South Carolina sun is blazing, but it is cool in the dark, almost windowless silver shell which with all its heat and cooling and pressure ducts exposed looks more like the interior of a boiler room than the cabin of a jet. A sailor comes aboard and immediately sags sound asleep in the web of the bucket seat by the door, his chin on his chest, his white hat over his eyes and resting precariously on his nose. Across from him sits a woman airman, staring fixedly at the hat, waiting for it to fall. She is very sharp, very regulation, in her blue-and-white seersucker uniform, but her long blond hair gives her, somehow, a hippie look, incongruous in the harsh surroundings of a military plane. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine, officer and enlisted, come blinking in out of the glare to find a place in the blue-nylon
pull-down seats along the walls. They look about curiously as they come stooping through the low crew door, and the first arrivals take the seats closest to it. Others move aft, where two small windows in the paratroop jump doors let in a little light. The StarLifter was not built for passengers and no provision was made for looking out upon the beauty of sky and cloud and sea. There are those who feel a sense of claustrophobia when they first climb aboard, and a good loadmaster can spot them quickly. They like to sit facing whatever little outside light there is.
Two crews wearing the burgundy cap and scarf of the 58th Squadron at Robins, their green flight suits freshly laundered, fill one side of the plane. They are bound for Dover, to go on stand-by alert for forty-eight hours. A plane is waiting for them there, tuned and ready. If a call should come from the White House, from the Department of Defense, from MAC or 21st Air Force, they could be on their way in less than an hour. The mission might be to fly anything to anywhere-communications equipment and Secret Service men and the armored limousines that must be waiting for the President wherever he lands in Air Force One, or parts and a repair crew to anyplace where an Air Force plane might be broken down with no support facilities to get it going again. If there is trouble in the streets, the alert plane would pick up the Army's specially trained riot-control troops and rush them to the scene. It is a firehorse operation, and the squadrons take turns standing the alert.
Baggage comes flying through the door, and a weary-looking group in rumpled flight suits climbs aboard. It is a McGuire crew, headed home after delivering a Charleston bird it has just brought in from Klmendorf. Behind them come the AC and copilot of the Dover crew that is flying the shuttle run. They have filed the flight plan and checked the weather and are ready to go. They climb up to the flight deck, where already the flight engineers have run their preflight checks. The scanner slips out the door with his mike and headset to watch the engines start up. One after the other the big engines scream to life; the plane begins to quiver. The scanner climbs back aboard and pulls in the ladder, and shoves down and locks the pressure door.I20/STARLIFTER
It is now almost quiet in the plane. Loadmaster Wright picks up his microphone and asks his passengers to give him their attention. It is the briefing that every loadmaster gives, in the same words, whether the flight be a local hop or an overseas flight. He tells them not to use any electronic devices or butane lighters, and not to smoke until he gives permission. He shows them how to use the oxygen mask and what to do if the plane should suddenly depressurize. He points out the exits they would leave by if the plane made a crash landing. He shows them the latrine, and for the benefit of the timorous, he announces, "Door locks are provided for your privacy."
If his passengers are paying any attention, they give no sign of it. They read paperback books, or stare straight ahead, or fold their arms across their chests and bow their heads to sleep.
The fierce forward surge of the takeoff run and the quick lift-off call to mind the uncouth observation made by StarLifter crews that their plane climbs like a female ape defending her virtue. As the aircraft levels off at cruise level, the loadmaster, tall, slender, and very black, moves about chatting with his passengers. He is thirty-three, which is old for a loadmaster, and he has been flying for sixteen years. He likes it well enough, he says. You fly a long day on the shuttle, and the overseas trips are a grind, but after a long flight they give you fifteen hours off, and that gives you plenty of time to eat and sleep and shop for a souvenir to bring back to the old lady. Then when you get home, you get an hour off for every three hours you've been gone, up to seventy-two hours, which is three full days. And sometimes it takes about that long to get your sleeping and eating back on schedule again.
A lot depends, of course, on what time you get back. You come in about five o'clock in the morning, and you go home tired out, you have a little something to eat and then you crawl in the bed. But about the time you are getting to sleep, your wife has to get up to get the children ready for school, and you don't get much rest. Then maybe along toward the middle of the day the house gets quiet, and you sleep for a couple of hours. But later when bedtime comes you are wide awake, and you lie there thrashing around and feeling hungry, for your inner clock
is still on Tokyo time. The best time to come home, of course, is in the late afternoon. Then you can have a beer and eat supper and go to bed and get a long night's sleep, and when you wake up in the morning your system is back in cycle again. But just about the time you get back in the old routine, you have to leave again.
The time the plane leaves also has a lot to do with the eat-sleep cycle of the crew. Crews leaving the East Coast may find themselves flying in daylight all the way or darkness all the way, depending on time changes and when they got started in the stage. They may land just when everybody else is having breakfast, or when they are at dinner. To establish some sort of rhythm that would endure throughout the trip, some crews have experimented with a four-hours-on, four-hours-off cycle, both on the ground and in the air, much as the Navy stands a four-hour watch at sea. To avoid having to eat breakfast when the stomach cries out for dinner, some crewmen have tried living entirely on MAC snack-bar hamburgers while away from home, a procedure not recommended for one whose tolerance for grease is low. Many give up trying to keep track of what meal they are supposed to be having. At 3 A.M. in the snack bar at Hickam, the AC was having a cup of coffee and a strawberry shortcake, the navigator was eating a pizza, and the copilot was staring mournfully at a mound of creamed chip beef on toast.
On the whole, though, flying the line is a good enough life. If travel is educational, Sergeant Wright can be considered an educated man. During his sixteen years of flying time he has been in nearly every country in the world except the Communist countries, and has visited all the major cities. Personally, he prefers the Far East runs, for it is always warm in Southeast Asia. The European run in winter can get pretty chilly to a man from Memphis, Tennessee, and "Sunny Spain" is a travel-folder myth when it is snowing in Madrid.
The loadmaster has nothing to do with flying the StarLifter, or maintaining it, but he gives it good marks as a cargo plane. It is easy to load and unload, which is all that he is concerned with. The best thing he likes about it, though, is that it flies high enough to get above the weather. He flew eight years in C-124's, and Old Shakey operated down there in the clouds where all the thunder bumpers lurk. It was always a rough and bouncy ride, and a loadmaster with a cabinload of airsick passengers is a very unhappy man.
There was plenty of weather waiting for the Dover shuttle as it climbed up to 25,000 feet on the route to McGuire. At 15,000 feet Captain Ken Grandia was steering the climbing StarLifter through a misty, murky sky that his radar showed was roiling with thunderstorms along his projected track. On the copilot's radio, Lieutenant Ross Miller, an amiable twenty-three-year-old from Chicago, heard a ground weather station report that "We have thunderstorms, fogs, and lightning in all quadrants." He clicked his microphone switch. "Confirm all that, sir," he said, cheerfully. "So have we." There was also ice in this hazy summer sky. Dropping down, on orders of ground control, from 21,000 to 17,000 feet, there was a sudden muffled boomp in a right-hand engine. The pilots looked at each other. "Now whatta we do?" said Miller. At the flight engineer's control panel Master Sergeant Daniel Gonzalez ran a quick appraising eye over his engine instruments. No great problem, it turned out. All the de-icer lights showed "On," as they should, but under certain conditions ice may form inside an engine before it shows eta the wings, and before the ice-warning devices can detect it. This evidently had happened on the No. 3 engine, a sturdy veteran that had flown 4100 hours since its last inspection and repair. The anti-icing device had been set to start functioning automatically at a signal from its ice detectors. When the plane entered moist air that was hovering at a temperature near the freezing point, somehow the de-icer on the No. 3 engine failed to function properly. Ice had formed in this one engine and then, breaking away, it had been sucked into the engine, causing the compressor to stall. The concern was only momentary. The continuous ignition switch was on, and the engine caught up immediately. It cleared its throat again, and twice again, though less forcefully, and then ran steadily as the shuttle, still dodging the thunderheads, pressed on toward McGuire.
There the weather conditions were minimal. The ceiling was down to 200 feet and the forward visibility was half a mile,
and these minimums were falling. Captain Grandia, however, showed no great concern about getting down safely and on time. Both he and Lieutenant Miller were qualified on the Adverse Weather Landing System with which all StarLifters were being equipped, and this plane had already made its journey to Warner Robins to be modified. For an AWLS-equipped plane flown by qualified pilots, the minimums at McGuire represented no problem.
The idea behind any automatic landing system is to make the airplane passenger as free as possible of the vagaries of the weather, enabling a plane either to land or take off in any conditions of wind or rain or fog. Most commercial airlines today employ landing systems that can bring a plane down under a 200-foot ceiling with 2400-foot visibility. A few come in under a 100-foot ceiling, with 1200 feet of forward visibility, and the Lockheed system, which the Air Force ordered for the StarLifter fleet, has proved it can do this with ease.
Lockheed, however, has developed a system that will do much better than required. With FAA pilots riding along under a canopy, a Lockheed test engineer named Harlan B. Armitage has made more than 500 StarLifter landings and takeoffs under conditions simulating zero ceiling and 150-foot visibility.
"If the pilot can see to taxi from the runway to the terminal," says Armitage, "we have a system that will take the plane off and land it, and keep it straight and level on the landing roll-out. All the pilot needs to do is apply the brakes."
Armitage, a calm, unflappable pilot from Corry, Pennsylvania, has been in the military since he was just past seventeen, and he once was the youngest graduated pilot in the Air Force. A fighter pilot in the Korean War, he is a graduate in engineering from Auburn University, Alabama, and has been dreaming of the perfect AWLS for years. This equipment will especially be needed when the big planes like the Boeing 747 and Lockheed's L-1011 start coming into fogged-in airports with four or five hundred people aboard. No airline, he points out, wants to face the anger of that many people kept grinding around in a holding pattern for hours, waiting for clearance to land, or
delivered to some airport five hundred miles away from their destination. There must be some system that will bring them in as quickly and as safely as they would come in on a clear day.
If you can land a plane at zero ceiling and 150-foot visibility, Armitage points out, you could also devise a system to bring it in at zero-zero. It wouldn't make sense, though, to refine it to that point, for the pilot couldn't find the terminal once he was on the ground.
The Lockheed AWLS, in concept, is simple enough. Two radar beams, located on the runway, lock into a system of electronic black boxes on the plane which manipulate the plane's automatic pilot. One beam from the ground controls the speed and angle of the plane as it comes down the glide slope. The other keeps it tracking directly down the center of the runway. Unlike a conventional ground-controlled approach, nobody on the ground says anything to the pilot, and he, in turn, does not manipulate the controls as in an instrument landing. He can, of course, take over instantly if the flash of an orange light on the panel tells him something has gone wrong. Armitage, testing FAA pilots by cranking simulated malfunctions into the system just off the ground, found that they reacted so quickly, and the plane responded so promptly, that less than ten feet of altitude was lost. In five seconds after the pilot took over the throttle and poured on the coal, the plane began to respond.
Testing the system in simulated Category 3-B weather-ceiling zero and forward visibility of only 150 feet-Armitage has demonstrated to the Air Force and FAA that the Lockheed AWLS can put the StarLifter down, time after time, on the center of the runway within a rectangle 25 feet wide and 750 feet long. The Air Force, however, is not yet quite ready to trust the electronic boxes to that extent, and has so far forbidden its pilots to use the system installed in the StarLifter fleet below a 100-foot altitude or less than 1200 feet from the runway.
Coming in to McGuire, though the field was intermittently visible under scattered clouds, Captain Grandia called for an AWLS landing. Smoothly, the beams took over and the plane started down the glide path in its AWLS approach. Grandia's hands were hovering over the controls, but he did not touch
them. Then at 200 feet, with the field in full sight, he took over. There was no malfunction, no danger, but Air Force regulations wouldn't permit his taking the plane all the way down on the AWLS.
"It's a superb system," Grandia said afterwards, "but we don't get to use it much, because not too many men are trained in it yet-and there are still a few bugs in it. The way it was working today, though, it would have probably brought the plane all the way down, and flared it out, and landed it, and guided it down the runway on the roll-out, and nobody back there in the cabin would have ever known the difference."
Which is what Harlan Armitage has been working for all along.