The C-141, Lockheed's High Speed Flying Truck
by Harold H. Martin
Horseplay in the High Sky
WHILE StarLifter No. 6, the legendary Petunia Pig, was pressing on toward its goal of 2500 flying hours in less than a year, No. 7 was flying within ten degrees of the North Pole in its cold-weather tests and, in the frying-pan heat of the California desert, the No. 8 plane at El Centre was proving its combat-drop capability by parachuting a 35,000-pound mock-up of a Sherman tank out of its tail. While these things were happening, the No. 9 ship was undergoing exercises almost as gruelling. With the delivery of the first operational aircraft to the MATS unit at Tinker, this special school for training StarLifter pilots and engineers moved, as airmen say, into high blower. Within 120 days after delivery, the plane had survived more than 1000 bumpy landings at the hands of ex-fighter jockeys, grizzled colonels from SAC's dwindling bomber force, and anxious young aviators with perspiring palms who were fresh from flying IBF's-Itty Bitty Fellows-in pilot training. The first class of sixteen pilots and an equal number of engineers was quickly graduated. Qualified as aircraft commanders and engineers, they stayed on to instruct the new classes that were pouring in, the men who would fly the StarLifter in the line squadrons being organized first at Travis, then at Charleston, Dover, McChord, Warner Robins, Norton, and McGuire. With Vietnam crying for airlift, there was a wartime urgency in the school, and a wartime pace to its teaching. Every two weeks, forty-four pilots and engineers, chosen for their skill and promise, came in to begin a two-month course. The first month was ground school, given in the main by a staff of skilled civilians, known irreverently to the airmen as feather merchants. After ground school, the students moved on to the simulators. These are exact duplicates of the 141 flight deck, with instrumentation for the pilot and the flight engineer. The feeling you get while in one is of being at the controls of a plane flying thousands of feet over nowhere in the middle of the night with nothing around you but 2000 miles of sky and ocean. The windows are opaque, and the noise, vibrations, and aircraft movement are so realistic that when the instructor cranks in some malfunction such as an engine failure, fire in the cabin complete with the stench of smoke, excessive icing, control failure, or turbulence accompanied by lightning, thunder, and violent movement, even experienced pilots have to fight an impulse to panic. It is easy to forget that that the simulator sits in a huge fluorescent-lighted air-cooled building, where television monitors record every move the pilot makes.
"We don't crank in the emergencies until the student has learned all the normal procedures," says Major Bob Martin, standardization officer of the training unit, which later was moved to Altus. "We start him off in there with very basic things-running the check lists, mastering the location of the switches, learning how to read this new and simplified instrumentation system that's in the StarLifter. He has been used to reading numbers on dials. Now he is learning to read relationships, the position of tapes that move up or down like the mercury in a thermometer. If the tapes all read at the same level across the panel, he knows everything is in good shape. If one falls below the line, there's something wrong. He's either low, or slow. He has seven sessions in the simulator, each lasting roughly four hours. By the time he comes out, he at least knows what the cockpit of a StarLifter looks like, how it handles, how it feels. Several times pilots who have gone through some real emergency in the air have told me, 'It was exactly like the simulator.' "
No simulator, of course, can take the place of a skilled instructor-pilot, sitting beside the student in an actual airplane. To Major Herman Hartel, the training coordinator at Altus and officer in charge of academics, the most important part of his job was not teaching men how to fly the 141, but teaching them how to teach-and motivating them to go back to their own squadrons as qualified instructor pilots.
To motivate a man to do anything you have to get him personally involved, Major Hartel points out. There seems to be no great difficulty in motivating a MAC pilot to become an instructor.
"You merely point out to him," says Hartel, "that every time he teaches a man to fly that's just that many missions he won't have to fly himself."
To the pilots of the StarLifter line squadrons this is an effective approach. MAC flight crews fly constantly back and forth across the world, and many of them curse bitterly their frequent absences from home and family.
Even good pilots, motivated in the direction of teaching, do not make good instructors until they have mastered a few simple techniques.
"We don't teach concepts down here, we teach motor skills," Hartel says. "Our long-range goal is to turn out a pilot so competent that we'd let our families fly with him. We'd climb up in the hayloft of a 141 and go to sleep and let him fly us anywhere in the world. But that ideal must be approached slowly, in four simple steps.
"First you sit him down in a quiet room somewhere and tell him exactly what he is going to do. There mustn't be any distractions, not even a flushing toilet. You say, 'O.K., today we are going up in the airplane and make hard left turns. To make a hard left turn you pull the wheel over in this manner until you are in thirty degrees of bank, with two degrees of pitch.' You have to let him know exactly how much altitude he will be allowed to lose in this turn, five hundred feet, one hundred feet, five feet, whatever. In other words, you let him know the exact limits he's going to be graded against. Then you explain to him any little idiosyncrasies this plane might have that might foul him up. The feel, for instance, is going to be different. It's a door spring he's feeling, not the actual controls at work. So if he doesn't watch out he can overcontrol and turn the plane over on its back. So, on a clear day in an empty sky he's going to68/STARLIFTER
have to fly instruments. He will read that thirty degrees of turn off the instrument panel, because the plane is not going to tell him anything through his hands.
"After this talk-through the next thing to do is to take him up in the airplane and show him the maneuver. And I mean flawlessly. You bring that thing around smoooooth, as if it was on glass. For the way the student sees it done the first time is the way he's going to remember it. And then you turn the yoke over to him and say, 'O.K. Now you do it.' And if you have done your job right, the chances are he'll make a good turn, right in there, right on the nose. And here another law of learning comes in-the law of effect. If he does it right the first time, that makes him happy and he wants to do it again and again and again. And the learning people tell us that once you perform some act of motor skill three times, you've got it.
"Now comes the big test. You've been helping him along a little in his first turns, coaching him, encouraging him, warning him when he slipped a little bit. Once you think the pattern is pretty well set, you sit back and evaluate him. You don't say a word, you just watch. Now you aren't judging him as a student performing a maneuver that is new to him. You are judging him against a standard, the one right way to do a perfect bank-and-turn in this airplane. And when it's finished, you evaluate him. You say, 'O.K. Good.' Or 'Not so good and here's why.' That's the difference between a good instructor and a guy who is just an evaluator. Anybody can take a student up there and say 'Do me a steep turn' and he does it, and the guy says 'That was lousy. Do it again.' And the kid does it again and it's still lousy. That's no help to anybody. You not only haven't taught the student anything constructive, you've set up a bad motor pattern that's going to handicap him when he does have to get it right."
Complacency or laziness in the instructor is not only harmful to the student but it may get both the instructor and the student killed. Flight-school teaching manuals are filled with horror stories of instructors sitting idly by with their elbows in their laps while the student got the plane into a situation from which the instructor could not recover it. This, the books imply, comes from the instructor's false assumption that he is such a master of this particular plane that he can handle any situation that might come up. They also describe cases in which the instructor piled on so many emergencies, one upon another, that the student just threw up his hands and quit.
Major Kenneth Lukens, deputy commander of the training squadron, warns instructors against compounding emergencies in the air to a point where safety is compromised. One chilling classroom session at Altus is spent listening to a taped record- the voices of two commercial airline pilots going through a check-flight procedure in which an unrealistic combination of emergencies caused a crash in which five men were killed. The final moments of the transcript tell of the pilots' agony. First the voice of the pilot who was being tested, desperately fighting to keep the plane in the air as it dropped below its threshold speed to land: "Can't hold it, Bud."
Then the voice of the instructor, a high-pitched yell: "Let it up, let it up, boy!"
Again the voice of the pilot, despairing: "Oh, God damn!"
Then only silence.
After hearing this transcription, instructor pilots are willing to listen when Major Lukens tells them that while standardization is important, it must be tied in with safety-if the student is to be pushed to his psychological limits by the compounding of emergencies, this must be done in the simulator. It is, of course, part of his evaluation process to know how the student reacts to stress, and the instructor must always know when the student is reaching the breaking point. In the taped conversation the point was reached when the pilot, plagued by an engine fire and a rudder that was not responding properly, called for the take-off check list when he meant the before-landing check list. Errors such as this quickly reveal to an experienced instructor when his student is about to crack. One trick is to ask the student to set his heading indicator to north, while repeating his serial number. He will do this perfectly, for his serial number is as much a part of him as his name. Then Hartel asks him to set the direction indicator needle to east, and repeat the memory items for engine failure on takeoff. If he knows them perfectly, by rote, he will call them off while continuing to turn the needle on the direction indicator to east. If his hands stop, he is stopping to think. His reflexes and his motor skills have slowed down. He needs a rest. And then he needs more training on takeoff procedures until, no matter how weary or angry or frustrated he may become, he will automatically react correctly to the emergency of the engine failure.
Hartel insists that the instructors adhere strictly to the same standards that they demand of their pupils. To him MAC's "ten hours from bottle to throttle" rule means what it says, and no instructor should be in the club bar with a glass in his hand if he is scheduled to fly ten hours hence. Nor should the instructor, succumbing to the "get-home-itis" that afflicts all airmen at the end of the day, ever bend or break a rule the student himself would not be permitted to ignore.
"You can't waive anything/' Hartel says. "Suppose you've been making instrument approaches all day and the student was sharp, everything right on, and then it comes time to go home and the ceiling there is down to four hundred fifty feet. But the regulations say that you can't make an instrument approach there below five hundred feet. So now you have to go to an alternate. But the instructor says, 'Look, kid, the hell with it. I'm going to take it down to four hundred feet and get us in in time for supper.' So he does, and he doesn't hit anything. But what has he done? He's left a very bad thought in that student's mind-that when you want to bad enough, you can break those rules, those standardization procedures that are set up for your own safety."
Major Hartel, though truly dedicated to his profession, is not a humorless man, and he illustrates many of his points with anecdotes. His bottle-to-throttle admonition, for example, is accompanied by a hilarious account of a crew which, after a bibulous evening at the club, is roused by the command post duty officer and told they have to move their airplane out of the path of a hurricane. Hartel gives a vivid description of the AC, sloshing black coffee into the copilot, asking him, "How you feel now, Charley?" and the copilot, looking up walleyed and answering, "I feel jush fi, Colonel, how you feel?" The crew had
been on legitimate crew rest, and although they were not scheduled to fly for another twelve hours, so that no question of illegality was involved, the unscheduled emergency of the hurricane had caught them. Hand's point was clear.
One of the problems facing the aircraft commander on long overwater flights is weariness, the desire to sleep that comes over a tired crew. Some AC's have taken fairly drastic steps to keep their crews alert. One, for example, on a night flight over the Atlantic, woke in the crew bunk during a legal rest period with the weird sensation that the aircraft was flying in circles. With some difficulty he made his way to the cockpit, to find the copilot sound asleep in his chair and the plane making great sweeping turns. So he eased into the left-hand seat, strapped himself in very quietly, reached over and wound down the copilot's altimeter to 500 feet above the ground. He then eased the plane into a steeper bank, and caged the copilot's bank-and-turn indicator so that when he rolled the wings level, the artificial horizon stayed tipped to the side as if the plane were in a steep bank just 500 feet above the ground. Then he signaled for the engineer to speed up all four engines slightly. This woke the copilot with a start and he looked at the dials and yelled, "My God, we're gonna crash!" And then, of course, he had a wrestling match with the AC for control of the plane, which was still 8000 feet in the air.
This happened on Old Shakey, the C-124, a plane on which Major Hartel logged 6000 hours before he came over to the Star Lifter. The 124, he remembers, was particularly adapted to such tricks as this. In the 124 you could go down the ladder forward of the clamshell door and climb up on the radome and take out a small panel. And from there you could reach up and grab the copilot by the leg. One AC, on a long flight, needed to get some rest but he wanted to be sure his copilot would stay awake. So he left his seat, pretending to go back to the crew bunk, and slipped down the ladder and took the panel out and reached up and grabbed the copilot's leg and yanked it strongly. What he didn't know was that at that moment the copilot was giving a position report on the radio: "Andrews Airbase, this is MATS 12345. I'm-uh-at-uh-forty degrees North and fifty degrees West-AND SOMETHING'S GOT ME!" Every pilot flying the western Atlantic that night heard that wild cry.
There are variations on this story, of course, of crews coming out of Far Eastern countries where they have heard fearful stories of poisonous snakes, such as the kraik, and the habu, crawling into parked airplanes. Jokers on the crew have been known to crawl into the same spot described above, and run lengths of rope, snakelike, up the pilot's pants leg. This can be hazardous, for the pilot in his wild stamping and flailing and kicking against the rudder pedals may put dangerous stresses on the plane's control surfaces.
The man who kicks and yells when something grabs his ankle in the dark, or when he feels what he thinks is a snake climbing up his leg, is merely reverting to ancient behavior patterns, as all men do in times of stress. One thing that Jim Stull, the school psychologist, insists on in his lectures is the need for the instructor to be alert to the fact that any student may suddenly revert to old habits learned on other airplanes-and this can be dangerous.
For this reason, Major Hartel insists that his instructors find out early what type of plane his student has been flying, so the instructor cannot be taken by surprise. A student who has been flying fighters, for example, or a trainer like the P-38, handles the controls with his right hand and the throttle with his left. When he flies the 141 from the left-hand seat, his right hand is on the throttles and his left hand is on the yoke.
"You may think he has made a perfect transition," Hartel says. "Then in the night, in the rain, you go booming down the runway with him at the controls and you say 'Rotate,' which means 'Get the nose up,' and what happens? His left hand rams the yoke full forward and his right hand comes straight back and the airplane stops, skidding sideways down the runway. And you say, 'What in the hell are you doing, kid?' and he says, 'I don't know. I don't know/ But you know. The night takeoff in the rain made him nervous and all of a sudden he reverted back to the hand movements in his pilot training."
These first-learned habits are sometimes hard to break. The pilot who comes to the 141 jet from the slower, prop-driven C-124 is reluctant to roll the 141 into a 60-degree bank and come almost straight down at 15 or 20 degrees of pitch because he has never flown this way in his life. "On the takeoff," Hartel says, "he has never pulled Old Shakey's nose up more than five degrees, so in the 141 he gets going too fast, too soon. Instead of pulling up into a steep climb, he comes up flat, and he finds himself screaming through the air at three-hundred knots before he can even get the wheels up."
The K-135 pilots have less trouble making the transition than do the Shakey drivers. The K-135 tanker, created to serve SAC's bomber fleet, is itself a high-altitude, sweptwing jet with many of the flight characteristics of the 141. So the old tanker pilot is not taken by surprise, for example, when the StarLifter does a Dutch roll, a movement peculiar to the sweptwing planes in which, as the nose swings right or left, the wing on that side lifts. It is a startling reversal of the aerodynamics of the straight-wing plane, but it can easily be controlled by the yaw damper.
Pilots of jet aircraft are also accustomed to high-altitude flight procedures, which differ considerably from those governing low-level flight. At low altitudes planes maintain a 1000-foot separation. At high altitudes, this is increased to 2000 feet. Above 18,000 feet on the East Coast, and 24,000 feet in the rest of the country, all planes must be under positive control from the ground and no plane is allowed up there without clearance, a fact that low-level pilots transitioning to the StarLifter sometimes forget. At high altitudes are well-defined pathways in the sky. Below 29,000 feet, all planes flying from east to west fly at even-numbered altitudes, those flying west to east at the odd-numbered levels. Above 29,000 feet, where the StarEifters fly, the odd-and-even numbers game does not apply. Eastbound planes are at 33,000 and 37,000 feet, westbound at 35,000 and 39,000. So that there will be no variation in these readings, above 18,000 feet all altimeters must be set at 29.92, the barometric pressure at sea level.
Every pilot feels a little thrill when he looks out the window of his highflying jet and sees, above or below him, another lonely wayfarer, tracing his white contrail across the empty sky. At the higher altitudes, the sight of even one such fellow traveler is rare, and the sight of more than one at a time is memorable.
"The most beautiful sight I've seen in all my years of flying came not long ago on a StarLifter flight to Europe," says Hartel. "There are three main tracks across the North Atlantic between the States and Europe-Alpha, the northernmost, which skirts the tip of Greenland; Bravo, in the middle; and Charlie, the southernmost route. The one you fly depends upon the winds and weather. The guys going to Europe like to fly Bravo, for that's where the jetstream usually can be found, and that hundred-to-hundred and fifty knots of wind on your tail make you go like a scared ape. Coming home, they fly Alpha, to the north, to avoid bucking that wind. Anyway, we were up there at thirty-seven thousand, eastbound on the Bravo track, and all during the night we'd been hearing airplanes ahead of us and behind us and above us and below us, giving their position report. When you hear another plane on the radio, you automatically make a mental note of where he is, in relation to where you are. So we knew there were a lot of airplanes up there, even though we hadn't seen even a wink of light in the dark. Then, all of a sudden, about two hundred miles off the coast of Ireland, the sun came up. And there they were! Not one, not two, not three, but seven big airplanes strung out there in front of us, and if there was a lateral displacement of more than half a mile between any of them, I will eat your hat. They were just strung out there straight as a string, everybody beautifully right on track and streaming a big white contrail down that one-way road.
"This kind of flying is due, of course, to the accurate navigating equipment we have on the aircraft now. We used to think we knew where we were and then we'd have to correct like hell right at the end. Now we split the pipe, and it's a beautiful sight and a lot more comfortable."