Wednesday, November 03, 2010

And The Winner Is ...

I would be disappointed with your response to the Jet Age book giveaway except that it tells me something amusingly wonderful about the community of people who read this blog. You really do think it's better to give than receive. That is, when I asked you to donate something to help me help Cambodians recover from decades of brutality, so many of you responded, and so fast and so generously that I literally lost count. But when I had an opportunity to give a prize to you, you had some fun telling stories, but there wasn't much enthusiasm in voting or competing for a prize. I guess for the American majority there's been too much talk about voting this week.

What votes there were produced a tie between Chris's story of the downed C172 pilot:

A friend of mine told me a story of his service in the Royal Australian Air Force - it even has a Canadian connection.

He was ferrying the original flight of DHC-4 Caribou aircraft from Canada to Australia which necessitated a number of stops, the Caribou being relatively short legged and not equipped for inflight refuelling. Somewhere over North Africa he picked up a very faint distress signal on 121.5. He diverted to the source of the signal and because it was so faint they had a hard time tracking it down, often losing it entirely. Eventually he found a lone pilot standing under the wing of his wrecked C172. Circling for a bit, the crew dropped some food and all the water they had, then bid the pilot farewell and flew on for their destination, reporting the crash site at the next aerodrome. They flew onward but before reaching their original destination of Australia they were again diverted - this time for South Vietnam. He never learned of the fate of that bloke, stranded in the sea of sand.

Years later, standing in a bar in Laos in a small village in the middle of nowhere. An Air America pilot heard the Australian voices and came over shouting the whole crew a drink. He said bought drinks for any Australian flight crews he met because years earlier he had an engine failure ferrying a C172 across North Africa, crash landed and was on his last legs when a Caribou dropped food and water and sent rescuers to his was the same bloke whose life they had saved.

... and an anonymous reader who e-mailed me before posting to identify himself:

When I was a boy I listened to Tom Rutledge tell a story about when he was a young man. Tom worked for the Wright engine company and was tasked with building J5 engines and “running them in”. A variety of plane and pilot teams were then attempting to be the first to cross the Atlantic non-stop. Since the Wright J5 was the a reliable engine most were choosing it for their planes. Tom’s coworkers with more seniority were allowed first choice of whose engines they would build.

After assembly, the J5 engines would run on a test stand with the valve cove removed so that one could “hit” the valve rocker arms with a rubber mallet when the valves became stuck. The valves would stick sometimes until they had been run for a time. While Tom was working with an especially difficult engine, whacking on it with his mallet, he was introduced to Charles Lindberg, his engine’s owner.

I like both stories. Note that they both were stories the teller had heard someone else tell. Telling each other stories is part of aviation, for sure. Together they illustrate some true things, good and bad about aviation. The risk involved in crossing stretches of water in smaller airplanes. Dependence on our engines and our mechanics. Looking out for one another, and paying it forward. All favours and bribes are paid in beer. And no matter where you are, if there's another pilot there you'll have a connection.

As I have to cast the tie-breaking vote, I'll choose the C172 story. Chris, please send me your mailing address.


coreydotcom said...

cha ching! that's khmer for: you win, chris!

congrats... it was a good story.

Chris said...

Thank you so much!

I can't take all the credit of course - I'm merely retelling the story. Unfortunately the original story teller has passed away, but I think he would be happy people liked it. He was full of fascinating stories like these but when asked to write them down objected that no one would be interested.

I promise to pay it forward in anyway I can.