Not long after return from Kadena AFB and Okinawa (https://www.doctoraviation.com/tanker-trip-to-guam-viii-okinawa-and-kadena/) , we got word that we had a new mission. Our crew and two others were to head to the Philippines for a major PACAF (Pacific Air Forces) exercise. It was an unforgettable trip.
The powers that be at the PTTF (Pacific Tanker Task Force) staggered our departure from Andersen AB in Guam to Clark AB in the Philippines. I cannot remember why, but I do remember that we were to arrive a day earlier than the next crew.
For some reason (and again, I cannot remember why) the navigator from the other crew wanted/needed to arrive in the Philippines a day earlier than the rest of his crew. So we arranged to exchange Dorothy, our navigator, for the other navigator. I found the new navigator to be competent, but I realized and appreciated, for perhaps the first time, how much I liked our crew.
It was a four hour flight west from Andersen AFB to Clark Air Base. Clark was designated an Air Base, instead of an Air Force Base. The United States does this often when on foreign soil. By dropping the word, “Force” it conveys a more peaceful message to the host nation. However, the function of the base was no different.
Clark was built in 1903 and named for Harold Clark in 1919. A quick history of the island. The United States came into position of the Philippines from the Spanish, courtesy of the Spanish American War (when the US also acquired Puerto Rico and Guam). Douglas MacArthur is perhaps the American most linked to the Philippines (or the PI as many servicemen refer to it). His Dad had served as Governor General of the Philippines. Macarthur helped organize the Filipino Army in the mid-1930s with the rank of Field Marshal (http://www.history.com/topics/douglas-macarthur) . He himself was commander there at the beginning of World War II. When the Japanese overwhelmed the island beginning December 8, President Roosevelt had MacArthur evacuated from the island against his wishes. MacArthur then uttered his famous phrase to the Filipino people, “I shall return”.
While MacArthur was away, the PI endured harsh treatment from their Japanese captors. The Bataan Death March occurred, with staggering brutality. As a cadet at the Air Force Academy, I learned the man who delivered the papers to our dorm room had survived the death march. He would not speak of it, except to our survival trainers. He spoke with them only to help them understand how to better train.
A local doctor in Northern Kentucky, Dr. Alvin C. Poweleit, was also on the march (https://nyx.uky.edu/oh/render.php?cachefile=poweleit_ww15.xml) . He promised God that if he survived the ordeal he would do his best to do good the rest of his life. He kept his promise and was instrumental in revolutionizing medical care in Northern Kentucky by leading the design and planning of St. Elizabeth Hospital on an old farm in Edgewood KY. On more personal note, he once accepted a pie from a man for medical treatment. The poor man told him, “I don’t have any money, but my wife baked you a pie”. Dr. said, “Sounds like a fair trade to me.” The Bataan Death march took it toll on Doc Poweleit as well. His children later told me that he stored food in his attic. He had vowed never to go hungry again.
MacArthur kept his promise as well. He returned to the PI with the US Army on October 20, 1944. The Americans completely captured the islands 11 months later. They had kept a military presence on the island from that time to my arrival in 1987. Clark AB for the Air Force and Subic Bay for the Navy. Negotiations were then underway to extend the American’s lease for the facilities. The PI was not sure they wanted to extend the leases. At least that is the posture they portrayed in 1987.
Negotiations were made trickier with the recent election of Corazon Aquino. Aquino had replaced long time ruler, Ferdinand Marcos. Marcos’s corruption had grown and eventually led to his downfall. Marcos’s wife, Imelda, left her mark with hundreds of shoes in her closet.
It was to this island that I was descending that day. The descent is where the problem happened.
The flight was routine to this point. Upon beginning the descent things got non-routine. We had difficulty understanding the controller and his commands. Specifically, we also had difficulty discerning to what point he wanted us to fly and what approach he was directing us to. The problem was compounded by flying with a non familiar navigator. Again, he was competent. However, our unfamiliarity required more verbal crew coordination. The next thing I know everybody, and I mean everybody, on the crew had their hands full. I was doing checklists, trying to help with the radio calls, coordinating with the navigator and adjusting the fuel on the fuel panel. That is where I got bit.
An important concept for larger aircraft is what is known as the cg (center of gravity). This is the point over which the aircraft’s weight is centered. The best way to picture the concept is by visualizing a teeter-totter or see-saw. When children are of equal weight sitting on each end of the see-saw, the board stays parallel to the ground. But if one child hops off the empty part of the board goes skyward.
The same concept applies on a big aircraft. Fuel must be moved around multiple tanks in certain quantities. This allows the cg to say at a point that the plane rests on all three landing gear when on the ground. It also helps the aircraft to fly with more stability.
Mess up the fuel panel and you mess up the cg.
On the descent I was draining some fuel from a center tank to a forward tank. I usually put a yellow tab next to the readout for that tank and pump. In the busyness I bypassed the yellow tab. I was only going to drain the tank for a few moments and then stop the draining. Then I got distracted. Kevin asked me what was going on with the fuel tanks. I look down in horror. I had drained far more fuel forward than I should have. “I forgot about em”. “I’ll fix em”.
“Co!” Kevin exclaimed.
I could tell that he was upset. Really upset. It was the first and only time I ever remember him getting upset with me on a flight in our entire time flying together. I felt horrible.
I wanted to fix it, but I didn’t know if I could. It would take some time to re-adjust the fuel. Because of how I had done the draining just about our only recourse was to burn off the fuel. We were in a steep descent with the throttles way back on power. We weren’t burning much fuel in this configuration and it would not be long until we were on final approach. Time was off an essence.
I did everything in my power and creativity to move that fuel and/or get it burned by the engines. Shortly before final, I got it to at least a manageable position for the cg, although it was not ideal. When Kevin landed I breathed a sigh of relief.
For one of the few times in my flying career, I had done something to put the crew in a bad spot. If let horrible. I committed to myself not to do it again.