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Jump Start by azlibertarian

I figure the statute of limitations is up on this story, so while I’ve told it verbally a number of times, for the first time ever, I’ll commit it to pixels…..

Back in the day, I was an Air Force C-130 pilot stationed at Clark AB in the Philippines. I was assigned this trip which had the purpose of supporting two very small units on Yap Island…a Coast Guard unit who ran a LORAN station (which is an old-school navigational aid), and a Navy Seabee unit which was building roads, bridges, whatever for the Yapese. They each had about a dozen guys each (maybe). Every two weeks, we’d fly out to Guam, spend the night, and then the next day we’d fly to Yap to bring these guys any supplies, mail, or food that they needed.

Two things about being in the Air Force on a crewed airplane….
• There are “O’s” and there are “E’s”, where O’s=Officers and E’s=Enlisted. We each respect each other’s roles, but at the end of the day, there is a difference between the two groups.
• And within each group and each crewmember’s role, there are the guys who are good at their jobs and those who aren’t.

The thing you have to understand about E’s on trips which pay per-diem is that you probably couldn’t pile up enough dynamite to blow them off the trip if you tried. For an enlisted guy, a trip with per-diem was like gold. His wife knew how much he earned because that paycheck was deposited into their account twice a month. The per-diem claim was made at the end of the trip, and it was paid in cash.

So that per-diem was an E’s beer money. Momma didn’t need to know about how much he’d earned on that trip, so there were very few things in life that would keep him from going.

And my flight engineer on the trip in question was one of the weaker guys in the squadron. I’d flown with him before, and knew to watch him on his best day, but on this trip, he wasn’t having a good trip. He had a raging cold and was coughing and hacking the whole time.

So while the runway at Yap was nice, it really had no services. No tower, no nothing. We’d just show up, eyeball the runway and land. We always treated it like a remote field, and to do that, while we were on short final (maybe 3 miles out from landing), the flight engineer would look up at his panel, check the aircraft’s battery voltage, and start the APU (Auxillary Power Unit, which is essentially a small jet engine which powers a generator). We’d land, park, and then shut down the engines, using the APU to provide electric and hydraulic power for the plane while we were parked. Once we were done with all that, we’d shut down the APU and leave the airplane dark.

I’d been there before, but no-one else on the crew had been to Yap before, and given that we had a couple of hours to see things, we went to see the sights. Yap is an interesting place. They have what they call “stone money” which are these stone wheels carved from rocks that the Yapese found on some distant island. The “value” of the money supposedly is derived from how many people died while bringing them back.

Like you can find on a number of South Pacific islands, Yap also has these old rusting Japanese gun emplacements and other war debris still there from WWII. As I said, it was interesting.

Anyway, after we had seen all of that, we got back to the airplane for our trip back to Guam. I was met by a retired Army guy and his wife who had been on Yap missioning the Yapese and wanted a ride back in the direction of the U.S. As I was chatting with the two of them, my copilot and the flight engineer climbed up into the plane to get us ready to go.

About two seconds later, my copilot came flying out of the cockpit. The cardinal sin for a flight engineer was to walk away from a plane with the battery meter trying to read battery voltage, and that is exactly what this weak flight engineer did. You see, it took battery voltage to read battery voltage, and with no other power on the plane, all you did was deplete your battery (the equivalent of walking away from your car with the lights on).

The battery to the plane was (effectively) dead. I couldn’t start the APU to start the airplane’s engines. I couldn’t start the APU to power the HF radio to call someone to send us a new battery.

I was stuck.

I’m not at all proud of this, but I immediately lost my cool and started stomping around cursing like a sailor. The Army missionary and his wife just sort of disappeared. I wondered “How the eff was I going to get this airplane out of Yap?”

And that was when my copilot saved the day.

You see, the way we unloaded our cargo was that the Seabees brought out a forklift and a dump truck. We pushed the pallets out of the plane and onto the forklift, and he loaded them into the dump truck for the trip to wherever it was that the Seabees lived. And the guy driving the dump truck was told to wait until we left before he went back to their “camp” (or whatever they called it).

My copilot looked at this 19-year-old kid (whose service in the Navy [at least at that moment] consisted of driving a dump truck on Yap Island) and asked: “That’s a diesel dump truck, right?”

Seabee: Yep.

Copilot: You’ve got two 12 volt batteries on that thing, right?

Seabee: Yep.

Copilot: Do you have jumper cables?

Seabee: Ummmh, yeah.

And that was when my copilot reached into his flight suit pocket and pulled out the first Leatherman I’d ever seen. I’d seen them advertised in magazines, but up until then, I’d never laid eyes on one.

An aircraft battery is connected to a plane by this aircraft-specific mount. We used that Leatherman to take that whole mount apart to get it down to two cables, and then we jump-started the APU to a C-130 from a dumptruck’s battery.

In the Air Force, for me to have done this legally would have required me to have been under fire, and then wake up the 4-star back in Illinois. I knew that was never going to happen….some colonel in the chain of command was going to refuse to wake up the next guy higher than him, so I did it anyway. The (peacetime) AF would have preferred that that airplane would be stuck on Yap Island for those 2 weeks until the next mission came through there.

There endeth the story. If anyone tracks me down over it, I deny it all.

From SOMETHING WONDERFUL: Made of America – Leatherman – American Digest

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • BillH July 25, 2018, 9:51 AM

    I logged 3000+ IP/PFE hours in that beast ’61-’66, after years of flying recips for what was then the Military Airlift Command, previously known as MATS. There are a jillion stories like this out there, some of which I witnessed, but of course never instigated. It really is remarkable what you can do with this airplane (given the freedom to do it). Not only are they still flying, but they’re still making them 65 years after it was designed.

  • Casey Klahn July 25, 2018, 10:36 AM

    Everything I ever modified in the army was either by high speed compression, or explosives. All inadvertent (except for the time we C4 tested the commander’s steel helmet at the engineer range. It failed…).

  • David July 25, 2018, 10:48 AM

    374 AMS……73-74……nice story….always wondered where the A/C went when I wasn’t working on them….CCK AB was nice but Clark AFB sucked….

  • azlibertarian July 25, 2018, 11:34 AM

    Gerard, I bow humbly in your general direction. For you to include my extended comment as a stand-alone post on your site is a high honor.

    For me, the written word is difficult. I have a technical degree (physics) and have spent most of my adult life as an airline pilot. That means that I have spent decades where I write almost nothing outside of an occasional comment here and there. If I am able to write clearly enough to warrant inclusion on your website, then I am deeply humbled. Again, thank you.

    I also want to thank you for adding the pictures and video illustrating what I was talking about. In both the lead image and the video (right at the start….7 seconds or so in), you can see the black power cord snaking it’s way to the airplane. That comes from a power cart which would provide electrical power for the airplane while it is parked (No such cart existed on Yap). Your image in the middle of my comment captures the battery and it’s location perfectly.

    BillH, yes there are a thousand stories about the C130. I was a “Cold War” guy, so I can’t say that I’ve seen combat, but none-the-less, we called these stories “War Stories”. Every career field in every service has their version of these stories. I’m nearing the end of my career as an airline pilot, and am now on my fifth airplane at my employer (many of my colleagues have flown many more). But as I look back, the C-130 is the best, big airplane I’ve flown. It flies low and slow, and it ain’t sexy, but it can do just about an damn thing you ask of it.

  • Gary Schisler July 25, 2018, 1:39 PM

    When I was in the Air Force, I too visited Yap (January (?) 1982 I think) after stopping at Clark AFB in the Phillipines. Apparently one of the C-130s there had shut down all four engines and the starter on one engine failed. We flew in to provide what is technically called a buddy start – using the prop blast from one of our engines to spin the prop of the receiving airplane. There are less delicate names for this procedure but it ends in “job”. It worked, they flew off, we flew off back to Elmendorf AFB, AK.

  • SgtBob July 25, 2018, 5:34 PM

    An officer thought of shortcuts to get a job done? An AF officer? An officer not infantry or armor or cavalry? Gaw-wan.

  • lpdbw July 25, 2018, 5:52 PM

    For all you C-130 junkies ( I worked as a civilian contractor for MAC and then AMC for 20 years).

  • azlibertarian July 25, 2018, 6:16 PM

    I enjoy poking those from other services as much as the next guy, but if I were to drop that for a minute, back in my day (the 80s), the interservice rivalries were much more pointed than the jest you offer. Today, from my vantage, our military is much more “purple”* than it used to be, and I think that is a very good thing. Two of my favorite elements of my story are a) that, with the exception of the Marines, it includes every service and b) I’ve often wondered how often that then-19 year-old Seabee has told that story too.

    Also, one of the advantages that the other services have over the Air Force is that “points of the spear” are most often enlisted guys, whereas in the AF, it is that AF officer in the cockpit. I think I’ve said it here some time ago, but it doesn’t matter what the General, or the Colonel, or the Captain thinks about how to do something, but until the Master Sergeant is convinced that that action is worthy of doing, it ain’t going to happen. The flight engineer in my story is a rare exception to my experience that it is the great mass of senior enlisted who actually make a military work. Even in the Air Force.

    *For those who don’t know, “purple” in this sense has nothing at all do to with a Purple Heart, but instead with lessening the differences between the services. The services–up and down the chain of command–care less about their own parochial interests, and more about getting the job done best, regardless of who gets the credit.

  • ghostsniper July 25, 2018, 7:51 PM

    I seen em up close, from the inside, and the outside, upside down.
    C130 goin down the strip airborne daddy gonna take a little trip.
    Stand up buckle up shuffle to the door jump right out and count to 4.
    If that chute don’t open wide I got another one by my side.

    That “another one” saved my life one time, barely.
    Airborne – We make the ground go oomph.

    Casey, in the engineers we made det cord do everything, and easier to deal with all the way around.
    26,000 fps, dawgeez
    The last guy out the door carried the caps.

  • Terry July 25, 2018, 8:24 PM

    The C-130 is fantastic aircraft. I was transported around the world in them. My job in the USAF was reciprocating engine mechanic, specifically I was a P & W R4360 specialist. The aircraft was the C-124, “Old Shaky”. This was during the Vietnam war. My father was a pilot on the early C-124’s in the fifties after he flew in WW II and Korea.

    This thread brings back many memories I did not recall in recent decades.

  • Casey Klahn July 25, 2018, 10:09 PM

    How would det cord do vs a steel helmet? We used C4 because anything worth killing, is worth overkilling.

  • ghostsniper July 26, 2018, 4:34 AM

    Detonation Cord = 1/4″ dia blue plastic tube packed with high explosive, comes in minimum 100′ rolls, burns at 26,000 feet (5 miles) per second.
    12″ Pine tree, wrap det cord around it 3 times and tie it off with 2 knots, mechanically or electrically set if off with standard blasting cap, tree falls down. Criss cross trees on both sides of a road to create a tank trap. Cover the trap with M60 fire from 300 yds out and the passage is impenetrable.
    2 wraps around the helmet and a couple knots and the helmet will be vaporized, nothing but powder.
    5 wraps around a tank tread and the tank is deadlined.
    Det cord is the most expedient way to get explosives done in the simplest manner. It doesn’t do everything, but it does a lot. Lightweight, fast, easy.

    We (Co. D, 54th Engr.) bridged the Rhine 3 times with Class 60 bridges, M4T6 types, in less than 24 hours. Up to that point that had never been done before. So they say.

    We built large timber trestle bridges (12″ dia verticals) then blew it in place with C-4 and crater charges. Blow the support structures and let gravity do the rest.

  • ghostsniper July 26, 2018, 4:40 AM

    Gerard’s art, after his stellar writing, is choosing just the right picture(s) to headline any article.
    Take a look at that C130 power cord. Take a look at that person sitting in a driverless car with her box of colors. Where do you find stuff like that? He also chose the right name for this blog, “American Digest”, in the truest sense of the words. A thousand cross sections through the heart of 21st century American lifestyles, good and bad and the full spectrum in between and if you are a regular here you are part of it. This will outlive you. Nod to Chasmatic.

  • Dan Patterson July 26, 2018, 6:42 AM

    You fuckin’ guys are awesome.

  • Elmo July 26, 2018, 5:08 PM

    You might enjoy this –
    Coulson’s C-130H/Q Tanker 131 and 3 other Very Large Air Tankers saved my home town last October.

  • Flugelman July 26, 2018, 6:31 PM

    A good source on the C-130 is Martin Caidin’s “The Long Arm Of America”. I read it back in ’65 while in a Navy squadron flying AF MAC C-121’s.

    IIRC, enlisted per diem was squat compared to the O’s, something like $1.10 a day. But beer was cheaper back then, especially in Japan and the PI.

  • G.W. Long July 26, 2018, 6:37 PM

    “Sometimes it is easier to receive forgiveness than permission.” I too served at Clark AB, Apr 1981-1986. I worked Transient Alert/Crash Recovery. NEVER A DULL MOMENT. By far the BEST assignment I had in the USAF. Retired E-7, 43191C. A really great story Sir.

  • Curtis July 27, 2018, 12:06 AM

    You blew off 2 weeks of per diem. You don’t sound air force.

  • SpecOpr8r July 27, 2018, 5:31 AM

    Was a Loadmaster for 20 years, mostly on Herks, MC130e’s, I as anyone who has ever flown on Herks have many cool stories to go along with this one.
    We used to call per diem NFRI, Non Frau Reportable Income, oh and we used to call the Officers – Zero’s (O), and used to call us Enlisted – Sweatys.
    After living a life like this for 20 years then when I retired I had problems adjusting to civilian life because the simple fact the civilian life is BORING!

  • ghostsniper July 27, 2018, 10:04 AM

    I found military life extremely limited.
    Retired? No wonder you’re bored!
    Like the ol’ man used to say, “Find something to do or I’LL find something for you to do!”

  • adrianspeeder July 27, 2018, 5:34 PM

    Ya’ll didn’t have flying crew chief’s back then?

  • azlibertarian July 27, 2018, 9:22 PM

    About 6 months prior to this, a squadron-mate had to babysit a broken plane in Thailand. A prop leak*, which took two weeks to fix. The per-diem was great for him, and yeah, it was Thailand, so there was that, but he took infinite shit when he got back. His story was running through my mind when I was trying to find my way off of Yap.

    * A story which will be familiar to those with C130 experience….
    A young copilot goes out to do the walk-around inspection around the airplane. When he gets back, he tells the pilot “Geez. We’ve got big problems with this plane. Engines 1, 2 and 4 are leaking oil.”

    Pilot: Yeah, we’ve got a problem, but it isn’t as big as you think. Engines 1, 2 and 4 are fine. Our problem is Engine 3. Number 3 isn’t leaking oil, because all of it has leaked out.

    While they occupy the same nacelle, a C130 engine and the propeller are two separate systems. The C130 engine can (and will) leak oil all day (at least that was the case in the E/H models that I flew). The prop, however, can’t leak oil at all. A prop leak is a serious matter for a C130, and ignoring a prop leak can lead to a runaway (read: “uncontrollable”) prop, which nobody wants.

    Yeah, we did have a crew chief on that trip. But we left him back on Guam so he could get some sleep. A crew chief (basically, a jack-of-all-trades aircraft mechanic) works on the plane while the crew is in crew rest (usually at night), and then sleeps during the day when they’re flying. When he met us after we got the airplane back to Guam, I didn’t tell him our story, but I did tell him to find us a new battery, any way he needed.

  • 728thPilot July 27, 2018, 9:33 PM

    Lockheed builds great cargo planes! Flying the islands is fun and can bring challenges not in any book. Thanks for bringing this to the public.

  • Alemaster August 1, 2018, 5:32 PM

    Same jump start system works on a C-12 using a Turkish firetruck. So I’m told! regards, Alemaster

  • Hawgguy August 3, 2018, 12:14 PM

    We were stuck on Johnson Atoll with a HANG C-130 and #3 starter would not work. It was late Friday and we were looking at the prospect of a lonely weekend on Johnson Atoll. I was the flight surgeon along for the ride, logging hours for flight pay. We could either ask permission or beg forgiveness for doing a windmill start. I’m not sayin’ we did a windmill start, but we did a windmill start.

  • Richard August 3, 2018, 12:51 PM

    In the olden days, Elmendorf had arresting gear for when the runway was icy but the gear was still there in the summer. They also had an “arresting gear officer”. If someone used or landed on the gear, he had to get in his truck, go out to the gear, and do something. The 130 drivers were really good. They could land right on the gear just as the arresting gear officer was getting back to his shed. I think the tower guys were in on it – extending the downwind and so forth.