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