11 February 2010

Max Meets IT

The KC-135A was a work horse in Southeast Asia, just as its upgraded version is in the current wars that plague the Middle East.

I don't know about living conditions in the Middle East, but conditions in Southeast Asia were nothing to write home about. Snakes and bugs abounded, and the heat humidity were oppressive. I can remember seeing cabin temperatures of 140° Fahrenheit prior to takeoff. Needless to say, the aircraft were left open as much as possible to dissipate the heat, but it also was an invitation to rats, cats, bats and whatever other fauna that could find its way aboard. It also lead to more than one tanker departing with the over wing hatches still lying on the cargo deck. The aircraft doesn't pressurize very well in that configuration, and installing a hatch in flight, we found out, was an invitation to dropping it – or maybe yourself – out of the aircraft. The following incident began on the takeoff roll departing Takhli RTAFB.

Late in the takeoff roll, Max, the navigator, felt something hit him on top of the head. Since there was storage cabinet just above his head, he thought the cabinet door had popped open, and he reached up to close it. He discovered that it was already closed. For three or four seconds, Max wondered what had hit him on the head; then he felt something doing a many-legged soft shoe number on the top of his head. Instinctively, he swung at IT and knocked IT on a tumbling trajectory toward the boom operator. IT landed in the boomer's lap. Now, the boomer had an unpleasant experience several years earlier at Takhli, when he had to bail out of a burning KB-50. He had to spend some time in the Thai rain forest before being picked up by SAR; he had not been on friendly terms with insect life ever since. IT landed in his lap and leered up at him with two bulging many-lensed eyes. The boomer wanted no part of IT and frantically gave IT a slap shot which sent IT tumbling tail over teacup toward the pilots. IT landed on the control pedestal; in fact, IT landed smack on the rudder trim knob.

IT was the biggest praying mantis anyone either side of the International Dateline had ever seen. Descriptions of IT, given later, left you with the impression of IT being big enough to rip a man's arm off – well, maybe a finger. IT was hunkered down of the rudder trim knob, with those vicious-looking forelegs tucked under its chin, and alternately eyeing each pilot with those huge goggley eyes.  The pilots were scrunched in their seats as far away from IT as their lap belts and shoulder harnesses would allow them to scrunch. "Get that damned thing out of here!" the pilot bellowed.

Gingerly, Max reached forward with a gloved hand and grabbed IT from behind. So grabbed, IT could not struggle. Max then unstrapped and took IT up to the sextant port and held IT up to the opening where the sextant normally fits. With a deft flick of the wrist, Max opened the sextant port, and cabin pressure neatly popped IT out into a 300 knot slip stream.


With that bit of excitement behind them, the crew went off to war.

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