Carlo’s first instrument flight. At night. In IMC. In a multi-engine cockpit. Left seat. It doesn’t get more pressure-laden than that.
I’d had my turn. Two runs. It was time to give the other Captain a shot at it.
On the takeoff video, Meynard never stops teaching, even as Carlo accelerates to rotate speed. Meynard leads the scan with his finger — altimeter setting, heading bug, airspeed, RPM, manifold pressure, airspeed.
He is flying his first twin-engine retractable high performance airplane, night instrument departure. Not many 22-year old English majors just out of university get to do that.
Carlo flies SID 27 to OLIVA intersection. Meynard briefs Carlo on the procedures Manila Approach might use to bring us home. Most likely radar vectors to the VOR/DME approach to runway 06 at Ninoy Aquino International Airport, the country’s biggest, busiest airport.
Sure enough, Approach begins vectoring Carlo through various heading changes and descents, first for traffic separation, and then the approach.
I sit in the back, thinking about Ted Lawson and his B-25 crew, in Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.
Their dusk flight from Tokyo to the Chinese coast, listening for the promised beacon at a Chinese airfield.
The weather was deteriorating. Fuel was down to the last few gallons. They skimmed the waves, looking for somewhere to land.
The Doolittle Raid fascinated me as a child. I first read Lawson’s 1943 book, my Dad’s copy, in the 1960s.
Lawson survived the raid but lost a leg due to injuries from his crash landing.
I built a scale model of the B-25B, and flew the mission many, many times in my imagination.
It was an endeavor of courage and integrity. All-volunteer.
The twin-engined US Army B-25 bombers, designed for land operations, launched on April 18, 1942, from the US Navy aircraft carrier Hornet just 650 miles from Japan, well inside the lion’s den.
They were led by Lt. Col. James Doolittle, a proponent and champion of air power.
They flew a one-way mission. There was no way to recover land-based bombers on a carrier deck. The Hornet ran for safer waters as soon as the last B-25 took off.
It was the first bombing raid on Japan, barely 5 months after the Pacific war started. Bataan had just surrendered nine days earlier. Corregidor was still holding out. Japan was not bombed again until 1944.
Lawson and his crew hit targets in Tokyo. They had flown from the lion’s den into the lion’s mouth.
After bombing military targets in five Japanese cities, the B25s flew on towards airfields in China. Arrangements had been made for homing beacons and fuel in five Chinese airfields barely outside of Japanese-occupied areas.
But there were no beacons. They had never been installed.
Lawson ran out of fuel over the Chinese coast. He crash-landed his bomber, the Ruptured Duck, on a beach at Zhangzhou, in heavy rain.
Only one B-25 landed intact, in Russia. All the others crashed. None were shot down.
Of 80 men, 3 were killed in the crashes, 5 were interned in Russia (and eventually escaped via Iran), and 8 were captured by the Japanese. They were tortured and subjected to a mock trial. Three of them were executed. One died in captivity.
The other 63 men, including Doolittle and Lawson, survived crashes or bailouts, and were taken by the Chinese to safety, over several weeks. Over 250,000 Chinese were killed by the Japanese in retaliation.
Only 9 of the Doolittle veterans are living today (there were still 12 last year). Already in their 80s, they still hold reunions in April, every year.
When Doolittle took off from the Hornet, he had only 467 feet of flight deck. That’s an incredibly short takeoff run for a 31,000 lb takeoff.
That’s a feat for a 1,650 lb Cessna 152. Never mind a Baron.
Our airplane bounces in anti-aircraft fire, and clouds of smoke from the AA guns zip past our cockpit windshield. You can see the explosions early in our documentary of the flight.
Captain Carlo is remarkably cool despite the enemy fire, holding heading and altitude. The copilot leads the checklist as we drop down through rain, looking for the promised homing beacon… .
Manila Approach clears us for the VOR approach, and Carlo finesses his first ever instrument approach to a landing, rain streaming across the windshield.
I laugh out loud as Carlo touches down.
Neither of us could have flown the Baron solo to a perfect outcome. Still, Carlo and I did fly the Baron for 3 hours, with Meynard coaching us through checklists and IFR techniques.
I got to fly night instrument approaches using procedures I had last flown many months before in a Cessna 172 single, and which I had flown multi-engine only in Meynard’s Frasca 132 simulator.
Carlo gained an appreciation of the challenges and joy of flying at night solely by reference to instruments, under positive control by ATC, in a high-performance retractable twin.
Most of all, we had incredible fun!
Could we have flown and landed solo if Meynard took a nap?
Ha! Can the Pope pray??
I remember getting home very late that night, after we debriefed the flight at Airworks. Carlo and I were both floating on air, despite our exhaustion.
Home past midnight, we slept very soundly that night.
It was 24 hours to Christmas. But we’d already had a piece of it tonight.
Posted from Bangkok, March 26, 2009
Excellent web resources used in this post:
The movie, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, starring Van Johnson, Spencer Tracy and Robert Mitchum, is on DVD.
No blue screens or computer graphics here. All the flying scenes, including the hair-raising short field takeoffs, were shot on location. 1944.