RUMORS! RUMORS! RUMORS!
by Roger W. Crewse July 1972
Interceptor March 1978
The first jet airplane that Coolstone ever flew didn’t have an ejection seat. This didn’t brother him in the slightest, because he had never flown an airplane with an ejection seat. They told him for the 84B, “If you get into trouble, just dive for the wing tip like you would in a P-51. Or, if you have time, roll it inverted, put in full forward trim, get rid of the canopy, undo the lap belt, and the rest will take care of itself.”
Now they had decided to put ejection seats in the F-94As. The first thing the pilots noticed after the modification was that the fuselage tank, which had held over 100 gallons without an ejection seat, now only held 55. This irritated everybody, because sweating fuel was the name of the game even with the large fuselage tank.
Another problem – Coolstone was pretty nervous about sitting on the thing in the first place. It wouldn’t have surprised him a bit to be flung to the wind every time he raised or lowered it. The installation of the ejection equipment was not at all to most of the pilots’ liking.
When Coolstone’s squadron came up on alert in 1951, scrambles were plentiful. And, at McChord, when the weather really got down – not the normal weather which, in itself, would have gagged a buzzard – but the kind where you need a seeing eye dog just to get to the taxiway the folks at the blockhouse really had themselves a ball. They scrambled on everything from a flock of geese to the scheduled airliners which always came in from the same place at the same time. So, when driving to the squadron one evening to go on alert in the most miserable weather that The Rock could imagine, he knew it was going to be a tough 24 hours.
Alert was pulled in the crew lounge and the two aircraft on five were hangared in a corrugated tin lean-to out by the main taxiway. When you scrambled, you had to run down a flight of steep narrow stairs, out the hangar door, down a sidewalk along the side of the hangar, across the ramp, then to the lean-to where the airplanes were. The taxiway took you to the end of a 5,000-foot runway where you took off to the north over Tacoma. The citizens of South Tacoma knew this only too well.
Another thing about the alert operation . . . there were all sorts of false alarms. “Red One to Standby” rang out through the squadron area constantly day and night. It was about five to one you wouldn’t scramble from standby . . . but that one was enough to keep you honest. So, when on alert, you did your thing and ran your mile with great enthusiasm every time it was “Red One to Standby.”
Coolstone arrived at the Squadron area, and met his RO who had been in Beaufighters in War II who said he had never panicked since he had no adrenalin left whatsoever. They set up on five out in the lean-to, went back to the lounge, got some coffee, and waited for the other crew to finish setting up their aircraft,
“I guess I’ll check the weather,” said Rock One to his faithful RO, Rock Two.
Two watched One carefully as he talked to the weather man because Two bad learned from past experience that he could tell what the weather was going to be by the amount of white showing in One’s eyes. One hung up.
“Bad, huh?” said Two.
“Bad, bad, bad,” said One and added, “What’s more, it’s going to get worse, if that’s possible. Storms are going to be going through here all night, keeping ceilings and vis at minimums and below. There’ll even be some thunderstorms.”
Two’s eyes began to show a little white also in spite of himself.
“What have we got for an alternate?” he asked.
“Larson,” said One. “The weatherman says it will stay above 2,000 feet, with rain all night.”
The second alert crew came back, got their coffee, and now the negotiations began. The two crews on five rotated the number one position every four hours. The trick was to second-guess when all the action would come and compare it to the forecast. The crew, who had done this the best, would trade the early morning shift for a much more desirable midnight shift as a magnanimous gesture, if it looked like the weather was going to be bad during the high action period. This time there was no quarrel. They matched for it and Coolstone’s crew was number one first.
“Have you flown that new ejection seat yet?” the second pilot asked The Rock.
“Yeah. How about it?” said Coolstone. “It cost us 50 gallons of fuel and we will probably end up blowing somebody right over the top of the main hangar.”
“That’s not all,” said the second pilot. “You know what I heard?” And without waiting for an answer, added, “A guy tried it last week. Lost both his feet.”
“No!” said Coolstone, properly horrified.
“Yep,” said the second pilot. “Both feet came off clean. Hit the bow of the windscreen.”
“It doesn’t surprise me,” said The Rock. “But you’d think that someone would have figured that out before they put that seat in.”
“Are you kidding?” said the second pilot. “I heard that even the tests were run from a mockup without a windshield on it. And what’s more, when they fired the seat, the whole mockup came unglued so they only had one firing. You get about 80 Gs, they say, just from the seat firing. Bad news.”
“Bad news is right,” said The Rock. “I didn’t trust that thing from the beginning.”
At about 2130, The Rock casually strolled over to the window and checked the weather. It was bad. In fact, it was raining so hard he couldn’t even see the lean-to where the aircraft were. He sat back down, picked up a much thumbed magazine, and, at this point, “Red One to Standby” roared out of the intercom. One and Two did their thing. Down the stairs, out the door, down the side of the hangar, across the ramp, and, drenched. they arrived at the lean-to.
Two beat One slightly, and, therefore, started up the ladder first. This irritated One. It wasn’t the first time that Two had done this to him. “I’m going to talk to him about it when we get down,” he thought to himself. “The Captain should be the first one on board and the last one out. Any other way looks bad.” He got himself in and put his helmet on his wet head just in time to hear somebody give someone scramble instructions.
“They’ve got to be kidding,” thought One.
“Doo Dad from Coolstone One, on standby.”
“Roger, Coolstone. This is Doo Dad. Scramble. Gate climb, heading 260, Angels twenty.”
“Roger,” said Coolstone. “Cranking up now.”
“How do you hear?” he asked Two.
“Loud and clear,” said Two, “but I don’t think I am going to like it.”
“Looks like we will stay at Larson tonight,” said the Rock. “We’ll never get back in here.”
At the end of the runway he received tower clearance, lined up, advanced the power, checked the instruments, and plugged in the burner. He checked eyelids, felt the thrust, and released the brakes. As he began the roll, the rain on the windscreen blurred the runway lights just enough so that the Rock had his entire attention concentrated on them. He glanced in the cockpit, saw the airspeed moving through 110 and began to raise the nose. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw an amber light flicker just momentarily. It was the overheat light he was sure. He stared directly at it for a moment, but it was out. “Abort,” flashed through his mind, followed directly by three other flashes: one: the General gets tight jawed when you abort; two: no barriers; three: less than 2,000 feet left. He pressed on. In the air, he pulled up his gear, milked up the flaps, picked up his climb speed and heading, and called radar.
“Doo Dad Control from Coolstone One. Heading 260, climbing to Angels 20.”
“Roger,” said Doo Dad. “Our weapon’s bent. You will be controlled by Tarnish. Check in with them when you are level.”
“Boy,” said One to Two, “now I know we aren’t going to get back into McChord. Ain’t no way with that ADF. That needle’s flopping around from side to side. Precip static is wipin’ it out.”
They continued with their climb, and Coolstone held his heading even though the turbulence had increased to a point that he was really having to work at it. Occasionally, lightning lit the clouds up around him to a bright purple. He promptly turned up all the cockpit lights to full on.
At just about 18,000 feet, Coolstone’s way of life was adjusted dramatically. The engine groaned, lost RPM, the EGT climbed rapidly, and the overheat light came on steady.
“We’ve had it,” said One.
“What’s wrong?” said Two.
“The engine’s comin’ unglued,” said One. “Looks like we may have to get out of this thing.”
“Roger,” said Two slowly. “Ready anytime you are.”
The noise quit and the EGT came back down slowly. The RPM was about 60 percent since The Rock had smartly snatched the throttle at the onset.
“We’ll start back down,” he said to Two, “and see how close we can get anyhow.”
“Doo Dad from Coolstone One declaring an emergency. Please get a clearance from McChord and tell them to crank up their GCA. We may have to eject.”
Then to himself he thought, “Eject? Lose my feet? Eighty Gs? It’s going to have to get a lot worse than it is right now for that to happen.”
He completed a 180, tried to tune the ADF better, then tried to null the station, but he could get nothing.
“We can’t get back in there,” he said to Two. “I don’t even know where we are, except west.”
“Doo Dad from Coolstone One. I can’t get TCM so I’m heading for Larson. Tell them I’m coming and have GCI ready when I get across the mountains.”
He pushed up the power and, at about 95 percent, the engine did it again … groaned, growled, grumbled, with the RPM starting down and the EGT going up. The overheat light was always on.
Coolstone once again pulled the throttle smartly aft. He was at 16,000, but Rainier was just over 15,000 so he decided, rather than try for more power than the engine liked (obviously) he would put his throttle at about 85 percent and try to hold his altitude.
The aircraft just wouldn’t fly with 85 percent.
“Bad, bad, bad,” he said to Two. “Something is really wrong with this engine.”
“I was beginning to get that idea,” said Two. “Where do you want to get out at?”
“Look,” said One, “I’m not getting out until this thing absolutely quits, blows up, or comes apart. You lose your feet if you eject from this front seat.”
“How about the back seat?” asked Two, genuinely alarmed.
“No sweat,” said One. “You haven’t got a canopy bow on a windscreen.”
“Roger,” said Two, relieved slightly. “I’ll go anytime you are ready.”
The Rock slowly eased up the power. He stopped at 90%. It still wasn’t enough to hold altitude. He eased it up to 95. Yep. That definitely was too much. The grinding began again, with some rather distinct thumps. The Rock was ready for it this time. He pulled the power immediately back to 92 and waited. The engine settled back down again.
By now, Coolstone could look away from the gleaming yellow overheat light for maybe a second or two at a time. And, at 200 knots, he was holding his altitude. He pressed on. Why couldn’t he have been a lawyer, he thought, like his mother always wanted? He held his heading and altitude and drove east.
Finally he heard on the radio, “Coolstone One, this is Bright Light Control. I have an emergency squawk on an easterly heading, just east of the mountains. Is that you?”
“Bright Light from Coolstone One. I hope so. I’m heading 085 at 16. Need pigeons to Larson, a GCI/GCA and, what’s Larson’s weather,”
“Roger, Coolstone, I’ve got you. Turn one zero five for Larson, and you’re about 110 miles out at the present time. Larson’s last observation was 1500 overcast 5 miles in rain.”
“Roger, roger, boy,” said Coolstone. “I’ll start down about 40 out.”
One and Two collectively sighed, relaxed from rigid to tense, and the interphone breathing rate was halved almost immediately.
“Can’t figure out what’s wrong with this thing,” said Coolstone One. “Something serious has happened to that engine. We’re just limping along here with 92 percent. We should be doing over 300 instead of 200. And that overheat light hasn’t gone out yet. The EGT is a little high — that’s about all I can see wrong but … it looks like we are going to make it now.”
“Rog,” said Two. “I had no desire to eject back there over those mountains, or water, or whatever we were over. I think my survival training would have been overtaxed quite a bit.”
“You and me, Babe,” said Rock One. “I could see myself floating down with no feet and about a foot tall after pulling those 80 Gs on ejection.”
“Eighty Gs!” said Two. “You never told me about that.”
“Didn’t have time,” said One.
“Coolstone One from Bright Light. You are about 40 miles out now. Suggest you start a rate of descent and GCA is standing by.”
“Roger, Roger,” said the Rock and pulled the power off to about 80 percent, holding 200 knots. The bird descended nicely. It wasn’t long before he had checked in with the GCA controller and was vectored to the final. He was then handed off to the final approach controller. He checked in.
“GCA from Coolstone One. I am going to hold my gear until I start down because I have an engine problem. If I have to use too much power, I am afraid the engine will quit.”
“Roger, Tombstone One. I understand you will be at your rate of descent in about 30 seconds.”
“That’s Coolstone One, not Tombstone,” said the Rock, “and I’m putting out the gear now.”
He watched as the nose gear showed safe, the right main gear safe, but the left main said “up” “up” up.”
“Radar from Tombstone, er Coolstone One. I have an unsafe gear and I’m going to have to take it around.”
“Roger, Tombstone, er… Coolstone One. I understand your gear is unsafe.”
“Roger,” said The Rock, and he advanced the throttle slowly as he cycled the gear. At about 90 percent, the engine give a tremendous thump – worse than any before then it vibrated threateningly, regardless of the power setting.
“Keep talking,” said The Rock to GCA. “I am going to have to land, after all.”
“Roger, Tombstone. You are high on the glide path. Descend immediately. Get it down. Get it down.”
The Rock pulled off the power and dropped the gear again. The left gear still was “unsafe.” He used the emergency gear extension. It was still “unsafe.” He advised Two, “Here’s what I am going to do. I will touch it down on the right gear, then the nose gear, and I won’t let it down on the left gear until I absolutely have to. If the gear is not actually down, we should be going slowly enough by then so we won’t ding anything too badly.”
“Roger,” said Two without a lot of enthusiasm.
The GCA final controller kept talking and, at about three miles, Coolstone saw the field. He was holding 80 percent to keep the bird flying and the engine vibrations were horrendous. He got to the threshold and started his flare. He let it down very gently.
Now, Larson is 500 feet wide. McChord is 175 feet wide … so, as the Rock dropped down into the black hole, he tried to land the bird about 10 feet in the air. It didn’t land. He held it off. It stalled. He made one of the hardest landings that he had ever made in his entire life and … it was on all three gears.
“The gear is down all right,” said Two to One.
“GCA from Tombstone One. The gear was down. Thanks.”
When they finally got to the parking area, followed by an impressive array of fire equipment, The Rock shut it down and wasn’t worried about who got out of the bird first. The weakness in his legs caused his ladder operation to be very, very nervous. As he hit the ground, the crew chief said, “Come here a minute. I want to show you something. Look.” He pointed.
Coolstone looked and saw from the plenum chamber back every raindrop was turning to steam as it hit the fuselage.
“Pretty hot,” the crew chief said.
“Roger,” said Coolstone, weakly. “Pretty hot.”
He then heard another of the crew chiefs yell. “Look back here, Lieutenant!” He was shining a light up the tailpipe. “Look,” he said. “There’s not enough of those turbine blades left to do anything with. I don’t see how it could fly.”
It was two days before Rock One and Two got back to their Squadron. “The Old Man wants to see both of you,” they were advised. They went to his office, knocked, were invited in, and saluted.
“Good to see you fellows,” said the Commander and shook both their hands. “Boy, I am sure glad you made it. That just shows you how much more reliability we have in jet engines than we do in conventional ones. I’ve always said that, and I was just real pleased with your operation. You could have bailed out just anytime. We will tell the whole squadron about it and, maybe even, the General will give you a medal. Real proud of you boys … the way you handled that emergency. They told me on the phone from Larson that the nozzle diaphragm was up against the turbine, the turbine blades had hit the eyelids when they came off, causing the eyelids to stay partially open, and the aft bearing was completely shot. They couldn’t even rotate that engine by hand after you shut it off. You could have bailed out anytime you wanted to and nobody would have said a word to you, but I am sure pleased you brought it in. How did you manage to do that.”
“Well, it was this way,” The Rock said weakly. “I heard this rumor about losing your feet if you eject. You hit them right on the bow of the windshield. When I got in the airplane that night, I looked, and sure enough that bow is going to get your feet every time.”
The Old Man jumped out of his chair and looked at them. “Lose your feet! Like hell you will!” he shouted. “That seat doesn’t come straight up. It slants back. Your feet aren’t going to be anywhere near that canopy bow. How stupid can you get?” His question went unanswered as he stared at the pair. Then he added: “We are going to brief the squadron alright, but the subject will be a little different than I had originally planned.”