Interceptor May 1976
COOLSTONE was on alert. He had just received the 21:00 weather – they gave him 200 feet overcast, one-quarter mile visibility in rain and fog, and no suitable alternates within 300 miles. He figured it was going to be a pretty quiet night.
Coolstone got himself a cup of coffee, picked up a rather racy pocket book and slouched down comfortably in a big, overstuffed chair.
He hadn’t finished the first chapter in his book before the telephone rang. It was the GCI site.
“Coolstone, this is Fallout. We have an aircraft executing an emergency pattern approximately 100 miles to the northeast. He’s squawking ‘Mayday’ and we’re checking with ATC now to see if they have someone overdue.”
“That’s nice,” said Coolstone. “Be sure and keep me posted. I hope he makes it.”
“You’re not getting the idea, Coolstone,” said the Fallout controller. “We are also getting scramble clearance for you. He’s probably on top, and after you make the intercept, bring him back into your base. It’s the nearest one to him that has adequate recovery facilities.”
“Hold it a minute, Fallout. Don’t you know what our weather is? How in hell can I bring him back in here? I’m not too sure I can get myself in. Isn’t there any place else we can take him?”
“Look, Coolstone – the nearest place we can take him where there is good weather is over 300 miles away. Bring him back to your own base. We’ll have to take a chance on making it. Okay, the boss has approved the scramble and we have a clearance for you. Get going.”
The loud, continuous honk of the scramble horn began, accompanying the controller’s last words. It was his conditioned reflexes, Coolstone guessed because, whether he wanted to go or not, he found himself climbing into the cockpit of his F-102, wildly strapping in, then making the start and pulling out of the hangar. He lined himself up on the runway, took a deep breath, released the brakes and hit the burner. Fifteen seconds later he was in the murk, cursing the pilots of the aircraft he was after. The cold rock switched to the GCI channel, made radio contact and picked up his first vector. The controller called him again.
“Coolstone from Fallout. ATC advised that they have a T-33 they haven’t heard from in about an hour. They figure that, with the time involved, this should be our boy. He filed for 33 Angels, so level at 33 and remain at Buster.”
“Roger, Fallout. This is Coolstone. Will level at 33 Angels and continue at Buster. I was on top at 26,000.”
Coolstone leveled at 33 and the controller continued to give him slight heading corrections and called off the range periodically. Finally, the range was 20 miles at 12 o’clock.
“No joy,” said Coolstone as he concentrated his attention on his radar scope. At 12 miles, Coolstone got a contact and locked on. He advised the controller and at the same time noted he had over 200 knots overtaking speed. He dropped the boards and throttled back, glancing out of the cockpit periodically as he tried to pick up the navigation lights of the emergency aircraft. He got a visual, finally, and slowly moved in. As he neared, he saw it was a T-33, flying very slowly. He joined up on the wing of the T-bird and reported to GCI. He could see two heads in the cockpit, but they weren’t looking in his direction. He turned his aircraft slightly away and moved ahead. Then the pilot saw him, and promptly joined up on his wing.
“Fallout from Coolstone. Got the T-bird on my wing. Give me pigeons to home plate and advise the base that I want a minimum-fuel GCI- GCA which includes a minimum of turns. There’s no telling how much fuel this T-33 has remaining.”
“Roger, Coolstone, nice work. Weather tells us that the ceiling is now 300 obscured, with about one-half mile viz. We’ve already checked with ATC on the T-bird’s fuel. They tell us that, according to his flight plan he should have about three-quarters of an hour remaining.”
About 40 miles out, GCI gave Coolstone instructions to start his penetration. The T-33 stuck like glue to his wing. In fact, the cold rock figured he couldn’t have lost the T-33 if he had done an lmmelmann. They made it down to the GCA pattern and, with a minimum of gyrations, Coolstone found himself on the final. He slowed the wedge to 170, which he knew was ‘way too fast for the T-33, but that was as slow as he could go. At GCA minimums, the approach lights came into view and, as Coolstone looked, he saw that the T-33 was taking spacing, so he added power and made a missed approach.
“Hello, GCA. This is Coolstone. When the T-33 has landed, how about bringing me around for a full stop.”
“Roger, Coolstone. Climb to 4000 and give us a call when steady on 130.” Coolstone was about to answer when he was suddenly jabbed with a red light – AC power failure. Quickly, he reset the AC generator. The warning light was still on. Without hesitation, he selected the emergency AC power and called GCA.
“I’ve had an AC power failure, and I’m working on emergency AC power now.”
“Roger,” said GCA. “Do you wish to declare an emergency?”
Coolstone didn’t answer, for an oil warning light had just come on. With his luck, he wasn’t surprised. in fact, he had rather suspected that the AC power had failed because the engine was losing oil.
“GCA from Coolstone. I’m declaring an emergency. I’ve got an oil warning light on. Give me as tight a pattern as you can.”
“Okay, Coolstone. Turn to three zero degrees for dogleg to final. Perform landing cockpit checks at your discretion. We have advised the tower to alert the crash crew.”
“Roger,” said Coolstone. “if the engine starts to get rough. I’ll pull up and eject.”
GCA was fumbling for words he really didn’t have a reply to that. Coolstone watched his engine instruments almost as much as he was watching his flight instruments. In fact, he found that weather flying wasn’t bothering him one bit – the gauges were followed automatically. But that pair of red lights was giving him fits. He was sure that he would never make it to the runway – his luck just wasn’t that good. He cursed the pilots of the T-33 once again and fumbled for his low-level lanyard. He found that it was still connected from the takeoff. He then felt for his leg straps to be sure they were connected, for he had been known to forget them and find them only after he was unstrapping at the end of flight. His seat pins were out and he figured that if he kept his speed up now he would have as good a chance as anyone if he had to eject.
He didn’t even remember getting on the final, but he was there somehow, and decided to hold his gear until he started to descend – he just couldn’t bring himself to put it down. He knew he’d have to add power, and he didn’t want to touch the throttle. He started his descent and still held the gear. At one mile out, he threw it down and held his breath as he brought the power back in.
Nothing unusual at all. The engine was still smooth and the temperature was normal. He picked up the field visually, finally, pulled off power to lower the air speed, saw he had it made, heaved a sigh of relief and stopcocked the throttle.
The landing wasn’t the best he’d ever made, but it felt like the best.
They towed the aircraft off the runway, and it wasn’t far, for he’d used most of it. Then he got a ride back over to the alert hangar. He went upstairs and poured himself a cup of coffee, having much difficulty getting the coffee into the cup rather than on the floor. He made several attempts at lighting a cigarette and found that he was using the wrong end of the match.
Two lieutenants came into the alert hangar and asked for the pilot who had brought the T-33 in. Coolstone was pointed out to them. As they came up to him, one of them said. “We sure thank you. We lost our radio and didn’t know what to do, so we decided we would circle and get intercepted.”
“You lost all your radios?” Coolstone asked, with anger creeping into his voice. “You couldn’t talk to anyone, but your navigation radios were working okay, I suppose.”
The lieutenant backed up a bit. “Well, yes – we had our navigation aids, but we couldn’t talk to anyone.”
“You couldn’t have gone to your destination, I suppose,” said Coolstone. “You couldn’t have gone to your destination and made a letdown there – oh, no! – you had to come down right now, with me bringing you, because you couldn’t talk to anyone. There are provisions for radio loss, you know.”
“Yes,” said the lieutenant, “but the ceiling at our destination was forecast to be down maybe to 1500 feet and five miles with rain, and… but Coolstone cut him short.
“What do you think it was here?” His voice was almost a shout.
“Well, I didn’t really notice – it was pretty low, but I was busy flying your wing. It worked out alright – I picked up the lights okay.”
“GET OUT OF THIS BUILDING — NOW!” Coolstone roared.
As the two stumbled down the stairs, they were talking. “There’s no figuring some guys,” said one. “You try to thank them, and they get all upset.”
“Oh, well,” said the other. “Let’s forget it. If he doesn’t want to be thanked, he doesn’t want to be thanked. Say, where’s town, and what time does the floor show start?”