View Full Version : A Real "Old Shakey" Story

19th Sep 2012, 13:55
Friend of mine sent this to me. He lifted it from Flight Journal magazine. I have no idea if the story is true, but it sounds OK to me. Either way, it is an entertaining tale.

Here goes:
The C-124 was a lumbering transport aircraft first fielded by the Air Force in 1949. Designed to haul outsized cargo, or up to 200 troops, it featured a 77-foot long cargo bay. Pretty - the Globemaster wasn't. It looked like a pregnant schnauzer and it was only slightly faster. The four massive Pratt & Whitney 4360 radials on its thick wings looked ridiculously undersized for the job and could only propel the ungainly brute to a cruising speed of less than 300 knots Its cavernous fuselage and the 4360s combined to produce a less than smooth ride ; hence, the Globemaster's nickname ' Old Shakey.'

Rear Admiral Edward L. ' Whitey ' Feightner was trained as a fighter pilot and proved himself during WW II, with nine Japanese kills. By 1959, Feightner's career had also included stints as an Admiral's Aide, a Blue Angel and a test pilot. Feightner had flown just about every Navy fighter, and a remarkable variety of other military land and sea aircraft. Prolonged exposure to the sun and his fair complexion produced frequent sunburns. And having no tan earned him the nickname Whitey.

Typically, the only thing that a Navy fighter pilot and Globemasters had in common was a need to be at a certain destination at a certain time. In the winter of 1959, Cmdr. Feightner was flying the A-4D Skyhawk in Jacksonville, while the Globemaster was a hundred miles north at Charleston AFB, serving Military Transport Service [ MATS .]
On the afternoon of February 13, fighter pilot and Old Shakey met.

1200 Hours : Pinecastle Bombing Range, February 13, 1959. I had orders to fly to the Mediterranean and replace the Air Wing Commander of a Carrier Air Group on the Forrestal. Relieving a senior officer in the middle of a cruise wasn't SOP, but the people in Washington wanted this particular commander back at the Pentagon pronto. This meant I got a real hurry up in my orders. In fact, I was out flying an A-4D Skyhawk over a bombing range area, when I got a call from the air station. I was to land immediately.
I jumped out of the jet into a waiting car that sped directly to the BOQ. I threw my clothes into a bag, and in less than 30 minutes, I was on my way to Charleston AFB.

On arrival, I was taken straight to an Air Force C-121, and it immediately fired up and taxied out. Just as we got to the runway, the tower called and stopped our airplane. Two MPs walked into the cabin and asked whether Commander Feightner was on board.
I held up my hand and I was told to follow them. I looked at them and said, " Not so fast. Here are my orders. I'm wanted in the Med right away." They said : “ We understand that, Sir . . but read this”. It was an authorization to commandeer anybody at any time to participate in an urgent mission.
I got off the airplane. We got into a car and I was driven to the operations tower, where I found out they had a special mission headed for Europe. The Navy had 10,000 pounds of top-secret gear that needed to go overseas and it was tucked into a C-124 sitting on the ramp. And I was now commandeered to baby sit this gear. Even by today's standards, the C-124 was a huge airplane. In your mind, just think of expanding cargo bay size of a C-130 .five to six times and you'll get an idea of what the C-124 looked like. And its pilots sat twenty-four feet above the tarmac.

This airplane's squadron was just getting a new squadron commander. An Air Force Lieutenant Colonel with a new Major as his Operations Officer. This flight was also to be their line checkout before they were qualified to take over the MATS squadron. The plane was about ready to depart, and I was given a .45 to strap on and was led to a seat bolted to the deck in the rear of this cavernous airplane. A tarpaulin covered the 10,000 pounds of gear, and in this huge space, that just amounted to one little mound. And I was back there all alone.

I didn't even know what it was I was guarding other than five tons of top secret gear. And I was to not allow anybody to steal it away from me. By the time we taxied out to the runway, it was just about dusk, and it was raining. We started the takeoff roll, and I was sitting back there a nd couldn't see anything. I knew there was a check pilot up front with the Colonel and the Major for the flight. Sure enough, like all good check pilots, he chopped power on an engine during takeoff. I heard the power come off, come back on and then come off again, and we lunged to a sudden stop. The crew hadn't really handled this very well. And we were now off the runway with the six-and-a-half-foot tall right mains up to their axles in the mud. It took about four hours to get the airplane back on the runway. They hosed off all the mud, determined there wasn't any real damage and decided that we'd go ahead.

We went back out onto the take-off runway. But this time, the check pilot didn't chop an engine. We climbed and headed out across the water on a course just past Bermuda, when it was decided that the flight crew had run out of crew time. So, we dropped into Bermuda to stay overnight and allow the crew a proper rest, before the next leg.

The next morning, we needed to get on the road again soon so the crew wouldn't run out of crew time before we got to the Azores. It was between breakfast and lunch then, and there wasn't any place open to feed us except the British O' Club. They told that breakfast would be Hungarian Goulash, they were about to serve for lunch that day. I can't stand Hungarian Goulash and talked their cook into making just an egg omelet for me.
1700 Hours: Bermuda, February 14 I ate my omelet. And everybody had their goulash.
We got airborne at about 16:30 in the afternoon and were climbing through 1,500 to 2,000 feet when there was a loud BANG. In the back, out of a small porthole-type window I could make out that they were shutting down the number-three engine. I was still strapped in, and as I didn't know what was happening, I stayed strapped in while we orbited off Bermuda for probably an hour while they assessed the situation. They figured out that an exhaust stack had loosened on that starboard inboard engine. They decided that three engines would be fine since we didn't have a heavy load onboard. There had been enough delays already. So we just pushed on. I later discovered that a Navy ship was disabled, waiting for this gear we were to deliver.

2030 Hours: 9,000 feet, Mid-Atlantic. We headed off across the pond toward the Azores. About three hours later, the crew chief came and asked me to come up to the cockpit. I was delighted; I was freezing to death in the back. We went forward and climbed a ladder through the tremendous cargo bay up to the flight deck. That's when I was told we had a real emergency going on. The check pilot, who was an Air Force Captain in the Reserves, had just come down with ptomaine poisoning. He was now strapped into a bunk behind the flight deck and he didn't look good at all. He was in convulsions and he was as white as he could be.

The pilot Major also looked like he was bitten by the goulash. But he had his head phones on and was standing next to the Captain, talking on the radio to a doctor somewhere, getting medical advice on what to do about this. I assumed we would turn around and head back home, but the Colonel said to me, " We’re about to run into a weather front, and I would like to get that engine back on-line. The crew chief and I want to go out into the wing and fix it."
The C-124's wing thickness was so great that you could actually walk (crawl out is more like it) into the wing during flight and perform maintenance on the engines. He asked if I would fly the airplane for a little while. I was happy to; anything was better than sitting in that cargo bay. So I jumped into the left seat and took over; everybody else left the cockpit and went elsewhere.
I'm flying along about 9,000 feet, and after about 25 or 30 minutes, not a soul had come back to the cockpit. The airplane was on auto pilot, and I just monitored everything and made sure we stayed on course. All of a sudden we ran into the front and it started to rain, and there was a lot of lightning. Since I'd never been in a C-124 before, the next thing that happened really alarmed me. The instrument panel kept jostling back and forth. Man, this thing was Old Shakey. I thought my eyesight was going bad. But the rock and roll shake was just characteristic of the airplane. It had a spring-mounted instrument panel that seemed to move through an inch and a half of travel back and forth in rough weather. You can imagine what it would be like to fly instruments by hand.

Then we started to get some fairly hard jolts.
No one returned to the cockpit. Because I didn't know how much stress the airplane could take, I turned off the autopilot and began to fly the instruments manually. The turbulence was getting more and more severe and it was raining quite hard. Just then, the crew chief called me over the intercom : " Skipper - get ready to crank up the number three engine." He went over the engine start checklist with me. I started up the engine. The oil pressure came up just fine, the temperature looked good and it idled just like it should. I decided to bring it back up on-line and synchronize the propeller. Everything was going great except that we were really being thrown around by this storm.
I had my hands full, and after an additional 15, or 20 minutes, I thought : " I'm still solo up here. What's going on with those guys ? " So I called the crew chief on the intercom.
No answer.
Shortly after, the cockpit door opened up and a slender young guy walked in. He was a Navy Lieutenant-jg. I looked at him completely baffled when he told me : " I'm Lt. Roberts . . your Navigator." He saw my quizzical look and told me he had just gone through navigation school and that he was not an aviator - he was a sailor from a destroyer. I thought " What else can happen next ? "
Well, he starts to bring me up to date on the engine problem, saying : " When you started up the engine, the Colonel was in the engine nacelle. He got a terrible dose of carbon monoxide. He's down. And he's gone blind ". Later, I saw a big plaque on that engine that read : DO NOT ENTER ENGINE AREA DURING FLIGHT : CARBON MONOXIDE.

Apparently, he and the crew chief had been able to put the blown stack back on the shut down engine and wired it into place. It seemed to be holding okay, so the Colonel told the crew chief to head out and tell me to re-start the engine, while he stayed behind to make sure there wouldn't be a fire around the wired exhaust stack when the engine was started. When it fired up, the Colonel ingested a huge amount of carbon monoxide fumes and he passed out. They got the Colonel out of the engine area and put him in a bunk. On top of everything else, by this time, the pilot Major was now upchucking from downing the same goulash.

0300 Hours: 9,000 feet, closing on the Azores, February 15. I am all by myself in Old Shakey's cockpit. After a while, we got fairly close to the Azores. I shifted over to the Base frequency, and the next thing you know, I get a call from there saying : " We're sending a B-17 out to you. And when he picks you out on radar, he will give you a call." He has an emergency boat on board." And that got my attention. I didn't know what they knew. But at least they said : " Keep on coming. You'll break out of the storm 50 miles east of the Azores. The minute you break out, you'll orbit until daylight. And then we'll bring you down."

That sounded good to me. So I kept on heading that way. And pretty soon, I broke out of the storm and could see the moon and stars. I looked down and saw the island ahead. And reported I had them in sight. They rogered that and I started to orbit. At about 03:30 the tower called me. Apparently, the doctors decided we had to get the Colonel down or he might not make it. I asked "Do you have a GCA ? " They confirmed they did. I replied : " Well turn it on because I am coming in." They said “All right; we'll bring you in. But be advised that you'll have a slight crosswind and we've got clouds over the island down to about 800 feet ". I said, " Fine, we'll just come in on the radar."

We got everything straight and I started talking to the GCA controller when all of a sudden a voice from the Control Tower asks" Who are you?” I replied, " I'm a Navy fighter pilot and I'm flying the airplane." They came back, " Wait one " I realized that my casual answer had probably worried them, thinking - how in the world is a Navy fighter pilot going to land that huge thing.
So, after a little pause, I called again and said, "If it's any help to you, I'm also a Navy test pilot. And though I've never been in a C-124 before, I've flown a lot of big airplanes." That seemed to settle them down. I was again advised of a right crosswind on the base's single runway. I told them it wouldn't be a problem. As I was getting ready for the approach, I finally got hold of the aircraft's crew chief and asked him "How about getting that pilot Major up here with me."

I was on final, down to about 3,000 feet, when the Major trudged into the cockpit. He sat down in the right seat. And I figured, you know, this guy knows his airplane. So I told him, "OK, you've got it." Right away, the Major says, “ Not me - I'm not gonna take this thing - I'm too woozy . . I keep passing out”.
Well, I guess this was my day to do everything. So I told the Major, " I'm gonna fly instruments all the way down. You let me know when we've made visual on the runway. But then you’re taking over. We kept going downhill, and we broke out about 1,000 feet. And I told him OK, its all yours. He grabbed the wheel. But I'll tell you being an old flight instructor I never really let go of that thing.
We got over the runway. I saw the wind drifting us. So I cranked the wheel into it and I didn't get any opposition from him. So, I'm not sure which one of us landed it, but we did put that airplane on the runway from our perch 27 feet above the concrete.

Later, I learned that the Colonel was soon medically discharged from the Air Force. And they also managed to save the check pilot's career. On the other hand, lying back there on a bunk he had a really bad case of ptomaine poisoning.
The next morning, a new C-124 flight crew came in from somewhere, and we took off and flew to Rabat. When we landed there, the Forrestal had an A-3 Sky Warrior sitting on the tarmac waiting for me. In fact, my predecessor, the outgoing air wing commander was flying it. They threw me aboard, and my next stop was landing at sea aboard the carrier. We put the guy I relieved on a second airplane. And presto I was an air wing commander.
I got a big letter of thanks from the Air Force. Apparently, the top-secret cargo was some kind of communications gear. To this day, I don't know exactly what it was. But eventually, it did get to where it was going.

Whitey Feightner with Jan Tegler

Flight Journal