View Full Version : A wandering Clipper.

John Hill
14th Aug 2013, 03:01
This is an extract from "A History of Aeradio in New Zealand and the South Pacific" which is headed "A personal view" by Bruce Evetts.

I think the year would have been 1953...

An unnamed Airline Stratocruiser of the then most experienced airline, departed Nadi (Fiji) for Canton Is. about Midnight Western Samoa time. Not being involved we would not be advised of this movement. At about 4 am I heard him calling Canton.
Aircraft - Boy are your lights on? we don’t hear your NDB.
Canton - Our lights are on, NDB monitor says operation normal.
Aircraft - We must have a stronger headwind than predicted. looks like we may be a little late.
Aircraft - 10 minutes later - Don’t see your lights, don’t hear your NDB.
Canton - We have had technicians check NDB physically, lights are all on.
All services operational.
Aircraft- I think we must have overshot, turning 180 and backtracking.
Canton - Ok.
Aircraft- 30 mins later - still no sign of your 1ights or your NDB. Now feel our original ETA might have been right - turning 180 and back to original
course. Request upper winds and new terminal forecasts.
Canton - Supplies data as requested.
Aircraft - 30 mins later - still haven’t sighted a light , no sign of your NDB, think we are lost.
Canton - Acknowledges.
Faleolo - Your signal is very strong on this frequency, suggest you scan the
NDB band and see if any signals can be heard there.
Aircraft - Hearing Strong NDB signal, says FA.
Faleolo - That’s our NDB at Faleolo in Western Samoa.
Aircraft - Getting a fairly stable heading on our ADF.
Faleolo - Ok what would be the course from your present estimated position to this station.
Aircraft - About 230 degrees.
Faleolo - Canton you copy that?
Canton - Affirmative , we are trying to sort out what has gone wrong , Hawaii to advise if they can get HF DF opened up.
Faleolo - We have DME 176 megs, see if any sign of that pse.
Aircraft - No sign DME.
Faleolo - In view of your nationality I will get Pago-Pago facilities opened up as soon as possible.
Aircraft - Ok
Canton - HF DF delay one hour to get them on line, also trying to get Sale (OZ) operational also.
Faleolo - Its getting near daylight, could you watch for the appearance of the
sun on the horizon, and give us your altitude.
Aircraft - Ok, getting a stable heading on your NDB, rounding up on to heading 240 fuel remaining 1.75 hours.
Aircraft - Sun at horizon, altitude 20 thousand ft.
Faleolo - Ok we will have to do some calculations – wait.
(lots of thumbing through the Nautical Almanac, Checking and rechecking.)
Faleolo - Your line of Longitude according to us would be 167”1O’ (which
would be way to the N E of Samoa.) which with your present heading would be right.
Canton- Hawaii would confirm that figure restate your heading pse.
Aircraft Heading now 240 true , but we can’t be where we are told we are
can we?
Faleolo - looks like it.
Pago Pago - Copying - our runway is too short for you, one end is in the
sea and the other ends in a mountain.- fuel very limited 100 octane only.
Aircraft. Ok we need 120 Avgas but stay with us please.
Aircraft - Faleolo we have your DME at 135 miles.
Faleolo - have you any data on our field and facilities?
Aircraft - Nil.
Faleolo - Ok our runway is coral which has a grass growth on it which is
mowed, its 5000 ft long, and is clearly marked at each end with white marker boards. There is a large ditch at the Eastern end, and a rough overshoot at the Western end, another 2000 ft, but the surface is rough and climbs away from the runway at about 15 degrees. Suspect braking on the grass will be much reduced compared with seal. We have no approach facilities other than DME and NDB.

At this stage a real fast message to DCA Wellington advising position, requesting permission for an aircraft in an emergency situation to land. The answer one word. No.

Aircraft (now on tower frequency) have your Island in sight 30 miles to run.
Faleolo - Ok I would suggest you make a low pass to size the situation up we
have no other traffic you have permission to descend as required for inspection Altimeter setting xxxx surface wind 200 5 kts.
Aircraft - Ok descending to 200 ft (on the intercom which shouldn’t have been transmitting~) Hell man thats a short runway.
Aircraft - Committed, downwind leg, fuel remaining 15 minutes.
Faleolo - Clear to approach and land on 27.
Aircraft - turning final we have to do it this time.
Faleolo – Ok.

Silence hits the whole 20 or so who were waiting. The aircraft well to the East and descending was almost noiseless steadily losing altitude. Now about 1/2 mile from the runway end and already below the tops of the coconuts each side of the approach, over the marker boards and wheels connect with earth. Wheels locking up solid, grass rolling up in front of the wheels, a plaintive call from the aircraft - have you got big holes in the runway? This was masses of grass wedging up in front of the wheels and the whole machine bouncing over the piles of grass.

The aircraft stops about 50 ft from the end of the runway.

Faleolo - turn 180 taxi back about half the length of the run way to the hardstand adjacent the fire engine, bats will pick you up there.
Aircraft - Hell boy its good to be down, on our way to park. One engine promptly cuts out, no fuel.
Aircraft parks

We had arranged for busses to come to the airport to uplift the 90 persons persons aboard and take them to Aggie Greys hotel until a decision was made on how to get them out. Meantime some of the crew and I went back to the Communications Office to dispatch necessary messages. On arrival there are two urgent messages to hand one to myself from Wellington to “park the fire tender in front of the aircraft to prevent its movement”. The other was to the Captain and crew, all of whom were fired on the spot and were not to attempt to move the aircraft. Another arrived very soon after from the Airlines Hawaii Office to the local police prohibiting crew to go aboard the aircraft.

By this time I had been on watch for almost 30 hours, the amount of traffic this debacle produced had to be seen to be believed. I did get about three hours sleep. and hack into the fray. Proposed movements to get the passengers back to Hawaii, which kept on changing. Finally 4 DC4s arrived, uplifted the passengers and crew, and flew in a replacement crew for the Stratocruiser.

The aircraft was refuelled with the minimun to get to Canton plus the statutory reserves and the engines run up, there were further delays while minor problems sorted out with engines

Aircraft - Taxi clearances.
Faleolo - Cleared to 27 we have no other traffic.
Aircraft -Takeoff clearance.
Faleolo - Cleared for takeoff.

Aircraft runs engines up to full boost, by this time the tailplane is almost flying, lets the brakes go and seemed to move like a snail as it passed the tower, (halfway down the runway seemed to be making about 30 knots) - lifted just before the marker boards, swung into wind towards the palms, little shower of greenery in the air from one of the propellers and slow gain of altitude.

Aircraft - Off just, at 0930 Z, no problem, all engines running smooth, bound Canton. ETA 1330 Z.
Faleolo - OK, remember your NDB receiver will be tuned to FA, you wont find Canton on that frequency.
Aircraft - We will find it this time and a very nice thank you message from the crew and one of the senior ex’s who had come in to do the ground organisation. T’o Faa. (Samoan for good bye).

The crew on arrival at Hawaii were feted, those marvellous men who saved all those people on a lost aircraft! The crew were all reinstated by virtue of the media hype!

The Skipper who made friends during the fracas, had to ditch a Stratocruiser enroute Hawaii to ‘Frisco about a year later - landed in rough seas alongside, a weather ship and all passengers and crew were saved. He wrote me from his newly purchased cattle farm in Wyoming, he said he wasn’t game to continue on to the third episode, was bound to be bad luck.

Much later we heard the full story from the skipper, they all had a rough night in the Mocambo Bar at Nadi. Climbed clear to operating altitude, set auto pilot, feet up on the dash and slept for, almost 4 hours. Precession did the rest!

I of course got an official blast in one letter, and a commendation in the next, of course tore them both up.

John Hill
14th Aug 2013, 03:05

Clipper on the grass at Faleolo.

Spooky 2
14th Aug 2013, 11:02
Geat post. I wonder what the DME was refering to as there certainly was no such thing in service back in 1953 much less in that part of the world.

John Hill
14th Aug 2013, 19:18
I am not sure what I should infer from your comment about 'much less in that part of the world' but I should advise you that Australia demonstrated their DME in Ottawa in 1946.

Nonetheless, the book does not give a date and it may have been a year or two after 1953, but certainly before 1956 which was when the same captain ditched further east in the Pacific.

John Hill
15th Aug 2013, 00:34
According to notes I have on hand here, the US had a 'DME' device on 176Mhz called 'RACON' which was developed during WWII. There were a number of these installed in the Pacific area.

Brian Abraham
15th Aug 2013, 01:01
Wonderful story John. Particularly loved the bureaucratic answer. One wonders what their solution to the problem may have been. requesting permission for an aircraft in an emergency situation to land. The answer one word. NoAny analysis of what caused the nav problems?

John Hill
15th Aug 2013, 01:11
I have no idea why he even asked for permission, I certainly would not have and I did that aeradio work myself for a few years.

I think the penultimate paragraph explains the navigation problem!

Much later we heard the full story from the skipper, they all had a rough night in the Mocambo Bar at Nadi. Climbed clear to operating altitude, set auto pilot, feet up on the dash and slept for, almost 4 hours. Precession did the rest!

John Hill
16th Aug 2013, 01:04
Hmmm..... entire crew have a hard night in the bar and sleep while the airliner droned on through the night for four hours. Over 600 views and only two choose to comment?

For some odd reason the on-board navigator appears to have not been able to get a fix! Eh? What was he there for?:zzz:

Brian Abraham
16th Aug 2013, 04:49
John, tales of the entire crew falling asleep, even with out the after effects of a night out, are many. Mate related such a story of his C-130 crew - pilot, copilot, navigator, flight engineer and loadmaster.

John Hill
16th Aug 2013, 05:08
Yes Brian, I can imagine it does happen. I have no reason to doubt this tale as I heard it first about 40 years ago and the details have not changed significantly but I have always been somewhat surprised that the crew were not able to get a fix as soon as they woke.

Spooky 2
16th Aug 2013, 12:11
Got news for both of you. Pan Am didn't even have DME in their 707's when they first enterd service, much less a B377 in 1953.

Dick Ogg continued flying for Pan American and retired off the 707.

John Hill
16th Aug 2013, 20:39
Well that sure is interesting especially as I will likely be meeting some of the aeradio operators of the time on Monday (funeral unfortunately).

The Australians got their 200Mhz DME operational in the '50s and before that there were a number of 'RACON' installations in the Pacific. Racon was developed from, or modified, WWII IFF kit. Racon from 'radar beacon'. If Pan Am were not using it I dont know who was as Pan Am and TEAL were pretty much the only regular operators in the south west Pacific and I dont think TEAL went past Samoa.

Pan Am used their Pacific routes to test new developments, for example SELCAL.

If the Australian 200Mhz DME were available it seems likely Pan Am would have been using it on that route. Same applies to Racon.

Richard Ogg being the pilot may be a bit of embroidery to the yarn, although Mr Evetts did not say it was Ogg just that the Faleolo pilot later ditched, was there more than one B377 ditching?

Spooky 2
16th Aug 2013, 21:59

That was the only open sea sucessful ditching of a Pan American Stratocruiser. Pan American lost at least one other in the Pacific. Can't recall if it had left SFO or HNL but it was lost with all pax and crew. I believe NWA lost one off the cost of Oregon and perhaps another one after taking off from SEA with the cowl flaps wide open. Like everything on me, my menory is failing.

I do recall the advent of DME on the Pan Am 707 and it had nothing to do with the work that you speak of. I spent a little time in the left rear corner of the 707 flight deck and even that is starting to look dim at this hour.

John Hill
17th Aug 2013, 02:19
It seems clear then that there was a bit of embroidery in the telling of the tale! It is 40 years since I first heard this story and it was 20 years old then!

I found another comment, in the same book but likely from some other contributor, that the Faleolo aeradio equipment included a wartime DME left behing by the American forces, again this person also mentioned 176Mhz. Apparently not the Australian 200Mhz DME and certainly not the 1000 Mhz version that eventually became the universal DME.

17th Aug 2013, 07:45
I do not know whether my story is the basis for yours but I was the ALM on a Herc where everyone fell asleep. Nothing to do with imbibing the night before but everything to do with the very long hours we we were putting in in the build up to GW1. I went off intercom (the co was the watchkeeping pilot) to do a scan check and some paperwork. When I got back to the flight deck everyone was asleep. Something prompted me to look a the instrument panel and the VSI was showing a very slight rate of climb. I shook the co awake and pointed to the VSI. That woke him up ! Normal service was very swiftly resumed.

Spooky 2
17th Aug 2013, 13:36
A little research would seem to indicate that DME did in fact have it's origins from south of the equator. Now whether this is the same DME that later appeared in the US markets via Collins Radio/Bendix or others remains unclear to me.

I believe DME was mandated by the FAA after a United airlines DC8 overran a holding fix and then had a mid air with a TWA Constellation over New York. A deadly crash with the DC8 falling on the city. After that accident, DME became a required avionics addition.....at least that's how I recall it.:}

Spooky 2
17th Aug 2013, 17:31
It would appear from this add from long ago that American Airlines was the first US airline to conform to the requirements for DME in 1961.

1961 American Airlines DME Distance Measuring Equipment 2 Page AD | eBay (http://www.ebay.ca/itm/1961-American-Airlines-DME-Distance-Measuring-Equipment-2-Page-Ad-/121149694879?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item1c3515a39f)

John Hill
17th Aug 2013, 20:21
The American Airlines DME is another generation. The first generation had a CRT display which required interpretation to read the distance although later versions did have a meter for output.

As far as I can tell from these notes I have from aeradio staff the first DMEs, the ones dating from WWII operated on 176 Mhz whereas the Australian developed DMEs operated around 200 Mhz and the later DMEs 1000 Mhz.

The early DME were called Racon, for radar beacon and were in effect the reverse of the modern transponder.

In the case of the modern transponders the ground radar transmits first and the aircraft transponder responds and the ground radar interprets the response. In the case of Racon the aircraft transmits(ed), the ground station responds and the aircraft operator interpreted the time of response to determine the distance.

One of the aeradio operator described the equipment he was familiar with:

The original US Forces Racon was a very simple piece of equipment operating on 176mHz. A receiver on the ground, coupled to a free running oscillator biased to beyond cutoff, used as the transmitter, frequency controlled by a simple quarter wave tubular line. When a pulse was received, a blocking oscillator fired, the transmitting oscillator fired for a very brief period. The time off (gaps between pulses) was controlled by a simple C/R circuit.

Radar beacons were first used as early as 1941 and I suspect some are still in use in the marine world.

Spooky 2
17th Aug 2013, 20:37
Thanks John. It remains a mystery to as I had never heard of this before. I doubt that it was ever certified in the US and thus probably never saw service on a N registered aircraft such as the B377.

John Hill
17th Aug 2013, 21:06
I am not so sure. By all accounts Pan Ams' operations in the South Pacific were not slow to try whatever innovative technology was available to them and US forces had been using racon in the area during WWII.

Spooky 2
18th Aug 2013, 01:12
Okay what ever. I have never heard a Pan Am pilot speak of this DME while flying anywhere in the SPAC. Please keep in mind that the normal proegression at Pan Am was from Navigator/Relief Pilot to F/O to Capt, thus the pilots flying in the very early 60 had a number of years previously as Navigators (3rd Officer) in that part of the world.

John Hill
18th Aug 2013, 02:02
I will be at a funeral tomorrow for someone who was an aeradio officer in Faleolo and there may be someone there who can shed more light.

It seems pretty likely though, long range (300 mile) radar distance measuring was in use from 1941-42, for example the RAF's OBOE system had the ground station send a signal that was repeated back by the aircraft and operators sitting at CRT screens measured the time of response and hence the aircraft's distance from the station.

RAF Oboe controllers WWII.

The 'GH' system had the aircraft sending to two ground stations which responded and the aircraft navigator interpreted these responses to determine the distance to the two stations and hence get an accurate fix.

It seems more than likely that ten years later Pan Am would take advantage of this technology if it was available and the aeradio operators of Western Samoa claim it was. They would know as they were the ones who kept the ground station equipment serviceable.

18th Aug 2013, 04:24
TACAN, the military nav aid, was just getting going in the late '50's. It operated in the "L" band range of frequencies. The distance measuring aspect of TACAN later became DME in the civilian world. By the early '60's RCA Aviation were manufacturing and supplying their AVQ70 DME for airline use. AVQ75 was their GA version.

PS. Did a TACAN course at RAF Yatesbury in 1964. IFF (Identify Friend or Foe) later became civilian transponders. Modes A, B and C were an IFF function. Mode C then took on the role of altitude reporting. Knew IFF X well.

In all honesty thought the AWA 200Mhz DME was a bit rubbishy accuracy-wise in comparison to the L Band DME.

John Hill
18th Aug 2013, 05:12
Do you know how they coded the responses for IFF? I assume the ground operator only had an 'A' scope to view the return?

John Hill
19th Aug 2013, 06:44
I went to a funeral today but unfortunately the 92 year old who was on duty at Faleolo when the Stratocruiser landed was not there. However another who worked in Faleolo in 1958 said they certainly had DME installed then but was unsure if it was the Australian 200Mhz system or something else. He said TEAL were users of the DME.

Spooky 2
19th Aug 2013, 08:10
Interesting thread. I wonder just what the range of this DME was as many of these aircraft mentioned were not pressurized thus limiting them to some pretty short range line of sight situations. Even the first modern DME was typically limited to something around 150NM.

John Hill
19th Aug 2013, 08:55
It appears the technology and frequencies used were similar to that used in WWII for guidance of bombers over Europe with ranges up to 300miles, I think the B337 had a pressurised cabin and could presumably cruise at the altitude the bombers used however the Solent was not pressuried.

Nin Pattison
27th Dec 2013, 22:12
I was quite pleased to come across this page and post, as Bruce Evetts who wrote "A History of Aeradio in New Zealand and the South Pacific" was my grandfather.

John Hill
28th Dec 2013, 06:26
Hi Nin, I started working in Aeradio in 1965 but I never met your grandfather however I very much enjoyed reading his manuscript and it brought back a lot of memories of places and people I will never see again.