"Behind Closed Doors"
This section is for Flight Crew to reflect on those memorable moments while flying our planes.
Tom Flickinger, Captain
(Submitted by Tom’s son, Tom Flickinger, Jr.)
Dave Doak, Captain
(TVL Landing of F27 with front nose tire blown out – December of 1965)
(Pictures shown in TVL Scrapbook https://www.pacificairlinesportfolio.com/tvl-lake-tahoe)
As I remember there was several feet of snow at the edge of the runway. The runway itself appeared to be cleared, but when we touched down and lowered the nose wheel we started to drift to the right. There was ice on the runway and the nose wheel wouldn’t track. The F-27 had a nose wheel with steering and I attempted to steer left with no effect due to the ice on the runway and we drifted right into the snow bank. What had happened was I turned the steering wheel full left and the nose tire hit a clear spot and peeled off the rim and then I had no control. We were still going pretty fast when the right main gear went into the snow bank and I didn’t want it to come to an abrupt stop causing the aircraft to fully drift right into the snow bank. I added power to the right engine and was able to keep it straight till we came to a full stop.
It was a beautiful day in Monterey. We were taking off in a Martin 404 with an FAA inspector on the jump seat. I was flying this leg and the co-pilot called V-1 and there was a loud explosion from the left engine. I looked out and saw that the engine was on fire. I continued the take-off and called “positive rate of climb, gear up, single engine check list”. After checking and rechecking, left throttle back, checking and rechecking, left mixture back, checking and rechecking feathered left engine, I looked out and there was no fire. The cylinder head had blown off and the fire I saw was the normal firing within the cylinder, so when we shut off the fuel the fire went out. We came around and made a normal landing. This happened at the most critical time of any flight, losing power of an engine at V-1 which means you have to continue the take-off at minimum airspeed and no altitude. However, we had full power less one cylinder till we were able to reach a safe airspeed and altitude before the engine was shut down. We did things by the book, and I think the inspector was impressed because when we parted he commented “Good job”.
Jimmy Douglass, Captain
One stormy night in ‘54 (or ‘55?), my dad and Mel Silvera left Arcata in a Martin 202 heading southward. A couple of minutes after takeoff, they lost an engine, but unfortunately at about the same time, the Arcata airport lost electrical power, so returning was not an option. Dad said they turned southward and headed for the next stop, but as they approached it, that field also lost electrical service and went dark. This continued for an hour and forty minutes until they were finally able to land at Santa Rosa. As they pulled up to the terminal, it, too went dark.
What made the flight memorable for my father wasn’t grinding along on one engine for 1:40 as much as the fact that he said he couldn’t get the performance data he wanted out of the book in a usable format. He said they were struggling to maintain 5400 feet over terrain that reached up to 4700 feet, and he wanted to pull as much power from the good engine as possible, so while Mel flew, Dad went through the performance charts converting pressure altitude to density altitude to make the necessary corrections to the maximum allowable manifold pressure they could pull. Anyway, this is how he told the story; I was just learning to fly at the time and generally understood what he was talking about, but he didn’t show me the specific problem in the book.
When they finally did get on the ground and Dad called flight control, someone in maintenance got on the line and told him he had probably just let the engine ice up. “Let it sit for a bit”, he told dad, “then go start it up and see how it runs”. My father’s answer was, “No” (in an unrepeatable format), so the next morning a maintenance crew came up and started the engine. It ran for about a minute, then blew. When they tore down the engine, they determined that the master rod in the back row of cylinders had failed (maintenance related as I recall; dad said the engine had just been majored by an outside source) and the engine was a washout.
My mother had her own take on the story. Having put my brothers and me to bed, she was listening to the radio when the announcer broke in to say that Southwest Airways had an airplane, commanded by Captain James Douglass, in trouble over northern California. She immediately called flight control to find out what was going on and apparently read them the riot act for letting the news media know what was happening before notifying the families of the crew. Years later, she could laugh at the incident, but it took her several years to see any humor in it. And sadly, it was not the last time the families of our crewmembers heard bad news from the media before they heard it from the company.
I didn’t become aware of the induction icing issue until 1973. I got married that year in Valdosta, GA, and my father rode down for the wedding in a Southern Airways Martin 404. The flight made a few stops between Atlanta and Valdosta, and when they landed at Moultrie, GA, both engines quit on landing rollout. My father told me he knew exactly what had happened, the engines had iced up. This was at the end of August when the weather in Georgia was typically quite warm, though humid, and I was surprised to hear my dad say the engines had died of carburetor ice. That was when Dad mentioned that the Martins would make induction ice in three different modes. He then went on to tell me stories of two of his friends who had experienced double engine failures in the Martin caused by carburetor ice in conditions which wouldn’t have phased a DC-3 in the least. Never having flown either airplane or any large round engine, I still don’t know exactly what he meant, but looking at the link below, I’m guessing some of your readers probably do.
The subject of 7075 aluminum came up when I was checking out on the Convair 580 in ‘84. Dad’s take on the competition between Convair and Martin to produce the “DC-3 replacement” was that Martin lost the race by introducing their product first. The Martin had many unproven innovations, and one was extensive use of 7075 in place of 2024. It turned out (or so Dad said) that while 7075 was “stronger,” it was also more brittle and thus more prone to cracking, and it didn’t have the same level of resistance to corrosion. He claimed a mechanic at SFO put his foot through the corroded wing skin of a Martin (though he didn’t say when, or how long the plane had been in service).
There were other issues, but I won’t bore you with them. The upshot is that Dad didn’t like the airplane and was more than delighted when the F-27 came into service.
Jack Furrer Jr., Chief Pilot
Tip: Click on Jack’s picture below to see his background
In ’48 I was a purser onboard a Southwest Airways DC3 flight from SFO to LAX. Our flight was full of San Francisco Examiner employees and they all were pretty well looped. One of the passengers went to the back of the plane and thought the airstairs was the door to the bathroom so he pulled on the handle and the door opened. The guy nearly fell out of the plane. If it wasn’t for his buddies standing close by he probably would have fallen out and ended up somewhere around Santa Cruz. Well, Captain Stevenson called me forward and explained that we had to land and if the airstairs was down when we landed we probably would lose it altogether. He said the solution would be if I were to pull up on the one remaining chain and hold the door up off the runway then we could fix it after landing. While landing I was in the back pulling as hard as I could – it was enough to clear the asphalt. It was quite a balance act holding up the weight of that door with the wind and runway rushing by. After we landed and came to a stop we quickly closed the door and took off continuing to our destination of LAX.
I was flying a Martin 202 in 1961 enroute from SJC to VNY on a Lockheed charter. As usual it was a clear sunny day. About 30 minutes enroute I looked over at the door warning panel and noticed the forward cargo door light was on. I told my 1st officer to look at the door “but don’t fool with it”. About two minutes later there was a loud bang and a big rush of air that blew the papers in the cockpit around. I called the stewardess and asked her to come to the cockpit. She had a hard time opening the cabin door. She was wide eyed. I asked her where the 1st officer was. She said he was looking at the door and it came open and moved forward about 6 inches. She said there was no problem as he was still inside of the plane. I told the 1st officer to return to the cockpit. I asked him what happened. He said he banged on the door handle with his fist and it came open.
We landed at MRY and secured the door – no damage – and proceeded to VNY without further delay. Needless to say, it was quiet in the cockpit the rest of the flight.
Right around 1958 I was flying out of LAX as the 1st Officer onboard a Martin 202. Jack Cromer was the Captain. Jack said he had to leave for a short time and told me to sit in the left seat while he was gone. I figured he was going to the bathroom or wanted to chat with one of the passengers. Jack had a reputation of extended conversations with passengers. After a little while the Station Agent standing next to the plane looked up at the cockpit and signaled me to start the right engine. I glanced back in the passenger cabin and didn’t see Jack so I started the right engine. The stewardess rang the bell twice to tell me the airstairs was up and locked in place. Then the agent told me to start the left engine. I started the left engine. I then called the control tower and asked for clearance to taxi. When I received clearance I taxied out and was near the main runway when I received a call from the Southwest Ops Agent. He said “Stop, Captain Cromer is still in the terminal”.
(As preface to this story you need to know the Martin 202’s have Janitrol Wing Heaters which use the same fuel as the aircraft engines to heat the wings during icing conditions)
I was the First Officer flying out of CEC to MFR. We were flying a Martin 202. George Klika was the Captain. We had a lot of icing on the windows and wings so George told me to turn on the wing heaters. I turned on all 4 heaters and at the same time we were hit by lightening on the left wing. The Captain yelled “Holy Shit, you blew the wing off!” There was a lot of adrenalin running for a few seconds until we realized it was a lightning strike and the wing was still there.
We were flying one night from ACV to SFO on board a DC3. Jack Cromer was the Captain and I was the First Officer. Shortly after take-off there was St. Elmo’s fire (static electricity) covering the entire front windows of the cockpit and on the propeller tips. We couldn’t see anything out of the windows other than a blue light dancing around. I moved my fingers across the right window and the colors outside followed my finger tips. Must have upset the Captain as I remember him yelling “Stop it!”. So much for having fun while you work.
In the mid 60’s I was flying an F27 from Reno to San Francisco. It was 2 am. The cabin was full of casino people who were pretty well drunk. The stewardess came to the cockpit and told me that everyone was uncontrollable and it was a problem with people running back and forth and throwing things all over the place. My response was “OK, I’ll put everyone to sleep.” I raised the cabin pressurization to 12,000 feet and turned up the cabin heaters. After about 30 minutes I called back to the stewardess and asked “How are things going?” Her response was “Everyone’s sleeping!”
In 1961 I was flying a Martin 404 from San Jose to Van Nuys with a stop at Vandenberg. I picked up a load of civilians at the Lockheed hanger in San Jose and then was off to Vandenberg. When I was approaching Vandenberg I called for clearance to land. I was told there were two military flights ahead of me and I would have to wait my turn. One of the planes called in and said “I have two code 6’s onboard (two Colonels).” The other plane called in and said “I have one code 6 and a code 7 (one Colonel and a Brigadier General).” My response to everyone was “Who’s watching the store?” Obviously the guy in the tower didn’t have a sense of humor as he responded “Do you know your rights to land were cancelled this afternoon?” I asked him “What’s the problem?” I was told our proof of insurance was expired. Hoping for the best, I continued to hold pattern and after the other two aircraft had landed the tower called and said we had permission to land. Maybe he did have a sense of humor after all.
In the 50’s there were three Captains that would not let me fly the planes when I was a First Officer because I was not trained in the military.
I was flying with one of them one day on a flight from SFO to LAX in a Martin 404. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon and I was looking out the window when I noticed the plane was weaving up and down and sideways. I looked over to the Captain and saw he was sound asleep. He wouldn’t let me fly or cruise even on a clear day. I thought “I’ll fix you!” I tested the Fire Warning System which has 6 large red warning lights and a bell that could wake the dead. That woke him up – straight up! He said “What happened?” I told him one of the warning lights flashed so I tested the system. He was wide awake the rest of the flight.
This other Captain actually went to the Chief Pilot and told him they could not check me out because I was not trained in the military. One day the two of us were in a Martin 202 climbing through 9,000 feet and the airspeed and rate of climb were decreasing. I pointed out to “Captain Marvel” that the rolling check power setting had a wide white line near our altitude; we had passed that mark so I told him it was time to shift the Super Chargers to “high blower” in order to regain the lost engine power. The correct procedure when shifting to high blower was to reduce one throttle at a time, shift to high blower, and do the same procedure to the other engine. He looked at me – at that time both throttles were wide open – he reached up and put both blower switches to high at the same time. The plane shot up like we had jet assistance. He looked up at me and said “How about that!”
Bill Critch, First Officer
“We’re out of ice!”
“Pacific 423, Medford Tower, you are cleared for takeoff.”
It’s the Captain’s leg and late in the afternoon. Somehow we’ve ended up in Medford, Oregon, picking up a load of unhappy passengers whose day has been spoiled by nasty winter weather and delays on the system.
The Captain sets the power and we climb out on course for San Francisco and into the ‘clag’. I’m a very new co-pilot with Pacific Airlines and am wary of saying too much or adding any suggestions to the Captain’s style or skill. Co-pilots are on probation for the first year and a bad report from the Left Seat can bring my budding airline career to a swift end.
“Pacific 423, you are cleared to climb to and maintain 11 Thousand. Contact Oakland Center one two seven point seven at Fort Jones. G’day.”
The Martin Four O Four is not a new airplane; it’s a twin-engine DC Three replacement built in the mid-Fifties. It has a very reliable engine and no bad habits like its predecessor, the Martin Two O Two that in its formative years had a nasty habit of losing its wings and falling from the sky with a load of thirty-five passengers and crew. Many of the larger U.S. carriers bought the Martin but have since replaced it with turbo props like the F-27 or kept their Convair 340s while they wait for their Douglas DC 9’s or Boeing 737’s to leap into the jet age.
Over the Siskiyou Mountains we are in clouds at our cruise altitude. The highest elevation below us is about 7,500 feet, but the weather does not make for a smooth ride. There is light turbulence and the Martin has no autopilot; the stewardess moving up and down the single aisle serving drinks causes the only change to our center of gravity, but it keeps us alert.
Ice collects on the windshield.
“Let’s have the wing heat and watch the Carb Air Temp,” says the Captain. What he means is that I should switch on the wing heaters to melt any ice gathering on the leading edge and monitor the temperature indicators to maintain warm air entering the carburetors. If necessary, I will adjust the Carburetor Heat levers on the control pedestal between us. I must also monitor the cylinder head temperatures to ensure they stay in a normal range. The airplane I flew in the Air Force had the same engines and carburetors and this is a routine task.
The captain’s hands move to the pedestal to adjust the throttle setting. He glances at the Fuel Flow Meters. The fuel flow is increasing as he watches. The BMEP gauges are reflecting a decreasing engine power output. The Carb Air Temp is still decreasing.
“More carb heat” says the Captain. The engines are rapidly picking up a heavy load of ice that, if not melted can cause engine failure.
I increase the carb heat and that causes a further drop in engine power. I turn on the wing lights and check the wing leading edge. Some ice is forming but not enough to cause a loss of lift. Our only problem is the engines and we don’t seem to have a solution.
There’s an old story about the Luck Bucket and the Experience Bucket:
When you start flying, you are given a bucket full of luck. If things go badly and you don’t have a solution, you dip into the Luck Bucket and use some. But you must remember to replace it with experience because when you’re out of luck, all you have left is experience.
Even though the Mixture Control levers are in manual lean, the engine fuel flows continue to increase and like an auto engine, this will flood the engines and they will quit. The Captain and I are searching in the Experience Bucket. His tells him to lean out the engines, make them to backfire and blow out the ice. This is his DC-3 experience. Mine tells me that we must decrease the fuel flow just like my Air Force C-118.
We both reach to further reduce the Mixture Control levers at the same time but for a different reason. The effect is the same. The engines do not backfire but the fuel flow decreases and the engines regain power.
A knock on the cockpit door and the stew enters.
“We’re out of ice for drinks.”
I point to the cockpit window.
“Jane, why don’t you pop outside and get some from off our windshield?”
She gives me a puzzled look and retreats to the cabin.
The captain laughs and breaks the tension.
Later as I wait for the bus outside Pacific’s new Headquarters lugging my Samsonite bag and a heavier bag full of charts and manuals, the Captain pulls up in his new sports car.
“I’m headed south, need a lift?”
Bags aboard, we head south; he’s headed for his Palo Alto Eichler rambler and Scotch, I to my ticky tacky ding-bat next to Bayshore and a beer. First Year co-pilots take home pay is $395 and it makes more sense for my wife to stay at home, look after the kids and keep a tight budget.
“Hi honey, I’m home.”
Harry Spear, Captain
It’s night, in a Martin 404 at 11,000 feet, just past Paso Robles, California when the stewardess, Joan Prince, came bursting into the cockpit announcing one of her passengers was having a heart attack & for us to land as soon as possible. I looked ahead & saw Vandenberg Air Force Base with their runway lights on & notified the tower of our problem & could we land. Permission was given to land straight in but we didn’t have enough time doing a normal descent decompression so we opened the pressurization valve to max & literally “dove” for the airport. We made it down OK without bursting any eardrums but was amazed seeing the large number of red lights on both sides of the runway end waiting for us. We stopped straight ahead on the runway and our passenger was whisked off & we later heard he’d recovered. While on the ground Joan explained to the passengers what had occurred & there was nary a complaint then or afterward.
Our problem was we didn’t have any direct communication from the aircraft with the company to explain our action, nor clearance from them to continue our journey. So, I used Captains authority & we just cleared ourselves, took off & successfully completed our flight at Los Angeles.