A Douglas AD Skyraider story.

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Feb 9, 2010
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A Douglas AD Skyraider story. I first came upon this story from an old Popular Mechanics magazine. Another pilot read this story not long after and repeated the same feat, alone and not loaded. The SPAD flew the entire length of the runway but had no roll control. This story was rewritten in 2001 for a Navy Web page. I'll post it if I can find it.


Wings Folded
Richard (Dick) Green - VAN Team #3

A little over 50 years ago (Oh, m'gawd. THAT long ?), an event involving VC-35 took place that got attention from all kinds of places. Certainly, every SPAD driver in the Western Pacific heard about it, and an "artists impression" showed up on, of all the unlikely places, the cover of an issue of Popular Mechanics. Some 12 to 15 years after that, an issue of Naval Aviation News dealt with the imminent phase-out of the AD, and cited a lot of the history of the various models. Intending to praise the workers at Douglas for building such a tough bird, I wrote to NA News about the following incident (condensed version), and gave them much credit for the fact that I was still around and kicking. NA News was nice enough to publish my letter in a later issue, and author Rosario Rausa picked up some of it and included a paragraph about it in his book "Skyraider - The Flying Dump Truck" which also contained a lot about VC-35 operations in Korea in its pages. I am still, at this late date, being asked " How, in the ever-lovin' blue-eyed world, could that have happened ?", by people who find out that I was there. Well, just in case there are any Association members who also wonder, read on.

May 11, 1951 started out like a normal day, with a predawn heckler mission off the Princeton. We had a good flight, finding plenty of targets, and eventually ran out of anything worth dropping on anyone, so we returned to the ship and trapped. I headed below while my pilot, LT Frank Metzner, debriefed. I then got a message from him, saying that the Air Group was heading over to Pyongyang for a party, and could use all the help they could get, so he had volunteered to join them, and would I like to go along? Since I had always considered that we were a team, I wanted to go anywhere he did, so I said "Sure, let's go", and off we went.

I don't recall too much about the strike on Pyongyang, so I guess it must have been pretty much routine. Events that followed, however, are burned permanently into what I like to call my brain.

Enroute back to the Princeton, the ship called and diverted our AD-4N to a small Air Force "grasshopper" strip at Kangnung (K-18). Seems that they had a sick SPAD on the ground, with a few bombs aboard that the Air Force didn't know what to do with, and wanted to get rid of. Our orders were to land, get the ordnance transferred to our racks, fly North, drop our load on a target of opportunity and get back to the ship by a certain time. So far, so good. We landed at K-18, supervised the transfer of six 260 pound frag bombs to our aircraft and, having plenty of time, went over to the mess for a sandwich and coffee. Shortly thereafter, the Princeton sent a message that moved our rendezvous time up by a bunch, and we suddenly found ourselves in one hell of a hurry. We sprinted across the runway to our bird, and LT Metzner climbed in and started the engine while I ran around checking the wires in the VT fuses of our load. I gave him a thumbs-up and headed for the port hatch, while he released the brakes and started to taxi, almost leaving me behind. I managed to catch a hand-hold as the plane went by, crawled into my seat and slammed the hatch. By the time I managed to get into my belts, harnesses, etc. and plug into the ICS, we were at the end of the runway, and I called him to read off the Checklist, but he said "We don't have the time for that", and called what passed for a tower there for take-off clearance.

What I didn't know, and what he had forgotten, was that while taxi-ing he had had to go between two other aircraft and, lacking enough room, had folded the wings. I hadn't noticed, because I was too busy getting ready to launch. So there we were pointing down the runway with the wings folded and asking for take-off clearance. I don't know whether those people who answered us thought we flapped off into the blue like some big seagull, or whether they cleared us and then ran outside to watch the show, but clear us they did, and we roared off down the runway, fat, dumb and happy. About halfway down the runway, I was wondering why we were still rolling, since we had plenty of speed. Then I thought, "He's holding her down so that he can impress the locals by standing the aircraft on its tail and taking off straight up" It was about that time that, for some reason, I leaned forward and looked out my little window on the port side. The view I got almost stopped my heart, and all I could think of to do was to hit the ICS switch and calmly say (Yeah, right - I screamed my lungs out !) "WINGS !!! WINGS !!! As it happened, LT Metzner was also wondering why we were still on the ground, had located the problem at about the same time that I did and had assessed the situation--definitely un-good. His automatic reaction was to chop the throttle, but then realized that there was no hope at all of stopping the plane on the wheels short of all the rocks, surf and other assorted bad news ahead of us so he decided to belly in. To do that, he had to get the weight off the wheels so that he could raise the gear, and thought that, considering our load of ordnance, with enough power he could get the plane to "mush" into the air long enough to do the job. So he went full bore and pulled the stick back into his lap, but he had miscalculated a bit and we were very quickly at what ground witnesses said was about 200 feet. Our situation had deteriorated somewhat. We could fly, but only straight ahead since we had no working ailerons and straight ahead was not a good direction because of the aforementioned rocks, surf, and a lot of empty, cold (even in May) ocean, with no rescue aircraft around for an hour or more. The only viable alternative was to get back on the ground, and fast, so he kicked a little left rudder and we promptly augered in at about 30 degrees. I remember seeing the port wing stub hit the ground, but after that things got noisy and confused, so I have to rely on what we were told by outside observers. The initial impact tore off the port wing and stub, and the partially raised landing gear, and we went flat on the belly, leaving the prop blades standing like a row of fence posts in the ground. The radar nacelle was next.

Skidding on our belly, we were almost home free, but across the end of the runway was a wide ditch, with three foot embankments on each side. We buried the engine into the nearest bank, which tore off the engine and the starboard wing and flipped the bare fuselage end-over-end through the air for about 60 to 70 yards. We hit, rolled several times, and came to rest. I remember hanging in my harness and not moving. I was temporarily blind, I was numb and couldn't feel anything, and it was unbelievably quiet, which convinced me that I was dead. So I just hung there, waiting to see what was going to happen next. What happened next was that I started to hurt, all over, which was a surprise. I had always assumed that dead people didn't hurt, so it seemed reasonable that I might be alive, and if so, I had better get out of there. I started fumbling with my harness and with my hatch, which wouldn't budge, and about that time I heard LT Metzner's voice coming from above me, telling me to get out that way, and that the plane was on fire. That got my full attention, and I looked up to see nothing but black, except for a white square in the middle, which I took to be an open hatch. I shed my harness, etc., crawled up to the white square and he helped me climb through and fall to the ground. I ran a few steps and sat down. (Hey, I was tired!) He then came alongside and said something that contained the words "fire" and "bombs" in the same sentence. That provided further motivation, and we staggered away as fast as we could. A medical jeep arrived in short order, picked us up and took us to their dispensary, while the guys were expressing their amazement that anyone had survived the wreck they just watched. Neither of us was badly damaged, and I was very grateful to be alive, but LT Metzner looked like he would rather not have gotten through the whole episode. His pride (and he had a lot of that) had been shattered. While we waited for the Princeton to send transportation, I reminded him that he had saved both our hides at least once, and probably twice, and that everyone makes mistakes (even a doozy like this one). I also told him that I wasn't going to hold this little boo-boo against him. And I didn't. He snapped out of his blue funk in a few days, and we were back in the air again, just like before. Well, almost. We had a new, iron clad rule. We WOULD go through the Checklist before take-off, no matter WHAT. I also revised the Checklist a tad. "Wings Locked" was now No.l on the list. Also No.4 and No. 7. He took the needling graciously, though, and we never mentioned the "embarrassment" again.
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