ON ONE ENGINE -
This sortie was flown in Canberra B2 WJ635. Flying Officer Paul McDonald was the pilot. Prior to this sortie Paul had only experienced practice asymmetric flying in the Canberra during the day, never at night. His first experience of flying on one engine ‘for real’ would be at night.
Night flying took some getting used too. If it was a clear night, with a moon and
In January 1974 I flew a night check with my Flight Commander and it went very well. The only aspect that we did not have time to cover was night asymmetric which was to prove a little unfortunate. Almost inevitably, my first real incident as captain of an aircraft would occur when it was particularly dark, and of course it was just bound to involve asymmetric flying.
On 24 January 1974 I flew a day-
I was very comfortable about the idea, or I thought that I was, until the moment that I actually closed the high pressure fuel cock and the engine stopped. My heart then leapt into my mouth, and I had a great deal of difficulty even speaking. I felt acutely embarrassed and had to switch off my microphone now and again as I thought that my navigator would hear my heavy breathing and my quivering voice. I even had trouble transmitting the distress call, a PAN call.
I asked for radar vectors for a precision approach radar, as a long straight-
As we were handed over to the Talkdown Controller for the final approach, I almost completely lost control. I could feel the aircraft beginning to go, and I glanced at the all important ball which was supposed to be in the middle of the turn and slip indicator. It wasn’t, it was well out to one side and the aircraft was way out of balance. I pushed hard, very hard on the rudder pedal to get it back. I was just in time, in another second the aircraft would have departed from controlled flight. And then the Talkdown Controller began giving his final instructions. I recognised his voice.
At the same time, I was able to reduce power on the live engine as we started to descend on the glide path. This eased the pressure on my leg that had been holding almost full rudder up that point. The Controller lived in the Mess and had a room near mine; we had also met in the bar a couple of times. And he recognised my call sign, so he knew it was me. He was so calm and his clear voice, the voice of a friend, was exactly what I needed during those last few miles to touchdown. As we landed, I breathed a huge sigh of relief and thanked him over the radio. Looking back, I think that it was him that got us safely down that night, not me. But, alas, the drama was not yet over.
We stopped at the end of St Mawgan’s single 9000 foot runway and shut down; the Canberra could not be taxied on one engine. As we got out, I was mightily relieved although I said little; I was barely capable of speech. My navigator gave me a big smile and a cheery:
“Well done mate!”
I couldn’t reply.
The fire crews arrived quickly and the fireman driving Crash One, the lead vehicle,
offered to give us a lift back to the Squadron. We clambered on board but did not
notice that one of the other firemen accidentally put the bag containing the aircraft’s
ground locks onto his vehicle along with our flying helmets and other assorted paraphernalia.
Without the ground locks the groundcrew were not allowed to tow the aircraft so there
it stayed blocking St Mawgan’s only runway, while various Nimrods and Canberras flew
around in the overhead waiting in vain for the runway to be re-
Crash One set off at high speed down the taxiway with us on board. The vehicle had a long front seat, the driver was on the right, my navigator was in the middle and I was on the left. Except that I hadn’t closed the door properly. As we turned sharply to the right, the door flew open and I fell out! My navigator’s reactions must have been very finely tuned that night. His left hand shot out and he grabbed part of my immersion suit; by then I was half way out of the door almost parallel with the ground and my head was only inches above the tarmac. I was hauled me back in. What else can go wrong, I wondered?
But there was more. It was a much shaken Flying Officer McDonald who entered the
Operations Room about twenty minutes later. The Duty Authoriser was fulsome in his
“It was you, was it?
“Yes sir,” I said.
“Well done,” he replied. “Now, would you care to explain to me why you have put our only runway out of action for the last thirty minutes?”
It is strange how reputations can sometimes be built on very tenuous foundations. Mine undoubtedly was that night and I only ever shared how I had felt with one other, and that was months later. He listened carefully before saying not to worry, that how I had felt was normal but few pilots ever truly admit to what they actually felt inside during an incident. He went on to tell me how, when he was a young fighter pilot flying Vampires in Germany he had suffered an engine failure at night. The Vampire only had one engine and at night the drill was to eject. Against all the rules and advice he made a successful glide landing. And the reason he didn’t eject? He was too frightened.