A Trip to Remember


CAPT Marian Bruce, OI Division
USS Salisbury Sound (AV-13)

All Naval aviators dream about having a minor problem that causes them to have to extend a trip at a good liberty spot. Some say (I don't believe this) that they would taxi out on one magneto hoping to get a greater than allowed RPM drop during the magneto check. Thus requiring a longer stay at a great liberty port like North Island Naval Air Station. This is a story about an extreme case of an extended trip.

When it came close to the time when the staff was preparing to move from the Sally to the Currituck the decision was made to make a trip to replenish the ship's store from the Navy Exchange at Atsugi, Japan. To accomplish this we would use the HU-16 Albatross to fly there from Naha, Okinawa, and return with the supplies the next day. I was to fly copilot for LCDR Chuck Cornett, who was the Sally's navigator. 

Upon landing at Atsugi, the propellers were put in reverse and a prop boot came off. A prop boot is a rubber device on the leading edge of a propeller supplying electrical power, thus heat, to remove ice in freezing weather. As a result of losing the boot the plane was unsafe to fly, so the propeller had to be changed before we could fly it.

As luck would have it the Currituck was in port at Yokosuka, and had a spare prop in supply. The prop was sent to us, and changed the next day. As was required after a major component change we had to fly a test flight with minimum crew before we could carry our passengers and cargo back to Okinawa. 

On takeoff as we were climbing out the new prop went into overspeed and had to be feathered. We made an uneventful single engine landing but we had a bigger problem. An overspeed meant that we not only had a prop problem, but we needed to change the whole engine. This caused a major scheduling problem for the ship because it was scheduled to leave for Sasebo, and LCDR Cornett had to be aboard as navigator when the ship moved.

Arrangements were made for a P3 from one of the patrol squadrons to take LCDR Cornett and the other passengers, including Supply Officer LT Weaver, back to Okinawa along with the supplies. I was to stay with the flight crew until we could get another engine and I would get orders as to our next move.  A partial list of the crew that I can remember who were with me were AD2 Richard Packard and AT2 Mark Ayer. After all these years I cannot remember the others.

There was a great deal of trouble with the new engine and its prop. For days the propeller RPM could not be controlled. Packard and crew could not figure out what the problem was. While walking around the base, I ran into a CPO Smith who had worked for me when I was the Power Plants Officer of a training squadron in Corpus Christi, Texas. I explained the problem to him, and he immediately told me we had a seal installed backward and it needed to be changed. I asked him to explain the problem to Packard. Smith declined, saying he did not want to embarrass Packard. Instead, Chief Smith suggested I tell Packard and crew to take a day off and come back and approach the problem with a fresh outlook. 

I did as the chief suggested telling the crew to take a day off, visit Tokyo and attack the problem the next day. While the crew was gone Chief Smith took the dome off, reversed the seal and had the prop operating normally. The crew returned the next day and the problem had disappeared. 

During this period the Sally had moved from Buckner Bay to Sasebo, Japan, for liberty before returning to Buckner Bay. I was given orders to take the plane to Cam Rahn Bay, Viet Nam, and turn it over to the USS Currituck. In the meantime, a copilot and navigator from the Sally had arrived. A successful test flight was flown, and preparations were made to fly to Cam Rahn Bay via Naha, Okinawa, and Sangley Point in the Philippines. 

On the day of departure, the weather briefing indicated there was a typhoon in the South China Sea, but that it was moving toward mainland China and should not be a problem. During the transit to Naha between Iwakuni, Japan, and Naha we lost HF communications and could not talk to the controllers, as we were out of range of UHF and VHF radios. In compliance with lost communications procedures, we continued on to our destination, Naha.

When we established UHF communications with Okinawa control we were informed that Okinawa was in Typhoon Emergency Condition 1 with the typhoon expected to hit in the very near future. Their words were "What the hell are you doing here? Return to Japan." I explained that I had lost communications and at that point I did not have the fuel to return to Iwakuni and had to land somewhere in Okinawa. They gave me the winds at Naha and Kadena AFB. Both were barely in limits of the HU-16 for a cross wind landing. 

I opted for Naha and made a cross wind landing. It was a very touchy landing but I got it down safely. We were directed to an open hanger where we taxied in and they closed the doors behind us.  We spent the next two days in the BOQ/BEQ riding out a typhoon.

With good weather we pressed on to NAS Sangley Point. When flying over Miyako-jima, an island South of Okinawa, we received a weather briefing. I ask how bad the typhoon had been when it passed over them. I was told the wind was approaching 200 MPH when the roof left the building along with the wind gauge. I thought how lucky we were being able to get on the ground in Naha not having to fly through something like that.

On landing at Sangley Point we were told there were thunderstorms in the forecast. I instructed the crew to double tie down the plane so it would not be blown away in the wind. I also told  them I would be visiting a good friend of mine for drinks and a very nice dinner at the O Club and there would be a good chance I would not be able to pass a breathalyzer test by the end of the evening.

After a few martinis and a good start on a pepper steak washed down with a good red wine the Station Officer of the Day called me at the club. He told me I should come down to the ramp and look at my airplane. I told him I wanted nothing to do with that airplane until the next day when I departed for Cam Rahn Bay. He insisted that I come to the ramp immediately without any further explanation.

On arrival at the ramp, standing in a couple of inches of water from the thunderstorm, I viewed a real mess. A C-47 from Da Nang was in a nose dock for an engine change, not tied down, and had blown into my HU-16. It knocked the port float and the left elevator off the plane.

We were lucky that there was an HU-16 on a barge at NAS Cubi Point that was being readied for transport to overhaul. They cannibalized the left float and left elevator off the plane and air shipped them to Sangley for installation on my plane. After another two days installing the parts, the plane was again ready for a test flight. 

After takeoff on the test flight I raised the landing gear handle and the main mounts came up but the nose wheel stayed down. On inspection we found that the nose wheel hydraulic actuating cylinder had broken off at the nose wheel strut. The over center lock had not been disturbed, so to our great relief, it did not collapse on landing. 

Once again, we needed a part. As luck would have it, the Coast Guard had a spare nose wheel strut for their HU-16 and we were able to acquisition it. After another day, and another test flight, we were able to depart for Cam Rahn Bay and the Currituck.

The only uneventful stop in this odyssey was at Cam Rahn Bay. The plane was turned over with no fanfare and we were ready to return to the Sally, which was anchored in Buckner Bay. We managed to catch a ride on a P3 from one of the squadrons there and be deposited at Naha.

By this time I had a new copilot, LT Bloh, my roommate on the Sally. A vehicle from the ship was waiting to transport us to Buckner Bay. On arrival at the pier, the only boat was the Captain's Gig. We were told that it was there to transport us to the ship. I couldn't imagine what was going on. It is very, very unusual--almost unheard of--for anyone to ride in the Captain's Gig without the Captain being present.

After 17 days away, the Sally never looked better. As the gig approached the ship, it made for the forward accommodation ladder. Again, I couldn't figure out what was going on, because only senior officers use the forward ladder. As the gig made the ladder I stepped back, waiting for LT Bloh, who was a bit senior to me, to precede me up the ladder. (Navy custom dictates that seniors depart last and arrive first.) LT Bloh demurred, and motioned for me to go first.

As I reached the quarterdeck, there to my amazement stood 12 grinning officers standing at attention, acting as side boys. I was ceremoniously piped aboard, whereupon the XO handed me a check-in sheet as if I was just coming aboard for the first time. Very funny, guys.

Like all pilots, I used to sometimes wish for a minor mechanical problem that would extend my trip to a good liberty spot, but my overnight trip to Atsugi turned into a 17 day adventure without any help from me. All it took was a defective prop, a new engine, and a typhoon. Seventeen days, three copilots and two navigators later, it culminated in a ride in the Captain's Gig, and being "piped" back aboard the Sally with a red face. Be careful what you wish for-you may get it.

About the Author

CAPT Marian Bruce started flight training as a Naval Aviation Cadet on July 28, 1957. He was commissioned as an Ensign on December 19, 1958 and designated a Naval Aviator on December 24, an event he likes to think of as an early Christmas present. He held several jobs in VP-46 from 1959 - 1963 and served with VT-31 from 1963 - 1966 as a Flight Instructor, Power Plants Division, and as Personnel Officer.

He served aboard USS Salisbury Sound (AV-13) from 1966 - 1967 as CIC Officer and Aircraft Commander for the HU-16, and later as Operations Officer for decommissioning the ship. After the Sally, he served on the staff of Commander Cruiser Destroyer Flotilla Two from 1967 - 1968 as ASW Air Operations Officer. From 1968 - 1977 he held various jobs with VP-28, VP-22, VP-66, and NAS Patuxent River Maryland, including Officer in Charge - Patrol Plane Commander.

He served with the Bureau of Naval Personnel from 1977 - 1980 as Mobilization Plans Officer, and on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations (Manpower Mobilization Plans and Policy) from 1980 - 1983.

On 1 August 1983 he retired as a Captain. In his words, "And they paid me to spend 10,000 hours in the air! Not a bad life."

After retiring from the Navy, he attended the University of New Mexico from 1983 - 1988 where he received his Bachelors and Masters degrees in Business Administration. He worked in the private sector as a Human Resources Manager from 1990 - 1997.

Since retiring from the business world, he stays out of trouble by serving as a Board Member and Chairman of the Board of the Prostate Cancer Support Association of New Mexico, and as a Board Member and Secretary of the USS Salisbury Sound Association.