Our normal crew day was 16 hours. But with an "augmented" crew
(extra pilot, navigator, engineer, and loadmaster) we could fly a
24-hour crew day. And that was enough for a round-trip to
Cuba. Our mission was to support a Navy fighter squadron that was
rotating to an aircraft carrier in Guantanamo
It was just a short hop from Travis
Air Force Base
Air Station Lemoore
picked up the squadron personnel and their baggage and
equipment. As we approached Cuba, the weather worsened--low
ceiling with rain showers. But we flew an instrument approach and
landed safely at Guantanamo
Bay Naval Base
. The passengers deplaned and their
gear was offloaded onto the ramp piece by piece. The carrier sat
at anchor in
the bay a few hundred yards offshore.
A helicopter landed nearby, filled its sling with suitcases and
tool chests, and returned to the carrier. Back and forth it
shuttled, flying just a few yards above the bay. Once in a while
the load in the sling shifted and another tool chest or suitcase
tumbled into Guantanamo Bay!
Meanwhile, the fighters had spent the night at Naval
were flying down the Florida coast. As they approached
weather went below landing minimums. Instead of diverting to an
airfield with better weather they opted to hold above the weather until
it improved. Even the helicopter stood down and we
waited out the storm in our airplane, listening to the UHF radio.
Soon the first fighter in the line declared that his fuel was running
low. So Guantanamo launched a tanker
to find and refuel the
squadron. Shortly after takeoff, the tanker lost contact with air
traffic control--apparently due to radio failure.
More fighters declared bingo fuel and eventually Guantanamo was
able to launch a tanker with a working radio. The leader's fuel
critically low but the tanker was able to find him before his tanks ran
dry. While the second fighter was tanking, the first reappeared
on the radio--he had put the
fuel into a tank he couldn't use! So the tanker returned to him
buddies watched their fuel gauges approach zero.
Everyone eventually made it back safely to Guantanamo, but it was quite
a lesson in naval aviation operations.