O-2 Single Engine Performance

submitted by: Alva Leon Matheson

I’m a little reluctant to discuss this, ‘cause I was Stooopid!
I was putting in airstrikes one night in late ‘69 or early ‘70 out near the western falls south of Attopeu. I think George Strand was my right eater, but I’m not certain of that. It may have been another of our outstanding FANs.
We had been receiving considerable AAA, but that was normal. Then I got a fire warning light on the rear engine. We hadn’t felt a hit. The engine was still running and we couldn’t see any glow or flames by looking out the windows at it. (Remember, one peek is worth a thousand cross- checks). We were staggering around at about 6,000 feet with the fire warning light on and I pulled the rear engine throttle to idle. The light didn’t go out. So I pushed the throttle back up; we needed that engine! Where there is fire there is thrust. The light flickered a time or two.
While all this was going on, I was chattering away to Moonbeam about the weather at Ubon and Pleiku. There was beaucoup bad weather all around us. We were out there working in sucker holes in the clouds, because that was the only area we could find workable. Moonbeam said Pleiku was good and Ubon was bad. We were about equi-distant from each, but Ubon was at lower elevation. I elected to cut a trail directly across Cambodia to Pleiku. It was a dumb decision; the Thai border was closer.
I knew I should pull that engine to idle or shut it off, but I just couldn’t make my hands do it. We were by now up to around 6,500 feet and in VMC conditions above most of the weather. I couldn’t take it any longer – waiting to blow up – and so I shut down the rear engine. In the meantime we had thrown out all of our log markers. Our practice was to carry several extra behind our seats. We had shot our pod of WP rockets and dropped everything off our wing stations, but I retained the B-37K rack (or whatever that thing was called that held four log markers).
Without the rear engine, we couldn’t maintain altitude, but we could stagger along at about a two or three hundred-foot per minute descent. The front engine was at full throttle, leaned to best power. The cowl flaps were closed, but we were willing to let it cook. Now we were figuring out our distance to Pleiku and our glide angle. By this time we were back into the goo. Could we make it?
After a while, with the engine shut down, the fire warning light quit flickering and went out. I wish I could remember the exact sequence of events.
About the time we concluded we were sinking too fast to make Pleiku, we flew into a thunderstorm cell of convective weather activity and suddenly we were climbing quite rapidly. Sierra Hotel! Pretty soon we were spit out of the top of this billowing cotton ball cloud at 6,500 feet. I said, “George, stick with me, I think this is gonna work out!”
Moonbeam kept telling us the Pleiku weather was a 3,000 foot ceiling and good visibility. Shortly after getting spit up to 6,500 feet, we calculated we had crossed well south of “Big Mamma” and should be okay. The really high terrain was now behind us. But by now we were way below 3,000 feet above the ground and still in solid clouds and rain. I smelled a rat, rocket scientist that I was!
I finally raised Pleiku on the radio and explained our plight. They said Pleiku was landing to the west (runway 27) and the weather was 300 feet overcast and two miles visibility, and, that we should expect a PAR GCA to Runway 27. “Say again your weather?” said I. I told him there was no way we could make it to Pleiku with an approach to 27. I wanted his best ASR controller because I had to make a straight-in approach to Runway 9. (There was no PAR available to runway 9).
To make a long story short, we made it, but we burned all the worms off of the rice paddies west of Pleiku. Their “best” controller lined us up better with Camp Holloway than Pleiku! We recognized his mistake at the last moment and managed to slam it onto the first brick of Runway 9. We must have made it over 90 miles on the front engine.
We were both puckered to the max and decided the taste of the seat cushions left a bit to be desired. To the best of my recollection we washed the taste of those seat cushions down with about a quart of Old Granddad Red Label ($1.10 a quart) at the Covey Hooch.
Ahh! The good old days...when flying was dangerous, booze was cheap, and sex was safe!

Editor’s Note: This is too good a story to let go, and it is better told in the author’s original language. Unfortunately, unless you are in aviation, a lot of what he says is going to be unintelligible. Let me translate. You can translate the abbreviations from the glossary.
“One peek is worth a thousand crosschecks,” refers to the fact that when flying with an instructor and while wearing a hood so that you could not see outside the aircraft during instrument landing practice, one illicit peek outside the aircraft to see how you were lining up with the runway was worth many scans of the instruments inside the aircraft. In this case, the author means that one look directly at the engine was worth a lot more than an instrument indication, which may have been due to an electrical fault and therefore false.
A “sucker hole” is a clear spot in a layer of clouds. From above the pilot can see the ground. Often pilots in trouble and looking for a place to land will go down through the hole hoping to be able to stay in the clear and fly under the clouds. Too often, he finds that the hole goes all the way to the ground and he has nowhere to go.
A “log marker” was an illumination device that dropped to the ground and burned for several minutes, giving a reference point for the fighter pilots.
To “lean” an engine means to reduce the ratio of fuel to air using a device in the cockpit called the mixture control. This procedure increases power if done correctly, and saves fuel. It applies to reciprocating engines rather than to jets.
“Cowl flaps” are little door-like devices in the cowling around a reciprocating engine. They can be opened or closed to control the engine temperature. Open cools the engine, closed warms it. Unfortunately, when open, they produced drag, which slows the aircraft, or requires more power to maintain level flight. In the case in point, that was something they needed like a hole in their heads, so they closed the flaps and let the engine overheat.
As you may understand, “convective” activity is rapidly rising air. It’s routinely found inside thunderstorms, among other places. It’s what glider pilots rely on to say aloft, and what saved the author in this case by pushing his aircraft up several thousand feet.
“Sierra Hotel” stands for the letters S and H in the phonetic alphabet, and are an abbreviation for “Shit Hot” which in turn means “Very Good.”
“Big Mamma” was a big mountain along the ridge of mountains between Laos and Vietnam.
All runways are designated by the direction in which they are aligned. Therefore, Runway 27 pointed 270 degrees, or due west. To land on that runway, the author would have had to fly over and past Pleiku and then turn back to the west, since he was coming from the west to the east out of Laos. He didn’t have time or altitude for that option, so he elected to land on the opposite end of same runway, “straight-in” from west to east. That end of the runway was marked 09 because it pointed 090 degrees, or due east. The election was dangerous, because while a PAR approach can get you to a runway when the ceiling (height of the bottom of the clouds above the ground) is 300 feet, SARs are not designed for that kind of precision and depend strongly on the skill level of the radar controller. If I told you more, I’d have to issue you a pilot’s license.
The phrase “puckered” refers to the fact that in tense situations, one tends to tense his entire body. The focus of that tension seems often to be one’s anus. Thus, one’s anus is tightened, or “puckered.” For example, among aviators, the gravity of a situation was often described by its “pucker factor.” The higher the “pucker factor,” the more tense the situation.