All That Remains
Old aircraft crash scenes are littered with story fragments.
- By Howard James Stansfield
- Air & Space magazine, November 2002
“Jeez,” someone says. “You’d think they could’ve found a better place to crash.”
The words would sound callous anyplace else, especially when you consider that the place in question is one where 16 men were killed in the line of duty. But for the last half an hour we have been crawling up a steep ravine of tottering sandstone boulders, and the effort is proving a little more than some of our party had signed on for.
Finally, as we approach a bend in what can only generously be called a trail, Trey Brandt, our guide on this clear winter morning, draws our attention to a Volkswagen-size metallic shape glinting below.
“Look at that thing,” someone says.
“Amazing,” says another.
Several of us clamber down for a closer look, quickly gaining an appreciation of both the size and the complexity of the R-4360, the largest radial aircraft engine ever mass-produced. The dry high-desert air has left the parts so free of corrosion that they look as if they could have been cast last week. With cylinders snapped off and valves and connecting rods exposed for easy scrutiny, the Pratt & Whitney serves as the ultimate exploded diagram.
“There’s a lot more further up,” Brandt assures us.
Today marks Brandt’s sixth march up Gray Mountain, a sheer edifice of boulder and brush in northern Arizona where, in 1957, an Air Force KC-97G Stratofreighter refueling tanker sent out to map low-altitude training routes made a wrong turn in bad weather and met a violent end. Still, Brandt, a quiet, self-effacing 32-year-old Phoenix stockbroker, shows no signs of tiring of the trek.