A Single Daring Act
Memoirs of Korea by an acclaimed novelist.
- By James Salter
- Air & Space magazine, November 1991
(Page 2 of 8)
He had a flame-out, he reported.
“Roger,” the leader said. “Try an air start.”
This was another gap in his knowledge. “Just so I do it right,” Colman said, “read it to me off the checklist, will you?”
Item by item they went through the procedure. Nothing happened. The engine was all right and there was plenty of fuel, but it was all in the drop tanks. They tried a second time and then declared an emergency. Colman would have to try and make a dead-stick landing.
He might have done it easily except he was a little short of altitude. Nothing can make up for that. At the end, seeing he was not going to make it, he picked out the best alternative he could, railroad tracks, and landed on them wheels-up, which was the correct way. He went skating down the rails as if they were a wet street, finally coming to a stop just inside a wire mesh gate which happened to be the entrance to the salvage yard. The airplane, damaged beyond repair, would have ended up there anyway. Eventually the fire trucks came, and an ambulance, and Colman, who had injured his back slightly, was taken to the hospital.
One of the first things noticed in the wreckage was that the drop-tank switches had not been turned on. The squadron commander was in a very unfriendly mood when he arrived at the hospital. As soon as he entered the room, Colman held up his hand defensively. “Major, you don’t have to say it,” he began, “I fucked up. I know I fucked up. But you have to admit one thing. After I fucked up, nobody could have done a better job.”
Impudence saved him. He was in disgrace but at the same time admired. You could not help liking him.
He was, in many ways, incomparable. I was a member of his flight and we flew together many times. In place of a regular plastic helmet, he wore an old leather one he had brought with him, probably from China days. His head, as a result, looked very small in the cockpit. Like rivulets feeding a stream, the planes would join the main body as it moved towards the runway. The mission was forming. One of the ships seemed to have a mere child piloting it. Who was that? the colonels asked. “Colman.”