Above and Beyond: Fire and Ice
- By Leonard R. Scotty
- Air & Space magazine, November 2010
Courtesy Leonard R. Scotty
(Page 3 of 3)
I was allowed to go home for the day on Monday. At lunch time, I looked for something to eat. I had cans of soup in the cupboard, but the only can opener I had was the kind you clip to the top of the can and then twist the handle. I fumbled with the opener, which really required two hands to operate. It was painful, but I kept at it until I got the can open and the soup in a pot. It took about 25 minutes, and it was and still is one of my proudest moments. When the bandages came off for good after three and a half weeks, my fingers worked properly.
After a month off to fully heal, I returned to work on a Monday morning. As I was standing in the electronic countermeasures office, Captain Bob Ballard ran in—he was scheduled to fly in a few minutes and his wife had just had a miscarriage. “Give me your stuff and I’ll go for you,” I said. I got a flightsuit, boots, and a helmet out of my locker and met the crew at base operations. We flew a routine mission, during which the pilot, Captain Ivan McFadden, made numerous comments about what a smooth landing he was going to make. When we landed, McFadden allowed the front gear to touch first, which is an automatic ticket to bounding almost uncontrollably down the runway. He was mortified, and kept apologizing over the interphone. I said, “Hell, Mac, that was better than the last landing I had.” He responded, “You must have crashed [pause]…. You son of a bitch, you did crash.”
The next day, I caught hell for making the flight. Since it had been more than six weeks since I had flown, regulations said I was unqualified to fly without an instructor.
Investigators eventually determined that the crash had been caused by fuel icing, a previously unknown condition in which jet fuel absorbs water vapor from the atmosphere, and at low temperatures the water condenses as ice in the fuel lines. On the B-52, three fuel strainers were installed in each engine pod. Only the first and third strainers had bypass valves to compensate for clogging. The second filter had no bypass. The fuel filters recovered from our B-52 were all clogged with ice. Over 200 previous “cause unknown” aircraft losses were then attributed to fuel icing. The immediate fix was to remove the filter element from the second strainer. Some time later, the Air Force installed fuel heaters in the B-52s’ main tanks.