Above & Beyond: I Have a Flameout
- By Richard G. Woodhull, Jr.
- Air & Space magazine, September 2008
(Page 2 of 4)
About two hours later, I was cruising serenely, straight and level over the western states. I had just taken a final celestial shot of the sun. I had amassed a grand total of 15 hours in the U-2, and despite the constant attention the airplane required, I was finally able to gaze at the snowy white, unbroken deck of clouds below.
BANG! The airplane produced a violent, high-frequency vibration, with an immediate sensation of deceleration. On the cabin altimeter, the needle that indicated the atmospheric pressure in the cockpit spun rapidly toward the same altitude as the airplane. Simultaneously with the engine flameout, the capstans of my partial-pressure suit inflated, squeezing my torso in their grip and forcing me into a stiff, hunchback posture.
My first conscious thought was to maintain control of the aircraft. Keeping the wings level, I eased the nose down to avoid a stall and settled into the best glide speed. I pulled out a mission planning chart and saw that the nearest suitable emergency airport was Kingsley Field at Klamath Falls, Oregon, 122 miles to the west.
As I eased the airplane into a left turn, I changed the battery switch position to conserve electrical energy so I could keep the helmet faceplate defroster working, power the essential flight instruments, and ensure that I would have enough juice to lower the landing flaps.
“Seattle Center, Spicy 42, MAYDAY. I have a flameout. Heading for Kingsley. Will not transmit again to conserve electrical. Request vectors to keep Kingsley at my 12 o’clock, over.”
“Ahh, roger, Spicy 42, Seattle Center. Kingsley Field current weather scattered clouds at 1,200 feet, 3,500-foot overcast, 15 miles visibility, winds variable, 260 degrees at 10 to 12 in snow showers, altimeter 29.94.”
The situation presented three scenarios. The most attractive was that I would continue gliding toward Kingsley Field until reaching a lower altitude, where I would try to restart the engine. If I got a relight, I would return to home base.
Scenario two: Despite the clouds, I would eventually catch sight of the airfield early enough to make an emergency flameout landing. The marginal weather and the fact that I would be landing the U-2 for the first time with no chase vehicle to call out my height above the runway—customary for all U-2 pilots, not just beginners like me—made this scenario less attractive.