Northeast Airlines. Flight 109's instrument flight after gyro failure, Boston to LaGuardia. From "Adventures of a Yellowbird" by pilot/author Robert Mudge (with permission)
Copyright 2014 Franklyn E. Dailey Jr.
The book pictured at the upper left contains adventures, but but none that illustrate the "yes" and "no" of flight instruments for flight in instrument conditions like one chapter in Robert Mudge's book, "Adventures of A Yellowbird." That Chapter XIII in Mudge's book is titled, "The Moments of Terror." Bob Mudge permitted me to reproduce that chapter and it begins a few lines below.
Website 'stats' confirm continued strong reader interest in 'The Moments of Terror.'
I find it very sad to relate. from an e-mail in which Rand Peck, a retired Delta pilot and proud of his own heritage in theYellowbird family, the news that Robert W. Mudge, born August 1, 1919, passed on May 19, 2014.
A lot more could be said, and will be said and written about this remarkable man, who was never too busy to help us all gain from his boundless insight.
Bob Mudge is survived by his wife Winifred and a son who had taken over their Cockpit Resources Management operation.
. Put on your seat belt! The page numbers tip the reader off t that these are pages re-typed from Mudge's original book. The choice of "Yellowbird" in the title derives from Northeast Airline's (NEA's ) choice of exterior color for their new Boeing 727 aircraft when NEA got route permission to fly from New England to Florida. (NEA was the last 'rtunk' airline authorized in the U.S.)
The Moments of Terror...page 254..begins Chapter XIII.
It had been a long day for the crew of Flight 109 on January seventeenth, 1956. Captain Bob Francis, First Officer Lou Balestra, and Stewardess Barbara Crowley had begun their day that morning in Boston and had flown to Presque Isle and returned. The weather, while not terribly bad, had required instrument approaches, and they were now running slightly behind schedule. Night had fallen on Boston, and with it the snow had become more intense. The ceiling outside of operations was measured at 400 feet and the visibliity recorded as one mile. Not too bad for a snowy New England night - and no real problem for a scheduled airline operation.
While the plane was being fueled and serviced at the gate at Boston, Francis and Balestra strode into the operations department to check on the latest New York weather. They still had a round trip flight to make to New York. After the customary greetings to other crew members waiting in operations, Francis read the latest weather reports from the New York area. Weather had always been a special interest to Francis. He wasn't afraid of weather flying, but he certainly was more concerned with it than many other pilots, as a result he studied it more. Although he had never had much formal meteorological education, he had developed over the years a considerable knack for anticipating New England weather action with accuracy, perhaps as a Gloucester fisherman can "smell" the approach of bad weather by the "feel" of the wind and waves. His flight planning was always conservative. On some occasions his conservative action would result in a flight cancellation or postponement. While this always produced a safe flight, it did not make the dollars-and-cents men of the airline too happy. Any criticism that was flung his way, however, bothered Francis not a bit. He was a determined and perhaps stubborn man, and if his analysis of a weather situation told him he....
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should not fly, all the chiefs in the world could not change his mind.
The weather tonight, though, was no problem. The low pressure area bringing the snow was moving along nicely, and New York was on the verge of clearing. The snow had all but stopped. Perhaps on the way back they would catch up with the storm again, and possibly Boston wuld present some problem--but even this, in all probability, would be duck soup. The wind was pretty much on the instrument runway, which would mean they could land at Boston with a ceiling of only 200 feet and a visibility of half a mile.
In the terminal building, the passengers boarding at Boston were being ticketed. The snow outside was an irritation deep in their minds. None would, perhaps, admit to being overly concerned, but to non-flyers, snow is a problem.
The weather study completed, Francis and Balestra made their way back to the cockpit of the Convair 240 being used for the flight. It is what the pilots of Northeast considered an odd-ball plane, that is, not really one of their own. Northeast had purchased a fleet of brand new Convair 240's built to their own specification some time before, but recently business had required use of more planes. Unable to match their own equipment exactly, they leased a few Convair 240's which had been built to the specifications of another line, and while certain modifications were made, it was prohibitively expensive to change them over completely like the ones Northeast had originally bought - and the pilots were used to. Although several safety features which the Northeast pilots felt were important did not exist on their aircraft, it was difficult to argue that they were essential when the planes came directly from one of the finest U.S. lines. Apparently they had not felt the modification essential, so the Northeast pilots were flying them - but not altogether happy about them.
As they approached the plane, Francis carefully checked the wing and tail surfaces for snow accumulation. No real problem tonight, as the air was cold and the snow would readily brush off with a simple stroke of the hand. As the props turned over....
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the snow behind them would be blown away, and the rest would be blown off before take-off speed was reached. No problem there tonight. In the air, the wings would be kept hot by heat from the engines directed along the leading edges of each wing and tail surface. The windshield would be kept clear by electrically heated glass. The instruments would be kept reliable by electrically heated pitot and static heaters. The use of heat to remove ice in the more modern planes had greatly reduced the problem of icing. It was not totally gone yet, but it was a long way from the problems of the DC-3, and even the C-46, in which Olden had fought his battle a few years before.
Climbing the steps to the aircraft, Francis re-greeted Stewardess Barbara Crowley. She asked about the weather at New York, and he replied, rather gruffly, that the snow had stopped. That was about par for the course as far as she was concerned. She had been told in school that Francis was rather rough on stewardesses. He had been known to leave them at the hotel to get out to the airport as best they could if they were late for taxicab call after an overnight. He stood for no nonsense and usually got none. As a rule, she kept away from the cockpit as much as possible and only went forward to bring the pilots coffee or answer their calls. She was, however, relieved somewhat to find that the snow had stopped in New York. Her passengers would be glad to know that, too.
Outside the plane, the service men were just finishing the refueling. Orders read for them to fuel to 600 gallons. Tony, the lead mechanic on duty, was somewhat distressed to find his men had overfueled by sixty gallons. He made no mention of it, however, in the log, in fact, it really didn't bother him too much - he knew pilots. You don't ever shortchange them on fuel - but seldom will they complain if you put on a few gallons extra. The added weight is generally of small importance, and the pilots like the idea of having a bit of extra fuel - particularly on a "weather night" like this - and, again, particularly with a pilot like Francis. The wrath of Francis was worth avoiding if at all possible. No, best just to pass it by. To take out the fuel would cause a delay - best just to enter it in...
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the log as it was supposed to be and keep quiet. At least it was on the high side.
As Tony made out the log, he noted that all the reservicing spaces had been filled by previous re-fuelings on the flight down from Presque Isle. He made a note of the 600 gallon fuel load just above the others. It had been serviced to 800 gallons, he noted, at Bangor a few hours before. Only a small amount of fuel had to be added here to bring it up to the required amount. Mechanics can tell much about the operational problems by the fuel loads that pilots require. Tonight was about average, and in view of the heavy snow here at Boston, the weather must be getting better in New York.
While Balestra and Francis completed their cockpit check, the passengers getting on at Boston began boarding. Although statistics had pretty well convinced the airline traveler that planes really were safe, snow always tended to bring about just a bit of concern. So many times newspapers carried stories of planes having trouble in bad weather that the first rider would be more concerned with a heavy snow going on. But the concern was not severe, and it became much less when Miss Crowley advised them that the snow had stopped in New York. They settled down much relieved in their seats and began to read newspapers or magazines, or just to sit back and rest. It was a fair load, some twenty-one passengers out of a possible forty-four.
Flight 109 was ready to start engines shortly after four-thirty P.M. Francis adjusted his instrument lights up rather bright as he prepared to start engines. His radios had been set up for tne normal instrument departure from Boston; Balestra hd set his to get cross-bearings along the way. Francis was to fly this leg of the flight, as Balestra had flown the leg in to Boston from Presque Isle.
Balestra was a qualified captain in his own right. During the summer months, he regularly flew as a Northeast captain, but as the summer traffic disappeared so did his spot as a captain, and he was forced to fly as first officer during the winter. Francis and Balestra were perhaps not the best combination to fly...
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together. They were too much alike in too many ways. First of all, they both had the taste of authority - and liked it. With Francis, it was proper - he held the left seat where authority belonged. Balestra was a misfit in the right seat. He was a natural captain and had flown many hours from the left seat. Finding himself in the right seat during the winters was most distasteful for him.
The fact of their flying together was a matter of seniority and the bidding system, rather than choice. It was made tenable by the rigid procedures of airline flying. The personalities of the early days of airline flying had given way, over the years, to "the book." In flying "by the book," the crews could be interchanged as frequently as the service required with no ill effects on the safety or efficiency of the flight. Each crew member had carefully worked out duties and areas of responsibility. By completing these duties in the manner described in the 'book," all crews would work together effectively and in the same way.
The book covered far more than normal working conditions. Each airline flight was conducted on the assumption that the flight would not be routine - that emergencies might take place. Accordingly, each forseeable and conceivable emergency had a carefully prescribed and programmed antidote. Take flight 109, for instance, and the Convair 240. Strictly defined emergency procedures were prescribed for engine failures in cruise and on take-off. Provisions were made for engine fires in the air and on the ground, baggage compartment fires, electrical fires, hydraulic fires, and cabin or cockpit fires. Carefully planned procedures told the crew the best way to eliminate smoke from the cockpit or cabin,; what to do in the event of explosive decompressions, electrical failure, flap failure, propellor reversal in flight, loss of propellor control, or the failuer of any combination or all landing gears to extend. If the worst should happen, the crew knew how to work together to protect passengers in the event of a ditching or crash - how to get them out in the safest possible manner. Radio failure procedures and...
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other navigational emergencies were all planned for, and the correct action was well knwn to each pilot.
Flight 109, as all Northeast flights, was planned in the expectation that some of these emergencies might take place. Francis and Balestra had been trained to meet them as a team.
As Flight 109 taxied out, Francis, concerned about the braking action, carefully tested the braking and tazied appropriately more slowly. The landing lights cut into the approaching darkness and bounced back from the snow flakes asthey moved slowly by the cockpit windshield. At the end of the runway four, which headed toward the northeast, Francis advanced the engines for routine checking. The trim tabs had been set to neutral position, the mixture controls placed in full rich, the cabin pressurization set up for the planned cruising altitude, and the flight instruments all checked. After the engines were run up and the magnetos and propellors checked, Balestra copied down the instrument clearance the tower gave to him, assigning flight 109 an altitude and route to New York's La Guardia Field. They were cleared to La Guardia via Millbury (MA) and a route called Victor three to cruise at 3000 feet. The altitude would be raised later as they left the Boston area.
After Balestra had written down the clearance, and Francis had acknowledged it, the remaining items to be done before takeoff were completed. Balestra read the items one by one, and Francis completed them with oral acknowledgement:
Balestra reported to the Boston tower that they were ready for take-off.
"Northeast 109 cleared for tak-off runway four. Maintain...
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runway heading until further advised and do not climb above 2000 feet."
Francis released the brakes, and Flight 109 rolled toward take-off position. The snow was heavy now, the ceiling had dropped to a reported 200 feet and the visibility down to three-quarters of a mile. Francis advanced the throttles to full take-off power, and the accompanying roar drowned out all other cockpit sounds. The feeling of some 4800 horsepower taking hold on a take-off run is a thrill few pilots grow used to. Francis devoted his attention to keeping the roll of the aircraft straight down the center of the runway outlined on each side by the runway lights. As the speed picked up and the lights went by with increasing speed, Balestra trimmed and locked the throttles and kept a careful eye on the airspeed.
"V1," he called as the plane reached 103 knots; and then almost immeditately "V2," as it passed 105.
These speeds are important to a pilot. If an engine should fail prior to V1 speed, he should abort the take-off and bring the plane to a stop just as soon as possible. If the speed were beyond V1, then he might continue the take-off, and only stop if he assured himself that the length of the runway was sufficient. He knew that the airplane was capable of continuing on to the V2 speed and taking off within the confines of the runway. On this night, although the runway was longer than required, Francis had decided to continue, once V1 speed had been reached, because of poor braking conditions on the snow-covered runway. V2 is simply the speed at which the pilot flies the plane off the ground and will climb at this speed until obstructions are cleared - again, should an engine have failed.
This time, like nearly all take-offs, nothing unusual happened, and Francis lifted the plane off the ground at the V2 speed. He called for "Up Gear," and just as the gear was coming up, he heard a loud clicking sound.
An unfamiliar noise is cause for concern to a pilot. The unusual is always cause for concern. This noice Francis had not heard before, nor could he associate it with any particular function of the airplane. It might have been somethng to do...
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with gear retraction, or the closing of some pressurization valve - well, the plane seemed to be flying O.K.- probably was nothing. Besides, his job right now was to get the plane safely to altitude and on course for New York. He certainly didn't contemplate returning to Boston with this snowstorm.
Balestra noted the lift-off time as 1647 - nearly five P.M. Darkness had come earlier tonight as the thick clouds covered the airport. As Francis reached up and flicked off the landing lights, the early darkness closed in on the plane. As his eyes began getting adjusted to the darkening light, Francis dimmed the lights just abit in the cockpit. He held his heading of thirty-five degrees as instructed by the tower, and climbed toward 2000 feet.
Balestra had now changed radio frequencies, and was transmitting on 120.3 to Boston Departure Control. They advised "Northeast 109 turn left to 330 degrees not above 2000 feet."
Francis began his left turn as Balestra repeated back the clearance. Before much turning could be done, Departure Control again advised: "Northeast 109 now turn further left to 250 degrees."
Balestra lifted his mike to his lips and depressed the button that would start the transmitter to acknowledge the new heading. As he pressed the button, the cockpit lights dimmed noticeably with the added electrical load - and the mike failed to transmit. Balestra knew they had troubles and glanced up to check the generator output. There was none!
"We have no generators, Bob."
The announcement of emergency in an aircraft cockpit can come in many forms. The flash of a red light - the bang of an engine - the smell of smoke - or your co-pilot simply saying - "We have no generators, Bob."
Francis knew the significance of these words instantly. Of all the planes to be on - they had to have this one. Had it been one of Northeast's own, the problem would have been routine. But, on this leased equipment, the worst fears of the Northeast pilots were going to be put to the test...
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No electrical power! A complete electrical failure, the book called it. Very briefly, in this aircraft, it meant he had approximately twenty-five minutes to get the plane back on the ground - somewhere. This was the anticipated life of the batteries on emergency power only. After twenty-five minutes, if they were not back on the ground, the vital flight instruments that would allow him to hold a straight course, or even to keep the plane level, would die. In weather such as this, it was absolutely essential to have directional guidance. On Northeast's own aircraft, the engines were equipped with alternators that provided a continuous source of emergency power to vital instruments and so did not depend on the batteries.
Almost as a reflex action, from his training, Balestra reached overhead and shut off the number two inverter they had been using as a source of alternating to supply, among other things, the gyro instruments for the flight panel. He also shut off some non-essential radio equipment in an effort to reduce the electrical load on the batteries now so vital to them.
Francis asked Balestra to send an emergency transmission - the spoken word "MAYDAY" (from the French m'aider). Balestra tried again to contact Departure Control on 120.3 mc. but with no results. He then tried the Company radio frequency and made two attempts here - again without results. After this, the cockpit was set up in the true emergency configuration for an electrical failure. The generator switches were turned off and the emergency inverter and emergency radios were turned "ON."
Flight 109 now had very limited facilities. They had white lights on the cockpit instrument panel (they had been using red), they had one automatic direction finder - a low frequency navigational radio that would permit an approach to Boston, although it would not be the precision instrument landing system so desirable on a night like this. The ADF approach to Boston is normally authorized only to 400 feet - tonight they had a 200 foot ceiling to crack. For instruments they now had one turn and bank instrument on Francis' side on...
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which their directional stability depended. The lights in the cabin blinked off.
Flight 109 now had a death sentence hanging over it. Twenty-five minutes to get twenty-four people back safely on the ground. With Boston giving only 200 feet and three-quarters of a mile visibility, an ADF approach was quite an order.- especially with only a turn indicator and a compass for directional control.
Exam - Now you shall have the test and your life depends on it!
The last instruction the flight had had from Boston Departure Control was to turn to 250 degrees. Not being able to transmit , Francis thought the quickest way to alert Boston radar would be to turn the wrong way...this they would notice immediately. He reversed his left turn and began turning back toward Boston and to the right. He planned a turn to seventy degrees - exactly opposite to whate he had been instructed. With radar alerted, they could give them radar directions for an approach to Boston on the insttrument runway.
As Francis swung the plane to the right, he asked Balestra, "What do we do now, Lou?" It was a normal question for a captain to ask. With two professionals in the cockpit, it was best to get all the suggestions possible. Balestra responded exactly as defined by Civil Air Regulations, "Proceed to the nearest VFR area --Portland is reporting 2600 overcast," he suggested.
Francis grunted an acknowledgement, but in his mind had already decided against going in that direction. While the weather may have been pretty good at the time the weather observation was taken, it was unreliable with the snow possibly moving toward it. Their big hope now was to get back to Boston with the help of Boston radar.
Balestra had tuned in the Boston range station on their one radio, and the automatic direction finder was now pointed almost dead ahead to the Boston radio range station. Francis began tracking toward it, and both pilots listened intently for some help from the ground...
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In the cabin there was little doubt that something had gone wrong. After takeoff the passengers had quietly settled back in their seats. Several of them had already loosened their seat belts. Miss Crowley was about to get the galley orgainized for in-flight service when the lights suddenly dimmed for a moment and then went out completely. One woman let out a muffled scream, then silence throughout the cabin. Miss Crowley at first sat down, then when they did not come back on right away, realized that something unusual was happening. After a few moments, she began making her way up to the cockpit.
Near the front of the cabin, a hand reachedout to attract her attention. It was a man who introduced himself. "I am a Northeast mechanic; and if there is anything I can do, please let me know."
"I'll tell them you're on board, thank you." She then made her way through the darkened cabin and baggage area to the cockpit. Francis and Balestra were visibly upset and quite busy. She asked Francis if anything was wrong. Balestra gave her a quick briefing as to the problem.
"There's a Northeast mechanic in the cabin who offered to help in any way he could," Barbara told them. "Good, send him up," Francis cut in.
Along with flying the plane, Francis had been keeping a close eye on the "eyeball," an electrical device on the Captain's side of the cockpit that gives the pilot an idea of the amount of energy available from the battery to power the flight instruments. Already this was beginning to cloxe - showing a lack of power to the gyros. Francis' concern was now getting even more serious. The twenty-five minutes they thought they had now looked like a lost hope. The power was drainng fast - the power to the gyros was nearly gone now - and they hadn't even got back to the airport.
Over the radio came their first sign of help. They heard Boston radio calling them. Thank God, at least the ground controllers knew they were in trouble - the turn had worked to alert them...
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"Northeast flight 109, Northeast 109, change to frequency 110.3 for instructions. Change to 110.3 for instructions."
"Damn it, why don't they talk to us on this one. We can't use the ILS."
By this time, the automatic direction signals were becoming very erratic, and the signals weaker and weaker. The eyeball was closing more with each passing second - the minutes left for flight 109 seemed to be running out awfully fast.
The mechanic, Larry Kehoe, had now come into the cockpit area. He was quickly advised as to the problem, given the aircraft operating manual with circuit diagrams in it and asked to help in any way he could. With a flashlight, he went to work on the floor just behind the cockpit area.
Francis, knowing time was rapidly running out, had his eyes both in and out of the cockpit. As he headed back near the vicinity of the Boston range station , he thought he saw a slight break in the clouds.
"Lou, I'm going down to try and take a look. Keep your eye out and call altitudes."
The forward windshield was now covered with ice. With the electrical failure they had lost all heat to the windshield, and it quickly covered over. Balestra could only see out the side windows that had a plexiglass inner covering and not being in the direct mainstream, kept free of ice. Balestra would alternate between calling altitudes as they dropped down and keeping a close lookout for signs of the ground below.
Tension mounted in the cockpit. Both pilots knew the chance they were taking. Heading back toward Boston and potentially high obstructions - the Custom House tower at about 550 feet, not to mention numerous radio and TV towers in the area. The ceiling last reported at 200 feet meant that they would have to gamble they were not in line with the obstructions and simply let down until contact, and hope to God they could recognize something, or at least maintain contact with the ground.
"1000 feet." ...."800 feet."...
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"600 feet. Can't see a thing, Bob."
Francis was beginning to have difficulty with the plane now. The ship was reacting sluggishly to his control movements. He couldn't be sure whether it was the airplane of the instrumentation that was slowing down. He mentioned his concern to Balestra.
"The turn and bank should coast for three to five minutes after a power loss, " snapped Lou.
Francis continued to worry, though, and he wondered if this was true with a gradual power loss such as this - or would the speed of the gyro simply slow down gradually with the drop in power so that when the eyeball closed completely the gyro was, for all practical purposes, dead. Well he would soon know.
The plane didn't feel right to Bob - he kept descending with his instruments showing his wings level. "400 feet - nothing."
If they were over the city, they should be able to see an occasional light by now - at least they hadn't reached the Custom House tower yet!
"300 feet." "200 feet." Bob noth...PULL UP, PULL UP."
With this, Balestra grabbed the controls and hauled back with all his strength. He had caught a glimpse of something all right --it was white caps, and he had to look up to see them out the side window. As he pulled back, he rolled the plane hard to left with all his strength , applied full power and yelled:
"Let 's get the hell out of here Bob, Bob."
Within seconds the altimeter bean showing a gain of altitude, and shortly began zooming upward as the plane pointed its nose to the sky and the effect of full power took hold. At about 1500 feet, they managed to more or less right the plane again. Both pilots were in a controlled state of shock Apparently during the descent, the turn indicator had gone out completely, and the plane had entered a steep spiral dive to the right, undetected by the pilots as the gyros slowly spun to a...
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stop. Balestra had seen the white caps in the nick of time and his prompt action had saved the flight - for the moment.
Appraising the current situation, Francis and Balestra found the lights had now failed entirely and the radios were completely dead. The turn and bank (retypers note: see the Lindbergh Sirius panel just ahead of this story and you will see a 'turn and bank.') was no longer functioning, as they had just discovered. They had no windshield deicing, no pitot tube or static tube deicing, whch meant the air speed, rate of climb, and altimeter might go out at any minute - at best they were unreliable.They had no fuel guages and could not change the engine RPM, which was now stuck at climb speed -- 2300 RPM.
What they had to work with was this - tow able pilots, two flashlights that they hoped were in a good state of power, one magnetic compass, and a questionable set of pressure flight instruments - air speed, altimeter, and rate of climb. The wing heat from the engines would still be working, so wing and tail icing was not too much of a problem.
The biggest problem of all was the total lack of gyroscopic instruments. This was what could kill them. An airplane, at least most airplanes, is designed to be flown by pilots. This means they are not designed like a model airplane that must control itself to some extent. The full size airplane - in this case, the CV-240 - is not able to fly by itself - it must have a pilot to control it. Actually, if the airplane were designed to be so stable it would maintain itself in level flight, it would be very tiring for a pilot to fly it. The stability built into the plane is one which, when left to its own devices, will frequently cause the plane to end up in a screeching spiral dive in one direction or another, depending on which way it happens to be upset in the first place.
It's an insidious chain of events that leads up to this situation. The pilot may have the plane pretty well balanced so that it seems to be flying itself quite well and requires only his occasional attention. Then, if he keeps his hands and feet off the controls, something upsets the equilibrium - perhaps somebody moving in the plane, a change in fuel balance, or a slight gust of wind. The wing drops on one side or the other...
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and the plane begins to turn in that direction. As it turns, the nose drops, the speed picks up. The outside wing moves faster than the inboard wing, creates more lift, and the bank increases, the turn tightens up, the nose drops some more, and the air speed picks up. The process goes on and on until the plane enters a screaming tight spiral dive - and can either end by pulling its own wings off, or by hitting the ground.
There are exceptions to this rule, but the general principle holdls for most planes. It held for the CV-240, as it does for most transport planes. A pilot finding himself in this position has no means of detecting in which direction the turn is going, nor can he detect the start of the turn. ( With no horizon, and no gyro instruments as is this CV-240 situation, quite true. Working gyros would tumble anyway. The 'ball' in the turn and bank might still give a clue on turn direction.) The compass is of little value, as it indicates the heading of the plane only when its direction is stabilized or when passing through east or west headings. In a turn, it will rotate seemingly aimlessly in one direction or another, but not particularly in relation to the movement of the plane.
Francis now abandoned any thought of trying to get back into Boston. In his first attempt, he thought he still had control - but to let down now, with a known 200 foot ceiling with obstructions around, poor visibility, iced up windshield, and no control, would be certain death for all. He made his decision.
"Give me a course to NewYork," he asked Balestra. It was a silly question, he knew it.
"248 degrees," Balestra responded.
"That's where we're going." Francis had this decision all made some minutes ago. In the event he could not get back into Boston, right after Balestra had suggested Portland, he had decided on New York. The decision was now automatic, and his question was mostly to advise Balestra of their destination and plan of flight.
The statement was simply made. The impact and near impossibility of bringing it off were well understood by both pilots. Balestra accordingly left his seat and had in mind going back to the cabin for a few moments to prepare the passengers for a ditching -- should they be so lucky as to get down in one piece. He also thought he might be able to help Larry Kehoe...
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Kehoe was missing from the cockpit entranceway when Balestra left his seat. The violent gyrations of the last few minutes had left him violently ill. After gettng rid of the sickness, he recovered for a time and came back to try again to find a mechanical solution to the problem.
Balestra did not get far. He had barely left the cockpit when the aircraft got out of control again. No one knows what positions the plane reached, but as the G forces built up, it was necessary for Balestra to crawl back to the cockpit on his hands and knees along the floor to get into his seat again. By this time Francis had righted the plane - and only the good Lord can possibly know how. Perhaps the instincts of ten thousand hours of flying were a help. Perhaps God himself laid his hand on the plane, or on Francis' hand.
As Balestra strapped himself into his seat again, the compass settled down a bit on a generally easterly heading. Better weather was westward - perhaps a bit south of west. To the east lay nothing but the Atlantic Ocean - a most inhospitable direction to be heading with a sick plane. It was most discouraging to find, after luckily recovering a form of control, that you were going the wrong way. Now, how to get back headed the other way?
In desperaton, Francis decided to attempt a timed turn,with Balestra doing the timing. It was a long shot at best. To merely hold a heading that was a theoretical impossibility. To attempt a deliberate turn --. Somehow it had to be done.
Francis guessed, on the basis of thousands of hours of CV-240 experience, at the amount of control pressure that would produce a normal turn. Balestra watched the time. At standard rate, it should take one minute. But,of course, how could it possibly be a standard rate turn under these circumstances? Before the turn had progressed too far, the plane stalled. A violent shudder shook the plane, the nose dropped, and Francis recovered as best he could. After the plane achieved a semblance of order, they both looked at the compass. "Please God, make it show west." East again! "Why, oh, why, couldn't it have shown west?"...
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Balestra now suggested that they try to climb to an on-top condition, although they had no idea how high this might be. Francis agreed, and at the same time, attempted to ease the plane around, gently, oh, so gently, to the west. It started out well - at least as far as they could tell from the few instruments they had. Soon, however, doubt crept into the cockpit - they did not trust the air speed - as it dropped it could well be an iced up pitot tube - which would cause it to drop to zero. On the other hand, it might be real loss of speed. How did you tell? The wings told - the shudder again, violently - down the nose again, but not too far. The nose came up, and again a stall; but this time, they had altitude problems too - the recovery was expensive - you dropped the nose, the altimeter started to unwind - fast! Which was better, a stall or a dive into the sea? Halfway between, somewhere lay control - but how in God's name did you find halfway?
The stall speed increased until stalls were occurring at 215 to 230 knots on the airspeed indicator. The wings couldn't stand much of this. But what was the real air speed? The wings were still on at any rate - but the altitude was going down.
As the seriousness of the situation progressed, Balestra leaned forward to reduce the throttles, but Francis objected - he knew that if the throttles were once touched they could not be reset the same way again because of lost instrumentation and if they could not set the throttles, they lost their trim reference, control of their fuel consumption rate, and another new set of problems would be upon them - and how much, oh, how much could one man take? Balestra knew that with the speed building up on the verge of high speed stalls, with the G load increasing fast - not being allowed to reduce power - a screeching crash into the sea was inevitable. Tonight he would die! He watched the altimeter and his life unwind.
Balestra kept his flashlight trained on the instruments before Francis. While Francis was totally occupied with his impossible problem - with the lives of twenty-four people in his hands, with absolutely no theoretical possibility of survival - Balestra had nothing to do but watch, pray, and hope...
...end page 270
His mind flashed to thoughts of what he should be thinking of now. He had heard that his past life should flash before him, as he was about to die. It didn't. Instead he saw the last statement in an accident report he had read some years before. It was of a Navy Constellation that had crashed during a training flight. The pilots were good friends of Balestra's and in his same squadron. During one of the emergency practtice maneuvers, something went wrong with the flap extensive drive on one side of the plane which gave a split flap condition. At this precise time, an Air Force fighter pilot had approached from the rear to take a look at the Constellation, which he had never seen before. As he watched, the Connie went into a violent skid and the right wing including the number four engine came off. Then the plane started falling and was suddently righted again, only to lose the entire tail section. The Air Force pilot had stated, "It appeared to me that those pilots were still trying to fly that plane when it hit the ground."
By now the G forces were building up to gigantic pressure on board flight 109, locking Balestra's arms to the armrests of his seat. As he read in his mind the last statement of the Air Force pilot, it occurred to him that Francis and he still had a plane to fly too - and if they had to die - why not did fighting?
"Jesus Christ, we still have an airplane," Balestra tried to say,; but the words came out blurted under the high G load condition. With every ounce of strength he had, he very gradually managed to lift his arms to the control column and with the strength of the desperate, rolled the plane to the left and closed the throttles.
As control was once again regained, the two pilots watched the compass as it gradually settled down from its mad gyrations. Again, the big E came up, and they were heading back to the sea. Perhaps it was enough that they had been saved from the last violent loss of control. But the problem was as big as ever - somehow they must gain a westerly heading.
With the continued minutes of survival, came valuable experience for both of them. One pilot could not fly the plane continually -the strain was simply too much. First modification...
...end page 271
of procedure - change over flight duties every few minutes, the other to handle the flashlight and watch. They must continue to try to regain a westerly heading and hold it that way. Then, try to climb slowly and continually see if they could break out on top. The least they would gain would be a cushion of altitude beneath them. Better weather was their only hope of a safe landing.
It wasn't much of a plan, and very little chance of fulfillment, but at least it was a plan. Between the two of them, they would attempt turns to a westerly heading, frequently stall out, frequently lose control, and each time regain control.
Valuable lesson learned - to regain control from a spiral dive - make a guess, right? Left? You name it. Assume the turn is in that directiion. Bank the plane opposite to this direction. Count to ten. Return controls to neutral. If things got better, you were right. If they got worse - you should have turned the other way. Do it now, only twice as long. Not exactly precision airline flying - but it gave a hope of survival!
Kehoe had been doing a fabulous job. Between being violently ill several times as the plane assumed fantastic positions in the air, he pursued his academic approach to an analysis of a sick electrical system. He opened junction boxes and traced diagarams. At times he was thrown to the ceiling and sat there for seconds until the reverse G load subsided and he would be dropped back to the floor or along the walls of the companionway. After following through his intellectual pursuits, he decided there was nothing that could be done from the inside of the plane.
After Kehoe had advised Francis of his findings, Francis suggested tieing a wrench from one of Kehoe's shoe strings and hanging it from the ceiling and using it as a reference. With Balestra's warning to keep it away from the compass, they had Kehoe hold it high in the cockpit. I t did little good, as it simply reacted to the G forces in the same way as the leveling system of the human body in the ear or, for that matter, the bank indicator on the plane that really didn't show bank at all - simply the amount of skid or slip taking place - of no more...
...end page 272
use than the saucer of coffee early airmail pilots attempted to use. They had given the wrench pendulum action - it would have helped, it would have acted in a manner similar to a gyro, but at the time they did not know this. ( I think an "If" is mssing, i.e. "If they had given the wrench pendulum action - it would have...) A crisis if this type is not the place for thoughtful invention. ...which in this case would have required twisiting the shoestring many many times and as it untwisted it might have spun, the requirement for a one-axis gyro. A shoestring would be a lethargic torsion element so it is doubtful that would have helped much. Resuming the Mudge text :...
It seemed that whatever the technique employed, each time control was lost and then recovered again.- the plane was inevitably headed east. It was a completely discouraging situation. They were making gains, each time, however, on altitude. Gradually for nearly ninety minutes, they worked their way up to 12,000 feet. With altitude, came a more relaxed control. They had plenty of space between them and the sea - or ground?
In the cabin Kehoe had known the trouble was serious when he saw the expression on Barbara Crowley as she returned from the visit to the cockpit, stopped by Kehoe's seat, and suggested that he go forward.
From the beginning, the passengers knew the problems of flight 109 were serious. At first, some of them simply thought the stewardess had turned down the lights so that some might sleep - but the cockpit door was left open, and some of them saw even the cockpit in blackness. As the plane began to lose control and the G forces to come and go, the seriousness of it became apparent to all aboard.
Jerry Ferron, thirty-six, of Long Island, New York, was sitting three seats from the front. After Miss Crowley advised him that the ship was in "a little trouble," and as the obvious control difficulties became evident, he wrote a note to his wife, Barbara, barely able to see the paper he wrote on, "Bobby, I love you, Jerry."
Kirgen spent most of his time praying, thinking about business mistakes he had made, and wondering what his children would look like twenty years from now. Some kept an eye on emergency doors as Miss Crowley had alerted them to the possible necessity of using them in event of a crash. Mostly, though, the passengers sat alone with their own thoughts.
Francis had sent back word that they should prepare for...
...end page 273
possible death in the manner of their religion. During moments of some conttrol, when the tension eased off, even Francis had time for thoughts of leaving a last message. He wondered if he could write a quick note telling what had happened and secreting it on his body in such a way that the undertaker would find it. He did not want this one chicked up to pilot error if he could possibly help it - but he had no time, of course, for such efforts on this flight.
Miss Crowley tried to administer to the passengers as best she could. For the most part, she crawled up and down the aisle on her hands and knees, after the first few jarring pull-outs when she was forced to the aisle and could not move. During one of the pull-outs, one of the passengers was actually forced down under his seat belt onto the floor of the plane, and held him locked, unable to move, the force was so great.
For the most part, although they did not know the details of the problem, the passengers were pretty much resigned to death, all, that is, except a very small babythat slept most of the way through, waking only once to cry as the plane made one of its violent pull-outs.
Francis had not really known what to tell the people. The PA, of course, was not working, and he had not elected to tell Barbara Crowley anything when she had come up earlier - he hardly knew himself at that time. As conditions became more violent after she left, he began to fear the possibility that some of them would come forward in a state of panic and possibly cause trouble. He had a fire axe on the door of the cockpit which would provide any necessary protection in that event, but it was never needed in any way. The passengers were magnificent.
By the tiime Flight 109 reached 12,000 feet Francis and Balestra had attained a remarkab'e degree of proficiency in keeping the plane under control. While such a control effectiveness was indeed a significant step forward, their problems were far from over - mostly it was a reprieve. Francis now became concerned about the fuel. He had no idea how much they had been using during the flight. He asked Balestra to see how much they...
...end page 274
had on board when they left Boston. Balestra checked the log and read from the bottom line - 800 gallons. It was the logical place to look, the fuel leaving Boston should have been written there, but in reality it had been placed above the normal entry lines as the last line had been used prior to leaving Boston. Unbeknown to Francis, his real fuel load had been 600 gallons - plus the 60 extra gallons the mechanic had left on board.
Francis and Balestra knew they must let down sooner or later. Having been flying successfully on a westerly heading for a while, they felt they should now be in an area where better ceilings prevailed beneath them. With fuel beginning to become a problem, they wanted no part of having to make a dead stick descent through the clouds. If land they must, then they wanted to do it under as much control as possible. They decided to descend until contact. With the control success they had lately, they felt they could accomplish the descent successfully.
Francis hated to let down through the overcast - he had a vision of some unsuspecting airline pilot tooling along on instruments unaware of this blind ship letting down without any form of traffic control - and suddenly find his windshield full of another airplane. Francis, like all pilot, had a constant dread of such a thing happening to him - now he felt he might be the very cause of it happening to someone else. Noble thoughts, but there was no choice now. His plane and his passengers must be considered first before some mathematically remote possibility.
Feeling that flight was nearing its end, Francis reached over and shook Balestra's hand, then turned and shook Kehoe's. Balestra well understood the odds, and knew they were much better now than during those first wild minutes of flight. Kehoe, however, had not fully appreciated the situation - but this final handshaking came as a stunning blow.He wondered whatit was going to be like to die - and where would it happen?
In the darkened room beneath the Boston tower, the Departure Controller for Boston airport let out an exasperated...
...end page 275
curse as he noted Northeast flight 109 not responding properly to his last directive. He had been watching Northeast 109 since takeoff, when the tower had turned the plane over to his control. His job was to see that flight 109 was guided on the departure course from Boston and kept clear of all other traffice in the area in the process. The departure route from Boston lay out along the 271 degree radial from Boston. Taking off to the northeast, this would require a series of controlled left turns to intercept the departure route. The controller had already called for a turn to 330 degrees and he had noted the flight respond in a normal manner. His last instruction to the flight was for it to turn to a heading of 250 degrees to intercept the 271 degree radial. The plane at first appeared to respond, then, suddenly, paused, and finally reversed its direction of turn. What's the matter with that guy?
Roaming freely behind the departure controller and the various other controllers in the room - each having a different area of responsibility - is the supervisor. He has no direct duties to perform other than that of general supervision.
"Hey, Charlie - come here - 109 isn't acting right. I gave him a turn to 250 and now he's turning the opposite way. We may have a problem. I've called him once - no answer."
"Keep calling him and see if you can raise him." "Is he getting mixed up with other traffic?"
"No, not yet anyway. Pretty clear behind him." "Northeast 109, Northeast 109 from Boston Departure. Do you read - turn LEFT to 250, repeat left to 2-5-0."
"Northeast 109, Northeast 109 Boston Departure Control, do you read me?" "What's his heading now? Looks like it's about 70 degrees." "That's about it - just the opposite to what I asked for."
"Might be a radio failure. Better start calling him on other frequencies. Get him over on the ILS frequency in case he just has the one receiver he can make an ILS to four and listen at the same time. Have Boston radio put out the call as well as you. I'll work on that."
...end page 276
"Northeast 109 Boston Departure Control. We observe your turn - if you read us, change to 110.3"
"Any response?" "Negative - nothing at all."
"I'll alert Northeast - maybe they can raise him on Company frequency. Try to get him to the outer marker."
"Northeast 109, Northeast 109, turn right to 150 degrees. Northeast 109, if you read, turn right to 150 degrees."
By this time, other flights, sensing the urgency of the controller's voice, took up the call to try to establish contact with Northeast 109. The tower began calling on their frequencies. Boston radio was on the air; Northeast company radio operators worked company frequencies. Calls were sent out on every possible frequency in attempts to establish some form of direct contact with 109. All failed, of course, for by this time flight 109 was a deaf mute.
As the departure controller continued to watch the yellow blotch of light on his radar scope that represented Northeast flight 109, his original antipathy changed more to one of frustration when he found he could no longer control it by his spoken command. He was used to this - to some degree. He had had pilots who did not listen closely and had misinterpreted his orders before. He had had pilos who simply did not hear him and so did not react at all. He had even had pilots with radio failures and physically incapable of his control. At least he could watch as the pilot brought flight 109 back into the Boston area and began his emergency approach to the airport. One thing strange though; why didn't he continue on to better weather in New York? Well, he's flying it - maybe he found Boston weather pretty good on take-off and felt it best to come on back. No matter, with radar he could be kept isolated from other traffic no matter how he made his approach. Should be turning southward pretty soon - probably trying to give us warning and to avoid heavy inbound traffic until he's sure we know he's there.
"He's starting a turn right now, Charlie - he doesn't respond to transmissions - but looks like he's heading for the...
...end page 277
... outer now - on his own. We got a clear track on approach now?" "All clear. We're ready for hism."
"Hold it - he's turning right by and back to westerly again. What gives" He's just making a circle now. Wish to heck this guy would make up his mind." "Call Northeast and see what he's likely to have for radio."
As the yellow blotch kept turning - in fact increased its rate of turn, the observers became more confused - and more concerned. If the pilot had lost his radios, he would go on to the emergency radios he had and make whatever kind of approach he could.
As suddenly as the turn had been noted by the controller, it stopped. The yellow blotch continued its easterly motion and soon was obscured on the radarscope as it entered an area of precipitation static. Radar observation of the flight was lost, at least for the moment. Perhaps they could relocate it later as it emerged from the static area.
In Northeast operational headquarters at Boston, Flight Coordinator Bruce Holloway was on duty. As Coordinator, he had essentially full control of all Northeast flight operations going on during his period of duty. Working under Holloway were individual dispatchers who concerned themselves with particular flights. When problems of an unusual nature developed, Holloway would assume ultimate command from the ground.
The first sign of trouble came when Holloway answered the first warning call on the phone from Departure Control telling him they had lost radio contact with flight 109. Holloway immediately instituted orders to the radio operators on the floor below to begin calls to try to establish contact with flight 109. All attempts failed thus far.
Departure Control's second call informed him that all radar contact had been lost as the flight had entered an area of heavy precipitation static. The problem was obviously becoming serious, and the plane could be assumed to be in trouble.
Holloway began his pre-planned calls. As the cockpit crew is...
...end page 278
prepared for emergency situations - so the ground crews have their plans. When an airplane is missing, or in known trouble, the flight coordinator begins alerting the key personnel in the company and others that may be involved. Holloway called Capt. Fred Lane, Vice-President of Operations, Capt. George Steers, Operations Manager, and Mr. Dick Eckert, to handle non-operational problems. Holloway then began calling other agencies that might be helpful and that would be deeply involved. He called to alert the F.A.A. and the C.A.B. - who are charged with the investigations of crashes. No crash had yet occurred - at least it was not yet known to have occurred - but the C.A.B. would start the wheels in motion just in case.
A short time before, during the Carey crash at Mt. Success, the Coast Guard and Air Force had been most helpful - Steers saw to it that they were alerted now to possibly help in some way.
Holloway felt discouraged. With the Francis plane no longer seen on radar, with no communications with the flight, it seemed that it must have gone in somewhere - and on a night like this, it meant a crash of some kind.
Somehow, word got out to the newspapers very quickly this night. A Northeast plane missing enroute to New York. All radio and TV stations went right on the air to introduce the drama to the public. Millions of people throughout New England began listening for signs of a plane in trouble. Millions instantly became involved in the drama taking place somewhere overhead.
Holloway's phone rang - a man from Cape Ann reported a Northeast plane circling in the snowstorm just overhead. "Thank God, they have ground contact all right," thought Holloway. He checked other NEA flights, and none were in the vicinity - it must be Francis.
Another phone call from New Bedford reported sighting the missing plane circling overhead down there.
"What's this?" and Holloway was aware of the horrible unreliability of the reporting public at a time like this. Other reports followed of planes all over New England thought to be...
...end page 279
the missing aircraft. Each report had to be checked as best it could - but none proved reliable.
Other radars were now in the search. At Otis, they thought they observed the missing plane near the Cape. They thought they observed a plane flying a triangular pattern - an accepted emergency maneuver for planes having lost radio communications. It's a good idea, but requires control of the aircraft to accomplish and alert radar operators to noticed it. Quonset Naval Air Station ordered Commander H.D. Hopp in the air in a Neptune anti-submarine plane to probe through the storm and attempt to locate flight 109 and guide it back to safety. It proved hopeless, though, as even ground radar systems could not positively locate the flight.
Just south of Boston in her Scituate home, Ella Francis, Bob's wife, was performing the normal tasks of the mother of three boys at this time of day. Supper had just been finished and the after-dinner cleanup was underway. Bob should be in New York now and would be getting home about nine - the evening wouldn't be so long with him getting home early.
The phone rang and it was a friend of the family's. She asked for Bob right away - with an attempt at casualness. She had heard the news on the radio and wanted to help - yet did not want to alarm Ella quite yet if she did not know. Ella said no, Bob was flying, and proceeded to talk casually. The friend made up a story of wanting to take the kids or sliding.
The decsion having been made togo down - flight 109 slowly dropped its nose into the clouds. Kehoe was to keep a constant eye on the compass with one flashlight, the other used to illuminate the panel instruments, first for Balestra, then for Francis, as the control passed from side to side. At the slightest indication of drift in the compass heading, Kehoe was to call out - and the pilot would then make a very small adjustment on the controls to try to contain the tendency to turn. On a westerly heading, the compass tends to show a turn in the direction the turn is actually starting. On this heading, then, there was some hope of maintaining directional control if enough care was used...
...end page 280
As the control problem eased just a bit, others took its place. How long could the two flashlights hold out - they must have light! Francis considered collecting all the matches he could from the passengers, but did not actually do it - might be time when one flashlight went dead - both probably wouldn't die at the same time. Fuel was getting to be a rough problem. Most of the engine instruments were electric, so they had no fuel flow gauges, no fuel quantity gauges. They did have the 800 gallons Balestra said the log indicated. They had experience with these engines, but really didn't know how much power they were taking from them. Fuel at this point, however, should be no critical problem. Not yet anyway.
It was tough to leave the security of level flight at 12,000 feet. To drop the nose and give away the safety of altitude. They would try to make the descent slow and easy so as not to rock the boat too much - but it was difficult to know for sure just what effect it would have on their ability to control the plane. But there really was no choice, they had to go down as they knew their fuel must be getting low.
Kehoe became concerned, now that he was an integral part of the f light crew, over the decided lack of engine instruments. Being a mechanic, he knew little about flight problems, but engines were his business. It was quite upsetting to find almost all of them inoperative, and he said so.
"God damn it, they're running, ain't they?" Francis boomed back. He wasn't sure just how long they would continue to run, but he had learned to cross one bridge at a time on this trip.
As the descent continued in a reasonably satisfactory manner, Francis found himself more and more concerned with minor problems, such as the collision hazard and navigational difficulties and the problems of the emergency landing ahead. He must have engine power to make last minute corrections just before touchdown. This was why they were descending now. He hoped they could find a beach - he remembered American putting a DC-3 successfully onto Jones Beach not long before when they had radio problems. A field might be next choice - but he hoped it wouldn't be the ocean. The CV-240...
...end page 281
had no flotation gear or life vests. If they couldn't find a boar, a water landing would be just about the end. For that he probably could wait until the fuel gave out.
The descent went surprisingly well. The three-man team of Francis, Balestra, and Kehoe were working well together. As they passed through 8500 feet they could see the glow of the moon through the clouds above them but soon lost it as the clouds closed in again. Just before they re-entered the clouds Balestra got a brief glimpse of a light way off to the right and ahead of them. As they dropped below 7500 feet the light again came into view. It was the first light they had seen since they flashed by the end of the runway on take-off nearly three hours before. It was the lighthouse on Montauk Point at the end of Long Island. In the cabin, a great cheer went up as they too spotted the first light. Francis said a quiet prayer to himself as he realized for the first time that some hope existed for getting back to early safely.
Flight 109 turned and headed for Long Island. They cut in west of Montauk, heading in the general direction of New York. The first airport they came to was near Riverhead, and Francis intended to land, but in view of the heavy snow, the lack of any communication with ground facilities, the fact that they would have no landing lights, and possibly no flaps, made them think of completing the trip to La Guardia. True, they did not know their fuel situation; but they felt that now they knew their position, there was enough left to get them all the way. Francis and Balestra elected to continue.
A few problems remained. They were entering an area of heavy traffic with no lights on the aircraft. They would be landing at an airport having heavy traffic, and they could not advise them they were coming. Neither Francis nor Balestra had any idea, nor gave any thought to, the extensive publicity the flight was getting during the ordeal. To warn the La Guardia tower they were in the area, they flew low overhead once, then banked to the left and proceeded to land on runway thirty-one.
During the last few minutes, Balestra and Kehoe had been planning on how to extend the flaps. The system would not...
...end page 282
work electrically as it normally does, so Kehoe was to use a manual crank kept in the back of the plane for just this purpose. Balestra would signal him with a flashlight when flaps were needed. Kehoe was to crank down about twenty degrees (an amount which can be recognized by looking out the window at the flap position). Kehoe went back and opened the floor between the passenger seats where the flaps may be cranked. He installed the hand crank and awaited the signal from Balestra.
Balestra had been flying the last portion of the flight, but once over La Guardia airport, Francis took over for the landing. He banked the plane smartly left, and began descent, making his approach out over Flushing Meadows. On base leg, Balestra gave the signal to Kehoe to crank down the flaps. Kehoe cranked, but nothing happened. He cranked so hard that the crank broke off in his hand - he felt terrible. He felt he had let his crew down - yet it was hardly his fault. Actually, a no-flap landing at this point was child's play after what this crew had gone through. It meant primarily a faster speed and a nose high attitude on touchdown.
On base leg, just before turning on final approach, Kehoe, back in the cabin, heard the left engine sputter a few times, then catch hold again as the plane rolled out onto final approach. The approach was fast, but good. Francis was not taking any chances of getting too slow on this landing. As the plane touched down, Francis hopped on the brakes heavily. He had approached fast with no flaps, he had no reversing of the props, due to the electrical failure, and so wanted to take no chances on an overshoot. As the plane braked rapidly to a stop, Francis stood by with the emergency air brake system in case the normal brakes should fail. Flight 109 blocked in at the New York gate just three hours and forty-six minutes after leaving Boston. Fuel remaining - less than five minutes.
There is little doubt that this was one of the most remarkable performances of an airplane flight crew in history. The Board of Directors of Northeast all signed a plaque for each crew member, showing their appreciation for what they had...
... end page 283
done. It was unfortunate that management never bothered to present these plaques to the crew nor tell them that they existed. It was not until some eight years later that Captain Francis himself accidentally came upon them while he was working in the Chief Pilot's office - they were tucked away in a corner, yellowed and covered with dust and dirt. Francis himself delivered the plaques that had been intended for Balestra and Miss Crowley...
...end page 284, and end of Chapter XIII, of "Adventures of a Yellowbird," by Robert Mudge This increible flight, recounted in great and sometimes terrifying detail, by Bob Mudge in his book, has been reproduced here with Bob's permission.
Now, read some of the comments this tale has elicited, reproduced below, the most recent first:
A January 2014 e-mail, and subsequent permission to reproduce.
"Flight 109 1/17/56. My name is Larry Kehoe, I was eight years old when my dad Larry Kehoe told me of that flight. I was young and remembered only a few details, such as total darkness, loss of instruments,being on the ceiling, and the plane landing just about out of fuel. I found the story on line completely by accident this Jan. 17th. Cool huh. Any way thank you, you took me there. You captured his personality perfect. I remember seeing the newspaper clip back in 65, I do not know what paper.
/Larry Kehoe "
Jan 26 2014
Thank you (Larry) for responding.
Franklyn E. Dailey Jr.
Jan. 27, 2014
Do I have permission to post your e-mail (Larry Kehoe's e-mail) on my website?
Earlier in January 2014, I received an e-mail from "Robert Francis" who identified himself as the son ot the Convair 240's pilot. I made a number of phone calls to the tel. no. Mr. Francis offered and tried e-mail address. No luck. I am hoping that the contact can be regained. FEDJr.Jan. 29, 2014.
July 2013 Note: A website that services. and is serviced by both active and retired pilots of American Airlines, has a space for its participants to include comments about books or other reading material.
Someone who is related to the pilot's website just mentioned offered a comment about Mudge's chapter, "Moments of Terror," and the comment was simple: "Good read." The website you are connected with right now, www.daileyint.com , had accomodated maybe three or four readers per day reading Mudge's chapter over a period of a few years. The "Good read" comment brought hundreds of readers per day to Mudge's chapter on this website!
My copy of 'Yellowbird' had been given to me by its author, Bob Mudge, whose carreer as a pilot included flying for Northeast Airlines, in addition to a period during which it had been purchased by Delta. Mudge's chapters chronicled a history of his first airline job. He included the word 'yellow' in his book title to remind readers that Northeast had painted its new B-727s all yellow when that airline gained permission to fly as a 'trunk airline' (the last such permission granted), adding service to Florida. Bob Mudge later formed a company he called Cockpit Resource Management. Those words, without capital letters, have been used extensively by many pilot commentators on TV right after the botched landing of Asiana Flight 214 at San Francisco in early July 2013.
The inspiration for my own book on "The Triumph of Instrument Flight," relied more on Bob Mudge's earlier chapters on Boston and Maine Airways, predecessor to Northeast Airlines.
Here is another e-mail sent along by one of those hundreds of readers of "Moments of Terror" of July 2013 on www.daileyint.com/flying/yellow.htm.
"Dear Mr. Dailey,
"I enjoyed reading "The Moments of Terror" on your web site. ( http://www.daileyint.com/flying/yellow.htm ) I appreciated the respectful way you treated the writing of Captain Mudge.
"I was particularly interested in this story, because it took place in a Convair 240. As a very young man, I was a mechanic's helper and copilot on Convair 240's between 1978 and 1981, logging 900 hours in them. Moreover, one of the airplanes I flew was at least a sister ship to the incident aircraft, and possibly the same aircraft, itself. That airplane was N91237, which started with American Airlines, and was operated by Northeast Airlines for a time. I noted in the story that the incident aircraft had come to Northeast from a major airline, so N91237 was likely a sister ship. I found a photo of N91237 in Northeast livery on eBay, and have attached it to this message.
(I do not have access to a permitted photo of N91237. /Frank Dailey Jr.)
"I am not certain what happened to N91237 after it left Northeast Airlines. I do know that a "radar nose" was added along the way. I recall anecdotes to the effect that it had spent some time in Alaska, and was then purchased by Trans Florida Airlines (my employer), in Daytona Beach, Florida. We flew it primarily on gambling junkets from Florida to Freeport, in the Bahamas. In 1978, after a normal landing in Daytona Beach, the left engine stopped turning as the airplane was clearing the runway. This was not unusual, because a certain amount of throttle technique was required to get the props into and out of reverse without overspeeding the engines, and without letting them stop and turn backwards. The crew stopped the airplane clear of the runway, and attempted to re-start the left engine. Soon, and without warning, the entire left engine was engulfed in flames. As it turned out, the reason the engine quit was not related to reversing technique. Instead, the fuel line from the firewall to the carburetor failed during the considerable engine torqueing within its Lord mounts that normally occurred during reversing. When the crew turned the boost pump on to re-start the engine, fuel was sprayed all over the accessory section of the engine, and on the ground below. Since the engine was naturally lean, due to the lack of fuel, a backfire occurred during the start attempt, thus igniting an inferno. The Captain considered taxiing forward, out of the flames, but the flight attendant had already initiated an evacuation, foreclosing that option. Sadly, they shut down, evacuated, and watched the fire burn.
"Once the fire was extinguished by the DAB ARFF personnel, the airplane had been saved, but the damage was severe. So much of the left cowling had burned that the lower engine mounts had failed, so the left engine hung down at a ten degree angle. Closer inspection revealed that the left main gear drag link had almost melted through, and was held together by less than one quarter the metal of its design. The lower wing skin was buckled near the cowling.
"I regret that I do not remember the name of the man who repaired all this damage. He had flown P-47's in WWII, and had become a sheet-metal man after that. It was a privilege to be near him. He approached the job with great patience, care and precision, and over a period of almost a year, singlehandedly re-created the parts of N91237 that had burned away. I think it was in mid-1979 when the airplane flew again, and it flew straight and true. I logged a few hundred hours in N91237 after that.
"I left Trans Florida Airlines in 1981, and N91237 was still going strong. I found a 1991 photo on airliners.net :
(Still sorry, but I have not received permission to include a photo.)
"Sadly, in 1998, the airplane broke up during a ditching near Puerto Rico, subsequent to an engine failure.
"After flying for Trans Florida, I bounced through another few jobs, until landing at American Airlines, where I have flown for the last 28 years. Although the training at AA is reputed to be good, I will never know another airplane as well as I know the Convair 240 - partly because it was my first "big" airplane, and partly because of the mechanical work I did on them. (My wife half-jokingly complains that I remember the particulars of the Convair better than I remember what she said yesterday!)
"Thank you for making this well-written story about a well-flown flight available for public enjoyment.
Ridgefield, CT "
Mr. Cutter's e-mail is appreciated. I am actually embarrassed to disclose that I have had almost no hands-on experience in aircraft maintenance. My book, "The Triumph of Instrument Flight," contains stories about Convairs of that era, 240s, or 340s, in entirely different contexts. I rode them frequently but never flew them. /Franklyn E. Dailey Jr. Capt. USNR (Ret)/
Added July 22, 2013
Right Seat Pilot: "Hello!"
Reporters write the first draft of history. I am not a reporter, and, lacking a degree in history, am not about to claim historian status. So, I write second drafts of history, and have been comfortable adding "20th Century Eyewitness History" to the return-address labels on the envelopes I mail. The reporting challenge on the aircraft accident involving Aseana Flight 214 has been one more reminder why I would not be up to the challenge of on the scene reporter faces.
My time as an active aircraft pilot came in mid-20th century years. A Delta pilot, Bob Mitchell ,was my source for the quote in my book, "The Triumph of Instrument Flight," that "auto-land" became feasible near the end of that century. Bob told me that he had made a couple at Paris, flying a 767 for Delta. Bruce Sorensen is a retired Braniff/Northwest pilot who uses the phrase 'fly by wire' to help me understand current practices in airline piloting. John Cutter is an American pilot who offered the telling phrase, "...follow the magenta colored course line."
I have been a recipient of instruction from experienced pilots, including some who sat in the right seat of the aircraft I was flying. As successive early NTSB briefings on Asiana Flight 214 at San Francisco on July 6, 2013, made their impact, I realized that the title of this note had lost relevance. Continental Connection at Buffalo had been topped! Further, since I had almost no routine experience as a right seat pilot myself, never having been an instructor, for any phase of flying including instrument flying, I would have to abandon this writing project. My understanding of 'who is in charge here anyway' must have flown out a pilot compartment window.
But, I hate to abandon a writing project. Could I salvage any aspect from my past experience? Every pilot, active or retired, has likely gone back to some event in which a member of the cockpit crew, pilot or co-pilot, had reason to reflect on some flying event for which a question or two remained. In the weeks following the San Francisco accident, the public has learned that there were three pilots in the cockpit area, all of whom may have been mesmerized by intelligent electronic displays of the "real world."
What I offer below reflects a flying career in which the military rank aspect added to decision complexity, but other than that, there was simplicity.
Four Right Seat In-flight Pilot Events
Without referring to a pilot's log book, I can think of four events. I do not include my right-seat instrument-training check pilot, Warren Swinney, in a 'twin Beech' event, as he pulled an engine just as we 'broke clear' (he removed the 'hood') with left-seat me on 'final,' in my instrument flight check ride at Corry Field, Pensacola, Florida in May 1945.
In all the numbered examples I will cite, I was assigned the right seat to make sure the seat had an occupant.
It was my first operational Navy flight. We filed IFR. We were the last Privateer in our VP 107 squadron to depart NAS Whidbey Island, Washington, definitely overloaded, for our first flight to Kodiak, Alaska. (I knew we were 'heavy.' Co-pilots did the 'weight and balance.') We struggled at half-flaps up over the mountains of Vancouver Island. The #4 engine began making trouble. Lt. Hugh Burris, a veteran of the Bay of Biscay attacks on U-boats, was a man of few words. "Frank, I'm going back to look at #4 out the window. I need to see if we can keep using the engine."
My head was in a whirl. He is leaving the cockpit! Me. Me, flying this thing? He must be crazy.
Thankfully, he soon returned to the cockpit. "We have to go back to Whidbey. I'll keep using #4 at reduced power to see if we can still get some good out of her." We never put up the flaps. Success grew out of an engine failure. We landed with fire trucks racing down the runway looking at an engine that had been making white smoke, now turning black, with some fire visible. We learned later that the master cylinder had "hydraulic-ed," with its connecting rod broken. Our engines were P&W 1830s.
Now, in another Privateer, I was flying co-pilot for Al LaMarre, another veteran wartime ASW pilot from Liberator days. I had completed my first tour in the Aleutians and was a bit more experienced. We were returning from training at NAS Coronado (San Diego), on a 'five on top' clearance. We started at 7,000 feet and were now at 12,500 feet. About 9 p.m. local time, in darkness, the plane started rolling side to side, altitude not steady. I looked over at Al. He had passed out. We were not using oxygen, as we should, and he was considerably older than me. I took control, called Portland Approach Control, and asked for a lower altitude. They gave me 7,000 feet right away. I thought about other places to land instead of proceeding to our destination, NAS Whidbey Island, Washington. Al came to. It was anoxia. He gradually felt OK, took control back, and we made an uneventful landing at Whidbey. Lessons. Use the oxygen bottle at those altitudes, at night especially. Don't seek 'five on top' clearances. (Those clearances were soon eliminated.)
I am covering these in the order of occurrence. Now, I have some flight hours and am checked out in the P2V Neptune. Twin-engine. I am assigned by the Navy's VX-2 Squadron at Chincoteague VA, to fly right seat for a senior LCDR who wants to check out in the aircraft. I knew him from flying co-pilot for him in the R4-D on challenging instrument flights, one on a Sunday to NAS Grosse Ile, Michigan, to deliver medicine. We made a lot of passes there but Wx kept us out. So, now it is a regular week-day VFR night fly check ride for an old guy in a P2V. I was given no info on what experience, if any, he had in day flying the aircraft. Do your job. Get in the right seat and hope for the best.
Most of it went pretty well. We had to use the short north runway because the longer main instrument runway was in maintenance. We straightened out of our approach for landing. This approach was different for Chincoteague pilots as it was over the water, between the mainland and Chincoteague Island. I could see we were low for the approach. The airspeed was OK. I wondered how good his night vision was. We were below the breakwater rim. I two- blocked the two Wright 3350 engines. Our P2V went up like an elevator. We creased on. Great landing! He taxied in and we post-flighted the a/c and each of us went home to our families. Nothing was ever said about the event.
I had orders to VP-5, a P2V squadron home ported in Jacksonville FL, for Iceland advanced base duty. A Secretary of Defense had cut off our gasoline in a rationing period while I had shore duty in Wash. DC. I knew my flight proficiency had gone down in a three year period when I got 'flight pay' by submitting a piece of paper. I knew I was not qualified to be an Ops Officer who needed to set norms during sea duty for his squadron pilots. I resigned my regular commission and took a civilian shore job. A Captain in the U.S. Navy, Carl Amme, called on the phone and identified himself as the brother of a USNA classmate of mine. He asked me to become CO of a Navy VP reserve squadron. His base was getting rid of the Privateers and was getting the P2V-6M, the Petrel missile version of the Neptune aircraft. I asked if I would have a shot at some flight time before any deployments for ACDUTRA. He promised I could get some build up time in the aircraft. I took the job.
First flight in my new Naval Reserve Aviation squadron, VP-852: I had not yet gone through the change of command ceremony so I was just a pilot. I was assigned to fly co-pilot for a young officer. We took off at NAS Niagara Falls on a beautiful night. We covered a lot of Western New York, Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. We came back to base to wrap it up for the night. "Sir, I have been checked out in day landings but never at night. Would you mind making our landing back at base?" Well, it had been nine years since I had seen the inside of this aircraft. Was the young pilot nervous or was it just polite deference? No time to discuss. I landed a PB4Y-2 from the right seat that night, my last flight in that aircraft.
End of recollection of four right seat events.
Some of these stories can be found in my book, "The Triumph of Instrument Flight." It was the beginning of the last seven years of my flying career. Niagara Falls has a memory for me because its Navy Reserve flying challenges, were, on some weekends, a throwback at least on in-flight weather, to my Aleutian flying experiences. By the time I became a Navy Reservist flying winters along the Great Lakes, I still had the 'hot-wing' and more responsive engine power in the P2V per pound of take-off weight.
In my instrument flying book, I tried to mix everyday mini-events into the more serious discussion of instrument flying. The PB4Y-2 in the first 'right seat' example above, over Vancouver Island, was BuNo. 59645. I had far more hours in that plane during three tours in the Aleutians than in any other single BuNo Navy plane in my flight experience.
That plane was shot down by Soviet jet fighters over the Baltic Sea off Latvia. Her crew on that flight has been memorialized by the Latvians in a striking way. The story came to another page on this website because an Italian tourist had both a sense of history and a grasp of the connectivity provided by the world wide web. Go to:
The final story of BuNo. 59645 is about half way down that 'page.