My Guard unit in Meridian Mississippi received a mission to transport retired jet aircraft frames from Memphis Naval Air Station to Fort Leonard Wood Missouri. The mission required four CH-54 Sky Cranes to fly from Meridian to Memphis and then on to Fort Leonard Wood. The cross-country flight would be 222 statute miles or in aviation lingo 193 nautical miles.
In the military pilot-in-command (PIC) and second in command (SIC) are selected by rank. I was chosen as the SIC on one of the four aircraft. The PIC I was paired with Captain Walters who, when flying, struck fear into the hearts of his crew. The remaining crewmembers asked me to keep them alive. I told them I would.
Early on the morning of the mission a flight of four Sky Cranes lifted off for Memphis. One and a half hours later the flight of four landed at the Naval Air Station. My crew rigged the airframe so it would be at a forty-five-degree nose down attitude and also screwed twelve-foot 2X6 boards to the leading edge of the wings to prevent the airframe from flying up into the helicopter. After all the riggings were complete the Sky Cranes attached their loads and began the journey to Fort Leonard Wood.
Due to the weight of the frames and the reduced speeds the Sky Cranes needed to fly each aircraft could only carry one hour of fuel. With the required thirty-minute reserve restricted aircraft’s flight time to only thirty minutes. The 2.4-hour flight would require four refueling stops. In the decision-making process to select the airports for refueling the flight plan had to consider fuels offered at the airports to accommodate the aircraft’s turbine engines. Many small-town airports did not carry Jet fuel. Each Sky Crane burns 3800 pounds of Jet-A fuel every hour. Not only did the airport need to have Jet-A available but in sufficient quantities to refuel the four helicopters. The flight at each stop drained the airport’s fuel tanks. At two of the four stops the airport manager awarded the flight a case of pint whiskey bottles. One benefit derived from the large refueling bill.
The flight arrived at the aerial artillery range and unloaded the airframes, picked up the rigging and then repositioned to the main facility at Fort Leonard Wood. All the crews, after tucking in the aircraft for the night, went to dinner to celebrate cheating death one more time and in fine military fashion drained all the pints of Whiskey.
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