|T-33 Jet Fighter, US Air Force Photo.|
Friday, November 19, 2010
GOD And The Jet Pilot, My Dad
This is the true story of a jet pilot who risked his life to avoid crashing into crowded suburban Washington D.C. with a disabled jet fighter. The pilot was my Dad.
My Dad, Major Bill Hunt, Jr., US Air Force, always said he flew with God. One of my favorite memories is the night I picked up my Dad at Mitchell Air Force Base on Long Island. As a budding young driver, I was so proud Dad asked me to drive out and pick him up that evening.
When I drove our family light blue and white station wagon through the gate, the Air Police noted my Dad's officer sticker, snapped to, and threw me a salute. I drove up to the fence at the runway right near base operations. The spot lights illuminated the area with all the romance only an airbase can have.
I could see other aircraft parked further out on the ramp. Quietly, I waited in the night lights, sitting in the car waiting for Dad to land. I enjoyed sitting by myself just watching the beauty around me. I've always been fond of aircraft and airports; I was raised at Air Force bases from age one!
Finally, I saw a T-33 land on the runway further out with screaming engine, red and green wing lights and nose wheel headlights glowing. In just a few minutes, the T-33 Fighter nosed right in front of the fence where I parked. The canopy opened and out climbed my Dad down the short step ladder an attendant brought.
Dad took off his white jet helmet with bug-eyed black visor and placed it under his left arm. He was dressed in a gray jet flight suit lined with pressure hoses looking like a space man. He walked my way passing through a gate in the tall, chain link fence. Dad got in the car and drove us home, talking about his flight.
As a career pilot who told me about the group crash of three or four AT-6's who hit a farmer's barbed wire fence on an emergency landing when he was a very young pilot in training. He told me of his war years as a flight instructor for B-17 and B-29 pilots out West. He told me of his favorite flying for many years, the C-47 "Gooney Bird,” all over the Pacific. But flying the T-33 jet proved his favorite new adventure.
God and Dad once flew an incredible emergency in that jet. He took off from Andrews AFB and climbed high into the sky over suburban Washington D.C. Suddenly, his jet engine flamed out. He tried igniting it to no avail. He flew spins and cartwheels in an attempt to shake loose gas vapors or whatever was hindering his engine's fuel flow.
"I was all over that sky!" said Dad
later, “And I was praying.”
The real problem, he planned a cross-country flight, so he carried his extra big wing tip fuel tanks on the T-33, fueled to the brim. A jet should not land with such a load, because the tip tanks can touch the runway on landing, spark, and explode!
Proper procedure was to drop the bomb-like tip tanks or to bail out, letting the craft crash. But Dad flew over the heavily populated Washington DC area, house upon house. His crashing jet would take out a mile of homes or his tip tanks could fire-explode a neighborhood, and people would be killed. My Dad decided to do the impossible. But that's just what God specializes in!
"Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!" he called.
"I'm in flame out with cross-country, fuel-loaded tip tanks and I'm coming in."
He told the flight ground controller his situation. The airbase flight controllers hit the siren buttons summoning the crash crews and fire trucks.
Somehow, the emergency crash trucks
never got the message.
In just minutes, Dad eased the rapid falling jet out of the sky and gently down to the runway. No engine. He took the one chance to land: “very, very gently.”
As he landed, he glanced out at his potentially, exploding tip tanks. They were live bombs. So heavy, they bounced along only about an inch or two from the concrete as he hugged the runway with his jet. He took a long roll landing with no reverse engine to break the speed. He jammed the foot pedal brakes to the floor just as he ran out of pavement, turning the jet slightly to the right.
The control tower radioed him to jump out!
Dad blew the canopy off his jet, climbed out, jumped, and ran. At any moment, the slightest remaining heat or spark could blow the tip tanks. Dad accomplished the impossible and brought the jet fighter home safely.
I once asked my Dad on the phone--ailing in the Veterans Home in Phoenix--if he remembers flying the T-33.
"Yes, of course." he said.
"I love you, Dad."
"Here's right back to you," replied Dad. "Bless you."
"Old soldiers never die; they just fade away,"
my Dad always said.
I know that includes old pilots, as well.
As for the blessing, the greatest thing my Dad ever taught me was to worship God. As a pilot, he was real close to God.
– A true story by Bill Hunt © 2010