Richard M. Tsuda

Part 6. Close Calls

After a long mission one night, we headed back to Shemya. Upon our arrival, it was discovered that the island was socked in by dense fog. The project commander, Colonel Webster Plourd, who was awaiting our return, was heading for the tower to call us off and to tell us to land at Eielson Air Base, our alternate landing field. As we approached the landing strip, the landing lights suddenly became visible and the pilot soon realized that we were lined up at an angle to the runway. "Turn!!", I heard the aircraft commander yell at the pilot. I did not think it was possible for a C-135 to make such a maneuver, but with every skill, the pilot was able to bank the plane to the right, then back to the left, and "plunk" it down on the runway. Whew!! That was close!! Colonel Plourd was just reaching the tower when he heard our tires screech. We all had a stiff drink after that landing.

After completing one of our 90-day, TDY tours to Shemya, we were ready to head for home, Wright-Patterson AFB, OH. Since we were all packed for the long trip home the night before, all we had to do was eat breakfast and report to the plane. We roared down the runway and had a routine take off. Suddenly, we lost engine number two and began losing altitude. We all collectively held our breaths as the pilot "poured the coals" to Nancy Rae. The aircraft began filling with a strong odor and it was then determined that we had ingested one of the many albatross-like birds that called Shemya home. At first, it looked as if we would have to return to Shemya (groan), but after some calculations, it was determined that we would fly on to the General Dynamics plant in Fort Worth, TX. (groan). However, after another hour or so, it was announced that we would indeed head for Wright-Patterson AFB (cheers). After landing, we observed the damage the bird had done to the aircraft. The nacelle of engine number two was caved in. There was also a very large bird, perhaps a couple of feet in length, still stuck to our front landing gear.

Although this segment addresses a "close call", it turned out there was no need to worry after all, but at the moment, it was quite nerve wracking. We were nearing the race track during one of our missions. I did not have my headsets on since I was trouble-shooting a malfunction in our multiplexing system. Suddenly, I was directed to take my seat, get my helmet and oxygen mask on, and get into my parachute. As I got my helmet on, I heard the aircraft commander ask the manual tracker if he could tell what type of plane he had spotted. When the answer was in the negative, the AC announced that we would take "evasive actions". With that, he lowered the landing gears and put the plane in a steep dive, making a slow turn back to Shemya. Looking out from one of the windows, I could see that we were flying "on the deck", a few hundred feet from the surface of the ocean. After landing, we were informed that the aircraft in our proximity was one of our own. Better to be safe than sorry!

Part 7. Epilogue

It was an honor to be a crew member on Nancy Rae. There were forty members on our original crew and our job was to "steal" data from the Soviets; thus the title, "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. We were exposed to state-of-the-art equipment, such as multiplexers, video tape recorders (remember, this was in the early 60s), photometers, radiometers, ballistic streak cameras, infra-red tracking devices, etc. The camaraderie among crew members was second to none. We worked along side of superb General Dynamics engineers and other subcontractors. Our project was briefed to President Kennedy on a weekly basis and the importance of our missions filled us with pride. The downside to all this was the many months that we spent away from our loved ones. This was offset by some great experiences, but none surpassed by the capturing of a Soviet missile's re-entry. In 1963, Air Force Systems Command transferred Nancy Rae to the Strategic Air Command.  

Richard M. Tsuda
CMSgt USAF (Ret.)

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