WASTE IN SPACE
One of the most humorous stories in Naval Aviation happened to a friend of mine while he was assigned to a flying squadron on board one of the Navyís aircraft carriers. The complications he encountered flying his Douglass A-1 (Spad) was enough to make anyone extremely nauseated to say the least. I will identify him only as Don since this could be embarrassing to him although this event happened several years ago.
Don was flying the Spad from deck of aircraft carrier operating in the Mediterranean Sea. He was a seasoned fighter pilot on his second seven month (Med Cruise) when this calamity took place. Don, like most Navy fighter pilots thought he was the Ďbest of the bestí as far a flying off and on the boat was concerned. Somehow the Navy instilled that characteristic into all its pilots. The old saying of, "You can always tell a Navy fighter pilot, but you canít tell him much," was especially true in Donís way of thinking.
The A-1 that Don was flying had many epithets. It was called the Skyraider, the Spad, the Queen and many other choice names. The A-1's mission was usually long and tiring, especially when flown from the deck of aircraft carriers. The Spad would normally be launched on the first mission of the day and fly for 5 or 6 hour before returning to the ship. The airplane had the capability of carrying a tremendous amount of ordnance composed of bombs, rockets, and 20 mm cannons. It was a very stable weapons platform thereby allowing the pilots to pulverize the assigned target.
The reciprocating engine of the A-1 consumed fuel at a much slower rate than jet fighters. Therefore they could stay airborne much longer than the jets. When returning to the ship, after these long missions, the A-1's would normally be placed in a holding pattern to allow the jets to land first. There was much heated discussion about this dilemma within the Air Group. The Jets were very thirsty and had a high rate of fuel consumption and had to get on deck as soon as possible. Their mission was usually over in less than 2 hours while the A-1ís mission lasted several hours.
A-1 drivers would make remarks to the jet jocks to the effect that, "You were low fuel state when you took off and we had to hold for you to land after flying for 6 long hours. You'll never win a war like this." The jet jocks would respond, "You flew so slow that the war would be over before you arrived at the target." And so this friendly squabble continued between the prop pilots and the jet pilots during the cruise.
Each group had "Esprit de Corps" when it came to their mission. The Navy instilled into each and every squadron that they were the best. This pride is really what made the system work. Our carrier, the old rusty Shangri-La (CVA-38), would stand up against the new nuclear powered Enterprise (CVN-65) by exaggerating her capabilities. The Spad (A-1) driver was as proud of his aircraft as the supersonic F-8 driver was of his bird and rightly so.
Don had flown many missions in the A-1 and was very familiar with the long scheduled flights for his squadron. In fact, he really enjoyed being on the longer missions just to get away from the confines of the ship for a while.
He developed a constipation problem during the cruise. He explained his predicament to the friendly Flight Surgeon and was given a laxative to resolve his difficulty. These small pills looked so powerless to Don. He said, "What the heck, I'll take a couple of them just to follow the doctor's orders." After he waited a few hours nothing happened. In pain and discust he elected to take a handful of these little innocent looking capsules. With one big gulp he swallowed several more pills.
Don was not scheduled to fly during this period due to his difficulty in defecating. However, the Scheduling Officer asked if he would consider standing by as a Spare Pilot for the next launch. It was normal operating procedure for all squadrons to man a spare aircraft in case a scheduled aircraft had a maintenance problem at the time of launch. The spare pilot and plane would be spotted on the deck, ready to be launched if needed. The A-1 had a very good reputation for making the scheduled flight so the spare pilot and plane were very seldom launched. Don, being aware of this fact, accepted the spare position, thinking that there was no chance for him to be shot off the front end of the big boat.
As luck would have it one A-1 had a maintenance problem on the launch. Don was taxied forward and catapulted off the boat on a 5-hour mission. The excitement of the launch and the joy of flying took Don's mind off the little pills he had taken earlier in the day. Things were going great for the first 30 minutes of this 5-hour mission. Then suddenly, like a shot in the dark, a sharp pain hit him in the pit of his stomach. The little pills were working after all. They seemed to have the impact on his paunch equal to the force of a 500-pound bomb. He had to go. But where?
This critical problem needed attention, now! Desperately looking around in the cockpit he saw the only receptacle that could be used to contain his waste. His Oxygen mask bag would be just the precise container for this job. This large nylon bag had the capacity to hold about one gallon of anything and was somewhat waterproof. Urgency was upon him. The A-1 has a large cockpit compared to most fighter type aircraft, yet it's still a very confined area. With the coordination of fighter pilot and the agility of a monkey, Don assumed the position of the cave man. He hunkered on the aircraft seat to relieve himself of this excruciating impasse. Don had scored Ďexpertí on hitting the target at a recent bombing exercise, but he was having much difficulty hitting the small Oxygen bag bouncing around in the cockpit. He had assumed a crouched position on the edge of the seat with his flight suit pushed down around his knees for this delicate delivery. His position was such that he did not have good target acquisition. To add to his complication he had only one hand to spare for this unimaginative operation. The other hand was necessary to keep the aircraft as smooth as possible, since the A-1 lacked an autopilot. You can imagine his challenge of trying to hold this nylon bag and fly hunkered on the seat. The top of the bag had to be stretched open with his left hand, while flying the airplane with his right hand. This is one emergency that standard Naval operating procedures had not considered. Finally he let go. He filled the bag with about 40% liquid, about 40% solid and a 20% mixture of the two. He was able to score about an 80% hit in the target area. The other 20% ran down his left arm and the side of the bag onto the seat. "Well you can't have everything," he said to himself. "It's in the bag," took on a new meaning for Don that day. The relief of the bowel movement felt great. Now a much greater problem was at hand, in hand, and on hand. "What am I going to do with this bag full of crap," he though to himself. He couldn't hold the bag for the remaining 4.5 hours of flight. Yet, he dared not let loose of this darling little pouch, because the only thing that held its contents secure was a tiny drawstring at the top. This drawstring would work loose easily if the bag bounced around in the cockpit. Of course this would allow the bag's ingredients to spill all over the place. This was not a very comforting thought to say the least.
Don thought ahead of the arrested landing that he must make at the end of the flight. He said to himself, "That will be a disaster. This sack full of goodies will be propelled through the cockpit like a 5-inch rocket gone stupid when I land. The extreme gravity forces encountered from such an arrested landing will cause the bag to explode in my face. I have got to get rid of this potential threat before landing. But how?"
The fragrance was so strong. He could hardly endure his captivity. Somehow he must get rid of his bag full of human waste before landing. He even considered ditching at sea, but soon changed his mind when he remembered the water temperature was so cold that he would expire from exposure in a short time. He knew that Sharks would be attracted to such a scent in the water as well. Also, he knew this act would be very hard to explain to an accident investigation board, should he survive all other perils. He had to stick it out with his waste in space. Don's wingman was unaware of the problems his leader was having. He could see unusual movement taking place in his leadersí cockpit and he noticed the airplane was very unstable. He flew close aboard to investigate the mystery.
Don saw the wingman flying near. Immediately he knew what he must do with his dirty diaper. He said to himself, "I'll open my canopy and throw this bag on my wingman's airplane. This garbage will smear all over his canopy." Don got so excited about his new plan of action that he almost flew into the water. "This would be the greatest joke of the cruise," he said to himself. He could hardly wait until landing on board the boat to tell his squadron mates what he had done to his wingman. "He who laughs first..." The older Navy aircraft had the capability of opening their canopy in flight. Standard Naval operating procedure for the A-1 aircraft was to take-off and land, aboard the Aircraft Carrier, with the canopy open. This procedure would give the pilot a better chance of survival in case the aircraft went into the drink. This procedure was used until the invention of the ejection seat that was standard equipment on the faster jets. Don opened his canopy and got ready for action. Using hand signals he signaled his wingman to move into tight parade formation. The wingman moved into the proper position. Don mentally calculated the trajectory needed to score a hit on his wingman. With a smile on his face and determination in his mind he pitched the bag full of crap, with all his strength, toward his wingman.
Don had forgotten only one small detail. That is, it is almost impossible to throw anything out of a flying aircraft, without it returning to the point of departure. The air pressure around the canopy is extremely high. This condition is created by prop wash, and the airspeed of the aircraft. Therefore, trying to throw an object overboard in flight is like trying to sweep leaves into the face of a hurricane. It just can't be done. The oxygen bag full of his waste was no different. When the tremendous force of wind hit the little bag it turned inside out and came flying right back into the cockpit. The contents of the bag were all over the inside of the cockpit and Don. His waste was in his face. It was all over his clothes. It was smeared over everything. He had to wipe it out of his eyes just to see. The control stick and throttle were so slick he could hardly grip them. He became nauseated very quickly and regurgitate all over himself and the poor airplane. He soon had dry heaves. He had four more hours in this messy airplane before he could land. No divert fields were available, and no way to come back on board the ship prior to the scheduled recovery time. He just had to set it out and watch the little Oxygen bag flopping on the side of his canopy. It lodged there by the drawstring, and just flopped in the breeze as a reminder of what had taken place. The brown streak down the inside of Don's canopy got his wingman's attention. He thought Don's aircraft had developed a bad oil leak. Don was unable to talk transmit to him, to tell the real story, because his mouth microphone was coated with the ingredients from the Oxygen bag. He was not about to put that messy little mike just kissing distance from his lips. He was not laughing. His trick had worked great. Not on his wingman as he had planned, but on himself. He was disgusted. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity it was time for him to return to the ship for landing. Each Naval Aircraft has a Plane Captain assigned. The Plane Captain is usually a young enlisted man and his duties are to keep the aircraft serviced, cleaned and ready for flight (In the Air Force they are called Crew Chiefs). He also aids the pilot in strapping into the aircraft and assists him with his flight gear before flight and after the flight. When the flight is completed and the aircraft is parked on the deck, the Plane Captain climbs up the steps and aids the pilot in getting out of the cockpit. He normally will take the pilotís helmet, kneeboard, navigation gear and other items so the exit from cockpit won't be so burdensome on the pilot. Don's Plane Captain was trained very well and would be at his side as soon as possible after landing.
This flight was no exception. As he taxied forward and secured the engine the Plane Captain mounted the side of the aircraft, in haste, to aid the exhausted pilot. The poor fellow was not aware of the conditions in the cockpit. When he stuck his head in the cockpit to assist the pilot he started heaving uncontrollably. He emptied his lunch on Don, on the aircraft, and on himself. This poor sailor had to be taken to sickbay for medical attention. After Don got out of his airplane he signaled the crash crew to come immediately. They thought the aircraft was on fire. Don finally was able to persuade them that he was the real emergency and he needed a fresh water wash down. They turned the water hose on him and spent several thousand gallons on this poor pilot. Finally, he took off his flight suit and helmet, walked to the edge of the flight deck, and threw them as far as he could, into the deep ocean, never to be seen again. He walked down to his stateroom in his shorts. He found what remained in little bottle of pills, and threw them overboard. This unlucky old Spad was placed in the aft end of the hangar bay behind all other aircraft. It remained there for many days before flying again. Most of the ships supply of deodorant was sprayed in the cockpit to get rid of the awful smell. The stink finally went away, but the story remains in the minds of everyone that knew of Don and the little pills. Don is known as the "poor pill popping prop pilot with a puckering potty problem." As a joke his squadron mates gave him a bag of corks, of assorted sizes, for emergency use in the future.
Ron Knott (5/2005)
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