|off its hinges and smashed against Ollie's leg, breaking
his ankle, as he was later and painfully to learn. "Slow it up, slow
it up!" shouted one of the crew over the roar of the blast that hit
us. Engle, Analavage, and Kinzer were all veterans of flying non-scheduled
airlines. Engle had some 20,000 hours in the cockpit. I was aboard
because of my test-pilot time in the experimental turboprop version
of the Stratocruiser, and also because I had flown forty different
kinds of aircraft since my World War II pilot days. Oliver had served
as a crew chief on the Boeing military Stratocruisers and had been
hired to help remold the Boeing into the Guppy. Friezner operated
a specialized-services company for testing all types of aircraft.
We had all been through many tight spots, but none like this. We all
sensed that our time had come. There had been no indication of any
defect in our preliminary VD test the day before when we attained
a speed of 250 mph. The only complaint we had for that day's flight
was the frustrating loss of the radios because of a recurring short
in the electrical system. The uncontrollable buffeting and vibration
were severe now, and as the power was reduced, the airspeed fell off
rapidly to 150 miles an hour. But the instinctive action to slow up
the huge craft boomeranged. Buffeting became almost unbearable, indicating
an approach to stalling speed. "We're gonna lose her," I thought.
Now another obstacle occurred. If the giant plane stalled, it would
have been virtually impossible to bail out. We faced the stark prospect
of being carried straight down to a fiery crash on the desert, almost
8,000 feet below. Hurriedly, we shoved the power back up. The Guppy
wallowed like a giant Moby Dick plowing through mountainous waves,
Guppy's cargo compartment is larger than C-5A's.
Projections behind the cockpit are hinges for her swinging
| but she managed to creep back up to 175 mph.
As the first shock passed and the aircraft somehow continued
to fly, someone yelled above the terrific wind roar, "We'd better
bail out while we have a chance." I reached for the mike to
let the outside world know what was happening to us, but a sudden
thought sent a new wave of fear through me. If we bailed out
through an emergency floor hatch in the nose-gear well, we would
be carried along the underside of the plane. Radio antennas,
which had been relocated to improve reception, protruded along
the belly. If the slipstream flung one of us against one of
the antennas, they could slice him through like a bayonet. We
were trapped in a nightmare situation. The high-speed dive had
to be flown at the maximum gross take-off weight of the aircraft.
We had prided ourselves in being resourceful and had arranged
to borrow from a chemical dealer in Mojave 30,000 pounds of
borate in 100 pound sacks. As the tearing, shredding metal from
the nose blew aft inside the mammoth interior, the flying slivers
ripped holes in the paper sacks of borate powder. The whole
interior, including the cockpit, wasfilled with a swirling cloud
of powdered borate by the slipstream being rammed into her.
The bailout order was momentarily withheld. Ollie, still not
aware that his ankle was broken, inspected the front of the
||huge cargo compartment and the super-structure
high above us. Hobbling on his good leg, he got back to the
cockpit to report his findings. "The whole damn nose section
has caved in," he shouted in disbelief. "We got a helluva hole
over the cockpit!" Just then, Sandy scrambled up to the flight
deck from his compartment below. He ripped open the floor hatch
just in time to strike Ollie's ankle a second painful blow.
Ollie slumped down and grabbed his leg in agony. We no longer
had to guess what had happened to us. The force of the dive
had smashed the whale superstructure above the cockpit. We had
a gaping twenty-three-foot hole, and pieces were still collapsing
and tearing off. Broken stringers and pieces of frame were being
ripped loose, shooting through the air like arrows, impaling
themselves like steel through tinfoil in the frames that supported
the fuselage at the rear of the cargo compartment! It was like
flying a giant scoop, and just about as difficult. We decided
to risk the antennas and bail out. As we got ready, I was suddenly
thankful for the six crash helmets I had scrounged for the crew-just
in case. I had taken a bit of ribbing for stowing them aboard.
It was difficult to hold the hand mike steady as I transmitted
the Mayday calls. The aircraft shook so severely that the mike
bashed me in the teeth each time I held it to my lips to speak.
I wondered if my radio message would even