R. O. N.

Jerold L. (Jerry) Wanek

 

During my hitch at CGAS Brooklyn I was assigned to a routine training flight as a Radioman. If the aircraft was not the duty SAR aircraft we usually flew with a skeleton crew, Pilot, Co-pilot. Mechanic, and Radioman.

As we were beginning to taxi, we received a call from operations to hold up as we were to take six custom agents to Massena, NY to inspect a ship from behind the Iron Curtain that was in the St. Lawrence seaway. It took only about fifteen minutes to kick the SAR gear loose and install seats in the bird. We were flying the workhorse of the CG in those days The HU16E Albatross otherwise known as "The Whispering Goat." I preferred to call it a Pregnant Pelican.

The HU16 Albatross - Refurbished - Courtesy of Jerry Lentz

Because the Albatross had a tendency to get pretty hot in the summer we usually stripped to just our skivvies and wore just the Day-Glo Orange flight suit.

Everything else, clothes, billfolds and such was left in the shop. I wish I could remember the names of the Co-pilot and the AD2 that were the other members of the crew but it's been too many years ago. Lt. Bobby Wilks (now a retired Captain) was the pilot in charge.

Lt. Wilks was well known in Coast Guard aviation circles as one of their top notch pilots. I might add the personal comment, I always enjoyed flying with him.

As we were over the Catskill's about half way to Massena, one of our engines hiccuped. Well now let me tell you, with six civilians on board and being over mountains, with only two fans, if one of them happens to cough out of nowhere, it gets your undivided attention real fast.

Everything went smooth the rest of the way to Massena, until we were on the final approach.

Then that same engine hiccuped again.

Lt. Wilks elected to make a fast turn and land on the alternate runway.

After we shut down we radioed Brooklyn and told them the story. With Brooklyn's blessing we decided to stay overnight in Massena, rather than take a chance with that engine over the mountains at night with six passengers.

Brooklyn would send another aircraft the next morning and we would bring our plane back the next day also with just the four of us.

So here we were, no clothes except our flight suits, and no money. (*)RON pay would reimburse us the princely sum of $11.00 when we would finally get it. The manager of the civilian airport vouched for us so we stayed at a real classy local Holiday Inn.

We were allowed to put everything, meals, bar, and rooms on the tab.

The dining room of the motel was very high class. A five or six piece combo playing, dancing, and dining. It was strictly a black cocktail dress and black bow tie atmosphere.

You could have heard a pin drop when we walked in wearing Day-Glo orange flight suits.

Lt. Wilks being the expert on fine wines took care of ordering the proper wine for what we were eating. After dinner we went to the Bar for a couple of drinks (that's all as we had to fly back the next day.)

We got so tired of trying to explain our dress to everyone who asked, we finally began telling the curious that we were astronauts in training.

To make a long story short; we reimbursed Lt. Wilks our $11.00 (*)RON pay but he picked up the ENTIRE tab out of his own pocket which amounted to a very tidy sum of money even for an officer in those days.

Just a short note to this story -- We never did find out what the engine problem was although we suspected ice in the carburetor.

(*) Remain Over Night.

This story originally appeared in "U.S. Coast Guard Aviation (1916-1996)" by Turner Publications in a much shorter version. Reprinted by permission of the author.

 
Return to Coast Guard Stories