Twelve years ago, when I was first diagnosed with cancer, I decided to write my autobiography. This is one of the stories.
The Royal Treatment
Red-carpet events usually are for celebrities and other dignitaries. It's no wonder this flight crew was a little surprised -if honored – upon their arrival!
In the late 1950's, I was a C-118 (DC-6) aircraft commander in the Military Airlift Command (MAC) transporting service members and their dependents to Europe. One night we departed Lajes Field (Azores,
Portugal) and headed for Paris. During our climb to 17,000 feet, engine No.3 backfired (or “barked” as we called it then) twice, so we reduced power for a few minutes and checked it on the engine analyzer. Everything looked fine, so we restored power, and I decided to continue the flight. Everything was going smoothly until just after we passed our equal time point (closer to Paris), when engine Np. 4 failed. It was no big deal. We were having a rash of engine failures from rebuilt engines.
Within the next 15 minutes, both No. 1 and No.2 engines began barking periodically. The engine analyzed was showing both engines had major problems. We kept reducing power on both engines until we found a throttle setting where they would not backfire. It turned out there was a little less than half of the power required for a successful flight on each engine. Now this was a big deal.
We began a gradual controlled descent and made a radio call of “pan pan pan”, which was just a step below a Mayday call, and typically receives plenty of attention. We explained our position, and all altitudes below us were cleared. Rescue was scrambling. I knew Rescue wouldn't be able to catch us but it was nice to know they already would be on the way if we got wet.
We finally leveled off at about 700ft approaching the coast of France. Radar had picked up up and gave us a straight-in approach to Orly airport, Paris. After landing and taxi-ing around all the fire trucks, the “follow me” truck led us right up in front of commercial terminal – not our usual spot. When the engines had been shut down, a fleet of limos drove up, and someone rolled out a red carpet to our plane. Men in top hats were scurrying around. I thought, pour moi?
Once the cabin door opened, everyone discovered it was all a mistake. About that time, a triple tailed Lockheed Constellation pulled up next to us. It had “Columbine” painted on the nose, along with a display of miniature flags. President Eisenhower had just flown in to meet with General Charles de Gaulle, and the president had been forced to wait while we landed. Just as quickly as we were ushered in, the red carpet was rolled up and moved over to the president's plane.
Postscript.-- A couple days after this was published in the Military Officer magazine, a lady here in Melbourne called me. She was an Italian war bride married to a US Army major. They spent their honeymoon in Paris and went to Orly to see Ike arrive. She said that they and many others in the terminal were watching and laughing at the mad scramble of the diplomats. It's a small, small world.