Thursday

HIGHLY FLAMMABLE BLUE JUICE


STORIES FROM MY REGIONAL DOG FLYIN’ DAYS; VOL. 277


It seems as if the weirdest crap hits the ventilator on clear blue sky days when everyone’s relaxed. It was early summer 1996 and I’d been flying the Saab 340 for nearly two years by now and that aircraft hated me as much as I hated it. Our mutual disdain had by now settled down to the agreement that I wouldn’t cuss it out in public and in exchange it would allow me a good landing about once a week. That was pretty much the same deal that the stiff-legged SOB gave to everyone else in the company, so I could live with it.

We were cruising along from Appleton, Wisconsin to Minniepoopolis chillin’ in the fine weather when someone came over our bullshit frequency.

“Everyone, get on ops. right now, there’s some real shit goin’ on!”

Normally the company required that we kept one radio on ATC and the other on ops. No one at our company ever did that. Instead we kept the second radio on a frequency we loosely called the B.S. channel, or “the five fingers” which was 123.45. Reacting more out of interest than of concern I dialed up ops. We heard a few exchanges between one of our flights and ops. There was a mention of having the flight attendant guarding the door to the aircraft’s lav. and then the captain saying that he wasn’t going to divert because they were close enough to their destination. My captain and I looked at one another a bit puzzled and then the ops. came up and gave the strangest order I ever heard come over the radio.

“All aircraft, have a crewmember go into your lav. and smell the blue juice.”

There was a pause and one of our aircraft came up and asked.

“What’re we supposed to be smelling for?”

That pegged my weird meter.

“We have an aircraft in flight,” ops. replied seriously, “that has avgas in their toilet instead of blue juice. We need every aircraft to check and see if they have the same problem.”

My captain reached to ding the flight attendant and I stopped him.

“I’ll go back and check,” I volunteered. If we did have aviation gasoline in the toilet, I didn’t want anyone doing anything about it- like trying to flush it away, or worse yet, using a lighter to tray and see inside. Never underestimate human stupidity when things are in weird mode.

I unbuckled, put a smile on my face and headed to the back. The flight attendant was one of the newer girls, and when I say “girls” I mean that many of these regional FAs were kids fresh out of high school. She was just serving pop and peanuts to back rows as I squeezed past and reached for the lav. door.

“What’s up?” she asked.

“Oh, nothin’,” I quipped, “we just got a light up front that says the toilet’s running and I need to jiggle the handle.”

I left to door cracked so the light wouldn’t come on. Gave a general sniff, and got in as close as I dared and sniffed again. Oh the glamour of being a regional airline First Officer.

We had blue juice, but I wasn’t taking any chances.

“That thing is busted,” I told her aloud, “make an announcement that the lavatory is out of order, okay?”

“Sure,” she smiled sweetly and continued her serving.

When I got back to the cockpit I reported to my captain that we seemed to be okay, but I asked the FA to announce that the lav. was out of order. My reasoning was that if we did have avgas contamination, it may not come through until someone flushes. He agreed and then told me that two more aircraft had reported in with av. gas in their blue juice. One was on the ramp at an out-station and the other was about to land at their destination.


So, “how in the world could this have happened?” became the talk of  the crew lounge. Some speculated that maybe a disgruntled ramper had dumped a few cups of 100 low lead, which is blue in color, into some of the toilets. Others said that it was some sort of a gag gone wrong.

The answer was far more simple and quite innocent. The company that fueled our aircraft at Minni had hired a new fuel truck driver. That morning, when things were slow, he was given the avgas truck and told to go onto our ramp and top off all of the tanks on all of the ground equipment. The baggage loaders, ground power carts and such all had gasoline motors that were always fueled with 100LL. He did exactly as he was told, except he didn’t know the difference between the fuel tank on the lav. cart and the blue juice tank- which is opaque plastic and allows you to see the blue juice inside. So, he went over, opened the blue juice tank and topped it off with 100LL.



Now came the biggest problem. The company had three aircraft grounded with their toilet systems contaminated with highly flammable aviation gasoline. What do you do about it to make them airworthy again?

Our company mechanics had no idea… of course these were the same guys who though a valid fix for a ding on the back side of a composite propeller blade was to color it in with a black marking pen rather than using the repair kit which would require the aircraft to sit for 24 hours. Saab USA, had no idea and neither did Saab overseas! Then our FAA PIO, who could normally not find his ass with a funnel, got involved and the situation dragged on. The company swapped some of the southern system birds up to cover the shortage of airframes. It was summer, so our mechanics didn’t have to rip the deicing boots off before they could fly. Normally the southern birds had crappy boots and were not suited for the northern system.

Eventually the word circulated among the pilot group that they all decided just to drain the system the same way you would drain a piston aircraft’s tanks for an inspection, let it dry out, disassemble it, check for local leaks, and replace any of the plumbing that the avgas may have compromised. The fittings, tubing and seals were not intended to contain avgas and could be degraded. Under pressure the system could easily form a blue juice geyser on some unsuspecting passenger. As best I can recall it took about three weeks or so before the contaminated birds were back on the line.

I have no idea what happened to the fuel truck driver. Odds are they kept him. Hey, good help is hard to find and he was making more money than some of our pilots, so why would he wanna get out of aviation?

Go right NOW!!! And check out Wes' latest best-sellers... APOLLO PART ONE and INVISIBLE EVIL





Wednesday

Wes' aviation/spy novel



Wes hit's with a national Best Seller!
Invisible Evil: A Stunning Aviation Thriller With a Twist You Won't See Coming






About the Book: When an NSA analyst finds herself transferred to a field operations unit known as Facility Nine, her up-grade quickly takes her from passive intelligence gathering and into a global trek through a dark world where she crosses paths with a mysterious pilot. It is a place where the line between good and evil is not blurred- it is in fact nearly invisible. Her fresh ideas begin to peel back the layers of covert organizations where politicians are as bad as the terrorists as everyone is considered to be nothing more than collateral damage. It is a place where lives have little value and power is the best currency. Once the layers of this baneful onion are peeled deep enough she finds that the pillars of power are about to tumble down and countless lives are at stake because the weapon of choice flies over an unsuspecting world.

About The Author

Wes Oleszewski has authored 25 books since 1991 including his current six-book series “Growing up with Spaceflight.” Born and raised in mid-Michigan he spent most of his life with an eye turned toward the sky and spaceflight. Noted for his meticulous research, Oleszewski has a knack for weeding out the greatest of details from the most obscure events and then weaving those facts into the historical narratives which are his stories. His tales of actual events are real enough to thrill any reader while every story is technically correct and highly educational. Oleszewski feels that the only way to teach history in this age of computers, smartphones and video games is through “narrative.” The final product of his efforts are captivating books that can be comfortably read and enjoyed by everyone from the eldest grandmother to the grade-school kid and future pilot or historian. In his fiction work he applies the same methods of detail and use of real places and objects in order to provide a setting that places the reader within the story. Those stories, however, are not for the faint of heart or children. They are mature adventures that some may find realistic in the extreme. Born on the east side of Saginaw, Michigan in 1957, Wes Oleszewski attended public school in that city through grade nine, when his family moved to the farm town of Freeland, Michigan. In 1976 he graduated from Freeland High School and a year later entered the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona, Florida. Working his way through college by his own earned income alone, Oleszewski graduated in 1987 with a commercial pilot’s certificate, “multi-engine and instrument airplane” ratings as well as a B.S. Degree in Aeronautical Science. He has pursued a career as a professional pilot concurrently with one as an author and was nominated for an Emmy. A former airline captain and corporate pilot he holds an A.T.P. certificate and to date has filled more multiple log books with flight time- most of which is in airline category and jet aircraft. Recently he gave up the life of a professional aviator and now enjoys his job as a professional writer. To date he has written and see published three quarters of a million words.

Saturday

“D” CHECK” Part 4 : YOU GOTTA SPEND MORE!



Another part of the Falcon 20’s “D” inspection that was contracted out from Hangar 6 was the engine overhaul. That job was most economically done by a place that did nothing but complete engine overhauls. In order to get the two CF-700 fan jet engines to that shop, the one person who was on the crew that was best suited for the trip was… me.



Their reasoning was quite sound. First of all I was working under the shop certificate and thus the least qualified mechanic in the crew. Secondly, I was being paid the lowest hourly rate of anyone other than the hangar rat guy- and absolutely nobody was gonna trust him with a truck load of jet engines on a long road trip. Third, I was known to be  highly dependable. So, they sent me out to rent a U-Haul truck while the two CF-700-C engines were crated up and made ready to be transported. I was to drive them down to Springfield, Illinois and Abraham Lincoln Airfield where the overhaul shop was located.

The General Electric CF-700 series engines have an interesting history. Originally the Dassault Mystere 20, which was soon renamed the “Falcon 20” because people in the U.S. market had no idea what the hell “Mystere” meant or how to pronounce it, was first successfully wide marketed to Pan Am Airways with the condition that the original  Pratt & Whitney JT12 engines be replaced with the CF-700. Dassault looked at the firm Pan Am order for 40 aircraft with an option or another 120 and was more than happy to make that change. That was on August 2, 1963 and interestingly through that same time period in aviation history another variant of the CF-700 was being adapted for another use that would help to land men on the Moon!



NASA was in the process of developing a thing they called the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle (LLRV). This was an odd looking series of pipes and propellant tanks with a cockpit all surrounding a single jet engine that thrusted straight down! 


That jet engine was the CF-700-ZV (the V stood for vertical and I have no idea what the Z stood for). The LLRV was a simple test bed to prove that the danged thing could fly and land like a Lunar Module… which it did. An astronaut training version, the Lunar Landing Training Vehicle (LLTV), was then constructed and most of the Apollo astronauts got a turn at flying it. 


As it turned out, these critters (2 LLRVs and 2 LLTVs) were very dangerous machines with 3 out of 4 crashing and burning. The first crash was Neil Armstrong’s as he had to eject just over 2 seconds before the LLRV hit the ground and exploded; the date was May 6, 1968 less than 14 months before he would become the first man to walk on the moon. The three other crashes involved NASA test pilots all of whom ejected safely. Still, the vehicles kept flying until November 13, 1972 when Gene Cernan made the final flight just three weeks before he became the last man to pilot a lunar module onto the Moon’s surface. The astronauts had said all along that the experience of flying those machines was well worth the risks. It’s worth noting that the CF-700 was never the cause of a crash.

Now in the summer of 1985 I was all set to schlep two CF-700s from Freeland, Michigan down to Springfield, Illinois. The trip would take just over 9 hours because with the cargo of those two engines I was ordered to stick to the 55 mph speed limit. The afternoon before I left the boss gave me $375 in cash as spending money. Picture it, a guy working his way through college and normally living on a few dollars per day, now has 350 bucks for a 4-day trip! I was a happy camper as I drove the U-Haul home and parked it in my parent’s driveway poised for a pre-dawn departure. One of the neighbors came over and asked:

“What’s in the truck? What’re ya’ movin’?”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told ya’,” I replied.

“Try me,” he quipped.

“Two jet engines.” I told him.

Of course he needed to get the whole story before he actually believed me. Then I added that when I bring them back they’re gonna go onto a jet that’ll take off right over his house. He looked a bit worried.

Departing long before dawn I was happily rattling down I-75. I’d resurrected my dad’s nine-year-old CB radio the previous evening and hooked it up in the truck. The stupid thing actually worked and I was sittin’ pretty until I ran head-long into one of those pea soup Michigan summer fogs. Traffic was slowed to 15 mph and it came over the CB that some clod up ahead of me had started a chain reaction crash. Just about that time a state trooper flagged us all off the expressway and down some country road. I just kept following the truckers and pretty soon I heard on the CB that we were well clear of the accident. Apparently the police just had not set up a person to point us back toward the expressway. With that the convoy just took the next left and we were back on the super slab. The only rough spot after that was I-294 south of Chicago. That stinking highway had pot holes like lunar craters. Finally after nearly 10 hours on the road I made it to the airport in Springfield while wondering if I-294 had shaken the CF-700s to bits.

They were waiting for me at the service center and a guy took my truck around front so they could unload the CF-700s. The coolest thing about this whole operation was the fact that I didn’t need to check into a hotel! Part of the building in which the repair station was operated also served as a hotel just for guys like me who brought in aircraft engines and waited for them to be overhauled. The room was great and those accommodations were included in the price of the job. They also had a desk where you could check out an “airport car” and use it to go and do whatever you wanted while you were waiting. Wow… what more could you want?

On the third day I was expecting to head on home in the next two days, but something unexpected happened out in the shop. The FedEx truck showed up with the daily parts delivery that was supposed to include a 160 pound box containing stater blades. Instead the parts guy was handed a two pound box of rivets that had a similar part number! Now the job would be delayed at least four more days. They sent me a message to call back home to Hangar 6 so I could get the news. Frankly I couldn’t care less, I was getting paid to hang out and wait- so no problem. Bob, the Hangar 6 ramrod back home asked,

“How’s yer’ money holdin’ out?”

“Great,” I replied, “but I have to damit I’ve spend about $80.”

“What!” he gasped, “I’m about to send you another $300! You gotta start spending more! Go hit the bars and shit!”

“I don’t drink,” I said calmly, “you know that.”

“Aww shit! Well go buy stuff. I need you to burn through that cash tomorrow!”

“Say what?” I was puzzled. Again... here's me, the kid workin’ his way through college who’d been surviving on Rice-a-roni for the past half dozen years. I could stretch $375 out for three months easily. I didn’t understand.

“Look,” Bob explained firmly, “if you spend too little then while you're down there, then when WE go down there the next time, the company is gonna give us less money to spend. Get creative, burn through that cash and call me tomorrow night and tell me your money is getting’ tight.”

Get creative? With money? I’m from a working class family that lived paycheck to paycheck and I’d spent my college career scraping for every dime. Now I have to get creative? How?

This post brought to you by Wes' aviation spy thriller INVISIBLE EVIL


Shuffling into the break room I asked a couple of the mechanics for ideas. Their answers were, of course,… hookers… bars… dice… more hookers and dope, none of which were gonna work for me. Then one guy had a suggestion that had some roots in it. Following his advice I drove to a local video store and rented a VCR, a large TV and every James Bond 007 movie that they had. I set the TV up in the break room and ordered more than a dozen large pizzas and a lot of soda pop for delivery. The management would not allow any beer, although on Friday and Saturday night some of the mechanics brought in their own. I ended up going back and raiding the video store for everything Clint Eastwood as well as some classic war movies and some very upper class movies like “Slapshot” and “Strange Brew” plus more pizzas. We had a guy’s movie festival goin’ on. Someone wants more food? Fine. If they deliver send it down- I got the cash. Hookers? Nope- you gotta use yer' own cash for that guys.

Still, I had more money left and I had to hit the mall for some new shirts, jeans and sneakers. It was dang hard to burn off $350. But when Bob called me back he didn’t even ask how my cash was holding out.

“Don’t say a word,” he he commanded, “Oh, you’re short on cash you say. I’ll have some more cash set up for ya’. Enough to get you back home… with nothing left… get it?”

“Yep,” I replied.

That afternoon one of the ladies from the office called me up to her desk and handed me an envelope with another $300 in cash.

Later in the week I arrived back at Hangar 6 and dropped off the truck with the overhauled CF-700s locked inside. It was after one in the morning, so I just hopped on my bicycle and rode back home to crash out. My dad, who had worked midnights my whole life, was off that night and when I got home he was up and watching some old black & white late night movie. He said that Bob had called earlier and left a message for me to take the next day off and stay broke. Dad had no idea what that meant and I didn’t bother to show him the wad of leftover cash in my pocket. I just stashed it away for college in the fall. It would come in handy.

 
NEXT: Part 5, Yellow wing bolt guck.

If you like the way Wes writes, check out his novel, INVISIBLE EVIL ! Get your copy now, while supplies last [insert some text here that will make people think it's like... really urgent to buy the book otherwise we'll run out. Yeah we know there's an endless supply, but we need to get our February number up. PS don't forget to delete this note before you post this blog entry. : Publisher]