Profound Irony

Time: 1967 and 1975

Place: Purdue University, IND Tower

Players: Me, Bruce Hayward, Diane Elrod

In the late 1960’s I attended Purdue as an Electrical Engineering student. About 1967 I moved out of Purdue housing and into an off campus apartment. The last few semesters I spent there I shared an apartment with a friend Bruce Hayward and his girlfriend Diane Elrod. We were all about 20 – 21 years old at that time. On day when Bruce came back from class at the Aviation Technology School he advised me Diane’s mother was stopping by for a visit and to behave myself. Diane’s father had recently lost his life in a tragic aircraft accident. I was going to work that evening. I met Diane’s mother and talked with her briefly, then left for work. There was nothing unusual about that day.

My employment during the late 1960’s was in broadcasting, television and radio. It paid well for a university town and was easy work for me. This was of course in Lafayette and West Lafayette Indiana, home of Purdue University. One day my father sent me a newspaper clipping about jobs available in the Federal Aviation Administration. At that time I knew very little about the Federal Aviation Administration or what they did. It was 1969 I was ready for a change so I responded to the newspaper advertisement. There was a huge amount of paperwork to fill out, I did that and sent it back as they requested. NOTHING happened for about 10 months. I had in fact dismissed the effort and assumed I would hear nothing. I moved on.

Fall of 1970 I received mail from the FAA asking me to report for an interview in Indianapolis. Out of curiosity I went to the interview, I was working about 60 hours a week and the possibility of a 40 hour week at the same pay looked very appealing. I told them just that. It was an extensive interview and the only area I had little experience in was RADAR.

At the conclusion of the interview I was advised I would probably be on the Federal Payroll if I wanted the job and would be placed in the RADAR group. That should have been my first clue what the next 36 years at that job would be like. I left Lafayette in late 1970 and went to work for the FAA on December 7, 1970. The FAA had not intended to hire me but there had been a tragic aircraft accident in Shelbyville in 1968. It was the result of a mid-air collision between a privately owned VFR aircraft and a DC-9 owned by U S Air. Over 100 people were killed. The largest piece of the jet was about the size of a kitchen table and the largest piece of a body found was about 35 pounds. The only part of the captain that could be identified was his arm in the sleeve of his flight jacket. The aircraft hit the ground at an angle of about 10 degrees, upside down, at about 475 knots. There was not much left.

Much time passed, about 5 years more or less. It seemed like a lot of time passed to me.
It was a nice clear spring day in the Tower, VFR weather, light traffic. In the Tower there were 4 Air Traffic Controllers and myself. There was some discussion between the controllers about the accident in Shelbyville Indiana back in 1968. I had a job there more or less as a result of that event, the FAA had decided after that crash to increase staffing and that created the position I had been hired into. I was not listening very carefully until I heard one controller mention: ……..Captain Elrod……….

Captain WHO ?? It was explained to me that Captain Elrod was the pilot that died in that tragic aircraft accident. In all those years I never knew about the connection, that I had known his daughter, met his wife only a short time after his death in 1968 in West Lafayette Indiana.

Over those years after I left Lafayette I lost track of Bruce Hayward and Diane Elrod. After some internet searches I found nothing about their fate after they diverged and left Lafayette shortly after I did in 1970. I imagine they would find it all very Ironic, very unusual. Now I am retired and the story has passed quietly into oblivion.

NMLRA Youth Shoot 2017

Here are the photos from the NMLRA Youth Shoot for 2017.

“The youth event for 2017”

From NMLRA Youth Shoot 2017. Posted by Cal Merritt on 7/07/2017 (42 items)

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Down Looking for the Runway

Time: 1972

Place: The newly commissioned IND (Wier Cook) later Indianapolis International Airport

Players: Me, Ron Frederick (RADAR Technician)

It was a cool and quiet night at the airport. Myself and a guy named Ron Frederick were on duty in the equipment room next to the IND TRACON. In 1972 I had been on the payroll less than 2 years and had spent about 1/2 that time in Oklahoma City in training. This FAA and the Aviation business was still very new to me. A phone call came down to us from the tower advising that they could not select the high intensity approach lights on the main runway. They has been doing approaches on the intersecting secondary runway and wanted to switch the traffic pattern to use the longer runway. That evening the visibility was literally -0- with fog. At runway level the visibility was about 30 FEET.

The weather bureau had reported it as -0- in the area. This was before the days of Category IIIa approach systems to handle -0- visibility approaches. In fact, technically speaking, there was no such thing as a -0- -0- approach of any kind in 1972.

Ron, who was an experienced technician, informed me it was a common complaint. The other crew had done some maintenance on the runway approach lights the day before and had probably left the system in local (site) control by mistake. It was common practice in those days for us to drive out onto the airport, to the remote equipment site, and return the system to remote (tower) control. Out the door we went and into a government car to make a brief site visit to correct the problem. It was a slow drive due to the extremely poor visibility. To reach the site we had to take a gravel road that cut through the active runway lighting system. That lighting system was still on, it was the lighting system for the current active runway, and was turned up all the way (step 5 it was called).

At the point we went between the light standards on the gravel road the lighting assemblies were about 3 feet above the top of the government car. At step 5 the approach lights were at the maximum allowed current setting and lit up the sky in the area, it gave the fog an eerie glow that could be seen about 200 feet even in the low visibility as we approached them in the government station wagon. Just before we entered the light standards Ron remarked “I hope some fool is not down looking for the runway”. I was thinking to myself what in the world does he mean by “…down looking for the runway”? I found out.

Just as we went through exactly even with the rows of poles that the light standards were mounted on a jet went right over the top of the government station wagon. To clarify RIGHT OVER I mean about 20 feet (to the groves in the tires) above our heads. This would have been a DC-9 most likely, engines spooled up, flaps down for landing, landing lights on full brightness, landing gear down. At that point of the approach a DC-9 would be doing about 140 knots. The roar was deafening and it was over in a fraction of a second. There was not enough time to even THINK OH-S@@T.

We drove on for a few hundred feet. I could see Ron was gripping the steering wheel very tight and his jaw muscles were flexing. #$@#$# D@@@IT I hate it when they do that. I was thinking “these people are completely nuts, what have I gotten myself into in this job”.

What was done in those days was during extremely low visibility conditions the bold but not old pilots would fly the published ILS system down to the minimum decision altitude. Of course in those conditions they had no hope of visually acquiring the runway. They would continue the approach with whatever they had available (for example air to ground height determining RADAR) until they could see the gentle glow of the high intensity approach lights like a carpet under the aircraft. They would then follow the glow under the airplane down. At the instant the lights vanished they knew they were over the runway hard surface and they would let the aircraft settle onto the runway and steer between the runway edge lights to make it to the terminal area. As an Boeing 737 pilot once told me during a cockpit jump seat ride: you have got to land the airplane eventually and it is so much nicer to land on an airport. I have to agree.

NMLRA June 2017

NMLRA June 2017 Shoot Photos

“in Friendship, IN”

From NMLRA June 2017 shoot. Posted by Cal Merritt on 6/07/2017 (293 items)

Generated by Facebook Photo Fetcher 2

The Missing Helicopter

Time: Mid 1980’s

Place: The American Trans Air ramp and taxi area

Players: Some unknown (but very lucky) helicopter pilot and my trainee.

It was a quite evening shift in the Equipment Room at the TRACON. The weather was fog down to about 500 feet, then clear under the fog on the airport, very poor flying weather until breaking out of the pea soup fog at about 500 feet or less above the ground. This is below landing minimums for all but the most skilled IFR rated pilots. There were two of us on duty that evening, myself and a trainee named Brian Leuters.

Brian came to work for the FAA from the military where he had worked around military aircraft. I was helping through an OJT training program on RADAR. That evening he wanted to locate equipment on the airport called MTI reflectors. They are devices mounted on short poles that look like satellite TV antenna dishes pointing at the RADAR site on an airport. What they do is mimic a moving RADAR target from a known fixed location. They use switching diodes and are used to check alignment of the RADAR displays for azimuth and range. I suggested rather than fool with a map of the airport we go out and locate them on site. At that time of the evening air traffic would be almost nil. With a radio equipped government car we could go anywhere on the airport.

We went out the fire truck access road and across a runway under supervision of Ground Control in the tower. It was a short drive on a gravel road up to the approach light lane and one MTI reflector. It was located there, on the runway center line, for alignment checks. It was fun, while we were there a huge aircraft passed overhead and landed on runway 22 after breaking out of the low ceiling with all the landing lights on. As we went back out of the light lane on the gravel road I noticed the ATA hanger door was open and there was a group of about 10 people standing around on the ATA ramp. Also the Lear Jet that is used to deliver emergency parts and for some special charter work was parked on the ramp.

The pilot staff for the Lear 35 in those days was almost all Ham operators and I knew most of them. I explained to Brian that something was going on and it might be interesting to check it out. As I drove on a taxiway over to the ramp area a bright landing light came on and was aimed directly at us, then turned to our right in the direction of the helicopter ramp area. I didn’t know what it was at first and Brian remarked it was a helicopter. My first response was OH NO ! If we had crossed in front of his flight path it was called a runway incursion and is a very serious offense.

The helicopter passed by us and landed on the ramp near the customs building. I was curious just exactly what was going on so I drove over to the group of mechanics and others on the ATA ramp to ask them and get some information in case there was a runway incursion issue later that evening.

The spokesman for the group filled us in on what was going on. The helicopter had been lost in the fog near the airport above 500 feet and panicked. He was trying to find the airport and after getting lost he had landed in a muddy corn field west of the airport. Keep in mind this was near an active jet airport and in a populated area in extreme IFR conditions that required a flight plan and active air traffic control. There was mud caked all over the helicopter landing skids.

The pilot had done a slow decent until he could see the ground and set the chopper down in the mud somewhere to the west. After sitting there for a while in a muddy field. He decided he would get in considerable trouble if he remained there so he took off again and worked his way toward the airport. Apparently he spotted the parking lot lights for ATA in the fog and set the helicopter down there, IN the parking lot. The ATA guys went out to see what the noise was all about in the parking lot and directed the guy to take off again and come around the building and land on their ramp area that was actually ON the airport. At that point that the mud on the landing skids became apparent and the discussion about where he came from ensued with the ground crew for ATA.

As we came on the scene they had just advised him where the helicopter landing area was and he had successfully made it back into the air for the third time and flown across the north end of the airport and landed on the ramp where other helicopters were parked and tied down near the US Customs Building. Not bad so far. A nice save, every one got home ok. We departed the ATA ramp area and went back to the Tower Equipment Room. About an hour later an air traffic supervisor named Dave Firth came back into the equipment room with a minor complaint about a flight strip printer.

I had earlier assumed the helicopter incident was what they call a “save” where air traffic directs a lost pilot to the airport under active RADAR control and get them safely on the ground. My comment was: “did you get that guy lost in the helicopter straightened out ok?”. Dave commented: “WHAT HELICOPTER ??”. I turned to Brian and remarked here is another very important part of your OJT, repeat after me: “I don’t recall”. Dave aggressively pressed the issue. Like one of my heroes (Oliver North) I repeated: “I don’t EXACTLY recall”. Brian backed away and said nothing. Dave pressed the issue. Looking for a way out I suggested he call over to ATA and ask for the maintenance department, they have all the facts and my memory of the incident has gone totally blank.

I never did find out what the final outcome was. If you know much about aviation and read over this story what you can visualize what the very lucky but not very smart helicopter pilot did. He took off in very poor weather. He got lost. He came down in a muddy field in a populated area close to a jet airport where he could see nothing. He took off again, landing in a parking lot.

He followed that feat of flying on a controlled airport by landing on a controlled ramp area. Air traffic never was aware of his presence. Then to further tempt fate and try to kill himself he flew the helicopter right across the airport in extreme IFR conditions across an active runway with jets approaching at about 140 knots in poor visibility. During the entire event air traffic control was not aware of his presence in the airspace or on the airport.

You have got to land the aircraft and it is so much nicer to land on an airport. It is also a very good idea to let air traffic know you are landing on THEIR airport.

Amateur Radio Field Day 2017

“Hendricks County Ham Club”

From Amateur Radio Field Day 2017. Posted by Cal Merritt on 6/27/2017 (22 items)

Generated by Facebook Photo Fetcher 2

Stuck in the Mud

Time: Mid 1970’s

Place: South West of the Airport

Players: Some unknown (but very lucky) DC-3 pilot.

It was an early spring morning. There was virtually NO visibility, to use the trite term it was socked in. It had been raining off and on for a week. The corn fields west of the airport were mud, a person would sink to their knees if they were to stand in one location. There was almost no traffic, getting a plane on the ground was virtually impossible in the poor conditions. Unless of course the plane is out of fuel. In that case the plane will land. Gravity always wins. It’s easy to see where this story is going.

A hapless pilot flying a DC-3 was coming down from Chicago delivering freight that morning. The DC-3 he was flying was developed in World War II, it is a big noisy lumbering plane with a cavernous cargo hold. The power is supplied by two massive radial engines with a huge appetite for gasoline and oil. The flight was from Chicago to Lafayette Indiana and then on to Indianapolis. The pilot had intended to top off the fuel at Lafayette but that did not happen. It was unclear if he just forgot or ground crew did not get the instructions, but the fuel did not get pumped into the aircraft fuel tanks at Lafayette.

The Lafayette weather was marginal and the pilot did not notice the potential fuel issue until he departed Lafayette. He did not want to return in the poor weather for fuel. Indianapolis is a short hop and the fuel gauge was low but he thought there should be enough fuel. The DC-3 is a big, slow, and very noisy aircraft and the pilot had a lot of time to watch the fuel gauge dropping like the one in my 1975 Dodge 440 engine RV going uphill in a headwind. At about the 1/2 way point he realized the fuel would be critical and there was no choice at that point but continue and hope his fuel estimate was correct.

On his arrival in the approach zone he advised Approach Control he was low on fuel and needed a direct approach. Getting a direct approach was not a problem, very few fools were in the approach zone that day. When asked if he wanted to declare an emergency he replied “no”. In reality what purpose would that serve? So far so good. He turned on the ILS, started the approach, at this point he must have concluded there would be no second approach. When the fuel gauge is on empty FINAL APPROACH takes on an entirely new meaning. I wonder if he had a plastic Jesus on the dash?

Imagine for a moment you are in the pilot’s seat. As you look out it appears that all the cockpit windows are spray painted with a thick coating of white paint. The gas gauge is on “E” and you know it to be true. On each side you have two huge radial engines gulping gas at an enormous rate. In front of you SOMEWHERE is an airport and under you there is the unknown. How far it is to a hard surface, or tree, house, telephone pole or wires would be a wild guess. One engine quits, then the other, there is nothing but the rush of wind to replace the deafening noise. Imagine the taste of fear.

He did an experienced pilot would do in that horrible situation, he slowed the DC-3 down as slow as it would fly without falling out of the sky. I personally do not know just how slow that is, but a DC-3 has huge wings and flaps, there is a lot of surface area to produce lift. At that point he was committed to land, gravity can only be delayed. Under him he must have seen some muddy fields and no large structures and slowed the lumbering DC-3 to near stalling speed. It came almost straight down, more falling than flying, and sank into the mud, nosed over, then tipped back, the tail wheel sinking down into the mud. There was no damage to the plane or the pilot other than possibly some soiled under garments.

I went out later that day to look at the crash site, if one could call that a crash. The huge old plane was sitting in the middle of a field that could not have been much more than 2 acres in size. The field was a square area about 300 or 400 feet on each side and fenced in on all sides. Looking at the “crash site” it looked impossible for the aircraft to be where it was. It took days and much in the way of heavy equipment to extract the DC-3 from the mud bog without damaging it. They had to remove a section of fence to get it out. The pilot must have had the airspeed almost at a stall and dropped the old war horse down in the mud like a parachute landing. I imagine he would agree that it is much nicer to land on an airport. If you have enough gas to get to an airport.

Hamvention 2017

“from setup day thursday”

From Hamvention 2017. Posted by Cal Merritt on 5/19/2017 (74 items)

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Annual Antique Arms Show 2017


From Annual antique arms show 2017. Posted by Cal Merritt on 2/22/2017 (23 items)

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Brownsburg International Hamvention 2017

“First decent hamfest of 2017”

From Brownsburg International Hamvention 2017. Posted by Cal Merritt on 2/18/2017 (19 items)

Generated by Facebook Photo Fetcher 2