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Thunderstorm Over Heng Chung

Dick Reichelt

We were coming out of Yokota heading SW en route to Nam to score our 'combat time' Sometimes it was really spooky. NO, no, not getting shot at in Nam , but rather getting lightning bolts hurled at the nose dome by ZEUS en route TO Nam.

Sometimes we had to defer to the B-52s. Go get em guys! They were given blocks of the 'good' altitudes because of their mission, fuel requirements, and everything else.

It seems that as many times that I went over Hengchung on the south tip of Taiwan, there was ALWAYS a humongous thunderstorm sitting right there. Well, with the high altitudes ,where we could have evaded the 'tops', already taken by the bombers, that left the mid altitudes for us to to flounder through, 18,000 ft is not a good nimbus penetration altitude ,not good at all.

It was on one of these 'runs' that I made a vow….

We were already ' in the soup' not up high lounging in our spacious cockpit, enjoying the sun. Rather we were being jostled and bounced and having to 'work'. We leaned heavily on the navigator and the radar to get us around any storm cells. It was getting darker and darker very quickly..

The AF attitude on this subject is: Don't fly in thunderstorms.

But…we had a load of stuff for our fighting men, there's a war to be won, we left home a week ago to get this stuff to em, and we weren't about to turn back and get clearance back through the stream.

Press on and we're in it baby. It seems every thunderstorm you go through is the worst one. THIS was the worst one. St. Elmo's fire has the place in an eerie pink.` I mean it was alive. I swear it was dancing inside on our fingertips. All around the windows-everywhere! The rain is heavy. It is hammering us hard.

I can still hear the navigator saying, !@#%*!!. Which I took to mean this isn't gonna be good. It wasn't! We bounced and stretched the seat belts. The panels were vibrating so badly we couldn't read the instruments. Things that were up were falling down. The airframe was suffering I could feel it.

I want to stop right here and give tribute to our American engineering and well built equipment, and perhaps, the luck of the draw!

'Left 20 degrees! Oh crap, that's worse! right 45 degrees' BAM! The turbulence is severe. BAM! We are really being rattled!

Now the book says take the airplane OFF the auto pilot in turbulence. Now if you thought that's what I did ,If you thought I was gonna interrupt George which was doing a such a superb job keeping us right side up, you're mistaken. We are all hanging on. Did I mention lightning? Lightning is adding to the drama with some loud BLASTS aimed right at our nose dome. Blast Flash at the same time, we were alone and really getting shaken. I kept looking back at the right wing and # 1 engine.

The C141 wing was fairly stiff out to the spot where the outboard engine was hung, from there it became more flexible. This afternoon, looking out at that wing joint over #1 I just KNEW that if a wing was EVER gonna break -that's where! Right there. So THAT'S when I made my VOW, Never, never was I ever gonna look out there again…

OUT the other side of the Hengchung super-nimbus-dragon we popped, all is serene. On we flew to DaNang.


Richard (Dick) Reichelt      richreichelt@msn.com

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