by Lon Holtz
The Demise of 513
After five straight days of rain, Friday looked like it was going to be pretty nice with a bright, warm early morning sun. Al Barnes and I hopped in one of the many jeeps we had (all with the same serial numbers) and headed for the alert pad for our turn in the barrel.
After storing our gear, we each did a pre-flight to ensure everything was still were it was suppose to be. I was assigned to lead in 513 and, I think, Al had 524. We each had two 750lb Naps, two mark 82s, and two mark 81 lady fingers (plus the two normal drop tanks). Smelling breakfast, we headed into the shack, reported into the command post, got our callsigns (Rap 13 and 14), and then sat down to a great breakfast and briefed on the possible days activities.
At 0813, the klaxon went off and one of the "Hun" drivers from the 90th. yelled "RAPS!!!!", and Al and I bolted for the door. Being old hands at this "goat rope", we were quickly strapped in, started, and rolling towards runway 27. After arming and quick check, we were cleared onto the outside 27, where I put Al on my left, because of a slight wind from the Southwest. We had just been cleared for takeoff, as we acknowledged that we were both ready to go and fight another good one for the free world. Running up engines, we once again acknowledged that we were both ready and I released brakes, with Al to follow eight seconds later. Shortly after that, all hell broke lose!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Acceleration was smooth and positive, until just before rotation. At about 80 knots, the nose started to veer to the right. Applying left rudder did nothing and the nose kept going right. Pulling back on the left throttle did less than nothing and the nose continued right. By now the nose was at the right edge of the runway and about 45 degrees to runway heading. As I headed for the grass, I shut down both engines and hit the master switch off. This was when the right main gear hit a runway light and sheared off the aircraft. This resulted in sparks from the broken gear strut with the aircraft now riding on the drop tank and Nap canisters on the right side, and the aircraft beginning two of the three ground loops experienced. The first loop and a half was on part of the side of the runway and the asphalt side aprons, causing the bottoms of the fuel tank and Nap canister to split open. Between the sparks from the sheared gear, the ruptured drop tank, and the open Nap can, a huge fire was brewing and trying to catch me as I spun into the soft mud on the North side of 27. Chunks of burning Nap and fuel were being thrown all over the aircraft and surrounding areas as I kept rotating and, finally, came to a stop some 50 to 60 feet off the runway with the nose facing to the East and the spot where I had just released brakes some ten seconds ago.
There I sat for several seconds (that seemed like hours) smelling fuel and wondering if I should blow the canopy or try to open it manually. Not wanting to become a crispy critter so young in life, I tried the manual route first and to my surprise the canopy opened. Also to my amazement, there was a fire free path about five feet wide directly to my left that led to blue sky and brown mud. I didnt think that I could move as fast as I did, but God must love idiots and fighter pilots, cause I made it down that path and into the open just as Al was passing what was a perfectly good aircraft some 15 seconds ago. Later, Al told me that as he passed he called the Tower and told them that the pilot did not get out and the flames were now about two hundred feet high. Not wanting to be around in case any of the other ordnance went off, I quickly hot-footed it away from the bird in an easterly direction parallel to the runway, slogging through the mud of the previous four days of rain. The tower chief now spotted me clearing the fire ball to the North and dispatched the SOF (who was Lt/Col Becker, CO of the 90th) to come and get me. In minutes, I was in his jeep (same serial numbers as ours, I noted) heading for old Dr. Stinebiser and the post accident physical. Surprisingly, there wasnt a mark on me. Not even a burn mark.. But the aircraft was totally destroyed. The post accident investigation revealed that the Brake manufacturer had sent us new pads that were to improve braking, but when heated up expanded more then the old ones and locked the right brake solid, causing the aircraft to become uncontrollable. Our crack ground crews didnt even wait for the board results and found the cause days before the boards findings and changed back to the old pads they knew would work. They also inspected the fleet, found several others with the new pads and changed back to the old, thereby, preventing another possible accident. Because of their actions, we didnt lose a single mission.
Now, as Paul Harvey would say: "and now, heres the rest of the story". First, and for- most, is that practice makes perfect and all those hours and days of emergency procedures paid off in spades. The whole thing from brake release to Als taxi past was no more than 20 to 30 seconds. And in that time a lot was going on in the aircraft, including a healthy mix of @#*=!! and prayers. But of more importance is the following: The aircraft was 513, the call sign was RAP 13, the alert call was at 0813, the accident occurred at 1300 feet down the runway, and it was Friday the 13th.
ASK ME IF I EVER FLEW ON FRIDAY THE 13th AGAIN!!!
P.S. Al never wanted to fly with me after that.