Squadron Scrapbook
Ops Summaries and Prop Wash

Page Six

The following articles were contributed by former members of VR-24. Anyone who has photos, stories, and material they wish to share is encouraged to send them to Dick Prather, editor of the VR-24 website.

Tight Squeeze

Jim Touhey reports on another flight, for which he received short notice. The flight itinerary called for departure from Port Lyautey on 18 October 1952, with the first leg of the trip to Naples, and the second to Catania, Sicily. Upon arrival at Catania, the crew found a group of Marines awaiting them. The mission was to deliver not only the Marines but their jeep as well, to a field near Udine, Italy, sixty miles from Trieste, which was first of many Cold War "hot spots".

Boarding the Marines would be simple. They would climb the plane’s boarding ladder. Loading the jeep would be another matter.

Fortunately, the Marines brought their own ramps with which to load the jeep. Unfortunately, the jeep, or its fixed equipment, was too tall to go through the plane’s door. The loading evolution was temporarily halted while alternatives were considered. Then someone thought of letting enough air out of the jeep tires for it to fit through the door. That solved the immediate problem, but given a cabin floor of no more than nine feet in width, turning the jeep as it rolled from the ramp into the side door of the cabin would also have been a problem. Jim does not say how they managed it, but the crew most likely used muscle to skid the front of the jeep around to align it with the axis of the aircraft. Once the jeep was tied-down forward in the cabin, the ramps were also brought aboard and strapped to the deck.

The crew then flew to Udine where they landed on a WWII-era field, complete with a runway made of perforated interlocking steel planking, otherwise known as Marston matting. By the time they reversed the loading process and were ready to depart, it had gotten dark. Ordinarily, that was not an issue, but it was in this case since no one had seen fit to install runway lights at the field. Undaunted, the crew arranged with the Marines to park two jeeps so that their headlights shined across the far end of the darkened runway. Using the jeep lights as a reference, the pilots of the R5D lined up and took off. Although exciting, at least for some, operating in areas with minimal to non-existent facilities and support was part and parcel to accomplishing the squadron’s various missions.

The Missing Tire

It was not uncommon for VR-24 flight crews to resort to unusual methods in order to complete a mission or get the plane back home. Roman Ballock contributed the following account of one R5D crew’s somewhat radical solution to a problem encountered while "on the road".

The flight was scheduled to be a "round-robin" out of Naples to deliver mail and cargo to Aivano, Italy where a few U.S. Sixth Fleet ships were in port. Upon landing at the destination field near the city of Venice, the outboard tire on the port (left) main-mount blew out. After getting to the terminal and unloading the plane, the crew found that there was no support such as spare tires, aircraft jacks, or tools of any kind. The situation was not unusual for many of the fields into which VR-24 delivered goods and people. However, the crew’s solution was.

Undeterred by such minor details, and no doubt unwilling to wait for assistance to be flown in, the crew elected to take matters into their own hands. Using their personal survival knives and wire cutters from the onboard toolbox, the ingenious crewmen went at the carcass of the blown tire and cut it off of the rim.

Removal of the damaged tire was a serious safety matter. At the rotational speeds reached immediately before takeoff and after landing, the blown tire would likely disintegrate, flinging pieces and causing damage to the aircraft itself.

A normal takeoff was made, with light fuel load, from Aviano. That was the easy part. Landing the big airplane minus the prescribed number of tires would be a bit trickier. Roman does not recall the pilots on that flight, but clearly remembers the landing back at NAF Capodichinno. Putting the plane down on the starboard main-mount, the pilot held the left wheel off until the loss of flying speed forced him to ease it onto the runway. No sweat, discounting the crew’s collective pucker factor!

As shown in the photo below, the plane’s unusual, if not unique, landing gear configuration was cause of some wonderment among those meeting the aircraft and crew at Naples.


The Case of the Missing Tire

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