It was a beautiful summer day and we had celebrated the prior night down town Honolulu. The crew and I were on a lay over at Hickam AFB. Hawaii. The base lodging was full and the staff decided this crew was to spend their evening at the Outrigger West, down town. Back then, Moose’s was still in operation and proving to be quite profitable- busy. Yes, the year was sometime in the late 1990’s and tourism was doing well for this tropic port.
We met our bus, to take us to the airplane, out in front of the hotel; with each member checked out and fed. This was to be a nice and quiet flight east bound; at least that is what we thought. The sky was clear and the winds calm, well calm for Hawaii, as we were to be flying back to the main land. As we arrive to the aircraft, the steady stream of mechanics was busy doing their pre-departure duties in full force. With a hearty, “Thumbs up” the Crew Chief acknowledged our presence and remarked, “She’s a good plane, today”.
I powered up the radio and made the initial call, “Aloha Honolulu Ground, Reach 41, Hickam Ramp, radio check and altimeter setting, please”. The voice returns on the radio, “Aloha Reach 41, altimeter two niner- niner two, Honolulu Ground has you loud and clear, how me”? Cool, the radios are working well and instinctively I responded, “Loud and Clear, Reach 41, Mahalo”. The Crew Chief was correct, and I knew it, as there were never any doubts. These people are outstanding in their performance, and history has never proven this wrong. The remainder of the pre-flight went normal and without any problems. We were ready to go, early in fact. The Aircraft Commander (AC) announces to the crew, “We’re early, so smoke ’em if you got ‘em”! And those smokers on the crew, as well as some of the Crew Chiefs exited the plane and headed out front to the regulatory 50 foot mark on the ramp.
A short while later, “Well, what do you say”, said the AC, “Shall we call them back up here”? “Yes, if we start now, we might be able to get off twenty minutes early”, I responded, as my requirements are just finishing up. “You got the numbers”, I asked, and he reaffirmed the take off data was accurately input into the flight director and everything was in agreement.
After engine start, we began our journey out onto the long, approximately five mile taxiway out to the Coral Reef runway. What a view, I am certain the designers of the Airport intentionally wanted all to see the magnificent Island, "they would soon be departing”. Almost as if to say, “See what you are leaving behind”. As we entered the Runway, we get the all too common, but very important, speech; on the interphone, “Should there be an emergency on the ground- clearly state the nature of the emergency and we will make the decision to take it into the air and treat it as an airborne emergency, or, we will stop on the runway and take care of it on the ground”. “Though this is a long runway, please keep in mind for brake temperatures”, as part of the pre-take off brief.
The Take Off roll was normal and not one indication of what was to come our way. Climbing through 10,000 feet and all was a typical day. All at once, my situational awareness decreased and my entire focus shifted to the forward left side of the aircraft.
In the briefest of moments (the speed of your mind under the adrenaline rush), a motion picture played out in mind. I am a Rodeo Clown, during the Bull riding contest and I am in the “Clown’s Barrel” with a raging bull heading my way. As he drops his head to impact the barrel, which I am occupying, I can hear the crash and my body is waiting for centrifugal force to “kick in”. In that very moment, my mind arrives back to my seat on the flight deck, and with the realization of what is going on, I had wished I were back in the barrel. I came back to hear the loud “BANG”, echoing through the flight deck. This “movie” played out, at the first instance of the sound. Wow, that was fast!
“What the hell”, comes over the intercom! As we look toward the sound, everybody noticed the Pilot’s side window cracking. 5hit, sound and visual reference can truly wake a person up- even though they were already awake and focused. Immediately, I checked the cabin pressurization, and thus far, it was holding. OK, we have not experienced a “Rapid- Decompression”, but it could be following. I look back toward the window and now the Pilot’s forward window is letting go and beginning to replicate the side window. “We have fuselage structural damage”, I state over the intercom, “and the pressurization is holding”! I never would have guessed, as the skin supports the pressurization.
Normal procedures call for a level off, assess the damage, then descend or continue the climb accordingly. This aircraft, rated as one of the fastest climb rates in the inventory, was now leveling around 17,500 feet. “What do you think”, is asked over the intercom, to which I responded, “Let’s stay in Hawaii”. At the very second, the internal pressurization drops off and I announced what I was seeing. “Well, looks like you are going to get your wish”, comes back at me.
We turn the aircraft and assume the emergency approach, as we communicate our situation with the tower. “Reach 41, Number one to land, Cleared to land, Honolulu Tower”, said the controller. “Do you require emergency equipment on the field”, the voice inquisitively returns. “We’ll tell ya on the ground, Reach 41”, I followed on the radio. The landing went well and we incurred no other problems.
After shutting down the aircraft engines, and upon further inspection, we discovered the crack. I witnessed a separation in the structural skin of the aircraft, under the Pilot’s side window, measuring eleven inches in length and ¼ of an inch wide.
We enjoyed the next five days in Hawaii, back at the same hotel.
How am I doing at story telling? Did you enjoy this? Was it too long? Leave me a comment; and yes, this is a true story. If you liked this, I have more: to include the time our airplane was scudded, on the ground in the Middle East.