Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Sunday aviation story By Robert Firth, Free Zone Writer


 A Sunday aviation story
About 1700 hrs I pulled the little Pilatus Porter into the wet grey skies over Cantho (Victor 17) in the Vietnamese Delta south of Saigon. The Porter is a STOL ( short take off and landing ) tail wheel aircraft powered by a 500 hp turbo prop engine. The aircraft, at 2400 lbs empty, climbs very rapidly and is flown with a control stick.  Cantho is alongside a wide river, the north side of which was known for bad guys spraying aircraft and boats with lead.
At 800 ft, I flew into the overcast heading to Saigon. At 3000’ I leveled off. In Vietnam odd and even IFR altitudes were controlled along north and south lines vs east and west as we do.
About 20 minutes into the flight, I noted that my ASI was showing 40ks and the altimeter was indicating a climb. I was flying level with a constant power setting so the instruments were wrong. The AH agreed. I was flying into a heavy thunderstorm, the rain was as heavy as it gets, like flying under water. The static system was malfunctioning, I had lost the pitot fed systems- Alt and norm,nada!
This was not good.  I held the attitude and maintained power. Not knowing if I was climbing or descending was a concern. As I flew closer to Saigon, I understood that hundreds of aircraft were converging. Not having much choice, I advised Saigon Approach, canceling IFR and began what I hoped was a slow decent, hoping to break out and regain sight of the ground.
There was a tremendous thump and crash! The aircraft was jolted and pushed down. The wings were still there, I was still flying. What the hell just happened? At the instant of impact, a large dark shadow passed overhead. The bubble canopy in the Porter affords a vertical view, It must have been another aircraft!
P.P. Instrument panel
At 500’ looking down, the ground came into view. I tried the radio, nothing. I couldn’t hear or contact anyone. I flew by the compass toward where I thought the airport to be. In a few minutes, I saw the outline of the airport perimeter. I was looking at the SE corner. The tower was somewhere on the west side. I let the aircraft drift down to 100’ lowered the flaps and slowed to 50ks. Yes, the Porter will fly at that speed.
There was a helicopter pad directly in front of me. At least 500’ of wet tarmac, good enough. I landed softly, reversing the 500 hp Turbomeca engine, coming very quickly to a stop. I taxied  around the aircraft, trucks and obstacles and managed to get into the Air America ramp  without contacting ground control..
Shutting down, several mechanics and ramp workers approached the aircraft. I climbed out and one of the guys got a ladder off a fuel truck. Climbing up, what had happened was pretty clear. All the roof antennas were smashed flat and very clear tire tracks were imprinted on the white paint. Good grief! In the pouring rain, my aircraft had been grazed by the tires of another descending aircraft. It doesn’t get closer than that! By a hair, I had survived a mid-air collision-my first and last, God only passes out one of these!
Robert Firth 
Commercial Pilot
Boca Raton, Florida
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