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Gramps from yesteryear: destination or bust. (Fire and Ice).

An F7F-3N was cleared for instrument flight rules to cruise and maintain 13,000 feet from McClelland AFB, Calif., to NAS Seattle, Wash. A stationary front lay between Mt. Shasta and Medford with the freezing level predicted at 8,000 feet. The pilot was told he could fly at 500 feet above the overcast at 16,000 feet and be above all weather. However, because of lack of oxygen equipment, the pilot elected to fly at 13,000 feet in the overcast.

In the vicinity of Red Bluff, he noticed rime ice forming on the wings and windshield, so he called Red Bluff and requested permission to climb to 15,000 feet. This request was granted. At 14,500 feet and at an indicated airspeed of 160 knots, the aircraft shuddered and went into a spin to the left. The pilot made a successful recovery.

As any further back pressure on the stick resulted in a near stall, the pilot decided to return to Red Bluff, descending at 150 feet per minute. Shortly thereafter, the plane stalled and spun to the right. Once again, a recovery was made.

A few minutes later the pilot noted a new hazard. A fire had broken out in the starboard engine and was spreading rapidly. At this time, the plane again stalled and spun violently to the left. He was unable to regain control of the aircraft.

With the knowledge that his last observed altitude was 11,000 feet over uncertain terrain, right engine on fire, a heavy load of ice and an airspeed in excess of 300 knots, the pilot elected to abandon the F7F. He landed safely on the slope of a hill. The aircraft exploded and burned eight miles further south.

Grampaw Pettibone says:

Jeepers Creepers! This one is really for the birds. About the only nice thing this lad did for himself was to vacate his machine in one piece.

You usually assume a pilot holding a Special Instrument Rating and having better than 5,700 hours of flight time would have been more aware. It's possible, if not probable, icing conditions would be encountered in the clouds that the weather conditions predicted at the altitude requested. Knowing he had no oxygen equipment and the plane's only de-icing equipment was alternate air and pitot heater, he didn't use his old noggin when he decided to plow through the soup toward his destination.

Personally, I'd be interested to know what was important enough at his destination to risk an expensive airplane and possible loss of his life to get there. Could it be reluctance to admit defeat in the battle of the elements? Or could Mabel have been waiting?
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Title Annotation:pilot of F7F-3N confronts hazards
Publication:Naval Aviation News
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2002
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