27 September 1968 – Kuldar “Koot” Visnapuu was serving with the 174th TFS Phu Cat “Bats” in Vietnam. Lt. Kuldar Visnapuu’s had just taken off from a base in South Vietnam when his Supersabre was hit by enemy fire. He turned the plane toward the South China Sea and ejected safely, watching as his jet
Francis A. Sheridan
Two Flameout Landings Inside Two Months!
When I left Hahn AB, Germany, in 1959 for an involuntary SAC/B-52 career, I had a little less than four years in the Hun. I knew there were a lot of guys with dead-stick experience out there, but I wasn’t yet one of them. However, my last year at Hahn, from a dead-stick point of view, was very interesting, indeed.
Since checking out at George in 1956, flying the Hun was always pretty much just great sport, and I came to trust her with my life. At Hahn, I had a great airplane and a super crew chief named Don Ching. With a combo like that, nothing can go wrong…but in that last Hun year, things were about to change.
First, the powers-that-be swapped my bird, serial #953, for #910, and then Don rotated back to his beloved Hawaii. Things were still good, but there was that little uneasy feeling nibbling back there under my hair line. In December, 1958, we were sent to Wheelus for gunnery. This was a fun deployment, and I was having some real good trips to the range, with good scores in my F-100C.
One day, a front moved through, leaving the air-to-air range clobbered. This bad weather day presented an opportunity to put some hours on the newer troops in the squadron, and I was elected to lead the gaggle. My recollection has Moose Healy as #2, with Will Snell and Greg Butler pulling up the second element. The weather was a thick white haze, with no forward visibility, running from seven to about 32 thousand feet. It was like flying in a milk bottle. A full milk bottle! Anyway, off we went.
We climbed out single-ship so we could all log some instrument time, with a join-up on top. No problems getting through the weather, and I leveled-off just above the undercast, pulling the power back for the join-up.
The first inkling of trouble came when Moose called, “Hey Lead, I’ve got a problem.” I could hear the screech of Moose’s air-conditioner turbine eating itself up in the back ground, so I acknowledged his call and gave him an additional five percent to facilitate join-up.
Other than Moose’s problem, we could still save most of the mission. I had the rest of the flight in sight with Moose closing rapidly, so I bumped the throttle up to gain a couple of knots. About 10 seconds later, Moose screamed by like I was standing still. My first thought was that perhaps it was time to talk to Moose about his join- ups. Then I looked into my own cockpit.
The throttle was forward, but RPM and EGT were almost nonexistent. Humm. OK, go for a relight, while telling the guys that they might be on their own for a while. No luck with the relight. I was still pretty high, so I thought I’d better try another relight at 25 thousand feet. I entered a slow right turn, and sank into the undercast. My head said we were east of the field, so I picked up a heading of 270 degrees and set up at best glide airspeed.
Initially, I felt very confident and knew that everything was going to be just fine. After all, I had the stick in my hand and that’s all the confidence a fighter pilot needs, right? At 25 thousand, I tried the second relight with no luck. No problem. I’ll try another at 20 thousand and see what happens. In the meantime, I called Wheelus, declared an emergency and requested a steer. Squawking emergency, I gave them a count and they replied with, “Pick up a heading of 090 degrees for Wheelus.” That didn’t sound right, so we did it all again, and they confirmed the heading. When I asked for the third try, they got real testy with me, so now I was in a bit of a quandary.
At this point, both the tower and I were unaware that an F-100D had just plowed in at the range. His wingman was squawking Mayday but just out of radio range, and I was unaware that my IFF was “Tango Uniform.” To compound my positional impasse with the tower, my radio crapped out, and I didn’t get a relight at 15 thousand. I was losing my instruments one by one and was using the slats for airspeed control. Now I started to wonder how things would sort out, but I knew I had at least seven thousand feet of head room for a decision.
Ten thousand and no relight, so I gave up on that concept and started looking for the ground. I wanted to fly the best “partial panic panel” approach possible. My plan was black and white. If the base was in sight when I broke out, I’d try for the runway. But, if the base wasn’t in sight when I broke out, I’d punch out. But I really had no desire to walk across North Africa among the local population after dropping an airplane on their tents or mud huts.
Now it was decision time. I was low enough to see scattered details on the ground right below me but no sign of Wheelus. Damn! I was strapped in and ready for the handles when I decided a quick peek might be in order, so I rolled the old girl over, and just behind the tail was what looked like the end of the runway.
When I was half way through the turn, I could see the whole field before me and was sure I could make it, since I’d have a tailwind landing down wind. Being the luckiest guy in the world, the runway was clear and I touched down in the first couple of hundred feet. It was a squeaker, and I held the nose wheel off using max aerodynamic breaking. Then, when I deployed the drag chute, there was no familiar tug, but this turned out to be OK because I was able to coast to within a couple of hundred feet of the squadron parking area.
While this flame-out landing “save” was great, it also had a bad side to it—because it had been way too easy! Almost two months later, I experienced a flame-out again, but this time, I almost busted my butt while really stretching the glide home.
On this second occasion, I was flying out of home base at Hahn. I was about to roll in on two F-100Ds coming from my two o’clock low, flying 90 degrees to my flight path. I shoved the throttle to 100 percent as I started my barrel roll to the right, when all of a sudden I felt the plane decelerate. The engine was unwinding fast. I initiated a relight, but got no results. I don’t remember who my wingman was this time around, but I hoped it wasn’t a “Moose rejoin” again. Whoever he was, I told him to go home without me…that I’d be a bit late. Luck was with me because it was one of the clearest days I ever experienced in Germany, and Hahn was “CAVU” for a change.
Turning for home, I remember seeing a runway within easy gliding distance at four o’clock, but opted for my home base. This was a really dumb decision and I knew it, but I was bullet proof, right? I had a straight shot toward the Hahn runway, but it would require a 90 left for final approach. Every five thousand feet, I did another relight attempt, but to no avail. When I reached 10 thousand, I quit trying the relight and concentrated on the approach. The pucker factor was pretty high during that final turn because there was only going to be a couple of seconds between roll out and touch down. Close enough that I should have rethought my invincibility—but no, I was still a cocky SOB and a smart ass to boot! Once again, I really lucked out and greased the landing!
(I remained really impressed with myself until one day Colonel Pete Everest, a man we all truly admired, took me aside and told me that the next time I tried a flameout landing he’d kick my butt. He really wasn’t very nice about it.)
Later, the maintenance guys showed me the low-pressure fuel filter. It was clogged with fuzz balls which they said resulted from people urinating in the gas tanks at Wheelus. A couple of months later, the 36th TFW presented me with a nice little desk-set Flying Safety Award. The plane on it resembled a pregnant F-102, the pen never worked, the clock quit within a few weeks and then the marble base cracked and crumbled. It was truly a basket case as far as award hardware goes.
About a month later on, a scramble as Lead, I watched Moose go past me again. Damn that Moose. Sure enough, my engine had quit right after I came out of burner, and again I had choices: trees, housing area, relight or eject. This was a tough one. Initially, it looked like the fourth option, until, on a last second cockpit sweep, I noticed that the crew chief (a new guy on his first time ever scramble) hadn’t fastened my parachute leg straps as briefed because he didn’t want to touch me “down there.” Fortunately, I got my first successful relight right away. There was nothing “cool” about this one. I was beginning to wonder about my longevity in this trade. It was a maturing incident, and sure enough, some of my cockiness faded. (SAC would take the rest of it!)
So, I would add my name to the SYC “dead-stick” landings list. To recap, I had two; one with a 25,000-foot weather penetration, one when it was CAVU and both happened within a two month period. I suggest a dunce cap for the over-all winner in this dead-stick category.