Paul “PK” Kimminau – Caterpillar Club

Paul "PK" KimminauOK, there I was, 50,000 feet, on my back, out of control, oops…wait, this is a story about a Hun!

Actually I was a student at the Fighter Weapons School in the fall of 1965. In early November, I was number three in Reno flight. We went to the range and our last event was 500 knot strafe. On base we would light the burner so we could get close to 500 knots going downhill toward the target. On my last pass, I got a Master Caution light and the cause was an Oil Overheat light. The ONLY time I had ever seen that light was when checking all the lights during preflight. Well, I pulled the throttle back and the light went out. Checked everything, including the oil pressure, and everything was normal.

Told Reno 4 (Max Templin, the IP) what had happened and that I was pressing on for the join up. Anyone who has been to the Weapons School knows the students tried like hell to be all joined up before the IP got in formation. I was back to full throttle and gaining on one and two, who were already joined up. We climbed to 10,000 headed South to depart the range complex at Indian Springs.

It seemed to me that I wasn’t getting all the power that I was used to. Reno 4 was already on my wing and I still had a ways to go to get in formation. Just as I slid into position on Lead’s right wing, I noticed a Master Caution light again. Again, the Oil Overheat light, but this time I also had a FIRE WARNING light. Told Reno 4 about the lights and he said to go to Guard Channel. I was very calm and threw the UHF radio lever out board.

OK, guys, I’ll fess up right now. That is not Guard but Manual. Inboard would have been Guard. However, I was in TR & G so all transmissions on Guard I received. In fact the first transmission I heard was Reno 4 calling Mayday to Indian Springs tower. He then asked if I was up. I replied, “Yeah, I am up.” Of course I am transmitting on Manual, so no one hears me. Range One tower could have heard it,  if it had been manned.

We were exactly at 10,000 ft indicated and directly over the west end of the Indian Springs runway. The tower did not answer Reno 4 for what seemed like forever, but finally acknowledged our Mayday. I asked Reno 4 what the direction of traffic was for the SFO. I thought I remembered that it was right, but he was on the right wing so I transmit that I would be going left. Put the gear down, and remember to this day that only the nose and right main showed green. At about this same time I noticed the oil pressure go to zero. Also, both rudder pedals go all the way forward and pushing on one did not make the other move. Oh well, I thought, guess something is amiss. Started a left turn and did not get but about 15 degrees of bank in when Reno 4 says smoke is coming out the left side of my fuselage. I answered, “OK, I am getting out!” Rolled wings level, pulled up on the handles, the canopy leaves and it took no time at all for me to find the triggers and pull. Up I went! Did what I think was about one tumble and thought I better get out of the seat, when the chute opened. Butt snapper worked like a charm and the one and zero lanyard did likewise. Had not disconnected it because I was a bit busy at the time I would have normally unhooked it. Chute fully deployed and the survival kit also deployed. The lanyard which had the one man life raft connected to it kept wrapping around my legs, so I jettisoned the kit.

Now I am all alone about 7-8 thousand feet above the ground and it was really quiet! Just a swishing sound the chute made. I could see vehicles coming from both Range One and Indian Springs toward where they thought I would land. I just kept looking out and enjoyed the ride down. Did not see the aircraft once I was out.
As I get closer to the ground I got ready for the landing. Remember those chutes where a small cable ring was under a cover which you raised and the ring would pop up so you could just jerk on the ring to jettison the canopy? Did not seem a big deal when you were on the ground to raise that cover and see that ring pop up but when you are hanging under the chute it makes you wonder if raising that cover might release the canopy!

When I was what I estimate to be about 300-400 feet, I see this big thing that looked like a tree. Probably a Joshua Tree Cactus. All I could think about was, “All this damn desert out here and I am landing in a tree!” Did what they told you to, looked out at the horizon, toes together, and just waited. Lucky as hell!!! Landed on the West edge of a very shallow drainage ditch with soft dirt in the bottom. Maybe a knot or two of wind from the west, so I do a perfect PLF, pulled those rings, jettison the canopy, and end up on my back in the bottom of that ditch. Not a bruise on me!
After about 30 seconds of laying there thinking I am OK, I get up, take the helmet, G-suit, and harness off. About this time an ambulance arrives but is on the opposite side of a large ditch. A guy runs over and asks me if I am OK, I say sure am. He says something like, “We could give you a ride to Indian Springs in the ambulance but there is a helo coming and you might like to ride it back.”
I wait and sure enough a Pedro arrives in a couple minutes. I gather my stuff up and jump on board. They take me to Indian Springs and drop me off where I wait for the helo from Nellis to get there. [The Pedro that picked me up had a VIP group on board touring the range where they set off all those Nuclear things underground. When the pilot heard the Mayday call he landed in the desert and told them to get out, he would be back after he picked up the pilot (me). ] Got back to Nellis and we landed at the New Hospital [I was the first guy to get delivered to that hospital in a helicopter.] After the required physical, an ambulance took me back to the squadron and afternoon academics.

All in a days work! I flew the next morning with a 05:00 brief. Kids, now days, don’t believe that.

The time of day I jumped out was about 11:00 am. One other funny thing about this story. Many years later I was telling this story and my son’s father-in-law was listening. He is astounded! He tells me he was in the Indian Springs tower that day working. Also told me that the reason for the delay in their answering our Mayday call was the fact that the Thunderbirds were there practicing and they had to get them out of the way for us. Talk about a small world!

-Paul “PK” Kimminau