Drama Behind the Scenes

By Harold Kirby

November 2016

I was a co-pilot flying the Boeing KC-135 in 1966, flying out of Kadena, Okinawa. It was the proverbial dark and stormy night. We were to deploy back to the States, flying the Great Circle, nonstop, back to Beale Air Force Base, Calif.

The plane was heavily loaded with jet engines, 72 passengers and all kinds of miscellaneous boxes and gear. The rain was coming down hard and the wind was 25 knots, nearly a direct crosswind from the left. It was right at the max allowable for takeoff. I was hoping for a couple of knots of wind so we could abort the mission and await better weather.

At the end of the runway the crosswind was still just in tolerance. I pushed the throttles up, we released the brakes and started rolling and I activated the water injection and adjusted the throttles. I kept forward pressure on the yoke along with the pilot, and at 80 knots the pilot's seat slipped out of its notch and slid all the way to the rear of its track. The pilot could not reach the yoke or the rudder pedals.

He shouted, "Don't abort, you got it."

As we roared down the runway, the wind hitting the tail kept trying to weather-vane the plane to the left, so more and more right rudder had to be applied. The extra wind over the left wing and the right rudder kept trying to bring up the left wing. Left aileron to keep the wing down, more right rudder to keep the nose straight. A little more rudder and a little more rudder all the way down the runway.

By the time we reached takeoff speed, I was fully cross-controlled, full right rudder, full left aileron. I held the nose down for 10 more knots, and when I rotated the nose up, the bird fairly popped off the ground.

I quickly neutralized the controls, and the bird weather-vaned slightly into the wind and smoothly climbed out. I was white-knuckled but the takeoff was smooth.

The 72 passengers in the rear had no idea of the drama going on in the cockpit. Thank you for that great bird, Boeing.