C-47 Dakota BW-M / 335 Squadron

Engine trouble on return flight from London

Leif Lyngby

Early in the morning on December 4th, 1957, C-47 BW-M took off for Northolt outside London. Christian Beck was captain, on his first trip first trip abroad in this capacity. I had experience on international flights, and was flying as 2nd pilot. It was customary to place experienced 2P's with new captains on their first trips.

The purpose was to bring back representatives from the Norwegian Defense College, headed by General Hansteen. They had spent a week in England on an excursion and were due to travel back to Norway on December 5th. There would be a total of 26 passengers on the return trip, including my wife, a full planeload. The trip south on Amber 7, the airway that we were following to the northern part of Holland, went without problems. We turned west towards North Foreland in England and progressed across the English Channel. At this point we received a radio warning about the fog over the Channel, which could possibly spread inland. And it did spread. As we got closer to Northolt we were told that the thick fog was encompassing the runway, and we had to prepare for an alternative location for landing. Immediately after, we were directed to another airport north of Northolt, however, this airport was also closed due to the fog before we got in position.

The next alternative was Bovingdon, even further north. This airport was situated on an elevated area, and the fog stretched as greedy fingers uphill towards the runway. We won the race with a short margin, very short; in fact, as we had problems in navigating the taxing strip once we had landed. In those days there was no airport radar system to assist aircrafts once they had landed. The fog was so compact that we had problems convincing a taxi driver to take us to the hotel.

We had to wait one more day, until December 6th, until the fog lifted sufficiently to take off for Norway with the passengers onboard. There was still fog in the Channel area, covering the airports further south in England. The passengers therefore had to travel to Bovingdon to board the plane.

Due to the travel time from London, the departure was set to 1400 hrs. Our passengers had obviously done their Christmas shopping in London - the load of bags and suitcases in the aisle was formidable. After having loaded baggage and passengers, I mentioned to Beck that we were loaded to capacity, and hoped that we wouldn't encounter any engine problems. C-47 with such a grossweight was no easy task with only one engine. It would not be able to fly.

Takeoff went fine, and we were soon on course towards the Channel in 9000 ft, cruising above a continuous carpet of fog. The sun was shining, and the feeling in cockpit was relaxed.

Having been airborne for 45 minutes, we noticed a strange, short sound. It sounded like if one was to turn off the ignition for a moment, however, all the instruments were normal. A little while later the sound was repeated, after which I closely watched the propeller revolution counter to see any indications of a drop in the rpm. Five minutes later the same thing happened again, and I noticed the rpm on engine 2 dropped for a short second; which accounted for the sound.

The relaxed feeling disappeared immediately, and after discussing a possible reason for the engine trouble we decided to land at the closest airport available to check plugs and magnets. The insecurity about an escalation of the engine trouble made us decide.
The radio-operator checked the weather, and fount the airport at Jever, in the inner part of the Helgoland Bay was the closest one open and not closed due to the fog. The conditions were not ideal, and we had to have assistance from the GCA radar all the way down. The engine continued to be troublesome; we crossed our fingers that it wouldn't get worse until we had landed, as we would then be in deep trouble due to the weight.

At last, having spent long minutes listening for sounds not supposed to be there, we approached Jever, and completed the landing without further trouble. We could only see the runway lights when we reached 300 feet, as the fog was very close to the ground.

We were all, except for the technician, transported to the mess hall where we were treated to coffee and sandwiches, waiting for the engine to be checked over.

After two hours the technician told us he had changed the ignition plugs and tested the engine, hence everything should be ok again. We were bussed back to the aircraft and were shortly ready for take-off again. We were cleared to airway Amber 7 towards Esbjerg radio beacon in nine thousand feet, and soon we reached our cruising altitude. It was already dark, and strong winds from the west and rain was forecast over Denmark.

A while after passing the Esbjerg radio beacon, a violent bang was heard from the right engine, then it started to backfire. We had to pull the throttle back to nearly idle before it slowed down, it could only take as much as it was not in brake mode. We lost altitude immediately. Christian and I looked at each other, words were superfluous. We knew, as well as the rest of the crew, the severity of our situation.

I called Copenhagen radio and reported our situation. Simultaneously the navigator checked the distance to available airports, and the radio operator tried to get weather reports for the same areas. Everything happened without the captain having to give any orders.

Moments later Copenhagen Control told us that Karup, a military base at Jylland, had personnel ready at the approach radar, they had just taken down a Danish aircraft. Our good luck, and we sure needed some. We switched into their radio frequency, while our navigator calculated whether we could reach that destination with our continuous loss of altitude, or whether we had to prepare for a crash-landing in the terrain. At a rate of descent of 500 feet per minute we would lose 5000 feet in ten minutes. We were now at 8000 feet, and there were still 60 nautical miles (100 kilometers) to Karup, meaning a flying time of 20 to 25 minutes. Fortunately, the strong wind was from the side, and not headwind.

We expected to be able to gradually reduce the altitude loss when we got further down where the air was more compact, hence giving a better lift and better effect for the engine. We were hoping we would make it, assuming no more problems would develop. But it would be on a very fine margin. The radar directed us directly in using a shortcut. All other traffic had to yield.

Approaching Karup, still having a bit of altitude to work with, the hope of a successful landing increased. It was pitch dark outside, the rain hit against the aircraft. This was no ideal night for an emergency terrain landing, as we would probably not have been able to see anything before impact.

An lt.colonel came into cockpit, he had piloted Dakota himself and understood, better than the other passengers, the critical situation that we were in. We gave him a quick briefing on our increasing optimism. He felt somewhat assured. I can remember he borrowed the navigator's tobacco pouch to roll a cigarette, however, his hands were shaking so much that the loose tobacco fell down on the floor. He threw the pouch away and went back to the cabin. I such situations it is better to be doing something actively than just sitting waiting, without being able to anything.

The radar operator talked us calmly down, giving us continuous information regarding the distance to the runway as well as our altitude. When passing 1500 feet the distance was so short we were fairly confident that we would make it. We managed to keep the rate of descent at about 200 feet.

Finally we saw the landing lights along the runway. A delightful sight, but the problems weren't quite over as yet. The wind was blowing across the runway, and, of course, on the wrong side in relation to our dead engine. When landing in side wind one engine is always used to keep the plane straight on the runway, avoiding going off the runway. Now we had to employ brakes and rudder to compensate for the engine that did not work. The brakes were pretty hot by the time we came to a full stop.

We taxed to the parking area and, after having turned the engines off and the noise subsided, we sunk back into the seats and had one minute of silence. It felt good to get the pulse rate down again.

The engineer went into the cabin and opened the door for the passengers. Some of them couldn't get out of the plane fast enough! It was clear that they had all been very aware of what had been going on. As mentioned, sitting still and waiting is very hard in such situations. They had all heard the loud bangs from the engine, and noticed the descent. We did inform them that we were on our way to Karup, but that, apparently, didn't have a particularly calming effect on the passengers.

When inspecting engine No.2, we noticed oil spilled across the wing and back on the tail. A closer inspection showed that a large piece of a cylinder wall had disappeared, so a replacement engine would have to be shipped from Norway.

The Danish took care of us in the best way possible, and a late dinner was served in the mess hall. General Hansteen was offered air transport for himself and his group to Norway with a Danish plane the same night. He thanked, but replied "The devil has been chasing us twice already today, he will not get a third chance!" They retuned home by boat the next day. My wife and I stayed in a suite in the mess building that night, and hitchhiked with a Danish office to Copenhagen the next day. We traveled by train to Oslo on Saturday night. The engineer remained at Karup to prepare for the replacement of the engine.

I was scheduled for a four-day trip to Munich with General Motzfeld already on Monday morning, a trip I didn't want to miss, and wanted to get back home as soon as I could.