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West Coast interceptor page 6

STORY by DICK BENTHAM

With some 600 hours’ total flying time and only six months’ experience on a squadron, I was not about to argue. Chastened, I hustled out to the flight line to CF-100 18579, and away we went.

In late summer, the Ottawa Valley sometimes has a few night games all its own. Surface wind in the valley becomes light, heat is radiated away into the clear summer night sky, and, when the air temperature is lowered to the point where it can no longer hold the water vapour present, water droplets precipitate out. Fog quickly spreads throughout the valley. Conditions on this night were ideal for such an event, but the forecaster never mentioned it.

At 40,000 feet it was a splendid night. We could see Montréal’s lights clearly and there was a bright glow to the southwest from the lights of Toronto. Ottawa was never out of sight, even when we had worked our way some 200 miles north over Quebec east of Val d’Or. There seemed to be no need for fuel concerns. When well down to VFR reserves of about 2,000 pounds, we called it a night and headed for home. For recovery, Puritan called for a radio frequency change. At that moment, 579’s VHF radio went totally dead.

No problem. Ottawa was standing out like a beacon 100 miles away. It would be a simple matter of a straight-ahead descent to find the airport somewhere on the southern limits of the city. After a week of VFR day recoveries, the fact that the Uplands NDB had never been used and the frequency never committed to memory didn’t seem to matter much. It would just be an easy night visual landing.

Down we went, and at about 3,000 feet approaching the city we became aware of the curious fact that all the lights below seemed wrapped in cotton candy. Fog. Over the south edge of the city there was only more thick fog and a few dim lights barely peaking through. For 10 minutes we flew back and forth hoping to see something recognizable, but there was nothing. Then the airplane’s low-level-fuel lights came on, indicating about 800 pounds of fuel per engine, or about 20 to 25 minutes remaining to dry tanks.

Things now were definitely not looking good. Although GCA could broadcast on the Uplands NDB frequency if asked to, this was not going to help if we didn’t know the frequency. There was insufficient fuel to try for Montréal. In about 20 minutes this CF-100 crew was going to be on the ground, one way or another.

The intrepid Bob Burnie suggested reasonably from the back seat, “Maybe we should squawk 4.” He had the IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) set, which would light up any in-range ground radar screen with a distinctive emergency blip.

My reply was quick. “No. Don’t do it. We’ll get into trouble.”

As a sprog pilot in the RCAF in the ’50s you learned a few of the aviation world’s fundamental truths outside of the classroom. One of these truths was, “Don’t ever, ever declare an emergency or ask for help. If you do, you’ll regret it.”

This unlikely advice was burned into my brain by my betters and assorted instructors: “Whatever your airborne predicament and whatever the cause, if you draw attention to yourself, you will come to wish you hadn’t. It is much better to work your way through your problem alone.”

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