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West Coast interceptor page 7


The reason for this unwritten code was not too difficult to comprehend. The aviators’ boneyards–simulators, flying control towers and radar sites–seemed to be littered with the remains of pilots who had been judged in error. The aviation system then, as now, found a great deal of charm in attributing accidents to the unfortunate captain of the aircraft. Such findings were easily understood by all. They usually directed attention away from a closer look at the other components of the system such as aircraft design and human factors such as organization, management and so on. It let the others off the hook. To everyone but the pilot, a finding of pilot error was as welcome as the flowers in spring.

Of course, this attitude of keeping quiet about your airborne problems was immature, short-sighted and foolish. But, at the time, for many young, inexperienced pilots, myself included, it seemed to make sense.

I already had such an illuminating experience. On a low-level departure from Comox accelerating through 300 KIAS, my aircraft’s nose gear suddenly extended as if it had the notion to do so all by itself. There was much noise and buffeting.

Forgetting rule number one about not drawing attention to yourself, I did a fly-by over the airfield to see if the gear appeared to be OK. It did, and an uneventful landing followed. The nose gear did not collapse.

Maintenance checked the airplane. No fault could be found. In the Wing Commander’s office, surrounded by my superiors, my story was repeated and a statement signed. The nose gear had simply extended all by itself.

It was more than a little troubling to realize that no one believed it. Leaving his office, I heard the W/C say, “Better get the prayer mat out for Bentham.” After all, everyone knew that the nose gear could not simply fall down. Therefore, the gear must have been selected down at 300 KIAS. Anyone who would do that should be looking for another line of work. The Flight Safety Officer pointedly asked, “Are you really going to sign that statement!”

A sharp and very dedicated maintenance flight sergeant (were there any other kind?) was not convinced that the airplane was really OK. He had it put up on jacks again and cycled the gear many times. Eventually, a flexible hydraulic hose jammed the nose gear uplock on an up selection. The door jutted out. On my flight, at 300 KIAS, the dynamic air pressure had forced the door down. I was off the hook. But the rush to judgement rankled and would not be easily forgotten. Next time, for me, would be different.

And this particular night over Ottawa happened to be the next time. Hopeless as the situation had become, making our predicament known with a Mayday squawk didn’t seem to be a tolerable option. What good could come of it? At the western end of one our increasingly despondent sweeps across the city, the navigation lights of an aircraft appeared to the southeast, obviously on an approach into Uplands.

“Hey, there’s our last chance! Let’s go.” I poured on the coal to overtake and try to join up on the stranger. This was going to be my first attempt at night formation flying.

Figuring that the other CF-100 crew must have diverted to Montréal when they got wind of the Ottawa weather, we wondered who was making an approach into Uplands at this time of the night in such conditions. But, in fact, it was the other CF-100, already on the GCA glide path and concentrating on getting down in conditions of 100X1/8F, well below weather limits.

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