Unforgettable memories, The DC-8
Time flies, as did we
By Frank Hop
It is almost thirty years ago since the last DC-8 left KLM. Many of us can still vividly recall KLM's first jet plane. This is the story of just one flight in the life of a DC-8.
It all begins in Cairo (CAI), Egypt. The date: Sunday 11 July 1982, 01.00 am. The aircraft: a DC8-63, PH-DEB. The crew consists of a Captain, First Officer, Flight Engineer (my duty), Purser, Assistant Purser and Flight Attendants.
Together we are ready to operate the regular service KL567 from CAI to Dar-Es-Salaam (DAR) via Kilimanjaro (JRO). However that day there are fuel supply problems in DAR. The decision is made to change our schedule and operate CAI-DAR-JRO, with a night-stop in JRO. That is the plan, so let's do it! With extra fuel onboard for the DAR-JRO stretch we depart CAI and head for DAR.
From now on those "small irritations" start to rear their heads which are going to typify this flight. It starts when we do not get our requested flight-level. Via the temples of Abu Simbel and Lake Turkana we cruise at FL280 (28000 ft). This consumes our precious fuel. After 5.20 hrs we touch down on runway 23 in DAR. The remaining fuel is just enough for the next stretch to JRO.
Quickly we depart DAR for JRO with DAR as alternate. When approaching JRO we receive the message that our approach is cancelled and we have to enter the holding above JRO's "KB" beacon. Apparently a Piper Aztec diverted from the local Arusha airfield and is on its way to JRO. ATC has no clue of the airplane's position. While the pilots are engaged in flying the holding and planning a possible diversion back to DAR, the F/E tries to contact the Aztec on several VHF frequencies. However no joy.
After 20 minutes we get the message that the Aztec has been safe on the ground in Arusha for some time. We touch down at JRO with minimum fuel. For now it is off to the hotel in Arusha, as tomorrow there will be an early departure.
Monday, 12th of July
That day we plan to operate JRO-DAR-KRT-CAI. The extra stop in KRT (Khartoum) is needed because of the fuel availability problems in DAR. We now take maximum fuel for the flight towards DAR. In the meantime the Flight Engineer performs his pre-flight checks.
External check and……… won't you look at that: it looks like an enormous cowpat has dropped on top of the rudder. Apparently a large bee family has settled there during the night-stop. F/E thinks, maybe they built a nest in the rudder gap… Just move the rudder and they will leave. So back to the cockpit, lower the flaps a little to remove the rudder limiter and then full deflections on the rudder. In the meantime the whole crew is watching the show. When the rudder deflects a big part of the family drops with a splash on the apron, just missing the shoulder of the Captain! At this moment all the local staff start running for their lives…. followed by the crew. These bees can be deadly when angry and today they have all manner of reasons to be very angry! Quickly into the aircraft and off we go towards DAR, ..sigh….
After arrival we are informed that enough fuel is available for us to reach KRT with Jeddah (JED) as an alternate. We are ready for engine start again. When we start engine 2 there is no reaction at all; the starter valve won't open. Unfortunately there is no Ground-Engineer, so we have to shut down the engines. F/E goes out and opens the engine cowls and gives the right kick at the right place and, hey presto, everything functions again.
In the meantime the temperature inside the cabin of the almost full DC-8 has risen to an uncomfortable level. Without running engines the DC-8 has no air conditioning. Slowly we taxi to the runway with the inboard engines in reverse to increase the pneumatic pressure to the air-conditioning system. But one thing the crew does not know and cannot see: the grass has been cut….. The DC-8 approaches the runway via the narrow taxiway and we receive our take-off clearance. The F/O slowly opens the power levers and then: Bang, Bang, Bang! Engine 4 stalls audibly and visibly. The F/E switches on some more consumers to increase bleed and tries again, but no joy. The engine refuses to supply power. The only thing we can think of is that the inlet is blocked by something…. Unfortunately we have to return to the apron, shut down engines, do the after-parking checklist and then the F/E jumps out.
Down on the apron the F/E is flabbergasted.. Three out of the four engines are blocked by HAY… Of engine 4 only the inlet cone is visible…. How is it possible that this engine has been running.. Our DC-8 hoovered up all the hay on the taxiway.
With local helpers crawling between fan and turbine blades to remove the hay we start our negotiations for more fuel. This whole exercise used up 1000 kg of fuel. With many friendly words and several cans of cola we get 1000 litres (800 kg). At last we depart DAR and head for KRT.
Then the first weather reports of KRT are coming in: visibility 700 meters in sandstorm…. This is below our limits… We contact KLM KRT and there is no improvement expected. We have to divert to JED.
Guided by our Omega Navigation System we head in the direction of Jeddah. After 4.40 hrs we touch down on runway 34L. Outside air temperature is 42 Celsius and we have no aircon. The KLM staff has gone home already, as they never expected us. After 10 minutes waiting with running engines somebody from the airport comes up and requests our intentions. After some time we get a ground power unit and stairs.
Our cabin crew performs a great job keeping our passengers happy in the overheated cabin. After realising that our DC-8 was being fed by hay the mood changed and all the passengers appreciated our efforts to make them as comfortable as possible under the circumstances. But now it is time for quick action. The pilots go to Flight Operation to file a flightplan to CAI. The Purser orders as many soft drinks as possible. The F/E refuels, makes a new load sheet, and does the A-check. After 50 minutes we are ready; off we go again towards Cairo.
At last after 1.5 hrs we land on runway 05L in CAI. Now it is only a short while until a cold Stella beer will be waiting for us in the El-Salaam Hotel. Deadly-deadly tired… Tomorrow it is back home via Istanbul. But those DC-8 days: Terrific, Unforgettable.
Twenty years later I am back on this route, now as Captain on a B-763. Things have not changed much. During those night flights my thoughts sometimes drift back to those memorable DC-8 days. JRO is still JRO, anything can happen.
Now there is often a B-747-400 occupying the apron: the private airplane of a Sheik with his hunting party!