by Richard S. Hefner, Col, USAF (retired) -141, B-52, C-5 Pilot
C-5s are stationed at only 2 bases in the United States. One is Dover AFB, Delaware and the other is Travis AFB, California. While all C-5s have global reach capability, the C-5s at Dover tend to carry cargo to Europe while the C-5s at Travis generally fly the Pacific … actually makes sense! Since I was stationed at Travis, the vast majority of my trips were around the Pacific rim. We would take either the southern route (Hawaii-Guam-Philippines-Japan-Alaska) or the northern route (same locations, reverse routing).
Crossing the Pacific is significantly different than crossing the Atlantic. From Dover to England is only about 5 hours with favorable winds. From Travis to Japan via the southern route is a 4-day trip…Travis to Hawaii, Hawaii to Guam, Guam to the
Philippines, and the Philippines to Japan. And, unlike Europe, if the weather is down at island locations in the Pacific (like Hawaii and Guam), there are very few alternate
landing locations. This is particularly true with the C-5 because of its size and weight. It cannot just “drop in” to any base or land on any runway. When flying to an island destination where the weather is forecast to be marginal, extra fuel is required for holding at the destination to allow time for the weather to improve and a safe landing to be made. Weather at island locations in the Pacific typically moves through pretty quickly. In fact, I cannot remember any time when weather at Hawaii or Guam was “socked in” for any length of time. Showers almost never lingered over the islands.
Guam is a typical Pacific island location. The weather is generally sunny and breezy, with showers passing through on a regular basis. Additionally, Anderson AFB on Guam is the only location where C-5s can land and be serviced. There are no convenient alternate landing locations.
One day, as we were flying the southern routing and completing our flight planning to go from Hawaii to Guam, our Air Force meteorologists warned us of a squall line that should be passing through Guam at our arrival time. So, with nothing unusual about that forecast, we added the extra fuel for holding time and pressed on.
The take-off and climb to altitude from Hawaii were normal. As we reached our cruising altitude, we all relaxed and settled in for the long, 8-hour leg to Guam. The weather was typical Pacific quality and we bored through the sunlit sky with nothing below us but a vast blue ocean. As we reached our halfway point, we noticed the enroute winds were just a little stronger than the forecasted winds. We were taking more time to get there, thereby causing us to use more fuel than anticipated. However, we had enough fuel to legally continue (versus turning back to Hawaii), so we pressed on. After all, it was “clear and a million” … meaning we were not in clouds and could see for a million miles!
When we were about 2 hours from Guam, the weather remained clear but the westerlywinds had increased. We were using even more fuel than expected but I still wasn’t tooconcerned since we had that extra fuel for holding at Guam.Unfortunately, as we closed in on our destination, we started seeing dark clouds forming on the distant horizon. As Anderson showed up on the radar scope, we could see a solid line of storms moving across the island. We called Anderson weather for an update. The news was not good. As quickly as one squall line went through, another would form and come across the island. Making matters worse, the only other location where a C-5 could land on the island was having the same bad weather.Holding and waiting for the weather to pass was not a viable option. The weatherconditions did not show any signs of a soon-to-happen improvement and our holdingtime was limited due to the additional fuel consumed enroute. We needed to find anopening between squall lines and get this C-5 on the ground.I was in the left seat and flying the approach. Anderson had an instrument landingsystem (ILS) guiding us to the landing runway, so our weather minimums were 200 feet above the ground and 1/2 mile visibility. Without those minimums, we could not legally fly the approach. If we had those minimums but did not see the runway environment at 200 feet above the ground, we could not go any lower and would have to fly a missed approach and try again.As we readied ourselves for our first shot at putting this plane on the ground, Andersonweather called and informed us that a heavy shower was directly over the base and thefield was temporarily closed because the visibility was less than the required 1/2 mile.We couldn’t legally fly the approach, so to the holding pattern we went…waiting for thecell to pass. However, I knew that at some time in the not-too-distant future, I wouldhave to land this plane, legally or not.While in the holding pattern, I asked the approach control and weather to “please advise” us as soon as the field was open. As the fuel level dropped, I became increasingly concerned. Fortunately, after 2 trips around the holding pattern, weather called and said he had the 1/2 mile visibility. Approach control also called to let us know the field was again open.I immediately asked approach control for permission to shoot the ILS approach. I knewthe ride down the glide slope was going to be bumpy, so I told the loadmaster to get thepassengers strapped in and to brief them on the expected turbulence. Cleared for theapproach, I descended the C-5 down into the rain showers. I was right, the plane gottossed around pretty good and I had to fight to keep the C-5 on course and on glide slope all the way down.I was solidly on instruments while the co-pilot looked for visible signs of the runwayenvironment. As we approached 200 feet above the ground, I was waiting for the callfrom the co-pilot to “land” or “go around”. At the 200-foot restriction, I startedanticipating a call to “go around” and I inched the throttles forward. As the radaraltimeter dipped slightly below 200 feet and I was bringing in more power, the co-pilotcalled, “Land, I’ve got lights!”
I immediately chopped the throttles and put the C-5 back into it’s descent towards therunway. With my peripheral vision, I could barely see the approach lights leading me tothe runway. Carefully, I began my transition from instrument flying to a visual landing.I knew I needed to plant this plane firmly on the runway, which was now in sight. As we descended down those final few feet to the concrete, I saw 2 deer standing on therunway…staring up at us with those big Bambi eyes. I had no choice…this C-5 had toland…deer or no deer.I felt a firm contact on the runway with the aft gear then the forward gear and breathed a sigh of relief as we slowed to a good taxi speed. Additionally, I did not feel any impactfrom the deer, so I thought maybe I had missed them. After we parked and deplaned, Ibriefed the maintenance folks that I may have hit 2 deer on landing. It had been a longday and the only thing we were interested in doing was getting a good meal, having abeer, and going to bed.When the sun came up the next day, we went through our normal routine and preparedfor our flight to the Philippines. The squall line was gone and it was a typically beautifulday on a Pacific island. When we arrived at the plane, I saw 2 deer figures painted overthe crew entrance door with the title “Deer Slayer” over the figures. The left aft landinggear had struck both deer. Obviously, there was not much left of the deer and the C-5 had no damage to its landing gear.I guess one can make all sorts of comments, like “that wasn’t a fair fight” or “you should have used a smaller weapon” or “wrong place, wrong time”, etc. Anyway, I will always remember where and when I bagged my first and only deer … and those big, startled Bambi eyes staring up at me as this huge mass of metal and noise and lights plunged down upon them from out of the rain clouds.
by, Richard S. Hefner, Col, USAF (retired) -141, B-52, C-5 Pilot, Aviation Writer http://20thCenturyAviationMagazine.com