Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Saigon - Sydney


As part of some recent research, I was trying to gather as much information as possible about my RTA (Saigon-Sydney). There is a website - Skippy Squadron - which is a good source of detail.

I sent them an email giving the exact date, and the reply was very interesting. My memories of the flight  are generally positive. This may have had something to do with the fact that I was going home. I'm glad, however, that I wasn't aware of what was going on up at the pointy end. The trip would have not have been so enjoyable had I known.

I certainly remember a long take off run at Tan Son Nhut, and a very rough landing in Sydney, but there was a lot happening that I had no inkling about. Here is the account in its entirety - 

Your flight was under the Command of a Captain Norm Field and from the only story from a pilot, he wrote:

Maybe some of the Blue Mountains Vets will remember this departure from Saigon as it was just before Christmas 1970 on December 10th1970 ,707-338c  VH-EAA City of Toowoomba.                                                                                                        

According to "Murphy's Law" once a few things start going wrong get ready for a Bugger of a trip. The technical crew usually had a Vietnam Charter latched on to their normal pattern so we arrived in Singapore at the end of a London trip and departed 24 hours later with 165 very quiet troops on board. Only a short 1hour 50 minute flight from the old Singapore airport (Paya Lebar Airport, virtually in the city) to Saigon with most of the blokes on board wishing we could divert to Sydney. We also tankered fuel to save time and cost of the uplift, on the turn around in Saigon, up to almost max landing weight. No problems at this stage with a great view of the city as we were vectored out to the coast for out initial approach and then turned inbound to see a low level C130 probably on a spraying run. We had developed a coward's approach in the landing profile - maintain 5000 feet - for as long as possible which put you way above the glide slope but not a big problem in the 707 as you could achieve a 1000foot per mile rate of descent with full flap and the gear down provided you remembered to be back in the slot by 3 miles from the runway. This saved itinerate bullet holes in the aircraft.
The airport was a shambles with military equipment, broken helicopters and Air America aircraft scattered aimlessly and people wandering in and out of the flight lines. However our blokes de-planed straight into waiting busses and their equipment followed in the trucks. It was super efficient.

Then "Murphy" took over. Our flight plan arrived and with the high ground temp and big payload (a bum on every seat) we could not do the direct flight, so plan via Darwin. Qantas had a rule in those days that if you were a diversion aircraft you had to build your own flight plan (remember those old hand held slide plastic computers?)

This was my first introduction to the Saigon control tower which I seem to remember was built of galvanised iron and most of the light and airflow inside came from the shrapnel holes on the outside.

Because of our delay we had now lost our slot departure time and the chief controller advised that due to a fire fight problem to the north-east and the F4 phantoms having priority we could not take off into wind and would either have an indefinite delay or take off downwind, actual tailwind component at that stage was 15kts. Max component for a 707 was 10kts. Bugger!! Now we were really weight restricted. At this stage we had all the blokes on board drinking fosters and wanting to get the hell out of there.

With a bit of persuasion the controller changed the tailwind component to 10kts gusting 12 kts occasionally, which we accepted, but don't tell Boeing.

Normally the airport defence helicopters checked the "big white rats" departure track before we left and moved to the north but on this occasion with our delay and the temperature, heavyweight take off, increasing tail wind as we climbed signals got a bit confused and we passed underneath them.

Helicopters are not that attractive from below.

Five hours later we were in Darwin which was just as well as we were almost out of beer and all the toilets were full. It was great to see 165 now fully grown men walk down the steps and kiss the Australian soil. "Murphy" was still working unfortunately as we were now running into the Sydney 2300 curfew and the company estimated we would probably have to divert to Melbourne. With a max mach number cruise permission from Canberra high up and a no reverse thrust landing, I think we touched down at 2301.

What I remember about the troops was that they held their officers in high esteem, and nothing was going to stop them marching through the capital cities when their turn came.

Probably the wierdest aspect of all of this for me is the name of the aircraft - "City of Toowoomba". Toowoomba is where I was born, where I went to boarding school in the sixties, and where I've lived for the last 15 years. If I listen carefully, I can hear the Twilight Zone theme.

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