The Course of True Love Never Did Run Smooth
By Wally Kasper
True love in Jolly Olde England was hard enough to find in the wartime years without its path being fractured by a thundering mighty Lancaster early in the morning.
The night before had been “a dark and stormy night” to say the least. The sort of night when pilots wish they were in some cozy pub getting wrapped around a pint or two, but alas and alack destiny would have it otherwise so when briefing was over we made our way out to the dispersal, kicked the tires and fired up our trusty bird and so off to the runway for takeoff. A heavy rain and hard driving wind forced us onto the short runway. We had full bomb load and enough gas to bring us up to maximum take-off weight and as the controller’s green light caught us at the end of the runway the throttles opened and we started down the runway.
Unbeknownst to us it seemed to be the gremlin’s night to be active and as we went thundering down the runway, not yet at take-off speed, we heard the sharp report of a tire blowout. A pilot’s worst nightmare come true but there was no time to think of that. In the blink of an eye the engineer had the undercarriage on its way up and I tried to gently nurse the over boosted aircraft into a flying configuration and felt my heart sink as the aircraft sunk a few feet before it moved into a stable flying posture and then we were starting to climb away. We heard a ‘thump’ as we left the end of the runway but turned on course for the target and let the thump be cared for later. All systems were in the green but you can imagine it took a moment or two for all of us to start breathing regularly again. Those mighty radial engines of the Lanc 2 had saved our blue clad asses and we were devoutly thankful to our favorite lady, old X-ray, and to the splendid ground crew, those unsung heroes who had, as always given us an aircraft in tip top shape.
We climb away and soon cross the English coast outward bound for Europe and the night’s fun and games. The trip was uneventful and after we had returned to base we waited for all the other aircraft to land and then called in for permission to land. We then were given the ‘news’ that we had blown a tire. I replied “Yes I know, may we have permission to land?” Long pause and then we are told that the Wing Commander would like us to go to the emergency landing aerodrome at Carnaby, about twenty flying minutes away. I reply that since everyone is already down we can land here as well as at Carnaby. “The Wing Commander wants you to go to Carnaby”, ‘yes, sir and out”, shutting off the mike before they heard the rest of our comments.
Carnaby was a large emergency landing aerodrome and as the early morning light is starting to break we head off in their direction and soon have clearance to make our approach and land. They know the problem and have the fire truck and meat wagon standing by.
Since it’s the right tire that has blown we’ll land as close to the right edge of the runway as we can so that when the tire tears off and the metal rim digs into the asphalt we will start a swing off to the right and end up on the grass beside the runway. We land about ten knots above usual touch down speed and the engineer cuts the two inner engines and I try to control the aircraft as best I can with lots of outer throttle as the rim starts to dig in. We swerve out onto the grass through an arc of about forty degrees and the aircraft slowly comes to a halt about a hundred feet away from one of the small brick blast shelters which are found on most of the wartime air bases.
As we’re rolling to a stop out of the blast shelter jumps an airman and his airwoman lassie and start running in the opposite direction as if all the devils in hell were after them. Everyone except the gunners were now looking out the front cockpit and, as you would imagine everyone had a good laugh as the tension of the rather interesting night broke and we waited for the ground crew chaps to come and look at our aircraft.
Luck was with us. They put the aircraft on jacks and after replacing the tire, one brake line and a few pints of hydraulic fluid we started the aircraft and after a couple of undercarriage retractions and extensions we were pronounced fit to travel and cleared to move back onto the runway and prepare to take off back to Linton.
But the gremlins were not finished with us yet. Each of these emergency bases had a communications fellow who would send a fast signal off to your base telling them what the status of your aircraft was. Unbeknownst to us another X-ray aircraft from some other squadron had been badly shot up and landed at Carnaby as a complete write off. Unfortunately the signals fellow got his X-rays mixed up and sent a signal to Linton advising them that EQ-X was a complete write off.
So we headed back to base and Larry and L congratulated ourselves on what we thought had been a really “heads-up” piece of work for the night. On landing at Linton we took the aircraft down to the maintenance hangar as we knew they would want to do check on the wheels. Then into the Intelligence debriefing and at the end of it the Int Officer tells me that the wingco wants to see me–right now. Since his office is in the same building–the Maintenance Hangar–l go upstairs past the staff in the outer office in through the wìngco’s open door. I salute and he gives me the worst dressing down I have ever had laced with his usual profanity and really chews me out for being so stupid as to have written off his aircraft for a simple flat tire. And besides I had done such a bad take-off that I had clipped the palings around the beacon at the end of the runway. 1 now knew what the “thump” had been. The wheel well door was punctured by the cedar palings that protected the beacon at the end of the runway. The whole thing was incomprehensible to me so when he finally ran out of steam I told him that if he looked out of the window he could see the aircraft which was standing right there. He paused and then, realizing what a colossal ass he had made of himself shouted “Get out” so I went out with the staff, who had heard all this, looking rather strangely at me and went to join the rest of the crew in the mess for breakfast. They were as incredulous as I was when told what had happened. The Wireless Op in his usual witty fashion said “Now there’s a commander you can really admire, you saved his aerodrome with a really “heads-up” piece of flying and he gives you a kick in the groin for your efforts. Sounds right for this guy.”
However we all had a good laugh and often thought about the young lovers in the blast shelter seeing this great Lancaster machine heading for them and then taking off in high gear. Forsooth! the course of true love never does run smooth. I’ve often wondered if they were ever brave enough to go and get their hats back.