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Old 03-14-2010, 03:38 PM
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SPOILER ALERT!! Looong war story time!

Willygoat's H-19 Chickasaw repaint reminds me of an incident which occurred at Kincheloe AFB in late spring or early summer of 1973. I was working swing-shift at the time (4-11 pm) and was sent to relieve a day-shift worker who was running a pumphouse during a B-52 defueling operation.

I entered the control room and was told all was okay and the person I relieved left. I double-checked the panel settings in the control room, called the dispatcher and reported in that I was on post.

I then walked around to the pump room to make sure everything was okay in there. When I opened the door, I realized the floor was flooded with about an inch and a half or so (about 4 cm) with what I thought was water. Under my breath, I cussed the person I relieved for leaving the wash-down faucet running and sloshed my way through the liquid to turn off the water. When I got there, I found the faucet was off. Confused, I glanced around the pump room to see if there was a hint of where the liquid was coming and my eyes got the size of a silver dollars when I spotted a six-foot high fountain of liquid coming from contaminated fuel drain in the middle of the room.

I knew immediately it was JP-4 and I also knew the only reason it was happening was because the day-shift worker set the pipeline system up for dumping to the waste fuel tank, rather than a main storage tank. The waste fuel tank only held a maximum of 5000 gallons (maybe 2,500, I can't remember now), while the main storage tanks held 50,000 gallons. Knowing where the defueling was happening, I traced the pipeline system to the incorrectly set valve and got the fuel going to the proper tank. I then decided to check the vent valve on the tank outside since the fuel had been fountaining inside as high as it was. When I got there, I noticed fuel was pushing out from the locked cap onto the ground.

I looked around to see how far the fuel had spread and saw it was everywhere. Worst of all, fuel had reached the parking ramp and I could make out puddles of fuel in the tarmac behind two of the the KC-135s in the Tanker Alert area. I then looked to my right and saw an even larger puddle had formed behind one of the B-52H models parking directly in line with the pumphouse...and, the ground crew was preparing to launch the bird. I went running out to the crew chief, yelling and waving my arms and when I got his attention, pointed out the fuel spill and told him what it was. He immediately shutdown the engine start process and told the aircrew to exit the aircraft.

I then went and called the fire department and told them there was a fuel spill at the pumphouse. Then called my dispatcher to inform him. A few minutes later, the fire department arrived with a small wash-down truck and when I pointed out the extent of the spill, they called for a supervisor and a bunch of trucks. Along with them came a couple of bird colonels to see what the excitement was all about.

When the colonels arrived, they immediately shutdown Tanker Alert and the flightline to all aircraft movement (the parking ramp was later reopened in limited areas for activity, but the half of the ramp the pumphouse was at, remained closed). The fire department began foaming down the area. However, fuel was under so much pressure in the tank that it was still bubbling out of the vent valve and from the drain in the pump room, spreading more fuel everywhere. There wasn't much anyone could do until the pressure was relieved in the tank.

A while later, I was watching the venting process when I heard a strange sound in the sky. Looking toward the sound, I realized it was a helicopter coming in. Rather than landing at the base operations area as all transient aircraft did, this one flew over to the access road for the parking ramp and landed there, about five hundred feet from, and upwind of where all the fuel was.

The helicopter was largest, most bulbous thing I had ever seen and I had no idea at the time what model it was. It was shining bright in its natural metal color and had the SAC shield and field of stars on it. As I watched, a number of people got off the helo, dressed in short sleeve uniforms and started walking my way. As they got closer, I saw a four-star general, two two-star generals (major general) and one single star general (brigadier general) walking towards me. Along with them were a couple of colonels and majors and maybe a captain or two. When they got within earshot, I heard the four-star ask who was in charge and who caused the problem. The fire chief announced he was in charge and then pointed me out as the culprit of the problem.

I suddenly got very scared, thinking I was in deep, deep trouble and watched as the "stars" walked towards me. When they hit the edge of the fuel, they stopped momentarily and then continued on. I knew then they were serious about whatever they were going to do to me. When the group got to me, one of the generals asked, "Just what they hell happened here?" I explained everything from the beginning and told them what I did, in the order it happened, without leaving out any details. When I finished, they all looked at me and then the four-star said, "Good work, sergeant." As I replied with a nervous "Thank you, sir," he glanced down at the vent valve opening and asked, "Can't you stop the fuel from coming out of that?" I told him there was still too much pressure in the tank and explained it was still bubbling up from the drain in the building. He then looked at me with all seriousness and said, "Well, do something...stand on it if you have to. We need to get Tanker Alert operational again," and the party walked away. Kincheloe's Tanker Alert force at the time was SAC's largest contingent of alert KC-135s and not something anyone wanted sitting non-operational for any length of time.

So, I stepped up on the top of the valve cover (three inches or 7.5 cm in diameter) and while trying to hold my balance, stood on top of the valve as ordered and watched fuel continue to bubble out. When the "stars" had walked down to the tarmac, I got off the valve and checked the drain. About that time, the person I relieved showed up and I told him to hid out as there was brass everywhere looking to hang someone. After maybe 30 minutes of walking around and looking at things, the party got back in the helicopter, the engines started and it lifted off and headed off in the direction it came.

I later learned the group had come from 40th Air Division, where the SAC commander in chief was visiting. He was the four-star who had told me to stand on the valve. Along with him was the air division commander and a number of Hq SAC and division operations people. I had never seen so many stars, eagles and oak leafs together at one time in my life.

When the pressure was finally relieved from the tank, we began the clean-up process. After hours of work, the fire department was satisfied the area was safe, and reopened Tanker Alert and the area around the spill for aircraft movement activity.

I then completed the defuel I shut down hours earlier, and returned to our dispatch office and spent the next hour or so, filling out a major fuel spill report and explaining what happened to those not involved.

The next day, it was determined that close to 30,000 gallons of JP-4 had been sent into the underground tank. That fuel had to go somewhere and I got caught right in the middle of it.

So...what does all this have to do with Willygoat's H-19? The one hanging in the museum looks just like the one I saw the brass arrive in back in 1973.
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  #2  
Old 03-14-2010, 04:32 PM
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Very good story, Ashrunner. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 03-14-2010, 04:52 PM
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That's an awesome story Ash, and I'm glad that my picture evoked such a nice memory. Well, maybe nice isn't the word, but vivd. Yeah, vivd. :p
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Old 03-14-2010, 06:47 PM
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A good story, Ashrunner. One of those things that's much more entertaining after you have managed to live through it than it was at the time, I'm sure.
I'd love to have seen your face when you realized what the stuff was all over the floor, but I'd have to have been there, so it's okay that I didn't.
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Old 03-14-2010, 06:53 PM
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Wow. That's quite the story. Did the pump room normally smell of fuel that vividly that it wasn't immediately apparent you were wading through fuel? Or did it all just happen so quickly that you noticed and saw the fountain all at once?
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Old 03-15-2010, 01:27 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cmags View Post
Wow. That's quite the story. Did the pump room normally smell of fuel that vividly that it wasn't immediately apparent you were wading through fuel? Or did it all just happen so quickly that you noticed and saw the fountain all at once?
There was always a smell of JP-4 in the pump room. I've tried to remember if the smell was overpowering or not at the time, but I can't. I do remember stepping into the room and into the puddle and my first thought was water.

Aviation fuel came in colors. I don't quite remember all the colors used then, but do recall 115/145 AvGas (aircraft reciprocating engine) was purple, MoGas (vehicle gas) was red and JP-4 (jet fuel) was yellow. However, the JP-4's color was always a very light shade and the floor of the pump room was painted a fuel proof gray color. So it was difficult to determine color. Any other fuel would probably have shown up as not water.

The odd thing is, I have a vague memory of seeing the fountain as I walked in and it just didn't register that it could be fuel. My only thought was water from the faucet. It was after checking it and looking at the fountain again, that I realized what it was and what I was standing in.

JP-4 for those who don't know, was one of the most volatile of all jet fuels. It had an unknown flash point, meaning its vapors could ignite at any temperature. Air Force fuels troops always joked about driving around strapped to a 5,000 gallon bomb. It was essentially the truth. Standing in a small lake of it in an enclosed room was scary enough...but realizing the extent of the "lake" and seeing an aircraft engine start beginning with the exhaust pointed right at the lake, really got my heart pumping.
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Old 03-15-2010, 02:01 PM
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My dad worked as (and trained) damage control personnel and fire fighters in the Navy, on shore and aboard at least 2 aircraft carriers during his 20. I can hardly wait to pass your adventure on to him and get his reaction! He served aboard the USS Kitty Hawk and the USS America during the Vietnam War. He has respect for aviation fuel, I know that!

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Old 03-15-2010, 02:57 PM
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Thank you very much, Ash, to share this... one of your great stories with all of us. I also agree that your recollection is very vivid.

Hey... sell it to a small movie company... I can see a short coming from your story.
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Old 03-15-2010, 03:17 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ashrunner View Post
There was always a smell of JP-4 in the pump room. I've tried to remember if the smell was overpowering or not at the time, but I can't. I do remember stepping into the room and into the puddle and my first thought was water.

Aviation fuel came in colors. I don't quite remember all the colors used then, but do recall 115/145 AvGas (aircraft reciprocating engine) was purple, MoGas (vehicle gas) was red and JP-4 (jet fuel) was yellow. However, the JP-4's color was always a very light shade and the floor of the pump room was painted a fuel proof gray color. So it was difficult to determine color. Any other fuel would probably have shown up as not water.

The odd thing is, I have a vague memory of seeing the fountain as I walked in and it just didn't register that it could be fuel. My only thought was water from the faucet. It was after checking it and looking at the fountain again, that I realized what it was and what I was standing in.

JP-4 for those who don't know, was one of the most volatile of all jet fuels. It had an unknown flash point, meaning its vapors could ignite at any temperature. Air Force fuels troops always joked about driving around strapped to a 5,000 gallon bomb. It was essentially the truth. Standing in a small lake of it in an enclosed room was scary enough...but realizing the extent of the "lake" and seeing an aircraft engine start beginning with the exhaust pointed right at the lake, really got my heart pumping.
can imagine you just reacted first and thought of it afterwards
we're lucky nothing happened and you're here to share your stories with us
that was good and interesting reading
there should be a thread called "from Ash to dusk" (or somehing like that):D
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Old 03-15-2010, 08:10 PM
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Originally Posted by 2Kamser View Post
there should be a thread called "from Ash to dusk" (or something like that):D
Or "From Ash to Dust" 8v)

I sometimes think I'm boring people with my stories, but figure those who want to read them will. The strange thing is I still have a lot I haven't talked about. Just goes to show a person how exciting a 20 plus year career in the military can be 8v)
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