The Caps

A330 LTU
A330 LTU

At Karlsruhe, with Rhein Control, there also was a monkeys rock, which was a galery for visitors covering the whole faceside of our Controlroom. Because the co-owner of the control center, Eurocontrol, was very proud of this facility, at least one time of the day there were guided tours of visitors on this galery.
As time goes by, we as the control personel got used to these cattle boost and just ignored them, there were more important things to do.
Some of these groups made it after the monkey rock, in smaler portions, into the control room and were, only because of their physical existence, very unpopular. They gathered very near behind us, set up very interested faces and came closer not to miss something.
For us, the personel, it became interesting from the time on, when the herd-leader from Eurocontrol started his lecture. He, normally, started with a description of the work, our work, an pointed out the continuous decision between life and death!
Our question about the adequate payment was always ignored.

These groups appeared, without us knowing about them before.
One day, there was a leak in the “belle etage”, which informed us about an upcomming group, the police of Karlsruhe.

This was finally a group, we were able to handle.
In the assumption, these ladies and gentlemen of the Karlsruhe police had a sense of humor, we had prepared a little joke for them.

It all started with the cops passing the access control.
Check of the Id-cards, handing out of the visitor passes and then passing through the claustrophobia lock.
In short, now they were on the side of the checked persons, a new experience for this ladies and gentlemen.
Then, they went upstairs to the wardrobe and placed their coats and caps.
Our plan started right here.
They had to pass the access control in the basement, which was monitored by a guard. For the save conduction of our plan this man had to go, we sure did not want him to get any knowledge of what was going on here.
So we descided to get rid of him.
We called him, in a very official sound, to move immediately to his control office at the car entrance.
As we were sure, he arrived at his office, we collected all the police caps and transported them to a save place.

“At this point I have to be a little cautious, because I don’t know when the stealing of
police caps is barred and will not be prosecuted anymore.” Some mentioned it will be 30 years?
As we had no use for such an amount of police caps, we thought of, depending on the situation, a couple of ways to send them back. If they had a sense of humor, at the beer in our canteen, called also “dirty spoon”, after their visit is complete, there would be a box in the corner with all these caps and we all would have something to laugh about.
If they had no humor at all, we would send the box with the caps to a police office in the city to be transferred to their owners.
This was our way to stay in good memory by the Karlsruhe police.

But everything turned out different…

The visit of the “green group” was relaxed, until they reached the wardrobe. Even for police, they very fast recognized the loss of the caps.
First, they showed helplessness, then wild confusion.
After a while, the leader of the group of visitors asked the “belle etage” for help.
There were hot discussions which came to the conclusion: All doors should be closed and all entrances and exits should be guarded.
This turned out very handy, the police was already in the house.

Naturally our administrators blamed us, the control personal, and saw us trapped.
After a while of embarrassing silence, guarding all doors, they recognized, no caps are showing this way.
The new plan was to search the whole building.
“What we did not knew was, a policeman without a cap was not able to show up in public. This was forbidden and he could be punished doing it. So these poor people were not able to leave the building.”

Such a search of a big building is not simple and so they ordered reinforcement from their police colleges outside.
It took 15 minutes and twenty new policemen, with caps, made their way through the claustrophobia lock.
Of course we got the search efforts and friendly asked them to show us the warrant for this.
No answer, maybe it was not nescessary because of the immediate danger situation.

The seriousness and the effort which was shown now was very astonishing to us, nobody had thought of that a little joke can have such big effect.
But now, there was no way back.

The serious search also happend to our very upset technicians, it lasted two hours and there was no evidence of hats which were green.
This was also not possible, because these green caps left the area well before all this and stayed at a save place. “I can’t say more, nobody knows.”
Now they ordered by an “order de Mufti”, as we called it, interviews to all personal.
For us, the whole story lasted about three hours, it turned out to be a bumerang, there was no relief from colleges to be expected, nobody was allowed to enter the building.
Our “belle etage” had turned the leadership of this case to the police and they made the descision to form interview teams and take one after another to an interrogation.
Some of us were asked to proceed to the interview room, but we all argued that without a relief we would not leave our position.
The police went in and tryed to rise the pressure on us to be interviewed, but we replied, that we do not let us force by the police to do something criminal. Leaving our controlposition may be a thread to air traffic.
This argumentation was well axaggerated but they stepped back.
Therefore our shyster from the “belle etage” were forced to make a list of all persons which are counted as suspects. After the list was complete the police guided our relief personal, in small groups, from the entrance at the basement to the control room and then to our working positions. Well done.

The interview was like this: First question was: “Who did it?”
My answer: “Who did what?”
They had no choice, they had to explain the whole facts, which naturally was known by me and therefore was very funny. My laughing was not accepted and they looked angry and got more formally.
They threatend me with the involvement of the prosecuting attorney which did not freightend me, because I had no idea what happens then.
Also the hint of no punishment for the one, who tells the name of the offender, did not impress me nor my colleges.
All these efforts showed no success and so the next day the case was given to the prosecuting attorney and our police department.
The Bundesanstalt für Flugsicherung send two attorneys from Frankfurt.

We were very excited about an article in our newspaper next days, saying something like:
Severe robbery at the air traffic control center Karlsruhe.
All the next weeks, every possible newspaper, nothing to read about.
What a coward police, this was not expected by us.

As all the humor we invested was gone, also the sending back of all this nice green caps was not possible anymore. Absolutely too dangerous.

Short and good, this case was never solved. The caps are gone and stay gone, until today.
As I know, the police of Karlsruhe never again visited us. What a pity.

Attn: Every member of the police, wearing a cap, should be aware of his cap at all times, if he is around with air traffic control personal!

Machine kaputt

(translated by Juergen Matthes)


One of the highlights working for Air Traffic Control was the fact that we were entitled to the so called ‘experience flights’, in our jargon called SE-Flug. In regular intervals, about every two years, we were assigned to an SE-flight by our ‘belle etage’. These flights, which you participated as a fully accounted cockpit crew member (without a ticket), were supposed to provide experiences and views into the workload of the flying crew in all imaginable situations. Therefore you participated in a whole rotation together with the crew.

It was logical that these flights were supposed to be provided for the operational staff of ATC only. Unfortunately the ‘belle-etage’ managed time after time to assign members of the administrative staff to one of these flights. Of course the crew noticed the missing operational background of such a person and was, so to speak, not amused!

It was my turn again, I was presented with a rotation Frankfurt – Nuremberg – Frankfurt – Vienna – Frankfurt. The aircraft was a Boeing 727. At that time I was working at Karlsruhe UAC (radar control unit working the upper airspace above 25 000 feet), radio callsign Rhein Control.

Such a rotation comprises everything the cockpit-crew is required to do, including several briefings, that meant getting up early to be on my way for Frankfurt!

First you visit dispatch, get flight-plan data, fuel, weather data. Then the cockpit-briefing takes place, it deals with emergency procedures and also my role in them: I therefore got an introduction to the usage of the oxygen mask, learned to operate the intercom and radio panel and got familiarized with the security belts / harness and the handling of them. All that took place in the terminal.

Then briefing with the cabin crew. Once again emergency procedures, and most important: What’s for lunch! After that taken care of, Lufthansa crew bus took us to the aircraft.

Since the plane had just been through its mandatory check in a hangar, I skipped outside check, I didn’t want to miss how a ‘cold and dark’ airplane was brought back to life.

Our captain was, like you always picture a captain: tall, serious, white streaks in his hair, with a deep, calm voice. Very impressive! The co-pilot (nowadays first officer) was the exact contrary: A tendency to being a bit overweight (I try to be polite), jovial, frankonian dialect, but somehow a bit unpleasantly importunate, a real smart alec. On the 727 there still were flight-engineers, those are always the same type of persons: tall and lean, as you know them from submarine movies!

After the captain had conducted takeoff in Frankfurt, he handed control over to the co, who was supposed to fly the aircraft until Nuremberg including the landing. The crew didn’t show any specific interest in me, except for the flight engineer (FE). I didn’t mind though, since I liked to watch, and the FE explained quite a few things which were new to me.

About 15 minutes before landing the co, now acting as pilot in command (PIC, nowadays pilot flying) was going through the landing preparations. For that he slid his seat back as far as it went, and then he even cranked down his back rest until it was almost horizontal. Lucky me, I was sitting behind the captain, otherwise I would have been crushed! Then the co leaned back, he almost looked like a first class passenger relaxing and waiting for service. I only thought, he doesn’t have any more outside view, strange.

The two up front were discussing the landing now, I didn’t understand a word, but I have to admit, I didn’t try hard either, because I was curious how one can land an aircraft from such a sitting position!

At 10 miles final we were on the ILS. Since I had ridden up front several times before, I noticed an excessive angle of attack of the aircraft right a way. When I looked back into the cabin (at that time the cockpit door was still supposed to be open), all passengers seemed to be downhill, way below me!

Maintaining this angle of attack we touched down on the runway. The co kept pulling the yoke, more and more, towards himself, this explains his sitting position, and this kept the nose up. When the aircraft couldn’t hold this attitude any more, the nose slammed onto the runway and the bird decelerated using only the brakes, without using the reversers.

We had landed, but how had we landed! How the co could see the runway from his sitting position – remained his secret, I could hardly try for myself how you could see outside from his seat. From the pale faces of the passengers leaving the plane I concluded that they counted that landing as almost a crash.

The crew continued to ignore me, for sure they had had some administrative couch potato along on their last experience flight and were fed up, so I decided to accept the offer of the FE to go along for an outside check. The mickey mice (hearing protection) were put on, then outside! We checked the landing gear, especially the tires, the APU, the leading edges of the wings, the flaps and the sensors.

Then we went back inside via the aft staircase. On both sides, in the tail of the aircraft, were small doors which puzzled me, so I asked the FE. They were to be able to check the engines in the tail, did I want to have a look. Sure I did, when else could you have a look at something like that.

He opened the right door and cleared the way. “Look at the fan blades”, he stated, “they must be bent, but consistent”. And there must not be any damages visible”. So I had a look and – yes – they were bent, but by no means consistent.

So I said – “boy, they are bent, but not consistent”. Then I only heard – “WHAT?!” I was shoved aside.

The FE took a long look, but came to the same conclusion: “Yes, they are bent, but crooked”! He ran to the door on the other side and tore it open. Then he shoved me towards it and said “that’s the way they are supposed to look”. I had to confirm, they looked ok. “Doesn’t help”, he said, “the technicians have to go for it”.

So back to the cockpit and report the incident. The captain called the technicians and postponed boarding by 10 minutes. I only thought “what an optimist!”

The technician came, had a look in the back and then only shook his head, someone should get to the engines from the outside with a ladder, have a look and take some measurements. Being friendly, he added an estimate right a way: It would take about half an hour. The captain passed that on to the gate: Delay!

The ladder was brought, a technician climbed it, took some measurements with a gauge, came down again, the ladder was removed. He then came to the cockpit and stated: Flying is tricky, if one of the blades gets torn off he wouldn’t like to be in the aircraft, flying with passengers is impossible.

The crew started discussing. Is there a possibility to get this fixed here at Nuremberg? If not, should we fly empty to Frankfurt? And how do the passengers get to Frankfurt? The captain decided to discuss the problem with the technical department at Frankfurt and then make a decision. So he left us and made a phone-call to Frankfurt from the terminal.

10 minutes later he was back and announced his decision: The passengers are taken to Frankfurt by bus, as well as the cabin crew. Of us four everyone should decide for himself if he wanted to fly or take the bus. He also stated that everyone who would vote for flying, would have to sign a statement that he would do that on own risk, that Lufthansa was freed of all responsibilities. Everyone voted for flying.
Since the technicians checked the other engines, we had time to get a meal from the first class trolley and leisurely enjoy it. “Last Meal!” Gosh, they talked to me, I hardly hadn’t noticed before!

Then we refueled, the doors were closed by the FE, and we prepared for startup. Clearance came from the tower and at the same time from the fire trucks. One on each side, very calming!

The FE calculated our takeoff weight and recommended to use number 3 (the damaged engine) only for takeoff and if needed for landing and otherwise let it idle. This would reduce the risk considerably of a turbine blade been torn off. The captain agreed.

The engines were running now, the FE went to the back to the described door and had a look at the engine. He tried to listen whether he could hear something unusual, but everything sounded normal. So far, so good!

We all were full of respect for the coming flight, you could tell by the lively discussions we were all having. You blabber your fear off!

We decided that I should conduct talking to air traffic control, and to hint to them that we had a “minor” problem.. “Hinting” was important, because if we would encounter a stubborn controller, he could inquire whether we would declare an emergency, if not, we should be handled as any other normal flight. Therefore it was my task to softly point out our problem and request appropriate handling.

Our air traffic control network is astonishingly efficient, because already the ground controller asked how we intended to perform taxi to the runway. So I explained that we could use engine 3 only to a limited extend, taxiing with 2 engines should be no problem, but it would be great if he could pass this information to the following controllers.

We taxied, escorted by the fire brigade, to the runway. The captain had calculated, if No. 3 would run with 80% power-setting, the length of the runway would be more than sufficient. Let’s go! During takeoff roll the FE hung over the thrust levers and paid close attention. Shortly before the end of the runway the captain carefully pulled the nose up, at least we were flying!

At positive climb No. 3 was reduced to idle, which resulted in a drift to the right, but that could be compensated by trim. Flight level 160 allowed a splendid view across the landscape passing underneath us.

Each sector controller handled us like a raw egg, they were superb, even holding (normal to Frankfurt) was not for us this time! They planned us for the southern runway in Frankfurt, we wouldn’t mess up things so much there.

Landing was not so spectacular as at Nuremberg, it was a ‘greaser’! The fire trucks were there also, they reminded us of our defect. We taxied directly to the hangar and learned from the technicians that before the flight to Nuremberg the aircraft had been perfectly ok. Bending of the blades must have happened during the flight to Nuremberg.

The flight to Vienna and back, naturally in a replacement aircraft, went pleasant and uneventful except for the order of the captain “you don’t go out of the aircraft and look at nothing no more!” Since I complained about this order, I got a great meal in first class as a compensation!

We turn the Runway Around

[translated by Juergen Matthes]

Twin Otter
Twin Otter

Naturally you don’t turn a runway around, you “switch runways”, that means according to wind directions and speeds you change the direction of takeoffs and landings. Wind still is a major factor in aviation.

As passenger in a jet you can experience this yourself. Let’s say you are on a flight from Frankfurt to Miami. You have a small portable GPS device with you, and you play with it close to a window during the flight towards Miami, right over the Atlantic Ocean. You realize your speed over ground is displayed as 400 miles per hour. You wonder, your airplane is supposed to travel more than 500 mph. On the return flight, again over the Atlantic Ocean, going east, you play with your toy again and it shows 610 mph. What’s going on?

Very easy: the airplane travels always with the same speed in relation to the surrounding airmass, about 500 mph. On your way to North America you normally will have a headwind with about 100 mph, this results that you travel that much slower. On the way back you travel with 500 mph in an airmass moving itself with 100 or 110 mph in your direction of flight, therefore you are now faster (over ground).

This effect has to be considered during takeoffs and landings. You take off and land preferably against the wind. Number one – it is safer, and number two – you save some fuel. A takeoff with a tailwind means the airplane has to accelerate to a higher speed to achieve the airspeed needed for flight. Let’s say you need an airspeed of 120 knots for take off, a tailwind with 10 knots prevails on the runway, so that requires a speed of 130 knots (on your wheels) to achieve 120 knots airspeed. With a 10 knot headwind you only need a speed of 110 knots (on your wheels).

So it makes sense, to adapt the directions for takeoffs and landings to the wind conditions. Therefore wind and its constant changes is an important factor on any control tower. Now the wind at an airport normally hasn’t the desired effect to reverse its direction completely to the opposite within a short period of time. No, wind acts as it pleases! So it is the responsibility of the tower-crew, to constantly monitor the wind, its tendencies of direction and speed, and to switch runways if needed.

Düsseldorf Tower, a nice day, the wind blows from the west with 15 knots. Approaches and landings are proceeding towards the west, as they normally do under these conditions. The weather bureau has forecasted a change of wind towards the north-west within the next 20 minutes.

This is no problem for takeoffs, they will a bit more jerky. For landings it is a different story, they have to point their nose into the wind (crab angle) until shortly before touchdown when they will straighten out the airplane. For us in the tower cab this is great, we have something spectacular to watch! It is always interesting to watch such landings with a crosswind component.

The wind continues to shift towards the north. Now a good crosswind, the pilots have to show their skill! For crosswinds we have specifications in the tower we have to follow, dictating which strength will require the airport to be closed. But – it’s a long way until that will happen.

But if the wind continues to shift to the east, we will have to switch runways. Naturally it continues to drift to the east. Good air traffic control service means, to be able to handle all imponderabilities and yet provide an orderly and safe flow of air traffic!

The imponderabilities today – it is the period of rush hour, so very high traffic density. The tower controller, the feeder (he is responsible for the sequence of approaching aircraft) and the two approach controllers (handling the northern and southern sectors) are now discussing the best timing to switch runways.

Most times this will result in the statement “after landing of the KLM you can go ahead and switch”. The apron controller guides all aircraft ready for departure from now on to the western end of the runway and strings them at the holding point of the “new” runway.

Feeder announces the KLM arrival at 10 miles final, and there she calls in on tower frequency.
Tower: “KLM 83, Wind 050 with 15 (knots), cleared to land runway 24.”

To understand the following, you must comprehend the relations of speeds. Everyone knows this situation, you are driving on a freeway with 85 mph and suddenly you see a speed-limit sign showing 50 mph. What will you do? Some will take their foot off the gas-pedal and let the car slow by itself until it reaches 50 mph (or slightly faster). They take into consideration that they might be speeding well after the speed-limit sign, but this procedure will aid the traffic flow because nearly everybody is acting like this. But there are also those who will step on the brakes passing the sign and therefor obey the speed-limit precisely.

Both behaviours are present in aviation too. We also have speed-limits, which have to (should) be obeyed. Approaching an airport there is a limit of 250 knots IAS below 10 000 feet, then minimum clean (the slowest speed an aircraft can fly without deploying flaps) and finally any speed-limit an air traffic controller issues to ensure separation to other traffic.

In ATC even small errors get on your back, sometimes a bit later, but they surely do! The decision to switch runways after the landing KLM and the designated time gap before the first landing on the new (now opposite) runway had been selected a bit too short! A Lufthansa Airbus A310, who called in at 10 miles final to the runway facing east, was way too early.

KLM, on the other side, was a slowpoke! She was overly correct and had slowed like stepping on the brake when getting the first glimpse of the speed-limit sign, in short she still needed a while for her landing.

The situation was now (pardon my language) – shitty! KLM was on final westbound, Lufthansa A310 on final eastbound (remember: same physical runway), approximate meeting point was the western end of the runway. This constellation is called a “double decker!”

Solution to this problem is quite easy: You instruct the A310 to go around (overshoot), a sharp left turn afterwards, but you cannot be sure that it will work out. KLM could be forced to overshoot as well (by some unforeseen factor), and then you would have a near miss or even worse!

In our case all went well, the Lufthansa A310 overshot and thundered across the hospital, KLM landed safely! Right away the telephone connecting the tower to the outside world rang, and sister Agate (one of the head-nurses of the hospital) was on the line complaining about the tremendous unbearable noise.

This telephone-call, which happened every once in a while, was major punishment for all of us up here! Sister Agate was always right! She chewed us, kings of the airport, up and spat us out in pieces! What a disaster to our confidence.

I had the (doubtful) pleasure to get to know sister Agate personally, she actually was a fine woman taking care of her patients. After I explained to her, that we also took care of our clients, she relaxed a bit and future telephone calls from her were less mortifying …

Rejected Takeoff

(translated by Juergen Matthes)

Boeing 727 DeltaDespite all the uncertanties, which you encounter travelling standby on a 10% flight, one tries to improve one’s chances to be on a specific flight with all kinds of tricks! We planned to travel to Athens and go on “cultural vacations”. To Athens normally a Boeing 727 is scheduled, a somewhat smaller aircraft with limited passenger capacity. But there was another possibility, a DC10-300 was scheduled to fly to Bombay with a stop in Athens. The return flight of this DC10 then was flying Bombay direct Frankfurt, so no chance to use this trick on the way back. But the return flight from Athens is less critical, and besides,then vacations are over anyway!

So we booked this way, to improve our chances with this bigger baby. At the gate they told us, the flight is not booked out, it looks pretty good that we will be able to ride along. And this is how it worked out. We are aboard, the doors are closed. We are taxiing to runway 25 R.

The engines are spooling up, the aircraft accelerates, shortly before becoming airborne the pilot slams the nose-gear onto the runway and applies the brakes like mad. I didn’t know before that an aircraft could brake that hard! I bumped my head on the back of the seat in front of me, there was nothing I could do about it. It happened to everyone aboard. We slowed down and then stopped right on the runway.

The captain came on the pa-system and announced, a warning light had winked on, which was not supposed to be lit during takeoff, so he had wanted to check what was going on. We were sitting on the runway …

Suddenly a loud noise occurred. The aircraft, which had planned to land after our (successful) takeoff thundered overhead. It’s engines were running at 100% thrust, and the noise hit us exactly.

In the tower, I thought, they must be highly concentrated right now. One runway was blocked, what a mess that would create! All planning for takeoffs and landings had to be redone. I was pulled from my thoughts by the sight of the fire-brigade, which was coming alongside. Oops, more than a warning light, I thought!

Then I noticed, the engines are still running.

Escorted by two firetrucks we started to taxi off the runway, towards the big maintenance hangar of Lufthansa-Technik, we parked in front of it. Stairways were rolled to the aircraft, and the doors were opened. A technician walked into the cockpit.

After some moments they announced that while we were waiting we would be served drinks. That means it will take a bit longer! Since I had a window-seat, I could watch the technicians milling about. There, isn’t that Claude, a technician I knew from my time in Kelsterbach?

Unfortunately I could not leave the aircraft. The flight-attendants blocked the doors for the passengers. Then the captain was on again, the warning had been right, there was a minor technical problem they could fix right here. We should enjoy our time aboard. Then the purser came along, they would serve lunch while still being on the ground.

When things had calmed down, I asked a stewardess whether I could talk to the captain. Thanks to my ID from work she agreed to at least ask him. She came back smiling and told me: affirmative!

I only asked the captain, whether I could leave the aircraft for a short, I had spotted a friend among the technicians and had wanted to say hello to him. That was granted, and a short time later I found myself on the apron.

I spotted Claude on top of a ladder leaning at the middle engine. The engine cowlings were open and Claude was hanging halfway inside the engine. When he finally came down the ladder, he recognized me right a way and asked how in the world I had been able to get inside the secure area here. Not in, I replied, down from the aircraft.

Boy, he said, it’s your birthday today, and you have a superb captain. He explained what had happened during takeoff. At full power the middle engine had somehow deployed the thrust reversers! Hadn’t the captain courageous aborted the takeoff, we probably would have executed a perfect crash, with two engines providing thrust and one in reverse a takeoff and safe flight is not possible!

My face went pale! Claude urged me, don’t tell anyone before you landed. Promise!

After two hours, the repairs had been conducted successfully, as the captain said, we once again taxied towards takeoff. I was the loneliest person on board, I literally was ready to shit my pants!

Takeoff and the flight to Athens went normal. I needed another two days before I could tell my wife about the conversation with Claude!

A Flying Trip Underground, or 26 hours in Caroll Cave

Somehow aviation has bestowed one of the most splendid adventures of my life upon me! My friend Mike from Nebraska, my former physics teacher from my exchange year, had suggested during one of my revisits to Nebraska we should take another cave trip into Carroll Cave in central Missouri, the cave we had been in twice before over the years. Since it would be virtually impossible to drive to this site from Nebraska, take the trip into the cave and drive back on one long weekend, it was Mike who suggested we should fly down to save time. So a “flying trip underground” became true!

As an aviation nut, it seems a bit odd that you do the exact contrary of flying, going underground. But somehow I have not only caught the aviation bug, but also the “speleo bug”! I had recently joined a caving club in Germany and was enjoying going spelunking very much! And what better combination could there be than to fly to go caving!

It is 3.30 Sunday afternoon. We have finally arrived at the entrance of Carroll Cave, after a one and a half hour flight from Lincoln, Nebraska to Camdenton, Missouri and a drive in a rental car across the winding roads of the Ozarks to the cave entrance. All the equipment is piled up on the ground, and the four of us, which are Mike, Russell, Dale and me, are getting ready for our big trip into the cave. Mike is already dressed-up and starts packing sleeping bags and dry clothes in several layers of plastic bags, so that they will not get wet on the way in.

The first 1000 feet of the cave is a narrow water-passage, with water up to your chest, and at two places even up to your lips with an airspace of only a few inches left to the ceiling. After those two “Neckbreakers”, as these places are called, and a few more hundred feet of deep water the cave will open up to a gigantic dome, the “Mountain Room”, where we will camp tonight. But first we will have to get through the water and haul all the stuff along dry. And the water has only 45 degrees Fahrenheit, and the cave is not much warmer!

Since we all are “hard guys”, this will not bother us too much! To be honest though, I am cheating a little bit on that, because I brought along a wet-suit which I use on cave-trips in Germany. This is one of those neoprene-suits which fits tight to your body, so that only a thin film of water forms between your skin and the suit insulating you from any cold. It is a specially designed suit for caving, not as thick as the scuba-diving ones, so you can move easily about. I’m wearing that underneath my cave-overalls. Unfortunately the other three do not have such a suit, so they plan to move fast through the water and give me dirty names when the water gets deeper!

Finally we are done. There is so much stuff we have to take along, so two of us will have to make two trips in to get everything to our campsite. Naturally I am one of them, the toss of a coin finds out that Russ is the other unlucky person who has to do it twice! Mike and Dale will wait outside until we return from our first trip.There is no point that they should go along on the first trip to Mountain Room and then wait there freezing.

The carbide lamps are burning, the gate to the cave is opened, and off we go. First the water is knee deep, no problem. Soon we loose daylight since the passage turned to the left. Only our carbide lamps are providing light now, and we better make sure they will do it for the next 24 hours! Loosing your light in a cave will leave nothing to do but sit there and wait for somebody to help you, in the absolute darkness you will even fail to touch your nose with your finger. — The water gets deeper! I feel it rinning down my neck, and it’s cold!

After a couple of seconds it warms up inside my wet-suit, I don’t feel anything any more. But poor Russ must feel it! So we are moving fast to get through. The water is crystal—clear, we have no problems moving along. Fortunately the ground is even and there are no rocks, so we won’t have any problems going back out after a while with the water all turned muddy. And there is the first Neckbreaker! A big red arrow on the ceiling points to the best spot to get through. And the water seems to be very low, about a foot of air left! I stretch out in the water, floating through, I don’t even have to take my hard hat off. It takes about a minute, then I’m through. Russ is right behind me, wet up to his neck, but smiling. This was the easiest crossing of this place we have ever done (we’ve been in this cave twice before). But – Neckbreaker number 2 is still coming up. It turns out that this one has a couple of inches less airspace than the first one. But – we make it without problems as well.

After another three or four hundred feet of walking in chest-high water a black nothing opens up in front of us: Mountain Room! After you have been in the relatively small-sized water passage it is just overwhelming to enter this big dome. Our lamps are just not strong enough to light up the whole place. It is probably 300 feet long, 200 feet wide and at least 100 feet high! We get out of the water onto a mud-bank and start looking for a good campsite. Pretty soon we find it: A spot off to the left, about 50 feet above the river level, and it is dry and flat, just perfect for the camp. We drop all the things there we brought along and start going back, into the water, through the two Neckbreakers and out into the sunlight. The trip took us 40 minutes, during which Mike and Dale finished preparing the rest of the stuff.

After Russ and I get done telling about our trip in and the campsite we had found, everybody loads up and heads into the cave. The last guy locks the gate from inside and then makes sure again and again that he will not loose the key to the gate! It is fun for Russ and me, being more or less used to the water by now, to watch the other two get wet. The water gets deeper slowly, so the agony lasts for a long time. They are screaming and cursing at us! There is no help though, Neckbreaker forces everyone into the water up to their ears! Finally we arrive at Mountain Room, climbing up to our platform. A big plastic tarp gives us a piece of clean ground, where we put our sleeping bags, the dry clothes, a camp stove and all the other things meant for the camp.

Soon we are done with setting up camp. Everyone but me changed clothes, is now dry, warm and comfortable. All of us are burning to explore around a little bit. We walk up into the upper levels of Mountain Room, squeeze ourselves into small holes in the walls, but there is no continuation on this side of the dome. It seems that this huge dome has just one continuation: the Main Passage. So that’s what we want to follow now for a while. It is only six o’clock and we have all the time in the world!

On the way back down to the river, I’m first, I’m running down and throwing myself into the water! Walking and crawling around in a wet-suit makes you so hot, you can’t stand it any more. But in the water it is nice and cool! I feel like a guy in a Nestea commercial downing some iced-tea and plunging backwards into a swimming pool. The other three are standing on the river bank laughing at me. They just don’t know how nice 45 degrees water can feel!

The main passage of Carroll Cave is tremendously big. The tunnel has an average width of 40 to 50 feet and about the same height. It winds back and forth, the ground is covered with chocolate-colored mud in which the river has cut a small channel which we are crossing frequently. Sometimes we are walking on rocks and gravel, which the river has deposited there, and sometimes we have to struggle through soft mud up to our knees, taking away quite some energy. Every once in a while the river forms small ponds, which I cross with my wet-suit, happy to cool down a little bit, while the others climb along the banks over breakdown piles. The first thing we discover is that some survey crews must have been in the cave before; and they left small reflective markers every 500 feet. That is quite nice, we can tell how far we are from Mountain Room!

We find out soon, it takes us about 20 minutes to travel 1000 feet. Also it shows that you are always overestimating distances in a cave, since 1000 feet feel like 4000! The survey crew has also marked every side-lead turning off the main passage, there is one about every 500 feet. And then – we see some fish in the river! That is quite a sensation, for we think we must be about 2000 or even 3000 feet from the entrance. The fish are of dark color, almost black, the smallest ones are an inch long, the biggest must be about 10 inches. Dale and Mike try to catch one, but they don’t succeed. And probably that is a good thing, since we also want to stick to the cavers motto: Kill Nothing but Time, Take Nothing but Pictures, Leave Nothing but Footprints!

We wonder how the fish can see or maybe feel our presence, since they don’t seem to have eyes. And what are they living off, we ask ourselves, there are no plants in the water, and no other animals we can see. But there must be some sources of nutrition, maybe some microscopic insects or creatures, or maybe the fish only live from the organic material flushed into the cave from the surface. It’s too bad that we don’t have a specialist along, so the four of us can only take guesses.

Meanwhile we have reached the 2500 foot marker from the Mountain Room, and we think about turning around. There is an opening in the left wall, another side-lead. Someone expresses the wish to take a look at it before turning around, so we find ourselves ducking and crawling through a passage two feet wide and three to four feet high. A small marker at the entrance opening of this passage said that this is “L-6”, probably the sixth side-lead from the Mountain Room. After about 100 feet we get to a Y-junction, so we continue into the left lead. A tight spot forces us down on our bellies, but it is easy crawling. Behind another turn the passage opens up to a small dome, the walls covered with beautiful formations, like draperies. Some of them are in a rusty red color, others are completely white. Above us the dome continues as a shaft, we get a few glances into a higher system of passages there, and more formations along the passage walls. Russ gives it a try to climb, but the walls of the passage we are in are overhanging, and without rope and/or other climbing aids it is virtually impossible and also too dangerous to push it. And we don’t want to damage the formations or even get them dirty. It seems only to be a climb of 15 feet or so.

We illuminate the openings of the higher system with our lamps from down below trying to see as much as possible. It is hard to tell if the passages up there are virgin, that means that no one has ever before entered them. Down here there are plenty of marks and footprints in the mud.

Finally we decide we have seen enough, now it is time to turn around. When we get to the Y-junction, Russ insists on having a quick look into “that other lead”. This one continues as the lead before the junction, a duck walk in a passage two feet wide and four to five high. It turns and twists, back and forth, back and forth. It goes and goes on for ever! Finally I sit down on the ground and refuse to go on, I’m close to a heat-stroke in my wet-suit, since no pool of water had cooled me for a while! Mike and Dale are in front of me, they also stop. Russ still wants to explore on a bit, he says, just a few feet within shouting distance. We hear him shove around the next few bends, and then a minute or so later we hear him shout that his light went out and that he can’t get it relit! How nice!

Dale rushes on and reaches him after a few more bends in the passage. Together they work on his lamp, but it still doesn’t work. It probably needs a change of carbide. But – we left all the stuff at the entrance of L-6! Russ just has to walk, or better duck and crawl between two others with light. All goes well, and ten minutes later we are back in the big Main Passage. Here the guys start working on their lamps while I take a plunge into the next deeper pool of water. Aahhhh!!

All the lamps are up again, doing fine now. Mine even doesn’t need new carbide, it is a special construction I also brought with me from Germany. It needs a fresh load of carbide about every 8 hours, while the others need to change carbide every four hours. Carbide lamps are the best source of light for a cave. They last longer and produce brighter light than electric lamps, just on a handful of carbide! And who wants to pay and carry around several sets of batteries for light on a trip like ours! Nowadays this seems to be different with the new LED-technology and affordable rechargeable batteries available.

We are back at our campsite. It is 8:15, we have walked straight back from our adventure in L-6. Mike is playing cook, he pours a couple of cans of beef stew in a big pot and puts that onto our stove. Russ and Dale are in their sleeping bags chatting and having a beer, while I’m still trying to get my wet-suit off! It’s agony! Finally I manage it somehow, just in time when dinner is ready. Beef stew with crackers and beer in Mountain Room, no fancy dinner in a Hilton Hotel could be better than this! Some lollies are for desert!

Pretty soon everybody is happy and very comfortable in his sleeping bag. A big discussion gets started covering who will be responsible of doing the dishes, which would mean getting out of the warm and cozy sleeping bag into the damp cave air, walking down to the river 50 feet below us, and sitting down on the mud-bank trying to clean things up. Every time we take a vote, the specific person has some important objections, so finally the dishes remain undone …!

All the lights are out, only a candle is burning, barely illuminating the ceiling of Mountain Room. And then – we see some bats flying around, circling around us and passing overhead. There might be about a dozen of them. They don’t bother us though. Bats are very interesting animals. Inside the cave, in total darkness, they must fly completely “on instruments”, they use their sonar-orientation system, by producing sounds of ultra high frequencies. Any obstacle will reflect these sounds, the echo will tell the bat where and at what distance it is, how big it is as well. So bats almost never hit anything, neither their fellow bats nor even you! And all the horror tales about them are not true either; they just are small but very useful creatures; when they come out from caves where they sleep during the daytime, they hunt for bugs and insects. And their flying skills are just awesome!

By talking about bats and other interesting issues, everybody gets tired and eventually fades out. When I wake up it’s pitch-black! Every now and then I hear a drop of water falling down somewhere or I hear a faint splash of the river down below. What time is it? I take a look at my watch: It’s five o’ clock in the morning.

I light a couple of candles and wake up the others. Actually we had wanted to get up around four, so we would have plenty of time for our big trip deeper into the cave. Everybody has slept quite well, only Dale was a little bit cold during the night. Soon breakfast is ready, consisting of some leftover stew and hot chocolate! A few more minutes in the warm sleeping bag after breakfast really feels nice! But then we have to get busy, if we want to get anything accomplished. The worst thing comes first: Putting on your cold, wet, muddy cave-clothes. Everyone screams and shouts, mainly questioning himself and everyone why in the world we are putting up with this stupid idea of a long cave-trip. My wet-suit is also damp and soo cold, uaaahhh! But finally the clothes are put on and warmed up.

I collect all the carbide lamps and walk down to the river to clean them and fill them with fresh carbide and water. The spent carbide goes into plastic bags to be carried back out of the cave. One of the cardinal sins of people not caring about conserving the fragile environment of caves is leaving spent carbide somewhere in the cave, where it will stay for years, centuries or even thousands of years!

While I’m sitting on the mud-bank next to the river, I hear a strange sound out of the passage leading to the Neckbreakers and eventually out of the cave. And then I see it – there are dozens of bats coming back into the cave, no, hundreds of them! They swirl around me, and there are even more coming! I’ve never seen anything like that before! They are going, no, flying up the Main Passage, and when they fly by close to me I hear this funny, rattling and clicking sound again. But not one bat hits me! For several minutes I sit in awe and watch, I just wish I’d have a movie camera here to record sight and sound. Soon there are less bats coming, it seems that the main bunch is through now. I don’t know how many there were, but it must have been hundreds, maybe even thousands.

The camp is all broken up, the stuff ready to be hauled outside, that we’ll do tonight. But first we will set off on our big trip deeper inside! To be taken along are quite a few things: enough supplies of carbide, water will be provided by the river. Then we need bags for spent carbide and garbage, lots of candy bars, an ammunition-box with camera and flash-equipment, a collection of tools and spare lamp parts as tips, tip reamers, tools, glue etc. Everybody takes something, the speleology-bag (dragging bag) I also brought along from Germany comes in quite handy.

Before we set off, everyone makes sure that his lamp works, he has his emergency lights ready and working, which consist of a spare flashlight and also a cyalume light-stick in a pocket. Everything is OK., we are on our way. We walk up the Main Passage, well known to us by now. We make it to the junction with L-6 in half an hour. Pretty soon after the junction, where we turned around yesterday, walking becomes more and more difficult. The mud on the ground is very soft, sticky, sometimes several feet deep. It sucks! It has a consistency like nougat, but it probably won’t taste as good! The river starts to meander back and forth through the mud, and we have to cross it at every meander, which is extremely exhausting! Around the next bend there is a rope-ladder hanging down from a hole in the ceiling. This ladder, as we know from some friends who know the cave much better, leads to an upper passage system, which is connected to another Y-junction further down the way. But we stay in the lower system, the Main Passage, together with the river.

Half an hour later we have reached “Crystal Junction”, here the main passage seems to make a major turn to the left. We know it leads to the “Crystal Room”, a few thousand feet further on. But we will not go there today. The true Main Passage goes straight on, although the river seems to be smaller than the one coming out of the Crystal Room passage.

After taking a few pictures (and cooling down in the junction pool) we continue on straight ahead. Walking becomes easier again, for the smaller river has not deposited so much mud. Also the mud is nice and hard, like ordinary chocolate! The water has cut a neat channel in it, about two feet wide, and it meanders back and forth from wall to wall. The passage itself has become a bit smaller, but still about 20 to 30 feet wide and also high. And then we reach an area with lots of formations!

The walls are covered with them, sparkling in our lights, consisting all colors from a deep chocolate brown, then red to a brilliant white. From the ceiling there are thousands of “macaronis” hanging, as those very thin and delicate stalactites are called. They have a diameter of a single drop of water and a length of up to a few feet. They are all untouched; I’ve seen caves before where similar decorations have mostly been broken off by vandalists!

Then I discover some excentriques! These are delicate stalactites which do not follow the law of gravity which should make them grow straight down, they are curved, twisted and spiraled around in all funny directions. There must be hundreds of them as well. What a sight!

A lot of the macaronis are tilted into the direction of the Main Passage, pointing out. Probably a wind blowing mainly in the direction towards the entrance for long times must have caused them to grow that way. As we move on, more formations appear along the passage. And also more excentriques. It is strange, home in Germany we get excited if we find a single excentrique in a cave, and here are so many of them!

The formation-area lasts for a few hundred feet. Thereafter the passage appears as before: Yellow-brown walls, the ground covered with dark, chocolate-colored mud and the winding channel of the river. The mud gets stickier again! Behind a couple more bends we finally reach the “Y-Junction”, a bigger room with a side lead to the right which, as we know, feeds back to the rope-ladder. A marker on the wall tells us that we are 6,500 feet from the Mountain Room, so that’s more than a mile! It took us one and a half hours to get here. We decide to speed it up a little bit now, so we get to see more! The Main Passage continues to the left, now a bit different than before. The river often gets covered by breakdown piles, over which we are climbing. Big piles of bat manure tell us that we are in an area where the bats must reside during the day or during winter. And there they are – we discover a bunch of them hanging from the ceiling. They are disturbed by our lights and start to swirl away. There must be a few hundred of them together covering a spot not bigger than a square foot. We can hear them squealing angrily about our appearance.

On and on the passage goes, sometimes we walk in the river, sometimes over breakdown piles. And then the walls close in and the ceiling comes down. We remember this part from an earlier trip a few years back: We will have to go in the water with about a foot of air space to the ceiling for a distance of about 200 feet. The tricky thing about this spot, there are big, sturdy stalagmites submerged under water, and with mud getting stirred up you can’t see them. So if you move on too fast, you bang into them with your delicate parts of your body, which is not too nice. So this is not another Neckbreaker, but rather a “Crotchbreaker”! I’m going first, slowly feeling my way, spotting the stalagmites in the water and warning the others. Again the water is quite low, leaving us more airspace than we expected. Five minutes later everyone is through and on the other side.

We are back in walking cave. Lots of formations appear again, in all colors and shapes. It is just too much to grasp, I’m taking a few pictures hoping they will turn out. Plastic marking-tape is stretched out by the explorers of the cave to force everyone to walk clear of the beautiful, white formations. The passage leading on is very big again, with lots of breakdown piles we have to cross. On the left side a big side-lead opens up, somebody has smoked “Maped Log” with a carbide lamp on a mud-bank. And then there is that small hole in the right wall.

We remember this well, this will be the only connection we know to the “Thunder River System”, which intersects underneath of the Main Passage of Carroll Cave. We take a look ahead down the Main Passage, it continues big and wide into the darkness. We turn around and head for the small hole, since Thunder River is the target we had wanted to shoot for. The hole starts as a crawlway, very much like L-6, it leads steeply downhill. After a few minutes of crawling and ducking we can hear a rumble: Thunder River! Then the crawlway breaks out into walking cave again, with another river, running from left to right. The walls are reddish colored, and the river is much bigger than the one in the Main Passage up above. From the right we hear the rumble, that’s Thunder Falls! We make a mark in a mud-bank so we’ll find the entrance to our crawlway again, then we follow the river downstream and soon hit the site of the fall. The passage opens up to a big dome, and the water runs over a bank and falls down about 10 feet. On the left side another small hole leads down to the lower part of the dome. A rope is attached to a big rock, it helps us to get down safely. Then we see the falls from down below. It is tremendous! Mike and Dale are wading across the pool of water to stand next to the fall, while I try to take some pictures of them. The noise of the falling water in the big room is overwhelming. We can only shout to overcome it. The water in the pool is quite deep and turbulent, better not fall in!

After everyone has taken a close look at the scenery, we continue on downstream. The water stays deep, the passage turns right and left, and there is mud again! It gets worse and worse the further we go. Finally we turn around; we had wanted to go upstream Thunder River anyway. We get back to the waterfall, climb up the rope and through the hole back into the passage above the falls. It is ten o’clock now, time for a break. After all the exciting sights and experiences some candy bars really taste good. And most of the lamps need recarbiding as well!

Half an hour later we are on our way upstream Thunder River. We must have crossed underneath the Main Passage of Caroll Cave, and now we are in unknown territory, at least for us. Thunder Falls has been the furthest point any one of us has been in this cave before. Thunder River is big, flowing rapidly. Good, that means there will not be so much mud deposited, makes it easier walking. Sometimes the water gets quite deep, but nobody seems to care any more. And I’m happy about that anyway, it will provide opportunities to cool down in my wet-suit!

The river meanders quite a bit. It has cut a deep channel into solid limestone. At higher levels the passage is not twisting as much as down at the river bed, so we try to stay up high as much as we can and cut off a loop of the river. Here we find lots of formations again, side passages lead off from the main passage. But we stay with the river, there should be only one thing you want to do at one time in a cave. After an hour of walking upstream the riverbed in the loops becomes quite tight and low, the river cutting underneath the limestone, forcing us to climb up even higher cutting off the loops and then dropping down into the river again. And then at the next loop the whole procedure starts over. Very exhausting! At one place the upper story curves completely away from the river, we are walking through big passage with dry and flat ground. Then the upper passage rejoins the river, but there is quite a drop off down to the river, almost vertical, looking quite tricky. Is it possible to get down?

We can see that down there the river is curving away again, the big passage continues straight ahead again high. But how to get down safely? The continuation of the big passage looks tempting, but is it worth the try? Mike and I trace back to the last loop of the river and then try to follow it directly in the riverbed. It is possible, enough space for our heads! Half wading, half swimming, we get to the point where Russ and Dale are waiting in the upper level They are looking down at us. The climb up the other side to the big passage looks just as tricky! It seems as if the river wants to go on separately from the upper level now. It’s twelve o’clock, we shouldn’t spend much more time, since we have to go all the way back!

We agree that Mike and I will go on further upstream for 15 more minutes and then turn around, while Russ and Dale wait and rest a bit. If we should not be back within 45 minutes they will come and look for us. Okay, lets go! Mike and I head on upstream. Shoot, it is getting quite difficult now! The upper level has disappeared completely, the river passage has about 2 feet of air space above the water. It is about seven feet wide, and the water is very deep. A few times we loose ground and have to swim. For at least 500 feet the passage continues like this. Sometimes it is shaped like a keyhole. We are rushing ahead, trying to see as much as possible. Then there is this small hole in the ceiling, we shine our light through and glance into a another big, walking passage intersecting above Thunder River. Is that the same walking passage than before, or is it a new, upper system? More mysteries waiting to be solved! But it is not meant for us on this trip, so we continue on a bit more. The river passage stays low and tight for a while, then it gets bigger and higher and bigger and higher again. My gosh! This is a cave without end! The walls are brilliantly red and yellow, the riverbed is covered with rocks of the same color, and there are some completely black rocks mixed in between. It all looks very beautiful. On and on we go, or better we rush, we want to see more. The river forms pools now, ponds or even lakes, and at one of them I seem not to see any water! I stand there wondering whether I’m dreaming, but then a drop of water falls from the ceiling and hits the pool, and then I realize that the surface of this pool has been completely still and the water is so clear that you just couldn’t see it!

And there are some fish again! They are completely white. Three or four of them swim around in this pool, the biggest about two inches long. They also seem to have no eyes. My gosh, we must be several miles deep in this cave, in a whole different world, and there are fish. If we try to grab one, they avoid us. They must feel our presence. I look at my watch, still a few minutes left! So we go on even a bit further, the passage continues with the river and gets even bigger again. At every bend we say we’ll turn around after the next bend! Then I discover that my watch has given up and had stopped. Great! There weren’t a few minutes left! Have we been gone 15 minutes now, or 30 minutes, or maybe even an hour? We don’t know. We turn around and are running back now. It’s not easy to hurry, you have to be careful not to hurt yourself, fall in the water or damage something! We now realize how far we have gone. It seems to take for ever to get back to the point where Dale and Russ are waiting. But we make it, there they are! Still in the upper passage. Thank Heavens they haven’t started searching for us yet. Since I have the only (watertight) watch, now being useless, we are wondering what time it might be. We guess around one o’clock. We’d better head back. How long will it take us back to Mountain Room, maybe 6 hours? And then we’ll have to pack up, haul everything out of the cave, pack the car, get back to Camdenton Airport, drop the car, fly back to Lincoln, will we make it before midnight??? So the secrets of upper Thunder River sink back into darkness behind us …

Back in Mountain Room. We tried to hurry as much as possible on our way back. We made quite some good time to Thunder Falls, found our hole in the wall and crawled up the Main Passage, recarbided one more time, slipped through the Crotchbreaker, kept a good path. On the way I took some more pictures, and we discovered a bypass in the Crystal Junction area. The last few thousand feet were really hard, with the mud, it sucked even more! Everybody got quite tired when reaching Mountain Room. Before we go out, we enter our trip in the cave-log deposited here in a canister on one of the walls. Then everybody packs up and heads for the Neckbreakers. We take bets whether it will be dark or light outside, and whether the weather will be good or bad. Neckbreaker Two, thereafter Neckbreaker One, no problem for us any more! Pretty soon we see daylight shining ahead. Daylight!!! The key to the gate is not lost, fortunately, the lock works. We are out! And it’s warm here, it’s hot! We pile all the stuff on the ground and look at each other, all wet and muddy, but happy. We made it! This was one of the greatest trips anyone of us ever took! Two of us will have to go back to Mountain Room and get the rest of the stuff, the other two will start getting things organized. We don’t know yet that there will be more excitements and some problems on our trip home. But that is a different story …

Members of the flying trip into Carroll Cave, Missouri on September 4 and 5, 1977:
Mike Larson, Lincoln, Nebraska
Russell Copple, Alvo Nebraska
Dale Gerdes, Omaha, Nebraska
Jürgen Matthes, Karlsruhe, Germany

Time in: Sunday September 4, 4:30 p.m.
Time out: Monday September 5, 6:30 p.m.

Taking a picture

3714T, the magic Numbers Part 1

It was the summer of ’73. Two years after my stay as an exchange student in the little town of Waverly, Nebraska, right in the middle of the USA, I was back for my first visit. I had a great time with my host family and friends. It was during my stay that my former physics teacher, Mike, together with some friends suggested we’d take another cave trip, like we had done at Halloween of 1970 during our senior year at Waverly High School.

I have mentioned the backgrounds of this already in my story “How do you catch the Aviation Bug” and also in “A Flying Trip Underground”. Actually it was this summer of ’73 the tradition of flying cave- and/or canoe-trips got started!

Mike had quit his job as a high-school teacher shortly before my first re-visit and had become involved in aviation full time. He also had joined the University of Nebraska Flying Club, which owned several airplanes which were available for members for a very reasonable rental price. So it was him, after the idea of another cave-trip to Missouri came up in the “hard core” of friends, who suggested to rent one or two of these planes to fly down to Missouri instead of driving. What a great idea, being totally infected with the aviation bug by now, very excoted I agreed at once!

We finally came up with 8 people wanting to go along on that trip. Mike arranged for two planes to be reserved for that specific weekend: Two Piper Cherokee Arrows with retractable gear and constant speed propellers. He also introduced me and the others to Tom, a good friend of him, who was to be the second pilot to control one of the airplanes.

On Friday afternoon, we all met at the airport in Lincoln, Nebraska. Mike had also arranged for a couple of guys to meet us at the destination airport, which was Camdenton, Missouri, about an hour and a half of flying time. Mike had another long time friend in Kansas City, Missouri, Charlie, who was quite an outdoor nut, and he had in turn arranged for the other two guys to take us to that cave: Carroll Cave, somewhere close to Camdenton, right in the heart of the Ozark Mountains.

On the apron of the general aviation terminal at Lincoln airport sat our two airplanes. It was decided that I would ride along with Tom, the Cherokee Arrow he was to fly was a yellow, white colored one with the registration numbers N3714T. I will always remember these numbers for the rest of my life!

Tom was quite a funny character. Apparently he had obtained his private pilots license not too long ago. He let me sit up front besides him, which I naturally was very happy about. Pretty soon both of our airplanes took off and started heading southeast, towards our destination.

Together with Tom and me in our Cherokee were Tim and Dale, two friends from Waverly High School. In Mikes plane then were Pete and two other friends of Mike, who had wanted to go along on that trip.

The flight to Camdenton from Lincoln leads you right over Kansas City. How exciting that was, talking to Kansas City Approach on the radio, being vectored right above Kansas City International Airport and seeing the runways, airplanes and terminals from the air. After leaving the greater Kansas City area, we were allowed to leave the radio frequency of Kansas City Approach, we switched back to the air-to-air frequency so we could talk to Mike.

We had lost sight of Mike’s plane by now, it seemed we must have been some miles behind. We were navigating by pilotage, that means we were following our track on the aeronautics chart we had on our knees. Tom didn’t use the VOR receiver, he was sure he knew where we were, and I didn’t have any knowledge at that time yet about radio navigation.

Pretty soon we heard Mike on the radio announcing he had reached Camdenton, that he was circling the town once and that he was just south of the baseball-lights, a sports-ground of a school where apparently a baseball game was taking place. It had become dusk by now, pretty soon it would be dark. So we answered that we also saw the baseball-lights, we would be there in a few minutes. Mike stated he would make another 360 south of the lights waiting for us.

When we reached the lights, we were looking hard for Mike and his plane, it should be easy to spot him and his position lights. But, very strange, no position lights in sight anywhere! We had noticed a small airport just north of the town, and that was strange too, shouldn’t the airport be south of town? We called back and forward with Mike, he assured us he was circling just south of the baseball-lights. We answered that we were south of the lights too, and where in the hell was Mike??

After a few orbits it became clear that we should land pretty soon, otherwise we would end up in the dark. Tom called Mike again and told him “… I will put her down now” and then arranged for an approach to that small airfield. It was high time by now, we even couldn’t spot the wind-sock any more, so Tom put 3714T onto a final for the runway heading north. A slight problem was a grain elevator right next to the final approach, but Tom managed to get around it and landed our airplane safely on the landing strip.

After rolling out, the landing strip was quite small, narrow, but paved, we realized that this place by no means was Camdenton, Missouri. There was only a little hangar, one or two small planes parked next to it, and then nothing but grass and pastures. We parked the plane somewhere and got out, happy to be on the ground, but puzzled to where we actually were!

There was not a soul within sight. There was no tower at that airport, no service station, nothing! After wandering about for a while, it was really getting dark by now, we got the idea to walk onto the driveway leading out of the airfield, towards that small town we had seen from the air. It seemed to be a couple of miles away!

But then there was a car coming! It turned out to be a sheriff. He stopped and gave us strange looks, especially after we asked him in despair where in the world we were. He answered in astonishment: “You are at Buffalo, Missouri!”

Now that was a nice surprise. We rushed back to the plane, got out our aeronautical chart and started looking for Buffalo. Yes, there it was on the map, about 30 miles southwest of Camdenton! Boy o boy, how we had goofed!

We had a problem now. Mike had filed a flightplan for both of our planes, and we needed to close them. We had lost radio contact with Mike after we had landed – naturally, we were too low to reach him by radio 30 miles away. Especially if he had landed too, which we assumed, it was totally dark by now. The sheriff had departed, so the opportunity to use his communication system to contact Mike and let him know we were down safe had vanished!

But there was a payphone on one of the hangar’s walls. Great! Tom had the phone number of Camdenton airport – but – the rotary dial plate of the phone was stuck! The phone itself worked, you could hear the dialtone when you picked up the receiver, you could also insert a dime, but you couldn’t dial. Now what??

Dale soon found out that you could simulate the pulses of the rotary dial by shortly clicking the hook-switch of the receiver. But it is very hard to click it at a constant speed so you actually will dial a number. He tried and tried and kept trying. Apparently some time all this clicking opened a connection to an operator, who came on the line and asked what in the world was going on at that extension! Dale patiently explained the situation to her, she understood, got very friendly and promised to help.

The nice operator managed to establish a connection to Camdenton airport, and pretty soon Mike was on the line. His first statement: “Where in the hell are you?!” So we explained once again.

Mike was glad that we were on the ground safe and well. He remarked hadn’t he heard from us a bit later, he would have activated Search and Rescue! Whew!! But now everything was clear, and we agreed that we would take off from Buffalo first thing in the morning and make the short hop over to Camdenton. Spending the night would be no problem, we had sleeping bags along and would have spent the night somewhere in the grass at Camdenton airport anyway.

We sure had plenty of grass here at the Buffalo airfield. But this place seemed the end of the world, nothing going on, and the sleepy little town somewhere in the distance. Finally two of us agreed to walk the small road towards town to see whether they could round up something. 45 minutes later they were back and brought along – a case of beer! Now that was an encouraging sight!


We soon arranged our sleeping bags underneath the wings of 3714T and had our first ALB (after landing beer)! But – it was way too early to go to sleep, so what do you do at the lonely airfield of Buffalo, Missouri? We soon found out that there was a public swimming pool right next to the small hangar of the airport, which, of course, was closed by now. Not a soul in sight! So we thought it might be a good idea to go for a swim.

We had to climb the fence. And we didn’t have any swim suits along, so we went skinny-dipping! And right in the middle of the show there were car lights approaching shining onto the swimming pool: The sheriff! We jumped out of the pool and into the girls dressing room. Luckily the sheriff didn’t enter the pool area, apparently he just made a routine check whether everything was alright.

After he left it was back into the pool, and after the swim back to our camp underneath the wings. We managed to go through almost the entire case of beer! Some time along we felt me must take a picture of ourselves with all the empty beer cans on the wings – quite a sight. What would the authorities have said to that picture?

I don’t remember at what time we finally faded out and scrambled into our sleeping bags, it must have been midnight or so. I woke up in the middle of the night by the strangest conversation I have ever listened to. There was a big dog who had walked towards our campsite, and he sniffed at us and then gave one deep and loud bark: “Whoof!!” Tom replied with a loud “NO!!!”, and then Dale added softly and painfully “Doon’t shout”. This threesome conversation repeated itself several times: “Whoof!” “NO!” “Doon’t shout”.

At six in the morning we were up and ready to go. We packed everything and loaded the plane, deposited our empty beer cans in a trash can next to the hangar, got into the plane and started the engine. But – the engine gave only a burp, the prop made half a turn and quit. Now what?

Tom turned the starter key several times more, but the prop only turned a few degrees and then quit. Also all the control lights in the panel went dark when he engaged the starter. That meant: Dead battery! How nice! Now what???

Someone came up with the idea to walk to the filling station from which we had obtained the case of beer yesterday and see if someone was awake already. He then could drive his car to our plane and jumpstart our engine. So Dale volunteered to walk to the filling station while us others waited somewhat perplexed next to the plane.

Waiting for help
Waiting for help

Half an hour later a car came towards the airfield, Dale was in it together with a nice man. He had jumper cables and was ready to give us an electric shot. Luckily the airplane battery was a 12 volt type battery, otherwise the whole procedure would not have worked. The only problem: The battery of 3714T was sitting at the bottom of the luggage compartment! So that meant unloading everything, opening the lid covering the battery, connection the jumper cables, jumpstarting the engine (with Tom at the controls, of course), then unconnecting the cables, covering the battery, reloading all the gear, everything against a huricane-force wind from the running propeller! Finally the cargo-door was closed and latched, and us three scrambled against the prop-wind across the wing into the cabin of our airplane.

The engine held, we were airborne. AIRBORNE! What a feeling! The flight to Camdenton took us 10 minutes, there was the airport. We landed, taxied off the runway and parked the plane next to Mike’s Cherokee Arrow. Again Mike and the others had wondered what in the world had happened to us now, since the adventure with the battery had caused a delay of more than an hour. We told our story exhaustively!

But now everything was alright. Soon the friends of Charlie arrived, they were to take us to and through the cave. But first – we went for a hearty breakfast in a cafe in Camdenton. We deserved it!

Then, off to the cave trip. It was the first time we all went into Carroll Cave. Mikes friend Charlie had suggested that cave to us, and it was a splendid trip. I have described Carroll Cave in my story “Flying Trip Underground”.

After the trip, which took all day, we camped at the entrance of the cave. We had a great time. We had planned to go back to Camdenton airport some time Sunday morning, have breakfast first and then leisurely fly back to Lincoln. But wouldn’t you know, getting into 3714T on Sunday morning we noticed the battery was dead again!

Jump start
Jump start

Fortunately there were plenty of cars at the airport, so no problem finding one to give us a jump start. We knew the procedure by now, loaded the plane during a windstorm and soon were airborne again turning on course towards Lincoln. This time we kept close proximity to Mike’s plane and were talking to him on air to air frequency.

It was nice to fly formation with Mike, a chance to get some good shots of each other from the air! We crossed the Kansas City area again and were soon getting close to Lincoln. But something was funny: We didn’t hear from Mike on air-to-air any more. We gave him several calls, but no answer! And then – we noticed that one after the other, all electrical instruments of the plane went dead! No more control-lights, the radio panel was dark, only the basic flight instruments like altimeter, airspeed indicator, vertical speed indicator and turn and slip indicator were still working. What in the world was going on?? The only explanation: The dead battery must had drawn such an electrical surge that it must had damaged the generator. And therefore we couldn’t talk to Mike any more! Luckily the engine runs on magnetos and therefore is independent from the generator. But – we needed to talk to Lincoln Tower to get into the control zone, and we also needed electricity to get the landing gear down. We assumed that Mike had figured what our problem was and that he would talk to the tower, so we just followed him into the control zone. While turning onto final Tom flipped the manual switch of the landing gear, he had remarked that the gear would free-fall by gravity and that some springs would help it to come down.

Formation flight
Formation flight

Since it was now close to noon, it had turned warm, therefore it was quite bumpy. We did not hear anything that we thought sounded like the gear coming down, and we also didn’t feel anything due to the turbulence. Now what? Tom decided to go around, he pushed the throttle forward and climbed out again. We all were puzzled. What to do now? We noticed a green light from the tower, ah, they had understood our communication problem and were clearing us to land. Somehow, we thought, they must have seen that our gear was down, otherwise they shouldn’t give us a steady green light, should they? Tom performed a nice traffic pattern and prepared for another final approach onto runway 17 L. Meanwhile I had an idea, I took one of the aeronatical charts, bent it into a tube and then put the tube around the 3 green lights which under normal circumstances should indicate that the gear was down and locked. When I peered into the tube giving me darkness around the 3 lights, I noticed that they were glowing very dimly! So the gear was down, wasn’t it?? Tom continued his approach and flared out. It was a very awkward feeling, would we now hear the normal squeal of the tires or a loud crunch?? But then – SQUEAL, and 3714T sat on the runway. Whew!

After rollout we taxied to the apron an parked the airplane next to Mike’s. He and his passengers hat gotten out of their plane and were awaiting us anxiously. Mike was wondering why we had gone around, but then understood when we explained our problem. He then stated he’d run out waving his arms like crazy had he seen our gear not down during our first approach. But then – everything had gone well, we were down and safe, and our adventure with 3714Tango (besides the fun we had on our cave trip) had come to an end.

Hummel 7

(translated by Juergen Matthes)

At most airports the police is present with a helicopter-squadron, this was also the case at our location. The police “resides” in Hangar 8, the LTU hangar, at the eastern edge of the airport. All helicopters carry the callsign “Hummel” (Bumble-Bee), followed by a number.

Since missions of the Bumble-Bees were not foreseeable, cooperation with us had to be somewhat special, as it was the case. We, the personnel of the tower, especially liked their canteen. Actually it was quite a cozy casino with superb food at reasonable prices.

One day, during a chat with the “cops” (this is meant affectionately and respectfully) at their casino, I asked them naively if it would be possible to ride along in a Hummel. To my astonishment the answer was: “Well, sure!”

All this was quite forgotten when at a nice, sunny Sunday morning the “cops” called on the radio and asked whether I was on duty. Yes, I was, and how I was on duty! Saturday had been a party, and I wasn’t quite awake yet! Besides, the midnight-snack consisting of goulash-soup was still milling about heavily in my belly!

Over my head our tower-chief arranged with the watch-supervisor of radar-control that I should fly Hummel today. Principally great, a flight with a helicopter something different and interesting, but my stomach didn’t seem to agree, he felt somewhat unsure.

“Cleared to hover in front of the tower” some time later the radio blared. This finished the discussion with my stomach, I had to move down. Hummel 7 was an Alouette 3, quite tiny as seen from the tower cab, but as closer I got, as bigger it got, and above all, as louder! The crew, 2 guys, were quite nice.

What I absolutely didn’t realize was the reversal of the relation between controllers and pilots of the squadron. Normally we gave them orders and the guys had to follow them. Now they had one from “the other side” on board and therefore the legitimation to show him what “bigshots” they were. Besides, they knew that everyone at the tower knew that I was on board and thus they would get any clearance they would request.

So they shamelessly took advantage of this and requested a special area for “training maneuvres”. Latest then I should have suspected what was to come, but I was busy talking to my stomach during climb, so I missed that.

Very friendly the pilot asked me whether I had heard of something like “autorotation” before. I hadn’t, thank heavens, since just the thought of that would have killed my stomach.

It started …

The helicopter climbed like crazy, the guys were fiddling with their seat-belts. Then the nice pilot killed the engine!! It got silent.

First, nothing happened. Then the chopper started to rotate around its vertical axis. It was like riding a roundabout.

Then it got faster.

The centrifugal forces nailed my arms to my body at first. Then I started to move up my backrest. When I reached the ceiling, I was completely lost and immovable.

Now I realized why the two guys had fastened their seat-belts so explicitly. I was glued to the ceiling, like a dead bug, completely helpless. The only thing I could comprehend was that the ground was coming closer – fast!

Like a miracle, the engine restarted and I dropped like a sack into my seat. My stomach was history, not even there any more, and I was wide awake.

After some allowedly cynical questions about my condition, the atmosphere relaxed, apparently I had passed, and the flight continued quite pleasant. Now it was time for our assignment, to look for oil pollution on the Rhine river caused by ships. The two pilots took advantage of this assignment to have fun. They hid hovering the helicopter behind a row of poplar trees at the bank of the Rhine and waited until a ship was close. Then, with high speed, hop across the poplar trees towards the ship and hower alongside of the bridge.

Oil polluters: No joy, but the two pilots were up to another situation which amused them quite much. It was funny indeed! During the tumble of the chopper towards the ship we noticed quite a fat woman at the steering wheel. Then a door crashed open and a fat man ran onto the bridge, shoved the woman aside, took the wheel and then sounded the horn. So that was the captain. The scene indicated that the woman was without patent. Offense: Steering a ship without license.

The loudspeaker attached to the chopper proved quite handy too. The phrase working best was: “Fishing is not allowed here!” Completely stunned faces looked upwards and then dropped behind.

Around ten o’ clock the two guys mentioned: “Time for breakfast!” We flew towards Duisburg harbour and landed alongside a cafe with a terrace. Engine off, radio to max-volume, and off to breakfast!

A strange feeling aroused within me, as the other guest eyed us up. They were somehow, not provable, but without doubt, all suspicious as they looked at us! Both pilots were aware of their impression and spoke friendly to the people. Pretty soon the ban was broken, they relaxed and my assumptions all went up in smoke, no criminals, just ordinary people. What the thought of me, the sloppy-dressed civilian, remained a secret.

Shortly after our refreshment the radio blared and we ran to the chopper. No offense, we had payed already right when we had ordered. New assignment, a chase!

From now on I was unnoticed, both pilots were busy talking to different agency on 3 different radio channels.

During a short pause in communication they asked my whether I could fill in and conduct the radio communication with the crime-department of the police. Our task was to find a light-blue Porsche on the freeway and guide the forces on the ground so they could stop the Porsche and arrest the driver. The driver had been identified by a highway patrol as violent criminal and they badly wanted to nail him.

For us this meant: Max speed. After ten minutes we spotted the Porsche, he was driving on the freeway towards Düsseldorf. When he noticed us, he swerved back and forth and then even went faster.

I was busy stating position and direction of the car, it is quite difficult if you don’t have practice doing that. But after a while I got used to the slang and it started to be fun! The Porsche had left the freeway and was speeding into town, our pilot was forced to use all tricks of pilotage. We shot across the houses so low that I was afraid some TV-Antennas would bring us down!

Naturally the driver knew by now that we were after him, he disregarded all traffic regulations. I felt it might be safer to give up the chase, the risk for others seemed to me to be quite high. But the crime-department of the police insisted on continuing, the man seemed important, they wanted him by all means. So we chased on.

From the air you have quite a good overlook and you can distinguish the tactics of the police. They arranged their patrol cars in a big circle which closed in according to our position reports. The possibilities for an escape dwindled more and more. Near a factory building the trap finally snapped close, patrol cars everywhere, he didn’t have a chance.

After five and a half hours the chopper finally dropped me off in front of the tower. After such an adventure you honestly are happy to return to your work at the tower. Hard to believe, but it is so!

How do you catch the Aviation-Bug?

C-130 Hercules
C-130 Hercules

Even as a small kid I was fascinated by airplanes. We used to live in a small suburb of Hannover, Isernhagen it was called, and our home was about half a mile off the final approach track of Hannover Airport. At that time the airport had only one runway, today it is RWY 27L. At that time there was quite a bit of traffic to and from Berlin through the Central Corridor. Pan Ams (called Clipper), BEA (British European Airlines, called B-Line) served Hannover with DC-6 and Vikers Viscount, and pretty soon I knew their typical engine noises. Besides them there were Convair Metropolitans and Super Constellations (Super Stars) of Lufthansa Airlines and others. I especially remember the Super-Conny, it’s 3-fin tail looked like a fork, I thought!

Much later, I had my own bicycle and was allowed to roam a bit further away from home, I pedaled on my own to the airport and stood next to the fence close to the threshold of runway 27L, right at the spot where the airplanes taxied onto the runway. At that time the airplanes still used to perform a run up, which sounded very spectacular, especially with the DC-6. Then the pilots let go of the brakes and the airplanes thundered down the runway, I thought that was great. And the Viscount with its typical turbine-whine, I thought it was cool too (but at that time no one called it cool)!

I always dreamed of flying along, but at that time one could hardly afford it. As a small child my parents had given my sister and me a flightseeing trip over Hannover, but I hardly could remember it. My parents took their first vacation trip by plane in 1962, to Tunesia, right at the day when the big storm surge hit at the North Sea coast. I adored the pictures my father brought back from their trip, I felt bad though because there were very few pictures from airplanes and their flight.

In school I was not too good a student! Especially German and English, also Math, somehow I didn’t like too much! My interest in airplanes was manifested in construction of a few model airplanes and by reading about adventure books dealing about aviation, but, off course, all those activities were not honored at school! So it went on for years, still I went to the airport now and then and enjoyed watching the first jets, Pan Am 727s and BEA BAC 1-11s, thundering down the runway. Also the first Caravelles showed up at Hannover every once in a while.

1969 my father decided to fill in an application for me to participate in an exchange program lasting an entire year. I was not too enthusiastic about that idea at first, but (at that time parents still had some authority) my father’s remark was “you will do that now” and that was it!

It took until May 1970 before I learned where I would be sent to. It could have been the USA, England, France, Australia, Brazil, Japan or even Iceland. You had to state a number of countries as your choice for the exchange year, but you had no guarantee where you would end up. The listed countries were my choice, I was well aware if it would be Japan or Iceland, I would have quite a language-problem!

Around Pentecost I got a letter from a family, who wrote that I was to be their new (guest) son for a year. They lived in Waverly, Nebraska, in the USA! Where in the world was that?? – It turned out, Waverly was a small town close to the capital of the state Nebraska, Lincoln. I would fly to the States in July together with a whole bunch of other exchanges, after a preparation conference in Bonn.

My time in the USA and the experiences, adventures and happenings are a different story! The flight over the ocean, via Iceland to Philadelphia in a DC8-63 was very exciting. After another conference close to Philadelphia there was another flight from Chicago to Omaha in a 727 from United. My guest-family picked me up at Omaha.

During my year in Nebraska I had to go to school, naturally. I went to Waverly High School, 12th grade. In Germany I had already completed 12th grade, at that time it took 13 years to complete high school in Germany and graduate, so I faced having to pass through 13th grade in Germany after my return. Here in Waverly I had to decide which classes in the American school system I would take for the year. To stay halfway current, I took math and physics, but also some practical classes like typing and drivers education. The latter saved me a lot of money after my return to Germany, since I had obtained my American drivers license before the year was over!

My physics teacher, Mike, was only 7 years older than I! His class was interesting and fun. Some time down the year the subject was vector calculations. Normally I would have said: “Yawn, we had that some time ago, how boring!” But with Mike vector calculations got a very different taste!

Apparently Mike had optained his pilots license already some time ago, and he now explained that vector calculations were used amongst other things to calculate tracks of airplanes to a destination considering wind, speed, heading and other factors. He divides us in groups of three and gave us a calculation: Prepare a flight from Lincoln to Beatrice, Columbus and back, the latter two being smaller airports not too far from Lincoln. He had gotten the actual wind on the ground / aloft and the actual weather before physics class had started. After all groups (there were four of them) had finished, Mike announced all over sudden: “… who feels like it and will chip in a few bucks as contribution to the costs, he can fly along with me this afternoon to prove if the calculations were correct!” I was speechless! Naturally I participated! Such a practical reference to the class, I never could have imagined anything like that in my own school at home!

The flight with Mike was great fun, we flew in a Piper Cherokee. Also our calculations were (almost) correct. I was so impressed, that I searched the opportunity to fly along with Mike a few more times during the rest of my stay. Sometimes I even was allowed to touch the control-yoke! And when Mike offered a basic aeronautics course in the second semester of the school-year, I naturally participated in that as well. At the end of my year I had caught the Aviation-Bug quite good!

Back home, I first had to finish my high-school career by passing through the 13. grade in a new class. My old class had finished school in the meantime after they had passed the graduation exams, which are mandatory in Germany. I struggled through the dry (and boring) subject matters, but after a year I also passed the exams and graduated. I was glad that was over with! All the time the idea rested in my head to get a job somehow connected with aviation. But which one, and how? I had asked Lufthansa airlines to send me information material about their careers as airline pilots, but I found out that at that time was too tall to meet their requirements. Also their very stiff ability tests scared me a bit.

So I enrolled at Hannover Technical University in mechanical engineering thinking I could specialize later to air- and space-engineering. Unfortunately it was the time of the first oil-shock. At that time the outlook for aviation and space was pretty grim, at least in Germany. The project VFW 614 was discontinued, it wasn’t sure whether the first airbus A300 would be a success, the vertical-takeoff plane of Dornier was scrapped, in short it didn’t look good.

Therefore I struggled with dry theoretical issues again! Especially thermodynamics was hard to digest. Maybe it was the professor’s fault, because a lot of fellow beginners had the same problems. One of the major exams of thermodynamics, about 90% of the students flunked!

After the end of the second semester I decided, besides taking a summer job, to fly back to Nebraska and visit my former guest-family and some old friends from my exchange year. Over the past years a nice and lasting contact had established with a “hard core” of friends, to which my former teacher, Mike, belonged as well. Mike had organized some extracurricular activities for his students while I was there, one of them was a cave trip and another one a canoe trip, both in the state of Missouri. Those trips infested my with two other “bugs”, since I both went spelunking and canoeing as hobbies later on in my life. At a meeting of the hard core the idea came up to repeat such a tour while I was there.

Mike had left Waverly High School in the meantime and had joined the Nebraska Department of Aeronautics for a full time job in aviation as a professional pilot (sometimes even for the governor of Nebraska), as an instructor and a tutor for aeronautics presentations. It was his idea, to make a cavetrip in Missouri over a weekend and fly down there. Driving to Missouri by car would have taken far too long, about 12 hours one way, too much for one weekend. Mike had the opportunity to rent one, even two airplanes from the University of Nebraska Flying club for a very reasonable price and therefore make this trip possible. Again I was speechless about this perspective.

The cave trip to Missouri was a great adventure, but that is a different story (see 3714 Tango). Shortly before I had to fly back home, Mike took me up in a Cherokee and gave me a couple flying lessons, also he took the hard core for a visit to the Strategic Air & Space Museum, at that time located at Offut Air Base close to Omaha, Nebraska. It was very interesting, and after that visit we went to Omaha Approach (Tracon) and watched the air traffic controllers. I was so fascinated, I could talk to some controllers, sit at the radar console and watch them handle the traffic.

Back home I started my summer job, together with some fellow students we were employed by Gilde Brewery of Hannover as assistant beer delivers! That was quite a job! The task was to be front-seat-passenger in a big truck delivering loads of beer to distant places and cities. It was fun! Besides I did some research on the possibility to join ATC in Germany. I visited Hannover Tower, the approach unit and even Hannover ACC (enroute center), which was still located at Hannover at that time. I was somehow a bit disappointed by realizing they were still using ancient technology there (steam radar, as it was called)! In Omaha I had seen digital and computerized radar processing already. But I filed an application anyway, also since I was assured that air traffic control in Germany was under full development and soon everything would “be better”!

Pretty soon I got an invitation to a qualifying examination, at that time it took place in Frankfurt. It lasted 2 days, and you didn’t get the results until some time later. My fellow students were back at school, but I continued the job at the brewery for a while, I wanted to wait if anything would turn out of my application. And then sometime in November I got a letter telling me that I had passed and they wanted to invite me for a theoretical course at the Air Traffic Control School in Munich at the beginning of December.

So the Aviation-Bug finally led to something constructive! I worked as an air traffic controller for 33 years until I retired a few years ago. I stayed in Bremen for 2 years after the theoretical training in Munich, then a short intermezzo in Frankfurt and then the rest of the time in Karlsruhe at Rhein Control, being an Upper Area Control Center. Some years later I even optained my private pilots license, of course with Mike in Nebraska. Unfortunately it was of not much use to me here in Germany. Anyway, I have stayed interested in aviation over all these years, besides being a controller, have followed several adventures of aviation with “hot ears” (e.g.. first solo balloon flight across the Atlantic, see A Balloon, a Weather Report and a Broken Foot), and I still get excited watching a “heavy” take off at Frankfurt Airport or anywhere else. You see what the Aviation-Bug can do to a person!



Henry and Heinz

(translated by Juergen Matthes)


Rhein Control, Karlsruhe, night shift.

Boeing 727 Delta Airlines
Boeing 727 Delta Airlines

Night shift at an area control center, here in Karlsruhe controlling the upper airspace, is quite hectic at first, then extremely boring (for hours), and then towards morning increasingly hectic again. The shift starts shortly after 9:00 p.m., until midnight you have to concentrate quite a bit and perform top level. After midnight then – this is when the boring stretch starts – you have to fill your time somehow.

Heinz is quite a normal guy, but Henry – one of the oddest characters I’ve ever known! He is enthusiastically interested in Buddhism, esoterica, foot-reflex-massages, acupressure, therapeutic fasting, all kinds of „weird“ things. After a full fast lasting 2 weeks he passed out in the tramway. His statement to the doctor arriving at a hospital: „Sorry, total loss of energy.“ So that’s Henry!

Heinz and Henry, together at night-shift. They are responsible for the west sectors of Rhein Control, they brought along a chess game and had it set up at their control-board. The first moves went smooth and uninterrupted, but then Clipper (Pan Am) 163 called in, a flight from Vienna to New York.

Every controller recognizes gossipy pilots at once, no one knows how, but it is true! Henry complains: „Another one who wants to blabber our ears off!“ Heinz says: „Let me handle this.“ The following conversation starts:

Clipper 163: „Any shortcut for us?“
Heinz: „We’ll check, call you back.“
Clipper 163: „Night shift, eh, are you very busy?“
Henry (to Heinz): „It’s your turn, why doesn’t he shut up!“
Heinz: „Clipper 163, a 747, right?“
Clipper 163: „Yup, brand new!“
Heinz: „Are you hauling freight or passengers?“
Clipper 163: „Passengers.“
Henry (to Heinz): „It’s your turn, take a move, we don’t have all night!“
Heinz (to Henry): „Yes, in a moment.“
Heinz (to Clipper): „How many do you have on board today?“
Clipper 163: „264 passengers.“
Heinz (to Clipper): „And what are their names?“

Until Clipper 163 was handed off to Maastricht (the next guys), the frequency was quiet and peaceful and Heinz and Henry could continue their chess game without further interruptions!


Rhein Control, Karlsruhe.

Nattenheim sector, Henry is coordinator controller, Heinz is working as radar controller. A racetrack in the Nattenheim sector is the UB6, the Upper Blue 6, a route from Nattenheim VOR in the western part of the sector via Ramstein to Karlsruhe and further on to Munich or Rattenberg. Flying westbound is Sabena 125 at flightlevel 350 from Zagreb to Brussels.

On Heinz’s frequency Speedbird 66 (British Airways) calls in at flightlevel 330 from London to Dubai.

Speedbird 66: “Rhein Control, good morning, Speedbird 66, flightlevel 330.”
Heinz: “Speedbird 66, radar contact.”

After a while Henry points to the control-strip of Sabena 125. Henry had coordinated a lower level for her with Maastricht (the next guys), since she wanted to land at Brussels and therefore had to be handed off to Maastricht at a lower level. This new level he had marked down on the control-strip and was pointing towards it. Heinz only nodded briefly.

Heinz: “Sabena 125, descent to flightlevel 280, expedite your descend.”
Sabena 125: “Descending to flightlevel 280, expediting, Sabena 125.”

Now the Sabena aircraft had to descend through flightlevel 330 of Speedbird, who was approaching her head-on. If she would expedite, as instructed, this would work out without risk.

But – Sabena did not expedite, and they kept coming closer and closer!

Heinz: “Sabena 125, expedite your descend, rate 2500 ft per minute or more, due to noise abatement!”
Sabena 125: “Noise abatement?? We are more than 6 kilometers high, how should that work?”
Heinz: “What do you think, the noise it would make, if you hit the opposite Speedbird!”

Sabena 125 was dropping like a rock down to flightlevel 280.

Henry and Heinz

A balloon, a weather report and a broken foot

Funny ballons
Funny ballons

This is another adventure I experienced because of the International Air Traffic Control Net!

It was September 1984. In the aviation world an interesting and exciting project was under way.
Joe W. Kittinger, the guy who had broken the record of the highest free fall from a balloon raising into the stratosphere (the Excelsior III, at altitude 102,800 feet/31,300 m on August 16,1960) was on its way again. This time he wanted to cross the Atlantic Ocean as the first solo aviator in a balloon.

Those aviation adventures usually were discussed or even covered in the I-ATC Net. Ernie, W1BFA, had good connections and kept all of the net-gang well informed. On many of those adventures even the participants were ham-radio operators and would eventually join in to the net.

On September 18 I came home from early-shift, and as often before lunch I switched on my radio to see or rather hear what was happening on the I-ATC Net frequency. Ernie was on, off course, and I heard him talk to N4HDP, which was Joe Kittinger in his balloon! Wow!! But – I could not hear Joe. He had already crossed the Atlantic Ocean and was still flying his balloon somewhere south of the Alps in northern Italy. Apparently he was trying to set a new record!

It is very common on the picky lady shortwave that you can hear someone from far away, Ernie in Maine in this case, but you cannot hear someone nearby. From my location to Joe’s balloon it was only 300 miles or so, too short a distance for the radio-waves to be bounced back to earth. What a pity, how exciting if I could have talked directly to him!

But then – Ernie called around telling everyone on the net that Joe had wanted a current weather report and forecast of the area ahead of him. The weather seemed critical, and he wondered whether he should finally land his balloon. The closest aviation facility for him seemed to be Genoa airport.

There seemed nobody to be able to fetch that weather report. But – at my work it would be possible to get that report within a blink of the eye! The Söllingen Sector only needed to call the Zurich guys and ask them about a current report! Gosh – I got on the phone and called my work.

A telephone call into the control room always is answered by the active watch-supervisor, which happened to be Paule. Paule was well known and dreaded for his light temper, which he lost regularly when things out of the ordinary happened. When I identified myself and asked him to tell the colleagues on the Söllingen Sector to get a Genoa weather, for sure he lost his temper: “What the hell you need that weather for, you are off duty!!” I patiently tried to explain to him, and luckly he didn’t say nothing further, but did as I asked him to. A few minutes later he spelled the weather report to me on the phone. These reports are written in an international abbreviated code called METAR, which every aviator can read and understand, we had to learn this code amongst other things during our theoretical training at the ATC school. So it was not difficult to copy it down.

After thanking Paule for his “tremendous help” I got on the shortwave and spelled the report over to Ernie in Maine. Ernie then repeated the report back on the air, so Joe in his balloon could copy it. Since I couldn’t hear Joe, he also couldn’t hear me! The report said that there were numerous thunderstorms reported and forecasted in the Genoa area. So Joe didn’t think about it for a long time, but decided to end his record flight and put the balloon down, since a continuation of the flight into a thunderstorm was too dangerous. Eventually Ernie lost contact with him, with the balloon being too low during the final phase before landing, and also because Joe was too busy with the landing to continue blabbering on our net!

Later on I learned from the News that the balloon had landed successfully, but it was a hard landing in rough terrain! Joe had broken a foot during landing! I surely felt bad about it, was my weather report the cause of the broken foot???

But in the long run I suppose it was good that he put her down. Thunderstorms, you just don’t mess with them. And – after a while, I got a nice QSL-card from Joe confirming our contact we had via Ernie!

QSL card N4HDP
Danke für den Wetterbericht