Military Aviation

The story of the C-5 pilot who was saved by his guardian angel twice in the same mission

“On this winter C-5 mission to Bodo, Norway, he (she?) saved me twice,” Jay Lacklen, former C-5 pilot

Jay Lacklen is a former C-5 pilot with 12,500 flying hours and the author of two books, Flying the Line: An Air Force Pilot’s Journey and Flying the Line: An Air Force Pilot’s Journey Volume Two: Military Airlift Command. He’s working on the last book of the trilogy.

Guardian Angel Double Save, 1983

My guardian angel saved me many times over 33 years of flying. I don’t know why I deserved to be saved, but I was. On this winter C-5 mission to Bodo, Norway, he (she?) saved me twice.

I flew with George Talley, a contemporary and fellow evaluator pilot in the 709th MAS. Trouble seemed more prevalent with evaluators on board since all thought someone else was minding the store and let our guard down.

To digress, I have decided to award Talley my “best pilot” award in 33 years of Air Force flying. He was not flashy or aggressive but excelled nonetheless with no major incidents or blunders (that I know of) in over 10,000 flying hours. George is why I consider myself almost the best air refueling pilot ever, since he was better, the bastard.

[…] The Bodo mission took us first to Cherry Point MCAS, NC, to pick up Marine equipment for the Nordic exercise. At the base operations desk, I was handed a communication package with exercise information and, most importantly, the approach plates for Bodo, not a regular stop for us. Since I was in command, I got the package.

The unique Cherry Point runway had four individual runways aligned almost as a giant “X” except at the intersection each split in two and offset a few hundred yards. This offset caused the need for the first guardian save.

By habit I would run the “Line up” checklist when cleared for takeoff and when crossing the runway hold line. Except, for the Cherry Point takeoff, we had to taxi down most of the lower runway on this alignment to take off on the upper runway, so we did not run the checklist passing the first hold line, waiting for the second.

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. C-5M Super Galaxy 60th Air Mobility Wing, 349th Air Mobility Wing, 22nd Airlift Squadron, 07-0042 – Travis AFB, CA 

Unfortunately, as we got to the second runway, we apparently thought we had already run the checklist, but had not. George was flying, but I was in command, so I own it. We started takeoff roll without having run the checklist, the major oversight being not having turned on the antiskid switch. This might have been a problem if we had aborted the takeoff at high speed, but probably would not have been catastrophic. If I remember correctly, the gear would not have retracted after takeoff until we moved the switch to “on,” whereupon we would have realized our error.

The angel intervened at the 80-knot check since my airspeed indicator, for the only time in 9,500 hours of C-5 flying, failed. We did a low speed abort and taxied down to the next taxiway to clear the runway. We then ran the “After landing” checklist and discovered our error that flabbergasted us both. How had we let that happen?

After a maintenance fix, we took off for Bodo. A few hours later, deep into the night, and about halfway across the Atlantic, I decided I’d better review the Bodo arrival procedures. The weather briefing had warned about snow showers in the area of this destination I had never seen before.

I began searching my copilot cockpit position for the package and soon realized…I had left it on the counter at Cherry Point base ops. Damn! We were screwed! I couldn’t fly to Bodo in a snowstorm without approach plates! Ooooh, this would be bad! We’d have to divert and I’d get to explain to 21st Air Force why this was necessary.

I swear what happened next is true. I thought for a moment how I would explain this to the crew, especially to George. I’d made an error worthy of a rookie copilot by forgetting the package. How to explain? I grimaced, shaking my lowered head slowly, and reached for the interphone toggle on my yoke to perform a humbling mea culpa.

Just as my finger arrived on the switch, my instrument altimeter began spinning madly from 33,000 feet to zero, again, for the first and only time in 23 years flying the C-5. “Hahahahahahaha! I thought, “I’m saved! Now we have to divert for maintenance!”

“Crew, copilot, I’ve just lost my altimeter, we’ll have to ask 21st for a divert base, I said. And, no, I didn’t fess up to my error. The divert, to Frankfurt, Germany, knocked us out of the exercise and we never did get to Bodo, so the missing package became irrelevant.

Thank you, angel.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army

Artwork courtesy of AircraftProfilePrints.com

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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