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Stories that will make you laugh and cry- from Uncle George- an old hippie

Ralph Nader C-5 Cargo Planes Noise House Trailers and Plane Crashes


Although I never met Ralph, I did do a job for him back in 76 when I first got involved in environmental in the US Air Force. A lady moved her old house trailer down 500 feet from the main runway. She wrote a letter to Ralph to complain about the noise. A C-5 cargo plane is the largest plane still flying.


Ralph wrote me a fine letter asking me to investigate the noise levels. We rented enough sound level recording equipment to look like a rock and roll band. They measured every sound wave for 24/ 7 and recorded it on a strip chart. I really did not need a sound recorder. The walls vibrated, the windows vibrated, glasses broke every single time an airplane took off or landed.


Back then the mission of Altus AFB Oklahoma was to train pilots of C-5 cargo planes, C-141 cargo planes, KC 135 in flight tanker fuel delivery. Officially they were called sorties or touch and goes. We called it flying around the flag poles. The planes would take off, fly around the base, land, and take off again without stopping.


I remember one C-5 that made several taxies down to the runway only to get called back by the tower because of bad runway conditions or whatever. They went up to the line about 5 times. This used a lot of brakes. The pilot was not aware of a hydraulic fluid leak.  The consistent braking caused what is known as hot brakes. It was the friction. The pilot later told me that he finally got off the ground and made it 50 miles from the base, when the fire alarm went off. The hydraulic fuel was ignited by the hot brakes.


The C-5 cargo plane has 2 stories. The bottom floor is for cargo storage, tanks, bombs, and people whatever. The top floor is for pilots, crewmembers, and passengers, whatever. The flight engineer opened the door to go downstairs and fire was everywhere. The pilot knew he was in trouble.


He told me that he did not think he could make it back to the base. He made a low level approach and saw a small crop duster airport near the town of Clinton Sherman Oklahoma. He decided to take the plane down, the largest plane in the world. The pastures in Oklahoma are separated by barbed wire fences spaced evenly every square mile. On cold days we used to joke that there was nothing between us and the north pole except a few fences. We also joke that if you don-t like the weather on Oklahoma, just wait a minute. This was an original quote form Will Rogers who was an Oklahoma native.

On one day in late February I saw a morning snow, a heat wave, a severe thunder storm and 2 tornadoes. One tornado missed the operations building  where I worked by by 50 yards. There was a lot of plate glass windows for observing the runway. The tornado shattered all of the windows. Broken glass was all over my clothes. I rescued and saved the life of a beautiful woman who was sitting in a corner chair. She panicked and I grabbed her by the hand and jerked her up out of the chair. In seconds the glass covered the chair. It was just in the knick of time, as if God said grab her. The tornado twisted and turned five C-5 airplanes 90 degrees like a stack of dominoes. The only damage was to the landing gears.


Back to the wreck of the old 97- note I have often see air crews remove their air force uniform during flights and replace them with railroad coveralls and railroad hats.

The pilot touched down at the beginning of the crop duster runway, barely missing the operations hanger. Then the C-5 traveled on down the runway past the fence for the airport, and 4 barbed wire fences. That would be about 5 miles. A local farmer claimed that a few of his cows died of a heart attack and some chickens refused to lay any more eggs. Your government paid dearly for these cows and chickens.


The C – 5 came to an abrupt stop. The airplane is designed to break in half upon impact. The cockpit is designed to break away from the cargo section in case of fire. That part of it worked. Imagine you are on the second floor of a burning building. The crew had ropes designed for exiting the plant during emergencies. They jumped using the ropes. Only one person was hurt. He broke a leg in the fall.


The plane burned into a memory and a giant mass of molten metal. The commander sent a team of security police out to guard the plane a couple of weeks for the crash investigation. They disassembled the plane and I can’t remember what they did with it; probably sold it to the Russians at a flea market.


There is my rambling mind again, back to Ralph Nader. I finished conducting the noise evaluation and sent him a letter. It looked something like this:


This airplane patch has been here since World War 2. The lady has been here about a month. The commander said he is not about to move the runway and that our planes will still take off and land. The commander purchased her a little plot of land in the opposite direction. He paid to move her trailer to the plot of land. Does this remind you of some of the diplomacy some plant managers have to tackle to handle routine complaints from neighbors?


And that my friend is the way it is.

I wrote this story quickly based on an email from a friend and customer. The email about politics inspired this story.

Email from Jon Wenzel  Jon.Wenzel@newpagecorp.com . You can blame him. This was his comments about the story after I wrote it.

Love your title…put me in your credits Uncle George and send me the first copy hot off the press signed and autographed!


Enjoy your semi retirement and remember…”no moss grows on a rolling stone”



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