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Coffee shop: Pooh-poohing the poopie suit

Flying past Greenland in a C-117

John Man was in charge of flying a similar C-117 over Greenland to Rota, Spain
John Man was in charge of flying a similar C-117 over Greenland to Rota, Spain

It’s a sunny breezy morning. John Man, tall, slightly stooped, plenty of hair for his age, a guy who listens more than he talks, is shooting the breeze at coffee with his buddies. As usual, they’re talking planes. As is less usual, it’s John doing the talking.

“We were flying past Greenland, across the North Atlantic heading for Rota, Spain. This was in 1965. I was in a squadron that ferried aircraft for the Navy and the Marine Corps, and I’d picked up this airplane in Texas. A C-117” — a military version of the DC3. “I was Transport Flight Crew Plane Captain and I got us into Newfoundland. I’d had about four hours’ sleep in two days, so I was exhausted. But we needed to get out of Newfoundland. The snow was starting to build up around the wheel wells. It was spring, and we were getting lots of ice patties — ice pancakes — on the ocean.” The plan was to refuel in the Azores, then fly on to Rota.

“So we get airborne. I had a second mech” — mechanic — “and I told him what to do. ‘Maintain carburetor temperature,’ that sort of thing. We had a radioman, a pilot, of course, and a couple of other people aboard. So I went back to take a little nap. Next thing I know, somebody’s shaking my shoulder. ‘Get your poopie suit on! We’re going in! We’re going to ditch.’” The “poopie suit” was a survival suit, one that reminded crewmen of kids’ diaper suits, because, like them, it was a waterproof overgarment. “I’d do anything to avoid wearing that thing. I said to myself, ‘Hell no! We’re not going down.’ So I went to the cockpit, looked at the instruments, and realized what was happening. We had a carburetor iced up on one engine, and we had a full load of fuel onboard. We had too much weight.”

John Man: wouldn’t give up on his plane

John was on his own with this problem. In the cockpit, the rest of the crew was busy suiting up in survival gear or just keeping the now-single-engined plane aloft. “I immediately realized it was just a matter of getting the primer on the engine that was not working, and [injecting] the fuel into the supercharger, so that would get more cylinders going. This was a two-engine plane. One engine was working, the other was not. The one that was failing, I had to get fuel back into it.”

You can imagine the crew and Navy personnel hovering around John Man as he stood there, thinking, twiddling knobs, with the plane flying ever lower above the half-frozen waters. “I didn’t say anything to anybody. But I knew what to do. The engines were too cold, the solenoid was too cold, and I assumed that we were icing up. We had to close the engine cowl flaps, raise engine temperature, add carburetor heat, all in the hopes of melting the ice that was in there. When I looked out the window, I could see the ice caps on the waves. We were pretty low.”

It was chancy. Adding carburetor heat sucked power from the engine’s ability to keep them aloft. “But after maybe an hour, we got the temperature back up, and by the time we got the thing running again, our radioman had found another Navy plane to come and escort us to the Azores. We didn’t swim that day.”

The man of few words is here with his sister Joy. They get up. He looks at the group. “Later,” he says.

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John Man was in charge of flying a similar C-117 over Greenland to Rota, Spain
John Man was in charge of flying a similar C-117 over Greenland to Rota, Spain

It’s a sunny breezy morning. John Man, tall, slightly stooped, plenty of hair for his age, a guy who listens more than he talks, is shooting the breeze at coffee with his buddies. As usual, they’re talking planes. As is less usual, it’s John doing the talking.

“We were flying past Greenland, across the North Atlantic heading for Rota, Spain. This was in 1965. I was in a squadron that ferried aircraft for the Navy and the Marine Corps, and I’d picked up this airplane in Texas. A C-117” — a military version of the DC3. “I was Transport Flight Crew Plane Captain and I got us into Newfoundland. I’d had about four hours’ sleep in two days, so I was exhausted. But we needed to get out of Newfoundland. The snow was starting to build up around the wheel wells. It was spring, and we were getting lots of ice patties — ice pancakes — on the ocean.” The plan was to refuel in the Azores, then fly on to Rota.

“So we get airborne. I had a second mech” — mechanic — “and I told him what to do. ‘Maintain carburetor temperature,’ that sort of thing. We had a radioman, a pilot, of course, and a couple of other people aboard. So I went back to take a little nap. Next thing I know, somebody’s shaking my shoulder. ‘Get your poopie suit on! We’re going in! We’re going to ditch.’” The “poopie suit” was a survival suit, one that reminded crewmen of kids’ diaper suits, because, like them, it was a waterproof overgarment. “I’d do anything to avoid wearing that thing. I said to myself, ‘Hell no! We’re not going down.’ So I went to the cockpit, looked at the instruments, and realized what was happening. We had a carburetor iced up on one engine, and we had a full load of fuel onboard. We had too much weight.”

John Man: wouldn’t give up on his plane

John was on his own with this problem. In the cockpit, the rest of the crew was busy suiting up in survival gear or just keeping the now-single-engined plane aloft. “I immediately realized it was just a matter of getting the primer on the engine that was not working, and [injecting] the fuel into the supercharger, so that would get more cylinders going. This was a two-engine plane. One engine was working, the other was not. The one that was failing, I had to get fuel back into it.”

You can imagine the crew and Navy personnel hovering around John Man as he stood there, thinking, twiddling knobs, with the plane flying ever lower above the half-frozen waters. “I didn’t say anything to anybody. But I knew what to do. The engines were too cold, the solenoid was too cold, and I assumed that we were icing up. We had to close the engine cowl flaps, raise engine temperature, add carburetor heat, all in the hopes of melting the ice that was in there. When I looked out the window, I could see the ice caps on the waves. We were pretty low.”

It was chancy. Adding carburetor heat sucked power from the engine’s ability to keep them aloft. “But after maybe an hour, we got the temperature back up, and by the time we got the thing running again, our radioman had found another Navy plane to come and escort us to the Azores. We didn’t swim that day.”

The man of few words is here with his sister Joy. They get up. He looks at the group. “Later,” he says.

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