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Military Traditions

February 25, 2021 By Bill Rawlinson

Bracciano to Ajaccio

Ahhhh! Another routine training week at Lago di Bracciano north of Rome. With only three freshwater seaplane bases in Europe, training in winter with the SA-16 “Albatross” was best done where icing would be at a minimum. Training in sea water was undesirable because of its corrosive properties. For an aircrew based in England, Rome was the place to go in winter! Besides, the food was “favolosa.”

One week later and a few hours after departure from “Roma” the light engineer reported that the oil gauge indicated that we were losing oil on the right engine. If the loss continued, we would have to shut down that engine. Options were few: we could not return to Rome on a single engine, continuing to England was impossible and a sea landing to make repairs would be extremely dangerous. There was only one logical option: land at the capital of Corsica . . . Ajaccio!

The next major problem was how to pronounce “Ajaccio?” Our mono-lingual copilot began calling: “A Jock to You” tower . . . Air Force 6892, May Day!” More calls! Silence! Soon we were over the airfield prepared to land without clearance. Then came a crackling noise with a booming voice, “Airrre Foreca, 6892, these ees Ajaccio Tower. Onerstand you gotta eeemergency!” The copilot now knew how to pronounce Ajaccio. “Roger Ajaccio! Request permission to land immediately! We are on one engine!” “Okay, okay,” came the response, “but we resurface runway! You can NO land on runway!” A moment of utter silence on both ends of the conversation! “Ajaccio, further instructions, please!”

What came next was right out of a novel! “Airre Force 6892, can you land in the field next to the runway?” The cockpit went silent. “Ajaccio, did you say to land in the field next to the runway?” “Attsa affirmative!”

“Okay, we’ll land!” Then a surprise! “Airre Force 6892, you hold for twenty meenutes. We get the sheep outa the field.” In twenty minutes, we got clearance to land. It was a lush green, undulating field, but VERY short. After touchdown we could hear “pitter pat” on the wings. Brown spots were appearing all over the aircraft.

It took little time to solve the problem … a line from the oil tank to the engine had come loose, but we were self-sufficient and carried a case of engine oil. Next problem? Taking off from a pasture! It looked improbable, but we carried JATO bottles (Jet Assisted Takeoff ) . . . 60-pound rockets that fastened to the aft Dutch doors of the fuselage and triggered from the cockpit. We notified the tower that we would make a JATO takeoff. “OK,” was the response. “Jay Tow!” We knew the tower was not familiar with JATO. We rolled and fired the bottles! Airborne! Immediately, Ajaccio tower was SCREAMING, “You ona fire! You ona fire!!!” The copilot calmly replied, “Understand, Ajaccio, see you next trip! Thanks much!”

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