Date: Mon Jul 7 2003
Paul Rollins wrote:
I thought you might enjoy the
attached short essay I wrote as a twenty minute exercise in a writing
class. The words and memories just flowed out as I recalled the
experience. It reflects my memory of flying into the eye of a
hurricane when I was a pilot with VW-4 from 1965-67.
All the best,
VW-4 , '65-'67
Pilot in Command
I in the Eye
By Paul Rollins
We are still 100 miles out and already the
giant, Super Constellation is starting to roll and buffet as we fly
towards the eye of the massive hurricane. For me, it’s the worst part;
I tend to get airsick when I’m not actually at the controls. But not
this time; I can’t. It might look bad. The crew might doubt my
ability. Their trust must be absolute…lives are on the line.
The Radarman barks out…”40 miles to the eye”.
Tensions mount; preparations are made. The intercom cracks as the
Plane Commander reads the checklist. The 30-man crew buckles in; gear
is stowed, nervous chatter slows. I take over the left cockpit seat
now; pull on my leather gloves and secure the shoulder harness extra
tight. The adrenalin pounds through my body….my first time as
Pilot-In-Command on a low-level hurricane penetration flight.
“Cockpit from Radar…10 miles to the eye.” I
check my shoulder harness and grip the yoke with two hands as the
aircraft pounds through the turbulence. The aircraft buffets more and
more with each moment as we continue to parallel the counter clockwise
flow of the hurricane winds.
“Cockpit, 5 miles to the eye; turn left to 270
degrees; I’m losing radar signal”. “Roger” I reply, “Control is now
with the rear observer.” I bank the giant bird to heading
270….directly towards the eye of the storm. Altitude instruments are
worthless in these conditions….taped over to avoid confusion. “Roger,
I have the con,” responds the senior enlisted man seated at the bubble
window at the rear of the aircraft. “Descend a 100 feet; I’ve lost
contact with the water”.
I drop the nose slightly and descend to about
500 feet. I can see the raging waves. I call for more power and the
Flight Engineer responds. The four propeller engines roar as we
approach maximum power. Again from the rear observer, “I’ve lost
contact with the water”… comes over my headset. I drop to 400 feet. I
swear I could reach out and touch the waves. “Come left 5 degrees;
wind 150 knots; 2 miles to the eye” barks the excited observer.
Need more power; we are losing airspeed. The
engines roar as I call out… “max power.” I am wet with sweat. All my
strength now just to control the aircraft. The copilot adds his
strength to the yoke. The windshield fogs over with the heat of our
efforts. “1 mile to the eye; left 2 degrees; wind 165 knots”. 300
Feet off the water now…. waves are white froth.
One-quarter mile to the eye. One more surge; one
more effort to wrench the yoke from my white grip and the storm
submits. We roar through the storm wall like an escaping beast.
Suddenly…. perfect calm. We’ve broken through to the eye. We are in
the eye of the storm…and we are safe…this time, at least. I reduce
power and sink heavy into my seat. I’ve done it; I’ve done it. I am a
hurricane virgin no more. I am a Navy Hurricane Hunter Pilot.
The air is perfectly smooth and I can see for
miles. I smile with satisfaction. It was a piece of cake. Life is