Nebraska Center for Writers

by Ernest K Gann

SECONDS BEFORE, the wing and nacelle were clean. This I know, or I should not have looked away. Now, where the filler cap of the engine oil tank had been, there is a frothing gusher of black liquid. It is not oozing from the hole but seems to explode, vomiting down the curve of the wing behind the engine and spewing across the window.

There is no time to think of a cause. That black stuff is our lubricating oil, our blood, our life. Without it the engine can seize solidly in a few seconds. The propellor will tear itself away most certainly, and the chances of structural damage and a fire are excellent.

Gillette cannot see the engine or the wing. They are behind him. He is gazine innocently at the sky ahead. No wonder, then, that he cannot understand my quick movements as I throw myself through the cockpit door, yank back the right throttle and propellor control, cut off the fuel mixture, and punch the red feathering button above his head. All of this requires hardly more than five seconds.

The Lockheed yaws violently to the right as the engine subsides and the propellor blades feather. Bewildered, Gillette struggles instinctively to maintain his course.

"What ..."

"Turn back. Back to Belem."

I cut the right ignition switch. Now the engine is quite dead. Glancing back, Gillette sees the cause of my actions. His eyes question me.

"I don't know why. She just blew the oil all over hell! ... I was standing right there. It happened as if it were waiting for me! Start a slow descent."

Gillette complies and the jungle turns beneath his window. There has not been time to take my own seat. I am crouched beside him, not dismayed at the thought of losing one engine but at the way in which the loss had occurred.

"I just can't believe it. Why should the oil ...?"

We are like stupefied sailors, suddenly witness to our ship's being unmasted in calm airs. There is no logical explanation for such behavior; we are robbed of the very real comfort to be found in technical understanding. A fractured main bearing, a broken oil line, a seized piston, a sticking valve, a hundred things which might require feathering an engine — all a part of our training, our understanding of engine functions. But oil exploding from the filler cap at a rate which must drain the engine very quickly is not in our books — or anyone else's.

And now there is the jungle and only the jungle below, without so much as a pothole clearing. If I had not seen the oil before it was exhausted, we might this moment be diving for the trees and it would be our last dive.

Reprinted with permission
from Fate is the Hunter
Copyright © 1961
by Ernest K Gann

by Ernest K Gann

LIKE THE BELLBUOYS, lighthouses, and foghorns, certain aids are provided the airman to ease his San Francisco approach when bad weather moves inland from the Pacific and wraps the coastline in clouds. There is first the radio beacon on the Farallon Islands, which stand as outposts twenty-six miles off shore. It is a powerful beacon and like a magnet draws the searching needle of a direction finder surely, when the airplane is still far to westward over the ocean.

Once the Farallons have been passed, a situation made evident by a half-revolution of the direction finder needle, there are other aids which are designed to carry the airman further. They must be used in quick succession for at this point there is little time remaining.

The airport itself is south of the city. Hills almost touch its very borders to the west and to the north, but to the east and to the south, the waters of the Bay and the flat land provide a clear approach. Thus any plane bound for San Francisco is compelled to descend from these directions if the terrain is obscured.

Reprinted with permission
from The High and the Mighty
Copyright © 1953
by Ernest K Gann

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