Last of the Giants…
Near Palisade, Nebraska
Powered by four Pratt & Whitney T34-P-9W
turboprop engines, each producing 7,500 horsepower, the Douglas C-133B
‘Cargomaster’ could carry up to 110,000 pounds of cargo. The airframe,
and its 179 feet wingspan, and 157 feet of length,
was even massive enough to transport the Atlas, Titan and Minuteman
families of ballistic missile, and could fly at a speed of over 300
knots for a range of up to 3,560 miles.
The C-133 was for many years the only aircraft capable of
hauling very large or very heavy cargo. Despite the C-124 Globemaster's
capabilities, there was much cargo that it could not carry because of its
configuration with a cargo deck 13 feet off the ground and its lower, though
substantial, engine power. The Air Force purchased fifty of the airborne
behemoths as the backbone of their Military Air Transport Service.
Transcontinental 'Milk Run'...
The mission that
Thursday night was a sortie from Travis AFB, California, to Harrisburg,
Pennsylvania, to transport several Lycoming T53 and T55 engines in
sealed transport containers, and one Boeing CH-47B Chinook (possibly
67-8487), all bound for the US Army Depot in New Cumberland,
The flight crew,
part of the 1501st Air Transport Wing at Travis AFB,
consisted of: Pilot and aircraft commander Major Harold W. Tabor, 44,
and a native of Grand Junction, Colorado. His co-pilot, 1st Lt. Duane
D. Burdette, 24, was from Gahanna, Ohio. The flight loadmaster was
Staff Sgt. Ira E. Bowers, 38, of Plymouth, New York, and the two flight
engineers aboard were Master Sgt. Joseph P. Tierney, 34, Fairfield,
California, and Tech Sergeant James J. Clouse of Vacaville, California.
Technical Sergeant James J. Clouse
Originally from Eddyville,
Nebraska – James Clouse, a devout Catholic, was a husband and father to seven
children. He enlisted in the Air Force in July of 1952. He had served
in the Air Force nearly 18 years to that point, and served in Korea, and two tours in
Southeast Asia – one in Vietnam, and the other in Thailand.
While in Vietnam, on January 19, 1969,
Clouse was flight engineer aboard a Special Operations CH-3E helicopter (tail
number #63-09689, and callsign 'Knife 26') that was refueling at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base when it
was asked to respond to a fire northeast of the air base.
Co-pilot Captain Tryon S. Lindabury initiated the aircraft’s approach while
the pilot, then-Captain Phillip J. Conran, covered the pre-landing checklist. Lindabury, disoriented as a result of focusing exclusively on the ground fires, developed vertigo and went from a straight-in descending approach to a nose-high unusual attitude. Before Conran could take corrective action, the helicopter settled into one hundred foot trees.
The blades striking, the aircraft then fell to the ground like a rock, and the
helo rolled on its side and caught fire.
Conran, Lindabury, and Clouse escaped, but after
hearing screaming coming from the rear of the helicopter, Conran and Clouse
returned to the fiery wreck. Although the flames were intense, and ammunition
was exploding around them, the two Americans managed to extricate a fourth
crewmember - gunner Bill Sawyer - trapped in the helicopter. The helicopter blew up as soon as Conran
and Clouse took the immobile crewman from the area.
Clouse received the Airman’s Medal -
the highest decoration an Air Force member may be awarded for non-combat heroism
- along with Major Conran for their actions.
A month later, in
late February of 1969, Clouse again displayed heroism when, near the
South Vietnam DMZ, he penetrated intense hostile fire to rescue five
crewmembers from certain death who had been shot down for enemy forces.
For his actions, Clouse was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross
"Like Fireworks Going Off"...
Aerial view of the crash site of
#59-0530. Number 1 is the plane's left wing, #2 is the
right wing, and #3 is the engines. (USAF Photo)
Fire damage to the flight
deck of #59-0530. Number 1 is the plane's windshield,
#2 the instrument panel, and #3 is the engineer's station.
The reassembled fatigue
crack in the plane fuselage. It had gone unnoticed due
to the aircraft's paint. (USAF)
At about 2:25 a.m. early Friday
morning, Cargomaster #59-0530 crashed and exploded in rolling
pastureland on the Earl Smith ranch five miles northwest of Palisade,
Nebraska, a town of about 540 population. All five of the Air
Force crewmen aboard, including James Clouse, were killed.
"It looked like a big ball of
fire and then like fireworks going off," said Wayne Carse, a farmer, who
witnessed the crash from eight miles away. He further stated the plane
apparently exploded on impact.
A team of Air Force accident
investigators from Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha combed through the
wreckage that very afternoon to determine the cause of the crash,
sealing the crash site off from the public.
An engineer and designer for Douglas, Roy Isaacs, flew to
Nebraska to help with the investigation. There, while standing on the stage of
the town’s National Guard armory and looking at the wreckage that had been
assembled there, he noticed something. “You could see all the jagged pieces, but
here was a straight line by the side cargo door,” he says. Isaacs used a
jeweler’s loupe to examine the edge of a long split about a foot above the side
cargo door. Clearly, the metal had fatigued and failed.
The Air Force investigation
found that an existing 11"
crack above the left side door, and hidden under the aircraft’s paint,
suddenly expanded lengthwise, resulting in further tearing of the upper forward
fuselage skin for a length of nearly 17 feet.
This rapid crack development in the
fuselage set off an explosive decompression of the plane's cabin, as the plane
was cruising aloft at 23,000 feet. This caused large
sections of the aircraft aluminum skin, from both the top and right side of the fuselage, to be peeled
away, blowing portions
straight back, and into the right inboard engine - setting it ablaze.
The resulting stresses tore the
plane apart, and rained ruin down on the Nebraska countryside.
James Clouse was buried at St. Patrick's Catholic Cemetery
near Kennebec, Nebraska, in Lot #13 of the cemetery's western half.
Calling It Quits...
To prevent further airframe stress failures during the remaining months of
the Cargomaster’s service, ground crews attached 16 “belly bands,” four-inch
metal straps, around the exterior of the fuselage.
By 1971, a year after this final crash of a C-133B,
and shortly before the introduction of the T-tailed Lockheed C-5 Galaxy, the
Cargomasters still in service were deemed obsolete and worn out (their
original airframe duty life of 10,000 having been extended three times, first to
15,000, then 17,000, and finally 19,000 hours of flight time) and were all slated for withdrawal from duty
by the Air Force.
Over their service life, severe vibrations from the
18-foot in diameter propellers that the Cargomasters used had caused critical stress corrosion of
the airframes to the point that the aircraft were beyond the point of economical operation.
However, the Air Force managed to maintain and keep many of the aircraft in its
fleet of C-133s in
service until the C-5 finally entered squadron service in October of 1970.
The final C-133 flight took place in 2008, when a civilian Cargomaster,
registered as N199AB, flew from Alaska to California to become part of the Travis Air Museum’s collection.
currently searching for more photos of the crash site taken during the
If you have any -