Most of us lucky enough to have flown the RCAF's de Havilland Comets had many "interesting" experiences. While having to shut down an engine shortly after departure and dump fuel for landing was not unusual, I expect all of us had a few that were "more interesting", and even some "much more" so! Our "more" ones included loss of both the pilot's and copilot's airspeed indicators on an approach in the UK, hydroplaning off the end of the runway at Gatwick, loss of cabin pressurization, a lightning strike, onset of a mysterious airframe rattling noise in cruise, and a showgirl performance in mid-Atlantic (figure that one out). Our "much more" ones included an engine bearing failure at night over the Atlantic, a complete electrical failure at night in cloud over the Atlantic, and a complete loss of elevator control at night over Spain. And a few of us occasionally did "unauthorized" things, probably still best kept to ourselves. But there were some amusing (?) occurrences as well. Two of mine, more-or-less in that category, were the generation of a ragtime piano song "Vomit on the Comet" (performed for a period by "Ragtime" Alex Reid), and being left behind by the Comet in Shannon…and I was the Captain!
As far as I know, some of the foregoing happened only to "us", meaning one's crew at the time. But I'm quite sure one of our missions was definitely unique. In those "good old days" Canadian breweries and tobacco manufacturers sent "Christmas gifts" to our troops overseas. I drew what was surely the only cargo flight ever done by one of our Comets. All the seats were removed, the cabin was packed full of cases of beer and cartons of cigarettes, and off we went for Marville, France…a cargo "Santa Claus" flight in the Comet? It felt weird to us from the outset!
We were somewhere high above the Atlantic in bright moonlight, when I began to chuckle: it had just occurred to me that should we have an explosive decompression we would probably end up as just a streak of white beer foam across the night sky! When queried on my little fit of merriment my explanation certainly did not amuse the crew; nevertheless, that seemed to set a giddy tone in the cockpit for the rest of the flight.
Approaching Ireland and having just established VHF contact with Shannon, we lost the alternator on #2 engine. Not much of a loss at that stage, but the FE was concerned that something may have broken internally and worse might happen if we kept it turning. He said he could easily isolate it on the ground and we could be on our way without risk of damage to the engine. So we shut the engine down, advised Shannon we were on three and wanted to land there. But Shannon had socked-in in fog so we were given a clearance to Dublin, where we landed without incident. None of us had been there before and for some reason on taxiing in there was a lot of silly, juvenile-like banter among us.
Once the FE had ordered fuel and started work on the engine, we went into the civilian terminal. It was early, so there were few passengers about the several airline counters, all of which seemed to be manned by very attractive young Irish girls. Hmmm…nice ambience hath Dublin! But our window shopping was interrupted by the FE…it wasn't what he thought and the engine was unserviceable. Oh shucks, thought we…scanning the scenery again.
That's when I got this bright idea, endorsed only somewhat skeptically by the others. I bought a postcard, addressed it to 412 Squadron and wrote: "Unserviceable in Dublin with 250 cases of beer and 400 cartons of cigarettes! Wish you were here. Love and kisses XXX." Ho, Ho…thought the other three…that is until I got my next idea! Why not have one of these pretty girls plant a nice red lipstick mark on the card? With that the Nav and RO quickly departed (a bit-white-faced I thought), saying they'd better notify the squadron of our situation and find us accommodation…the copilot seemed transfixed.
But I was the captain and supposed to show leadership, right? And look…a perfect target was approaching. I intercepted her. She was a bit surprised, but seemed friendly enough…until I propositioned her…I thought for a second she was going to clobber me. But maybe "Will you kiss my card please?" without explanation was a little too abrupt? I had to do some fast back-pedalling, but she finally complied and departed laughing.
Hey, that was fun…let's try again. I approached two more lovelies who were standing chatting. My technique was a bit better this time…"Excuse me, I'd like two more kisses on this card." I thought the "two more" bit would do it, but talk about cold stares! However I regrouped faster this time and they both planted kisses on the card between giggles. Boy, I was on a roll now, word was spreading among the girls and I had no trouble at all with the next, or the next. But you know (though perhaps you don't), a postcard can accommodate only so many kisses! But they were really beautiful, different shades of lipstick and everything. I mailed the card.
This was to turn out to be not one of my best ideas. Our cargo was unloaded in bond to be picked up by a Northstar and we were authorized a 3-engine ferry to Marville for an engine change. (As an aside, that take-off was most "memorable"…to the crew and undoubtedly to the many spectators of our departure…barely!) On the test flight after the engine change we had to shut down the "new" engine due loss of oil pressure, so our return to Ottawa was further delayed. The result was the card got there well before we did. I thought it would just be stuck up somewhere in the crew room, and maybe it was. But somehow certain wives learned of it…transport crew spouses tended to be suspicious in those days (and often were clever detectives). Consequently, on our return to Ottawa certain of our crew got far less (and I mean r-e-a-l-l-y far less) than a friendly reception from their better halves!