All those Wonderful Stories

Dumb & Dumber

By Stu Jones, Pilot

All right! All you ex-airplane drivers have written your tales of derring-do, of battling the elements and practically carrying the broken-down aircraft on your backs across forbidding terrain and vast stretches of the world's oceans. But not one of you has 'fessed up to doing something as dumb as what I'm about to relate. The names of some of the crews involved, the
name of the airline, and the locations have been changed to protect the stupid.

 

On a dark, placid night someplace over Utah, an Earth Airways captain and I were heading southbound on the leg from Ogden, Utah, having departed X-Ray Air Force Base, bound for Yankee Air Force Base in Roswell, New Mexico. Visibility was unrestricted, with a high ceiling far above our cruising altitude of 11, 500' on a VFR flight plan. That altitude was about all we could get out of our wheezy old DC4, and certainly below the minimum safe altitude if we needed to fly instruments.

 

The good visibility permitted us to use the old Logair (Logistical Air Support) pilot's method of turning down the cockpit lights to be able to see the snow-covered mountains lit by the reflection of the city lights of Ogden, and if the rotating beacon of an airport 'way down the plateau further south was sighted it was considered good enough visibility to continue VFR. (Remember those good old days when you could actually file-and-fly under Visual Flight Rules?) Of course, we had carefully checked both the local and enroute weather prior to choosing this route and type of flight. So on we droned, safe and relaxed in our aluminum cocoon.

 

Earth Airways had two flights a day on this route from Suisun AFB in California, to Mac AFB, up to X-ray AFB, then down to Yankee in New Mexico, Tex AFB in San Antonio, Texas, and finally (after several more intermediate stops) to Nowhere AFB, Delaware. This flight was numbered 24-something, and the return flight originating daily at Nowhere was the 23 trip.

 

The 23 and 24 flights usually passed each other somewhere along this leg over the high plateaus of New Mexico or Utah. At that time almost all crews used an international "BS" frequency of 123.45 megs on the VHF band. Nowadays, it's used by ATC and other air/ground stations, so one has to be careful. But back then, if you were pretty certain one of your flying  compadres was in the area you'd pick up the microphone and issue the "Caribbean Love Call" over the air-a short, high-pitched "BREEP," the signal for whomever was listening to switch over to 123.45 mc.

 

As we approached the Carbon County airyard in Utah, I spotted a rotating beacon and running lights about 25 or 30 miles off but coming our way. Without consulting Mon Capitan, I switched my side of the radio controls to the aforementioned frequency. Since we weren't on an instrument flight plan, and not talking to any ground controllers, it didn't seem too untoward to just change frequencies and yak with the other crew for a bit.

 

When I got the radio tuned in, I heard. a voice: "Twenty-three trip, is that you?" I replied, "No, we're the 24 flight-you're the 23," thinking that the other guy was sleepier than I was at about oh-two-thirty in the morning. His answer was: "Negative, pal, we're the 24 flight, so if you're the one we have at about our 11 o'clock position coming toward us then you must be the 23 flight, okay?"

 

This exchange kept up for more than thirty seconds with neither the other crew nor myself willing to concede that they were calling in as the wrong flight. Frustrated, I turned to my captain, luckily a good friend, to let him know that those other guys in the northbound aircraft were really fouled up. Imagine my horror when I saw him staring at me with large eyes-with the microphone to his lips! We had been talking across the cockpit for the past 2 or 3 minutes, each thinking the other voice was coming from that other airplane!

 

If that wasn't bad enough, the radio waves then erupted with uncontrolled laughter, cackling, cat-calls, hoots, and other rude noises-all coming from "that other plane." The crew been listening all the time but didn't want to interrupt us in order to heighten the comic effect of our stupidity. Word travels fast in the airline industry so my captain and I heard about this incident for several weeks all along the line at every stop. It took a long time and many of rounds of beer to live that one down.