An Air Story

Jerry Nay


Who would have thought that a micro-second in a war-zone could produce a flashback some 15 years (from 1965 back to 1951) to a simple, almost ridiculous, event associated with a pre-induction physical exam at the Naval Academy? Well, it happened to me as my C-130 was skidding, approaching what felt like a 45-degree angle off centerline, down the Kontum (Vietnam) runway about to broadside a column of Army tanks that were maneuvering just off the end of the runway. My flying career was about to end!

The 1951 event: The Navy physicians checking us over prior to induction were all concerned over my somewhat crooked little finger on my left hand that was broken some ten years earlier by a cue ball that slammed into my hand, wrapping it around the billiard table cushion, breaking bones that eventually were not set properly; hence my crooked finger. To this day, I’ve not had so many doctors with so many measuring instruments fidget so much over me – looking for a problem. Yes, then I thought it was “Much Ado About Nothing.” How wrong I was!

The 1965 event: I was a combat instructor pilot (IP), with lots of flying time, but more importantly, with hundreds of uneventful landings in Viet Nam. Putting it another way; I thought I knew it all (sound familiar?).

So there I was, in the right seat, “instructing” a WWII re-tread Lt Colonel (L/C) who had been passed over many times, now sitting in the left seat being tested for up-grade to aircraft commander, how to land on PSP (perforated steel planking used as a make-do runway surface). Everything was going well.

HOWEVER, as my re-tread L/C was rounding out for touchdown, with no possibility for a safe go-around, he advanced the power – for what reason we’ll never know. Now you need to know the Rule-of-the-Road for IP’s. When the IP says “I’VE GOT IT,” the student let’s go of everything, i.e., yoke, throttles and whatever else he’s touching.

Yes, I had my right hand on the yoke and my left hand covering all four throttles. I slammed the throttles into full reverse, over-boosting our engines (sorry ‘bout that).

THE TROUBLE WAS – I MISSED ENGINE #1 DUE TO MY CROOKED FINGER. That throttle just slipped through the little gap the crook of my finger created. Three engines in full (over-boosted) reverse with one in forward thrust makes widows. Hence, we’re now side-wise with a 180 about to come.

Back to my left hand: With a hit that would please our boxing coach, I slapped all four throttles to a forward thrust over-boost that would surely please the engine manufacturer. We made it, but I also apologize to the Army which has a tank missing all of its radio antenna.

Yep, the flashback: As we struggled for a safe airspeed, I then instantly realized that the USNA docs were on the right track. I could even ‘see’ them huddling with their calipers. THE DOCS WERE RIGHT TO BE CONCERNED.

GO NAVY (Docs, too!)

Jerry Nay, ‘55
USAF (Safely Retired)