KC-135 Close Call                         Dave Duncan

This goes back a long way, long before the 135 engine retrofit and when KC-135 crews were still pulling alert in SAC. My assignment at Plattsburgh took me on a TDY across the Pacific. My KC-135 crew was on a stopover at Hickam, while headed to Guam in November 1979. We were doing a ferry of F-4’s across the pond. We also had dependent families on board, space available. Takeoff conditions: 10am, humidity 85%, temperature 85°F, calculated takeoff roll 10,500ft on Hickam’s 12,000ft runway. Because the runway at Hickam is built-up on the coral reef; there’s water at both ends. We had a full fuel load (187,000 lbs) and 15 passengers.


We positioned near the overrun for takeoff to maximize available runway. Takeoff roll was heavy weight and all proceeded normally – with water injection engaged and operating (absolutely necessary for this takeoff). Our calculated decision speed (S1) was 133 knots. We reached 125 knots at about the 5,000 ft marker. At 131 knots, we experienced a water injection warning- indicating that the water injection pumps had shut down. Loss of water injection meant significant loss of thrust, equivalent to about one engine. At that point, any acceleration we happened to be feeling (very slight for a heavy weight 135!) went away. It seemed like a LONG time, but almost instantly we made the decision to abort.


The A/C stood on the brakes, speed brakes up, flaps full down and antiskid kicked in. I was in the right seat and was directed to apply brakes. Picture both of us pinned against our seat backs applying everything we had to the brake pedals. Since the aircraft was heavy weight, momentum was significant- and it felt like all our effort didn’t do much to reduce our speed. At the 10,000 ft marker, our speed was still approximately 85 knots. With 2000 feet to the overrun and water, we continued to stand on the brakes. Approaching the end of the runway, the aircraft had slowed to 65 knots. Rather than take it straight into the water, we decided to try for the perpendicular exit ramp (taxiway near the overrun). The A/C pulled hard left on the nose wheel steering, and we both went full left rudder in an attempt to make the ramp. Skidding the nose wheel, the heavy weight aircraft leaned away from the turn, the outboard engine nacelle touching down on the runway. However, the aircraft did turn, but missed ramp center and overran into the taxi way lights. It came to a stop to the right of the ramp in the lights and on the asphalt apron.


After saying a silent prayer of thanks that we were NOT in the water, the next immediate concern was for the “super hot” brakes sitting directly beneath 30,000 gallons of JP-4. The immediate response was an emergency call to the tower for assistance, followed by an emergency aircraft shut down, alarm bell actuation, and a “controlled panic” exit of all crew and passengers (children screaming and crying) through the crew entry chute.


Just as everyone was evacuated and had run to a clear area, the foam trucks arrived and were positioned around the aircraft prepared to foam a brake fire and prevent a large JP-4 fireball. From a safe distance, I watched the brakes with binoculars for signs of ignition. The brakes reached maximum temperature approximately ten minutes after we got out.  We got a “bright red glow” from the brake calipers, but only a limited amount of smoke and no fire. After 30-40 minutes, the “glow” subsided and the foam trucks were called off and returned to standby.


To tow the aircraft to maintenance, the brake systems were removed from the main gear trucks, since the brake calipers and discs had “fused” from absorbing over 100,000,000 ft/lbs of kinetic energy!


After receiving new main gear trucks and brake system, the aircraft was put back into service, and we resumed our temporary duty assignment in Guam and Okinawa.  Cause of the incident- a short in the water injection power switch!   


Bill Van Horn

9491 South Johnson Court 

Littleton, CO 80127


303-948-8435   work

303-596-3615   cell


USAFA Class of '74 - published a book of our experiences for our 40th reunion!



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