Interocean Airways Dakota “Little Annie” at a typical bush strip in Mozambique in the 1990s. PHOTO: Bob Reinaker
In the second of a short series of anecdotes and memories of the Douglas DC-3 “Dakota”, veteran pilot Robin Anderson remembers the day half his cargo – nine poorly sealed drums of high octane aviation fuel – broke loose and thrashed around the cabin during takeoff from Beira in Mozambique.
“There was no lashing equipment available so we stripped barbed wire off old fences nearby and grabbed pieces of rope lying around to try and secure the 18 drums of Avgas on the sloping floor of the Dakota. With full internal tanks of 800 US gallons, we taxied out slowly, and did our pre-takeoff checks just short of the runway.
Getting takeoff clearance towards the sea I gently advanced the throttles while holding the control column full forward to get the tail up, and the floor level, as soon as possible, trying to ensure the drums would not come loose from their very meagre makeshift wire lashing. About half way down the runway, a slight irregularity in the surface caused the starboard row of nine drums to break loose and slide backwards. Glancing back through the open cockpit door I saw them smash the toilet cubicle down and all nine ended up jumbled together on their sides near the rear door, and some immediately began leaking high-octane avgas from unsealed bungs.
Holding the column further forward than before to counteract the tail-heaviness, I shouted at my co-pilot and the loadmaster to get those “damn drums” rolled back up. With the weak brakes I was not entertaining stopping, and at any rate there was no more lashing material available. Letting the aircraft pick up speed until close to the end of the runway, I very gently eased her off and held her just above the water whilst making a wide, flattish turn back onto course for Chimoio.
By staying low there was enough power to keep the aircraft’s tail up and I chose to follow the low-lying ground and valleys in a rough direction of Chimoio while the crew frantically busied themselves standing all the drums up again. They left the last drum lying down wedged against the debris of the toilet to keep the other drums from sliding back again.
In this way we were able to slowly gain some height to clear the rising ground. I handed the controls to my young sweat-soaked, would-be Dakota pilot while I went back to see if any more could be achieved in preventing the drums from sliding again.
We made a smooth landing at Chimoio and I kept the tailwheel off for as long as I could. The lashings held.
That those nine drums weighed in at some 1 430 kilograms and that our all-up-weight must have been a tad over 13 636 kilograms on takeoff, is just another reason to marvel at the ability of these venerable flying machines to accomplish what they have done, and continue to do so, over more than half a century of reliable service.”
Anderson flew Dakotas in Mozambique for colourful operator Interocean Airways which had a contract flying aid relief around the country in the 1990s.
Hi Paul, I enjoyed your article on the DC-3 and wonder do you recall the C-7 Caribou tail number C9-ATV that was with Inter-Ocean Airways? I am doing some research on this machine, when it operated with the US Army/USAF. I wonder do you know it’s current state and by any chance have you a recent photo? Fingers crossed,
Dublin – IRL
Colin, I believe the Interocean Caribou is standing by the roadside a few kilometres west of the Komatipoort border post. It was flown there some time back and pretty much left where it stopped. Painted red – you can’t miss it.