More On The Cockpit Fire


(photo courtesy Leon Hammack)

As an addition to the article that I wrote about my “enlightening experience”,  I have been sent some additional information that might make all the airline crews and passengers say,“HHHMMM“!

This from the Chicago Tribune/ Business:

It seems that the Federal aviation officials have known for years that the B-757/767 window heaters can catch fire.  But they haven’t required the airlines to fix the problem, even after there have been dozens of incidents that have unnerved pilots, and in many cases forced emergency landings.

Pilots have complained about heaters that burned, smoldered or sent electric currents dancing across cockpit windows since at least 2002, according to an Associated Press search of a NASA aviation safety database.

None of the reported incidents was deadly, but they were scary. Sometimes, flames would reappear after flight crews had blasted them with fire extinguishers. In many cases, the window heater would cause an inside ply of windshield to shatter into spidery cracks that obstructed pilots’ view. Sometimes, pilots and instrument panels were sprayed with glass.

Pilots reported having to remove their oxygen masks in smoky cockpits in order to reach circuit breakers or grab fire extinguishers.

The National Transportation Safety Board has prodded the Federal Aviation Administration to make airlines fix the problem, concerned that a major accident could happen if nothing is done. The FAA has yet to mandate the repairs, although it has promised the NTSB since 2004 that it would.

“There is no shortage of information. In fact, there’s no shortage of incidents,” NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said in an interview. “What’s missing is the will to do something about it.”
The FAA did propose a safety fix in March 2008, two months after heavy smoke filled the cockpit of an American Airlines 757 flying from Puerto Rico to Philadelphia. The flight was diverted to Palm Beach, Fla., while terrified passengers were instructed on procedures for a rough ground or ocean landing.

“It was absolutely horrifying. There’s no other way to describe it,” said Rebekah Conrad, 23, who was among two dozen students who held hands, sang hymns and prayed through the ordeal.

More than two years later, the FAA’s safety fix still is not final. The regulator promised to expedite it after a cockpit fire last month forced a United Airlines 757 to make an emergency landing at Washington Dulles International Airport. In that incident, United pilots emptied one fire extinguisher on the flames, and sent a flight attendant for a second extinguisher after the fire reignited. (The United Airlines B-757 was my episode!)

Here is another link to show that there have been numerous incidents that were caused by the same known culprit over the last five years!

The wiring harness into the window heaters have been known for many years to be defective of sorts.  When will the FAA require the airline to fix this problem?  How catastrophic must it be?  Do you feel safe knowing that the FAA is watching out for your safety like this?

Airline Food Could Pose A Threat


(photo courtesy Leon Hammack)

The FDA finds food safety issues at airline caterers!

The inspections were at U.S. facilities of two of the world’s biggest airline caterers, LSG Sky Chefs, Gate Gourmet, and another large caterer, Flying Food Group.

The USA Today reported that the FDA found live cockroaches and dead cockroach carcasses “too numerous to count” inside the facility of the world’s largest airline caterer, LSG Sky Chefs, at Denver, CO.

They also cited a report finding  ants, flies, debris, and employees handling food with their bare hands.  Samples from a kitchen floor tested positive for Listeria, a bacteria that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems.  It is also extremely dangerous to pregnant women.

LSG Sky Chefs, which annually prepares over 405 million meals to over 300 airlines worldwide, says the conditions at the Denver facility did not meet company standards.  It took immediate actions to correct the condition, says company spokesperson Beth Van Duyne.

The three caterers operate 91 kitchens that provide more meals than all others to U.S. and foreign airlines at U.S. airports. They provide meals for nearly all big airlines, including Delta, American, United, US Airways, and Continental.

The FDA reports say many facilities store food at improper temperatures, use unclean equipment and employ workers who practice poor hygiene. At some, there were cockroaches, flies, mice and other signs of inadequate pest control.

“In spite of best efforts by the FDA and industry, the situation with in-flight catered foods is disturbing, getting worse and now poses a real risk of illness and injury to tens of thousands of airline passengers on a daily basis,” says Roy Costa, a consultant and public health sanitarian.

Conditions open the door to food-poisoning outbreaks, says Costa, a former Florida state food inspector who volunteered to review the FDA reports obtained by USA TODAY.

So all you experienced travelers, you should pay heed to that “food” that is put before you on your next airline flight.  You never know what has been lurking in that plate, sleeping on the plate or “conducting business” on that plate!  Likewise, you never really know just what that entree really is!  Could it be “caterer roadkill”, or could your meal be seasoned with other interesting unclean rodent material?

Is this the results of the airlines “cost-cutting measures”?  What are your thoughts?

For me, your Captain, I can only say that for quite some time I have been refusing to eat anything that is from the airline caterers!  I see what the quality of workers are, how they handle their products. 

For me I steer clear, just give me a diet coke, please!

An Enlightening Experience


(photo courtesy Leon Hammack)

“Speed is life”, the old aviation adage goes.  But on May 16, 2010 I had plenty of speed, about 540 mph, and I had plenty of altitude, 36,000, however, life was not guaranteed!

In order to give you a good feel for what I was about to be confronted with, I will provide some background details on the day that led up to my “enlightening experience”.

I arrived at my hotel room at approximately 7 am Sunday morning, May 16th, after flying the all nighter from LAX to JFK.  I finally got into my comfy hotel bed and tried to catch up on that much needed night time commodity, of which I had to bypass during the night because I was flying-SLEEP! Unfortunately, I could only get approximately 4 1/2 hours of sleep and woke up at about 11:45 am that same Sunday morning.

After having a one person conversation with me about my desire for more sleep,  I nevertheless decided to get up, showered, ordered up a great NYC pizza, turned on the NASCAR race from Dover International Speedway, and watched ol Kylie Busch win the race.  Shortly after the race ended, I packed up my bags, got my uniform on, went downstairs, then my First Officer and I grabbed the van back to JFK for our flight back to LAX.

After going through security I finally maneuvered down through the bowels of our operations at JFK in the British Airways terminal to finally arrive at our JFK flight operations.  It is here that I am able to pull up the paperwork that will give me the vital information about our route of flight, the enroute weather,the departure and arrival airport conditions, and the condition of the airplane that is assigned to me for this flight.

After reading all the paperwork for this flight, I noticed that this plane had diverted to Las Vegas on the previous day, Saturday May 15th, for smoke or fumes in the cockpit.  The aircraft was ferried (flown without passengers) to San Francisco to the maintenance facility and was checked out further.  The mechanics there were unable to find the problem, or so the paperwork stated, and the aircraft was put back into service. Also noted in the paperwork was the inbound crew had, once again, written up smoke or fumes detected in the cockpit upon their arrival at JFK.

Upon my arrival to the gate and airplane, a mechanic was standing in the cockpit.  I engaged him in conversation regarding the write ups of the previous two days on the aircraft relating to the smoke and fumes in the cockpit.  He assured me that there was nothing found in the airplane that would warrant any concern on my part.  I conferred with my First Officer, we discussed our concerns, then decided that we would fly the airplane as planned.  However, my parting remarks to the mechanic was, “at the first hint of smoke, I will put this thing down on the very first piece of concrete that I see, do I make myself clear”!  The mechanic wasn’t too pleased with my parting shot!

Little did I know that the statement would become a reality!

With all the passengers seated, the bags all stowed, the cargo doors all closed and locked, it is time to push back, taxi out, and fly this B-757 to LAX.   It is now SHOWTIME!

As we took off to the west on runway 13R at JFK, at approximately 8:29 pm EDT, the lights of Queens and Howard Beach were in our face.  Shortly after liftoff we made a left turn to fly the departure over Canarsie, then out over NY Harbor heading to Sandy Hook, NJ.  From there the departure takes us just a little north of Philly as we are heading west for LAX.  During the climb  there are numerous turns and level offs to keep the north-south traffic separated from the traffic heading westward.

Momentarily after level off, I instructed my First Officer to turn off the seat belt sign and talk to the passengers.  He gave the “welcome aboard” speech, the pertinent details of the flight, our proposed arrival time, and arrival weather.

Once he finished his PA announcement we started to engage in some conversation.  Before even the first thought was completely expressed, a hissing sound emanating  from just below the left corner of where the front windshield meets the glareshield.  Almost simultaneously with the hissing sound, came smoke boiling out from under that same corner.  Likewise within a nano-second of the hissing and the smoke, fire erupted in that very same left-hand corner of the front windshield with flames running all the way up to the ceiling of the cockpit!  “Holy S!*t” was my first thought!

I immediately gave control of the airplane to my First Officer, told him to call ATC to declare an emergency, and request an immediate decent!  All the while we had put on our smoke goggles and oxygen masks, because the cockpit had started to fill up with that acrid electrical fire smell that burns your eyes, nose, and throat.  The acrid smell is very distinctive and once you have smelled you will never forget what it smells like!

As I whirled around and jumped out of my seat to grab the Halon fire bottle, which is located behind my seat on the back wall of the cockpit, the oxygen hose that is attached to my mask had reached its length limit, snatching both my goggles and mask off my face.  Holly Moses, I thought!  This is extremely bad timing and what a horribly poor design this is!  I am now stuck with fighting this fire, at least momentarily, without the use of my oxygen mask and smoke goggles. THIS REALLY SUCKS!

After I retrieved the first Halon fire bottle, I got my mask and goggles back on and began to fight this cockpit fire.  I pulled the pin, pointed the nozzle at the base of the flames, and squeezed the trigger. It seemed like simultaneously the bottle emptied and the flames extinguished. Thank you God, I thought!  My pulse lessened and I started to breath easier.  However, that feeling was only to be momentary at best!

Then just as suddenly as the flames extinguished, the flames re-lit!  “Oh my God, this may kill me”, I said to myself!  Instantaneously I spun around heading for the cockpit door to request from my Pursor/head flight attendant another Halon fire bottle.  With that move, once again, my oxygen mask and smoke goggles were snatched off my face with the same force as before!  Now my pulse had quickened once again, my blood pressure went through the roof, for I now felt the urgency of life and death!

As I opened the cockpit door I was met by my Pursor with a Halon fire bottle in his hands shoving into mine, he had already figured out that there was an electrical fire in the cockpit, and that I needed all the Halon bottles that he could muster up for my use.  I quickly closed the cockpit door and frantically pulled the pin on this bottle and began to empty the second Halon bottle into the fire.  It was in this time that we removed the power to the window heat by turning off the switches simultaneously while I was fighting the fire with the second fire bottle.  As this bottle emptied, the fire went out once again, hopefully to remain out for the duration of the flight.

Once this fire appeared to be out I climbed back into my seat and got up to speed with the First Officer on the progress of his requests.  I then told ATC that we wanted to land at Washington Dulles ASAP!  We had already started a descent and ATC had given us a vector heading, which was a turn to our right.  That would give us more time to get the aircraft down.  At this point the airplane was descending out of 36,000 feet and Dulles airport was only about 50-55 miles to our left.  The right turn was not the most direct path, however, it was going to give me the needed time to get this airplane down in the very short distance that was available!

Now it was time to assure the passengers that their pilots have the situation under control.  With that I got on the PA system and told the passengers that we have experienced an abnormality in the cockpit and that we have the situation well under control.  Additionally, the flight was now on its way to Washington Dulles for landing.  Furthermore, your flight attendants will have some much needed information, please pay very close attention.

The descent was fairly rapid at about 4,000-5000 feet per minute, with the speed brake fully extended for added drag.  As it turned out, the large sweeping right hand turn was working out just perfectly for loosing altitude and positioning the aircraft to line up on runway 19L at Washington Dulles.  By approximately 10 miles out of final approach the aircraft was stabilized, on course, and on profile for landing.  Everything was now under control! I was feeling like “mission accomplished”!

What else could possibly go wrong?

Finally everything had come together and was looking like a normal approach, fully configured, stabilized, now all that is left is put this on the runway and get it stopped!  At about 500 feet above the ground there was a very loud bang or explosion.  The noise shocked me and the view that I had instantly after the explosion was frightening.  My front windshield had shattered and crazed, I had zero forward visibility!

Immediately I transferred control of the aircraft to the First Officer so that he could make the landing.  Another curve ball was thrown at the crew.  For this last segment of the flight, I wasn’t sure if my windshield was going to implode into the cockpit an essentially fill me up with shattered shards of glass, and possibly cause great bodily harm to me!  Consequently, I was sitting very low in my seat, kinda like “Cheech and Chong” in the movie Up In Smoke, hoping to avoid the windshield, if in fact, it imploded in on me.

Once that aircraft was down to a very slow taxi speed I take back control of the aircraft and taxied it off the runway to the awaiting flotilla of fire trucks, the time was approximately 9:36 pm EDT.

With ground control acting as the liaison between the fire trucks and the flight crew, we coordinated engine shut down, the  firemen checking the exterior of the aircraft, and finally getting the fireman to board the aircraft to further check for the existence of fire inside the aircraft.

Once it was determined that the aircraft was safe the tug was allowed to hook up and pull the aircraft on the the gate.  Once out of the aircraft, after the paperwork was accomplished in the aircraft’s log book, I headed to our flight operations at out Washington Dulles.  Sitting down in a chair already was agents from the FAA!

Now even more  paperwork has just begun!

Following the paperwork came the different investigations regarding the cockpit fire over the next 10 days.

That is still another story to come!

However, I finally got to my hotel room at 1:00 am EDT Monday morning, May 17,2010, totally exhausted both physically and emotionally!

So other than that Captain, how was your flight this evening?

Father’s Day

2009 Daytona 500 073

(Working on my redneck at Daytona, 2010!)

The last few weeks have caused me to take pause and reflect on my 59 plus years.  We all do this from time to time, depending on the circumstances that revolve around our lives.

This past February I celebrated my last birthday that started with the number 5.  Since that birthday there have been some really significant twists and turns in my life.  ( The flight of UAL 27 on May 16, 2010 I will write about in a few days!)

It is the bumps, the dead-ends, and the turns of fate intertwined our lives take that will, from time to time, make us analyze where we have been and where we think that we are going in our life.  Additionally the birthdays, the Father’s Days, the anniversaries, and the birthdays of our children and grandchildren cause reflection as well.

So it is this Father’s day that has my twisted mind’s attention.

It didn’t seem too long ago that I was full of pride when my first born son came into this world.  Then in just four short years my second son came bouncing into the family.  Times were good and there was a long road that lay ahead of this, then, young Air Force pilot.

Back in those days the mirror reflected, what I perceived, to be the truth.  There in front of me in the mirror, staring back at me, was always this baby-faced, barely needed to shave, very lucky young man.  I would ponder what the future would hold for me and my family.  In my twenties and bullet-proof, I didn’t fully comprehend that the long road of life that lay before me really is a journey, not a “guided tour”!

The bumps, the grinds, divorce, the bankruptcy of my employer Eastern Air Lines, the loss of my job because of that bankruptcy, a few bad decisions along the way, and at least one very good decision (Karen), have guided me to this point in my life’s journey.  It is those experiences, like them or not, that make up part of “my life”. I took the cards that were dealt me, added a hit or two, then placed my wager, and played the hand!

Now that I have been on my life’s journey, and quite frankly most of it is behind me now, I can reflect back on many things.  Some of my journey I take great pride in, my two boys, finally having a good partner in life, being an Air Force  and airline pilot, and some things that I would just as soon forget!  Nevertheless, sometimes I still feel like I need to make a name for my self, even though nothing is going to change who I am!  But those times are far and few between these days.

Notwithstanding, when I look into that mirror these days, I realized the trouble with that mirror is that it doesn’t always tell the whole truth.  It doesn’t show what is deep inside or read between the lines!  It is only a reflection of the surface, not a true indication of who I am.  I have found out that there is a lot more to life than just meets the eye!  I must say that I have learned that lesson the hard way!

So with much self introspection, I have one thing to say to everyone that has followed along with me.  To all my friends, and most especially my family, I would like to thank you for riding along on my life’s journey!  It has not always been a smooth road, but nonetheless, it has been exciting and interesting!

I was a young pilot when I flew in on my wings, and I will be an old pilot when I am gone!

This video says it all!


June 13,1918

Mother's Day 001


This week started out with a very huge cornerstone day in the Hammack Family.  On Sunday June 13th my mother, Ola Mae Hammack, celebrated her 92nd birthday!

Her life started out the daughter of John Addison and Myrtle Annie Smith, a dirt poor family in the western Oklahoma town of Sayre.  Even though her father was handicapped from spinal meningitis, the family eked out a meager existence by working the fields in OK and TX in the 20’s and 30’s.  Their life resembled the characters in John Steinbeck’s book, “The Grapes of Wrath”.

In 1934 she married my father, Archie Wilson Hammack.  For the next seven years the young couple continued to follow the crops and work the fields, all the while starting their family.  In those seven years, they had three young sons with the first son, Donald Ray, only living to be 11 months old.

After the start of  WWII the family life got somewhat easier, but was always a struggle for the family.  There were three more children that were added to the collection from 1944-1951.  That 1951 birth date  just  happened to be mine, and signified the end of the new additions!

Life for Mom and Dad was always a struggle, but they did their best to provide the most important things in our lives, stability and love.

My fondest memories of my mother from my early childhood have been resonating through my head this week.  As a very young boy I remember my Mom loading us up in the car and carting us off to church on Sundays.  She would also round us up when Oral Roberts came to town for his revivals.

When she would hang out the wash on the clothes line she would always be signing some of those good old Baptist hymns like, “Amazing Grace”, Bringing the Sheaves, and In The Sweet Bye and Bye”, just to name a few.  To say that my mom had a very rough life would be a gross understatement!  But neither she nor my dad ever complained about the lot in life that they were both delt.

I know that the lives of the five siblings are far better than the lives of our parents, part in because of what they both taught us.  Mom never had things very easy, but I don’t believe that I ever her complain!  She was a survivor and has made it for 92 years, with more to come—-no doubt!

What a life you have had, Mom!

I know that you will never read this, but I want to thank you from the  bottom of my heart for being my Mom!

This is your son the Captain speaking!

Check out this video:

…..And Then There Was Two!

Monday evening my sister and I had dinner with Steve Detjen and his lovely bride, Jennifer.  I was back in Fresno for my periodic cardiology appointment, also it was a time to visit with my friends and family.

It was just two weeks ago that I met with Steve Detjen, one of my old college buddies, to celebrate the life of our other good college buddy, Jerry Noblett, who had lost his battle to heart disease.  After the memorial service, we had decided to stay closer in contact with each other.

So I notified Steve that I would be in town at this time, it was agreed to meet for dinner at P.F. Chang’s on Monday at 6pm..

As my sister and I walked into the restaurant, the unmistaken profile of one Steve Detjen was observed at the bar waiting for our entrance, and I might add, sipping a cool beverage!  It had been since Jerry Noblett’s retirement party, 8 years previous, that my sister had seen Steve.

As we three sat at the bar sipping a cool one, waiting for Steve’s wife to join us, we caught up on things.  My sister and Steve caught up on old mutual friends that they both knew from the Madera P.D. and Fresno County Sheriffs Dept.  Within a few minutes Jennifer arrived and we adjourned to the restaurant for some food.

Once we all slipped into our booth, and the pleasantries and re-introductions were over, the four of us exchanged stories.  For me, being a Criminolgy major and a veteran of 1 1/2 years of law school, I was/am quite interested in what is like to hold court.  So I had, and still have, many questions for “her honor”!  Some of her responses and stories were quite enlightening, to say the least.  Jennifer is really a very nice, down to earth woman, quite funny, and a great conversationalist!  Obviously she is way too good for my old buddy, no offense Steve!!!!!!   LOL

Additionally Steve and I re-hashed a few of our most memorable “good times at California State University, Fresno” stories.  Some of them were still live-like in our minds  and conjured up deep laughs and giggles!  One in particular story would be the keystone of my college career, and I still have a very vivid picture in my mind of that event.  Unfortunately, now both my sister and my oldest son also have that same picture of their brother and father!!!  Can we say embarrassing?  Oh well it was the late 60′ and early 70’s, what can I say?

I had a really great evening telling stories about the old days, asking questions and catching up on all those years.  The realization that right before our very eyes we have gone from  a “wide eye innocent teenager ” to a senior citizen still boggles my mind!

Those were the good old days!

For those that really know me will know that I am forever linking life to music.  With the events of the last 3 weeks, it has made me re-live and old song by Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band , “Like A Rock”.  There is some lyrics that occur in the middle of the song that really hits close to home and goes like this:

Twenty years now, where’d they go?

Twenty years, I don’t know.

I sit and I wonder sometimes where they’ve gone.

And sometimes late at night,

oh, when I’m bathed in the firelight,

the moon comes calling in ghostly way and I recall,


Like a rock

So there we were reminiscing over 40 years of lost time, I was wondering “where did the time go”?  Then, I RECALLED!!!

And then there was two!