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Leg 15: Chiang Mai (VTCC) to Dien Bien (VVDB) - Part 1

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Welcome to Leg 15 of our fourth Around The World Challenge. Today, we are flying from Chiang Mai Intl (VICC), in northern Thailand to Dien Bien Phu (VVDB), in northern Vietnam. Straightforward enough, here's the Flight Plan from Plan-G (Thanks, Tim!):



"Ah", I hear you say "What's the intermediate stop for?". Well, read on...

"How many hours?" Hal was shouting above the noise of the P.W.s. I tried to ignore him, but I was still trying to get comfortable. The FC-47 instruments were different to the Dakotas I'd flown in Burma, some were the same but in the wrong position. Hal had set the flaps to one quarter - although he was in the co-pilot's seat, he was nominally PIC. When I'd met him in the briefing, he looked a bit more curdled than usual, so I had suggested I take the controls for take-off. Hal isisted that he'd be in good shape for Long Tieng. I hoped so, as I'd heard bad things about the approach.


After getting our brief from the 'Major' - he'd served in Korea but now was station head in Chiang Mai - Hal led the way to the aircraft, a converted Long Beach Skytrain called 'Puff'. The engines were already running and a hand reached down from the cargo door to help me inside. Its owner introduced himself as 'Midge' - Hal's loadmaster and partner in crime. I went foraward to the cpckpit, past at least twenty oil drums, all carefully lashed in - Midge knew his job. After a very quick run through the checks with Hal, I eased the throttles forward and began the taxi:



Hal's conversation with the tower was mostly in Lanna, the local dialect - he'd clearly been in Thailand some time. Waving me straight onto the active, he gestured to the throttles - "Let's go before they change their minds...":



One final check around the cockpit - everything looked O.K.:



As We rumbled down the runway, I tried to remember how much over weight we were. At around 100 knots, the yoke started to feel a bit more responsive, but I gave it another 10 knots before pulling back. The wheels left the tarmac and we settled into a reasonable climb-rate of 500 fps. Up came the gear and, with a quick glance at Hal, in went the flaps. I'd never liked taking off with flaps and wasn't about to change habits. Hal winked at me - "Confident, eh? We'll see how you manage Long Tieng". The sun was just coming up as we turned east. Hal asked Midge if he'd make some coffee and settled back in his seat.


On the plan, the NAN VOR was around 100 miles - just about an hour away. Cruise height was set at 10,000 feet, about enough to get us safely over the jungle clad hills. The rainy season had finished a month or so back, so we were hoping for reasonable visibility.


Midge handed me a coffee mug. "Care for an egg roll?" He offered me a plate with several spring rolls - "Picked them up this morning - try one". I hadn't eaten breakfast - but I couldn't risk it. "Suit yourself" was his comment as he divided the rolls between Hal and himself. By the time we reached the waypoint, the thin cloud was hugging the hillsides.


Hal went aft for a smoke, leaving me alone. I still wasn't sure how the day would pan out. There was no way of getting into Dien Bien by air - the North Vietnamese had that region sown up - they even shot their own aircraft down, it was said. But the mission objective was clear: contact had to be made and that was that. There had to be an opening, and that's why we were enjoying Air America's co-operation. The solution would be found at Long Tieng. Hal broke into my thoughts, "We're over the Laotian border - take her down a couple of thousand feet. Keep a heading of around 75 degrees.


The flight plan said 81 degrees, not 75. "The Luang Phabang VOR's a reliable signal, we'll follow the 138 degree radial for LA20" This made sense, as the valleys now appeared all to have a neat south-westerly heading. Hal took over the controls as we intersected the radial.


"Okay Mr Expert - here's your chance to shine! There's Long Tieng ahead - she's all yours!" What Hal hadn't told me was that LA20 was virtually a one-way ticket - you approached from the south east - period!


Increaing the mixture back to auto-rich, I eased back on the throttles and watched the IAS reduce to 120 knots. The flaps clunked out to one quarter as Long Tieng slipped past to port.


Descending to 6,000 feet and staying at 120 knots was helped when the gear came down and locked. A hard base turn to port sent the empty mugs across the cabin floor and the valley sides rushed up to meet us.


More flap and a lot of rudder and we were lined up - but still a bit high. "Just fly the 'plane", I said to myself - I could feel Hal's eyes burning into me.


The strip looked no wider than the DC-3's wingspan, but there was no side wind and the height seemed to bleed off well as I tried to maintain a reasonable airspeed. The thought of all that fuel behind my head certainly helped to keep me focussed.


And there we were - floating over the threshold - all I needed now was a firm hand on the yoke and we'd be back on terra firma.


Midge's yells of relief were plain to hear, even above the racket the gear was making over the surface of the strip and Hal leaned over and patted me on the back. "You just graduated, Son - nice going!"


But it wasn't over yet, the tail did not want to drop with the amount of braking needed to slow the aircraft down.


Now we were down, the runway looked longer than before, and as luck would have it, the rush became a roll and we finally were able to taxi towards the ramp. Before shutting down, Midge popped his head around the cabin door: "Almost up to Hal's standard!", he laughed "But not as exciting, eh, Hal?"


As the engines stopped, I heard other noises around me - a Huey Slick was taking off from the other side of the base, and a jeep's revving announced the arrival of our de-briefing. Now for some answers...

Stay tuned for Part 2. BTW, for those interested, here's the Fuel and Payload at Chiang Mai:


Cheers - Dai. :cool:


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