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RCP0110_0_Hangar Talk 2/15/10 5:01 PM Page 10
The routine of flying nights at Ft. Back then we flew “doors off” in the OH- over the top of the aircraft and down the
Rucker in those days was fairly simple. 58 during the warmer months. Many In- other side, where Paul was sitting. The
Brief your students, preflight, and then go structor Pilots had a practice of trying to fueler’s next action was to bring the noz-
about the business of training. When your arrive at the refuel point ahead of their zle downward and to his right, which re-
student had reached the end of their train- peers in an effort to avoid the wait and get sulted in fully dowsing the student and
ing period, you normally would terminate to that next student. On this particular lighting him on fire. Witnessing this was
their flight at a refueling point, or stage- night Paul had arrived at refuel slightly almost surreal, I could not immediately
field. It was during one of these “routine” ahead of me, I was two aircraft behind. believe what was unfolding before me.
refueling/student swap stops that things While were waiting our turn it was com- The student immediately dropped and
got a little less routine. mon to make use of that time debriefing began to roll, just like he had been trained.
The standard practice during hot refu- the student who was about to finish their Unfortunately he was on the tarmac, not
eling operations is that the aircraft get in training period. It was while I was in the much friction on the ground to assist with
line and proceed to one of two or three re- middle of the debriefing that a large flash putting out the fire. In a panic, he stood up
fueling points, in turn. Once your turn illuminated the entire area, a tell tale sign and began to run from the aircraft. Mean-
comes up your student, who has been oc- that something had done terribly wrong. while, with a wall of flames to his imme-
cupying the right seat, exits the aircraft, It was one of those times when the sheer diate left, Paul shut down the aircraft,
grabs a hand held fire extinguisher, and impact of what is unfolding freezes you. closed the fuel valve, and exited the air-
acts as a fire guard while the refueler fuels With his flight student standing outside craft through the flames. He then ran to
the aircraft via a “closed circuit” refueling the aircraft monitoring the fueling opera- the student, knocked him to the ground and
system. Closed circuit is supposed to tion the refueler took it for granted that extinguished the flames. Fire trucks, first
mean that there is very little chance of fuel the fuel nozzle would shut off automati- responders, Medevac aircraft all quickly
spillage, the optimum for safety purposes. cally when he pulled the nozzle from the followed. The aircraft was total loss.
Actually, if everything is working cor- aircraft receptacle. No doubt it had Many years later I ran into Paul Richt-
rectly the fuel nozzle will automatically worked a thousand times before, this time myer quite by accident. Actually, I had a
shut off if it is disengaged from the aircraft it didn’t. When the refueler removed the little difficulty recognizing him; he’d aged
fuel receptacle. Foolproof, we thought. nozzle JP-4 fuel spewed all over the place. a bit. We had the opportunity to do a little
On this summer night in 1988 the refu- The fueler’s first move was to point the catching up, tell a few stories, and rehash
eling operation at Brown Stagefield was nozzle up, toward the aircraft exhaust the events of that night so many years ago.
going along like it always had, routinely. ports, throwing a wall of now ignited fuel I know well the effect that experience had
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