The Snowstorm and the Secretary

As I remember, Monday 20 January 1958 was an overcast snowy day and the snow continued into the night. About 1800 I was at home and received a phone call requesting me to be the radio operator on a VIP flight to Glenview. It took about 30 minutes to drive to the base the snow was lightly falling. Upon arrival I went directly to operations, there was Lcdr. R. D. Marion, Lt. H. L. Beesley, Army Capt. Hedland (from the Niki Base) and the Plane Captain, were waiting for me. (The Plane Captain was either W. Shelton AD1 or F. Slumski AD2) The purpose of the flight was to take the Secretary of the Army from Grand Rapids to Willow Run Airport for his commercial flight to Washington DC . The Captain was concerned and wanted to be kept informed on the progress of the flight. I would be the HF radio operator and keep base communications informed. The R4D-8, 39081 had been pre-flighted and was parked on the “Hot Spot” in front of Operations.

The snow was falling when we departed Grosse Ile and we climbed into the snow and clouds. Over Lansing could only see a diffused light area on the clouds below but could not see the ground. Upon arrival at Grand Rapids the snow was coming down much harder and visibility was continuously changing as we went through the storm. On the first approach the field went below minimums, we could only see the snow, so we went around for another approach. On the second approach the snow was still coming down heavily but the visibility had improved slightly and the field was just above minimums. We did not see the ground until directly over the field so we again went around. On the third approach the visibility had improved enough for landing. The plane was parked next to the terminal close to a gate to the parking area. We closed the plane and went into the terminal lounge and waited. The snow was falling at the rate of about 1 inch per hour. After about 2 hours we had a call that the secretary was leaving the hotel where he had been the speaker and was on his way to the airport.

After the call we went and pre-flighted the plane including sweeping as much snow as possible off the plane and was ready when Army Secretary Wm. Brucker and his wife arrived. They boarded the plane, their bags were put on board and we departed Grand Rapids. The snow was still falling but not as much as when we arrived. As we taxied out another plane landed. It was the first plane to arrive since we landed two hours earlier. After takeoff I called Grosse Ile and told them we were off Grand Rapids for Willow Run. When over Lansing we still could not see the ground, just lighted area. Capt. Hedland stayed in the cabin and conversed with the Secretary. Later he said that Mrs. Brucker asked why we carried parachutes.

It was still snowing as we approached Willow Run from the SW, landing to the NE, and were cleared for landing without delay since we were flying VIP code 1. (Code 1 is for high government officials, cabinet members etc.) After landing I called NFB as we taxied to a gate on the north side of the north concourse, next to the Capitol Airlines Plane to Washington. The Secretary thanked the crew then departed the plane. Capt. Hedland and I carried his bags into the terminal. After checking in with Capitol Airlines he thanked us, shook our hands and we returned to our plane.

Before taxing the pilots called the Willow Run tower and tried to file an instrument flight plan to Grosse Ile. Tower said no and wanted us to clear the gate and depart ASAP on runway 5. They said that Willow Run Approach Control would bring us to Grosse Ile with a controlled VFR. After taking off from Willow Run we climbed to about 2300 ft and given radar vectors by Approach Control, we passed over Metro Airport and a few minutes later we were turned over to Grosse Ile GCA. We landed on runway 3 about 2330. Still snowing, mission accomplished.

This is how I remember this night. I was an AT2 at the time.

By John P. Sanger 

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Revised: June 30, 2010