Well I’ll tell it and then we’ll see if it was worth telling!
It was a trip in the C-141. We were flying a MedEvac out of Andrews AFB near Washington DC. The plane was loaded with patients who came to the US for treatment and were on their way back to Europe (most of them were family members of people stationed overseas). The flight plan had us stopping at Lajes AB, Azores to drop off about 15 people and pick up a few more. We would then continue on to Ramstein AB, Germany. So far so good, and the weather enroute was fine.
We depart Andrews late in the afternoon and head out across the Atlantic. The sun sets quickly and we are alone with the stars and the HF radio. After about 3 hours I get up out of the left to seat to visit the lav. I had unstrapped and taken a couple of steps toward the back when I hear “Holy S***!”
I turn around to see what could possibly cause my copilot to be so startled. What I see is our center windshield - on fire.
The C-141 has three forward windshields - one in front of the pilot and copilot and one in the center. On memory I’m going to say that the center windshield is about 25" tall and maybe 18" wide. All of these windshields are heated in flight. This not only keeps the glass pliable (in the case of a birdstrike) but also prevents fogging. The heating circuit for the center windshield had shorted and now there were flames (small ones) and smoke coming from the heating elements.
I yell at my copilot to turn the windshield heat off (I was off the headset since I was on my way out), and tell the flight engineer to find the circuit breaker for that windshield. As soon as we turned the heat off the smoke/flames stopped. We pulled the circuit breaker as well, and then took bets on how long it would take the windshield to shatter.
I forget what altitude we were cruisng at, but it was most likely in the mid-30s (say FL330, or 33,000 feet). The outside air temp was probably around -40 C, and this windshield had gone from being overheated to unheated and exposed to -40 temps. It took about 90 seconds before CRACK!!! and the outer pane shattered. The outer pane doesn’t bear any load from pressurization, so we were in no danger of losing that.
What we DID have now was a broken airplane, and wherever we touched down would be our home for at least a couple of days while they replaced the windshield. We were scheduled to land at Lajes, but that didn’t seem like a good idea now. We had 75 patients on board plus 6 flight nurses. I got on the radio and talked to the folks at Lajes - their hospital had 20 beds or so, and they could not handle taking care of as many people as we had on board.
Someone mentioned going on directly to Ramstein AB in Germany. We ran the numbers and came up about 45 minutes short on fuel. So then we brainstormed to come up with any military base that we had the fuel to get to and could handle 75 patients for two days. We came up with Rota AB, on the west coast of Spain. It’s a Navy-run base but we flew into there often. After some more phone-patch calls over the HF radio we let the hospital folks at Rota know what was coming their way, changed our destination with Air Traffic Control and made sure we wouldn’t run into any Diplomatic Clearance problems.
We overflew Lajes, landed in Rota and spent two days waiting for the airplane to be fixed. (This included an afternoon on the beach drinking sangria - not a bad thing at all). We got everyone to Germany a couple of days late, but intact.
So how’s that for a one-line entry in the logbook?