I never did get back to you folks about some of the incidents that happened to us on our way to the Reagan Library. You can imagine how much planning goes into a project of this size. The combined efforts of all involved were nothing short of brilliant. But as so many elements of the disassembly and transportation of Air Force One had never been done before, you can also imagine that there is no way to plan for every possible scenario. There were many surprises, some quite dramatic, during the length of the project. Some of them happened during the transportation phase. I will try and give you some idea of what can happen, when you least expect them, no matter how well planned or thought out.
Most aircraft tend to leave airports by going in the general direction of “up.” Air Force One, in this case, was going to drive out of this airport. Needless-to-say, there were no gates large enough to accommodate this. The plan was to cut a hole in the fence at the rear of the airport. We did that. We cut a hole in the fence, pulled the fuselage through it and onto the street that would lead us to the freeway.
We had made trial runs a few days before “D” day, but just did not anticipate everything. As we moved through the new gap in the fence we then needed to make a left and then a quick right turn to get to the approach of the freeway ON ramp. It was there that we encountered a street sign that read “YIELD”. It was as if this street sign had been placed there the night before, possibly by aliens from another galaxy, as we just did not figure this to be an obstacle. The fuselage, however, was too long to clear it. So, only a few minutes outside the airport, the caravan came to a stop. That YIELD sign had to be removed before we could proceed.
The City of San Bernardino (or maybe the aliens), it seems, installs their signs to last forever. We thought we could get the sign out by simply rocking it back and forth. No deal. The YIELD sign just would not yield! It would not bend. It was embedded in at least two feet of concrete and needed to be cut out.
We sent a car back to the hanger for a hack saw and made a cut at the base of the pipe it was mounted to. That left a stub of about three inches of metal sticking up which later proved to be a problem. In any case it solved our immediate problem and we were on our way to the freeway.
About fifteen miles into the trip the driver radioed that he thought he had a flat tire. We all pulled over to the side of the road. The Highway Patrol waved the traffic around us while we all got out of our cars to examine the road wheels. Sure enough, the tire that had run over the pipe that was holding the “YIELD” sign, was punctured. Because of the weight of the fuselage, there were double wheels, like those you might see on an18 wheeler big rig hauling cargo. Of course, the tire that got punctured was one of the “inside” wheels, and it needed to be changed. We were actually prepared for that possibility.
Our truck driver and his helper had all the equipment needed to change that tire. He was more than capable. It turns out that not only does he do this for a living, but also changed tires for a pit crew on the NASCAR circuit as a hobby. He went about his business as we filmed what he was doing. No problem. All he had to do was jack up a 176,000 pound aircraft on the side of the road, remove the damaged inner wheel, replace it with a new one, and bring Air Force One back in for a gentle landing on the California highway. He had us back on the road in about a half an hour.
We traveled along peacefully, joking and communicating with one another as we filmed the procession from all angles. Suddenly Randy, the driver of the truck, announced we had to pull over once more, but did not tell us why.
Randy had us all nervous. The horrible possibilities were running through our heads. Imaginations ran rampant as Randy simply did not say anymore on the radio. We all pulled over to the side of the road. The Highway Patrol guided the traffic around us once again, while the driver jumped out of the cab and disappeared into the brush and darkness. We waited a few minutes to get instructions or information as to what was happening when we all saw the driver running back to the cab. He jumped in and announced on the radio that he was ready to roll again. We all got on the radios to question him. He apologized for the delay and told us simply he had too much coffee before the trip and Mother Nature called.
As in life, some things just can’t be planned for. More next time.