This story is about: Jorgen Jorgensen
1st lieutenant, 33rd squadron, 513 group
It takes place: 1945
in China



Searching for a Compass

The time to return to Shanghai was now, so only I and my copilot climbed aboard the C—46 that was waiting for us. After the exterior visual checks, we strapped on our parachutes, sat down and fastened our safety straps. While my copilot read the pre- flight instructions, we both checked our settings, and I started the two 2000 plus horsepower engines. After proceeding to the start of the runway, we waited for our permission to take off.

As I turned onto the runway, both Dick and I depressed all four brake pedals, and the 15,000 pound mass of airplane shook as if was going to break into a thousand pieces. Upon maximum rpm, we released the brakes and the plane started forward, gaining speed every second. After reaching 100 mph, I set the trim tabs to elevate the plane tail to an approximate horizontal condition, and we reached 130 mph. I started the 500 feet per minute rate of climb by trim tabs, while Dick adjusted the flaps for take-off. As soon as we cleared the runway, Dick raised the landing gear. We climbed and started turning left in a spiral circle manner until we reached 20,000 feet. While turning these climbing circles we looked at the rice paddies cut into the side of the mountain like giant steps reaching up the mountain side until it was time to plant the rice.

After reaching 20,000 feet, I set our course at the compass setting for Shanghai. Soon, we entered a mass of black clouds and fog. The radio compass read 180 degrees which meant we were leaving communication with the radio tower. Our air speed was about 180 mph and I engaged the auto pilot, thinking we could sit back and relax. All was well for about two hours into the flight when I lapsed into a vertigo attack. I thought the nose was diving into the mountains and Dick fought my erratic antics. After I got control again, the auto pilot control was off, the gyro compass was spinning and we were losing our direction. We had to have a compass to obtain reaching the 50 mile radio signal at Shanghai airport. This was living in hell. I thought we would wander until we ran out of gas and crash. If we tried to bail out, the plane would not stay level, with no one controlling the plane. We would have to choose which one of us would jump first.

The only way of possibly coming out alive was to find a compass. The survival kit behind our secondary parachutes should contain a hand held compass. Dick was first to get out up from his seat, remove his parachute, and open his survival kit. There was supposed to be food and equipment for survival after parachuting. There was nothing left, some previous pilot had taken everything out. I had to fight to keep from panicking. Dick replaced his parachute, resumed his seat and took control of the plane. I then went through the same procedure as Dick, opening my survival kit. It too was stripped except for a plastic cylinder tube. I looked at this object and found a screw top with matches inside. I looked at the top and saw the nickel shaped compass. I clutched that mini compass with a grip that was like hanging on to a life-line. I took the controls while looking at the compass and setting our course, wondering if the compass was giving us a correct reading due to magnetic interference from any components in the cockpit area. I fought to keep hope and Dick’s face had the color of death. We still had at least 5 hours of flying left. To add to our misery I saw ice forming on the wings. I immediately turned on the pulsating leading edge of the wings, and to my horror only one wing boot was working. It seemed we had more problems than we could cope with. I pushed the control column down for rapid descent. I did not know if we might hit a mountain but to stay in icing conditions meant certain loss of lift and a certain crash. We continued down to about 14,000 feet altitude where the ice stopped forming. The rest of the time was spent flying and looking at the compass. Controlling the plane with one hand was exhausting. Then another miracle occurred, we picked up a radio signal. Dick called the control tower to clear the runway for a landing. The tower called back and agreed to keep the field open for an emergency landing. We had 1000 feet of clear visibility. I started down to 1000 feet altitude when we both could see the field. I did not approach the runway in correct army flight procedure. The correct method would have been to fly at 1500 feet high and parallel the runway, looking at the runway at the lower left side while flying at a 180 degree heading. Turn, then let down at 500 feet per minute to make a good landing. I saw the start of the runway and dove, turned to line up with the runway and made the landing. Dick and I had to report our flight with all details. The commanding officer and a flight doctor listened and recorded our adventure. The doctor poured Dick and I a glass of medical alcohol, which was a good brand of vodka.

C-46 transport plane