Low & Slow in a “Connie” — Flying to Japan in 1963 (Part 3)

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Night flight from Hawaii to Wake Island

We took off from Hickam AFB at 2200 hours (10:00 pm. local time) and flew due west for the next 2200 miles (3540.5 km). Two things about our long night flight from Hickham AFB to Wake Island stand out in my memory:

• Right outside my cabin window, a long, steady flame exited the exhaust port of the engine just a few feet from my seat. The exhaust port, glowing cherry red, would have been disconcerting except for the fact that it didn’t change, and no one seemed concerned.

• We didn’t get lost! The Pacific Ocean is unimaginably huge. Our destination, Wake Island, is tiny — two square miles (5.18 square kilometres). Yet, after flying all night long, we not only found Wake Island, but landed on it.

I mailed this postcard view of Wake Island to my parents. Please feel free to read the message.

In these days of personal navigation by GPS, interplanetary space probes, the Hubble Space Telescope, flybys and landings on comets, and nearly instantaneous global communication, we tend to forget that by the 1960s, navigational instruments were becoming increasingly digital and electronic. Neil Armstrong would walk on the moon in another 1969, so it’s hardly surprising that the crew of my MATS Connie could find Wake Island without breaking a sweat. Amelia Earhart should have been so fortunate!

“My” C-121G MATS Constellation at Wake Island. — Bob Ingraham Photo

While our plane was refuelled, we had breakfast and wandered about seeing such sights as there were to see — nondescript buildings, endless seascapes, and, from a distance, thundering surf. I took a photograph looking south from its southern shore; one of the men stationed on the island told me that me that there is no land in that direction for over 600 miles.

Above left: Buildings of the military installation at Wake Island; the water in the distance is part of the lagoon created by the coral atoll. Above right: Looking southwest from Wake Island. The nearest land, Eniwetok Atoll, is 602 miles (970 km) distant. Eniwetok was the site of a major battle between U.S. and Japanese forces in 1944. In the 10 years between 1948 and 1958, the atoll was the site of more than 40 nuclear and thermonuclear tests by the U.S. — Bob Ingraham Photo

Next, in Part 4: After leaving San Francisco 26 hours previously, we arrive in Japan. My plan of joining the navy to see the world was bearing fruit, and the Japanese girls weren’t as standoffish as I’d been led to believe!

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