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Martin Caidin and the Electric Eggnog

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The following happened on a flight from Bermuda to Florida, while flying a Catalina.

“Somewhere in the heavens there is a great invisible genie who every so often lets down his pants and pisses all over the pillars of science.”

Ernest K. Gann

   Martin Caidin is one of the most distinguished aviation writers in history. In his long career he been both test pilot, NTSB investigator, stunt pilot, screen writer, instructor, collector, and one of the finest pilots of his time. Yet with all this he was unable to explain one flight through the Bermuda Triangle on June 11, 1986. I reproduce it as he entered it into his own book, Ghosts of the Air, 1989.

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Pictures of a ruined one up close.

  “Now the weather was perfect. We had range up the gazoo. We had a couple of million bucks worth of special avionics gear, as I'd mentioned earlier. We wanted to know what the weather was like, we didn't even have to look outside, we were getting direct printout photos on maps from satellites more than twenty-two thousand miles above us. But the weather was perfect. One of those days when you could see forever. The people not flying this leg were doing their best to destroy a couple cases of Budweiser. They sprawled in the back turret compartment area.
   “The others took turns up front. Dee Dee [Caidin]was in the left seat of the Cat. This was great hand-flying. The Catalina’s like a whale. Everything in slow motion. No automatic pilot, so it was hand-flying all the way.
   “The perfect weather disappeared. One moment Dee Dee was looking straight ahead for umpteen miles; the next, she could see the nose right in front of her, but when she looked to the sides, the wingtips disappeared in what looked like the inside of a milk bottle. Maybe it looked more like the inside of a batch of eggnog. You looked up, you saw a tiny patch of sky; everything else was yellow mud (or eggnog). You looked down, and you saw a tiny patch of ocean, and the rest, you guessed it, was eggnog.
   “No clouds. No turbulence. No bumps and grinds. But then the magnetic compass began to rotate. It picked up speed and went whirling around as if it were a whirligig. We checked the photo printout from the weather satellite. Hey, this is great  The metsat picture showed us in absolutely clear air. The nearest clouds were two hundred miles south of us.
   “But we couldn't see out of the airplane. Dee Dee was flying needle, ball, and airspeed because at just about that time the metsat print machine died. Well, we didn't need that to fly, but it was the opening bid. The electronic innards of the Catalina, all two million clams worth, shriveled up inside.
     “The LORAN went out. The electronic fuel gauges sogged to fuzzy markings. The long-numbered navigation gear read 888888888. The radios died. Everything still had power, but nothing worked. It was still needle, ball, and airspeed. What, you say? Why didn't we simply hold heading with the directional gyro? Because it was trying to imitate the mag compass. We went down low. You could see tiny details of spray, but not fifty feet ahead of us. We climbed up to about eight thousand feet. Lots of eggnog up there too.
   “About an hour out of Jacksonville we seemed to penetrate a curtain. Of an instant, no more eggnog. We could see forever and ever. The mag compass settled down. The directional gyro quit its foolishness and steadied. The electronics emerged from their funk, and everything worked perfectly.
   “But for four hours what happened to us is, as any competent engineer or scientist will tell you, absolutely impossible.”

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