The Navy STRAAD Project
Structural Assessment and Repair of Damaged Aircraft

Charles Etheridge
June 1969-December 1970

One of the major problems during my STRAAD tour was the grounding of the   C-2 CODs.  Only a few days after my arrival at NAS Cubi Point, a C-2 on the way back from Yankee Station lost an engine and gearbox assembly. The damage was significant as a large hole was left in the side of the fuselage. Miraculously, the engine, gearbox, and prop missed the UHT/Stabilizer assembly as they departed the aircraft. This received a great deal of attention since Captain Hardy, DepComFairWestPac, was onboard as was his administrative assistant Gordon Bethune (now CEO of Continental Airlines).  No one was injured and I received the STRAAD call to determine what happened and begin organizing a repair.  We did get it repaired but determining what went wrong was a bigger task than STRAAD was set up to handle.

This was only the beginning of the C-2 saga. Only a couple of months later a C-2 was lost during catapult when the cargo was not secured properly and a couple of large generators moved aft and caused the plane to stall and crash immediately off the bow of the carrier.  All (18 or 20 people) onboard were lost in this incident. Another crashed between Yankee Station and NAS Cubi Point with all onboard lost.  After this, the whole fleet was grounded while Grumman began a serious analysis and test program to identify the problem or problems with these aircraft. They remained grounded for almost my complete tour. This had a fairly significant effect on the ability of the STRAAD team to respond to any need at Yankee Station. One needed approval from the highest level to get a seat on one of the C-1’s that were now pressed back into service.  I did eventually get out there two or three times to look at a couple of problems.

My recollection is that after two or three months at Cubi Point the majority of the problems and associated travel centered around trips to Futema Okinawa, Atsugi Japan and of course Danang, Viet Nam, as well as to Sangley Point NAS there in the Philippines.  The Marine detachment of C-130’s at Futema realized that STRAAD was available and began to call frequently.  I made numerous trips up there to help them assess corrosion damage on the upper wing panels of the C-130’s as well as corrosion damage to the nacelle structure on those aircraft. 

Another major fleet problem that arose during my tour was the failure of the catapult carry-through fittings on the wings of the A-4’s.  This involved inspections all over Southeast Asia and considerable time spent at the repair facility up at Atsugi, Japan. By our inspections and other testing performed by Douglas, we did identify the problem and assist in getting it sorted out.

We almost ran out of space on the ramp at Cubi when most of the P-3’s from Sangley Point were found with cracks in the “centroid riser” areas of their upper wing panels atop a fuel tank.  This was probably my most challenging repair during the whole eighteen months.  We began grinding out cracks when they were found, but in many cases the cracks were completely through the thickness of the upper skin.  With a little creativity and the ingenuity of a couple of the metalsmiths, we were able to at least get temporary repairs on these birds to allow them to fly back to the U.S. for permanent repairs.

Some of the more memorable occurrences from this experience are:

  • Riding in the cargo bay of a C-130 from Cubi Point to Futema atop numerous stacks of mines.
  • Boarding a C-130 sitting on the runway, with engines running, in position to begin its takeoff roll, after being hauled out to the aircraft on a small baggage carrier. This was the last plane out in a typhoon evacuation.
  • A “bolter” while landing on a carrier in a C-1.
  • A C-2 “catshot” on my first trip out prior to their grounding. This seems much more exciting after the C-2 story fully evolved.
  • Riding with Commander Stalzer on of the C-45’s when he couldn’t get the gear down until about the tenth try. He also had a Captain onboard. We read a lot of manuals during those 30 minutes or so. Eventually, it came down for some reason.
  • Seeing what happens when a large Sikorsky helicopter gets its blades into another aircraft while taxiing.  There was a lot of shrapnel damage on numerous other aircraft parked within 500 yards. One piece penetrated through a sailor’s duffel bag and impacted a hanger door behind it while the sailor was sleeping against his bag.  No flesh damage.
  • Many others that have now faded from memory, but who can forget “the rainy season” and of course Olongapo.

Since leaving the industry in 1973 for the offshore oil industry, I have had the opportunity to travel over most of the civilized world including Japan, Egypt, Romania, all of Western Europe, India, Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico, Trinidad, etc. Egypt and Romania (1974-1976) provided some frightening experiences but those still didn’t match my last trip to Danang in November 1970. After having been in Danang for a couple of weeks, the time to get back to Cubi Point arrived as planned just prior to my Vietnamese visa expiring. No problem!  With two days left on the visa, I departed Danang for Saigon in order to catch one of the MAC flights back to Clark AFB in the Philippines. 

After an overnight in the Saigon area, I went to the airport to catch the plane to Cubi .  In preparation for boarding, I was processed through immigration and was subsequently stamped out of Vietnam.  Then, news came that there was a typhoon bearing down on the Philippines and no one knew when planes would again be able to fly into Clark. After another overnight, I came back to the Saigon airport to find that there will be no flights for at least another 24 hours.  At this point, my passport showed me having departed Vietnam and my visa has now expired. Next day, good news is the flight is going.  Bad news is that Vietnamese immigration is not going to allow this STRAAD engineer to leave Vietnam.

I went looking for friends and found an Air Force guy that looked like he could help. After some discussion to understand my dilemma, he now takes my passport and disappears. On his return, he now has managed a stamp in the passport that should allow me to leave. While waiting at the gate with passport firmly in hand, the Vietnamese immigration official that had previously refused to allow me to process out walks up and tries to jerk my passport from my fingers (that are now leaving fingerprint indentations on the passport cover). He was unsuccessful but then comes back with the Air Force Security Police. After another explanation, they then encourage him to go pick on someone else. We eventually started boarding and I was one of the last to get a seat.  After considerable checking of the manifest on the airplane, the boarding agent now pages “Mr. Etheridge, please identify yourself.” After raising my hand with the expectation that I would be staying in Vietnam for eternity, I was informed that  “we just want to make sure you are on this airplane”. Cubi Point never looked so good!

This 18 month experience was truly one of the highlights of my engineering career that has just ended. It was extremely interesting with great variety and challenges to, in many cases, make something from nothing.  The attitude learned from the STRAAD team that I was fortunate to serve with has helped me tremendously as I have faced the need to develop solutions to problems never previously attempted in the offshore industry. 

Charles O. Etheridge


Personal stories of their STRAAD tour experiences:

Ed Grube
Jim Smith
Charles Foreman
Charles Etheridge
Joe Williams
Bob Allen