I had the pleasure of emailing back and forth with an ex Caribou pilot. Here's what he had to say about his time flying the iconic 'Bou:
The Caribou was often mocked as an antique that did not belong among the shiny toys of the modern fleet, and those that flew the beast were obviously not up to standard. But I don’t care what anyone says. I felt truly privileged to get the chance to coax two roaring radial engines and a classic airframe around the skies.
The Bou was derided for flying slowly - but it was designed to do exactly that. The geniuses who created it used twenty-eight moving control surfaces and a fat wing that allowed typical approach speeds of 66 knots. This let us to get in to some damn scary places; 1000 foot long (or less), mud soaked runways or a 10% slope were all part of the game. Nothing was automated, no weather radar and unfortunately no damn toilet. Sure we had a GPS, but a map was something you held in your hand and drew on, not something on a screen. We were always dirty, cold, hot, wet and tired. But I bloody loved it.
We also took some risks that horrified the rest of Air Force. The Caribou wouldn't climb after takeoff on one engine until the gear and flap were up - and even then it struggled. Pre-take off briefs included where you would impact if you lost an engine after the last safe abort point. Luckily my five engine failures were well away from the ground although they did include one with a proper fire and one where we (briefly) had both engines shut down during a test flight. A few electrical fires, bits falling off, smoke and fumes and all those oil leaks added to the challenge.
Nothing beat the Bou for hands and feet, and nowhere was this better demonstrated than in Papua New Guinea (PNG). My first trip there started with a landing where the clearly visible wreck of a Caribou had been pushed off to the side some 20 years prior. One-way strips up the side of a hill were the norm. I also have strong memories of reaching the end of a muddy PNG runway without being at takeoff speed. The end of the runway turned into a cliff face. With the stick shakers going, we ‘flew’ off the end of the runway and then dove into the valley to get some speed. PNG was great fun to fly around once you learnt to survive.
Of the many aircraft I have flown, the Bou is my favourite by a long, long way. Not fast, not glamorous and definitely not comfortable but just bloody great fun. If only I could do it again…