Thursday, June 15, 2017 Page 7
June 15, 2017
What it?s like to fly
The US Air Force used a specially equipped B-29 to fly into Hurricane Edna over 50 years ago. The plane took off from Bermuda with journalist Edward R Murrow on board.
into the eye of a hurricane
ioneering American broadcast journalist, Edward R Murrow climbed into a modified bomber aircraft in Bermuda over 50 years ago and rode it straight into the eye of Hurricane Edna, a storm that eventually slammed into Massachusetts and killed 20 people. Mr Murrow?s flight was with the Air Force Weather Service, and the next day he recounted the experience in gorgeous, vivid detail for his radio audience. For eight dazzling minutes, he describes ghostly gray light, mountains of clouds, and the ocean in ?long irregular furls like a drunken plowman had been plowing a field of blue velvet and turning up snow?. Arienne LaFrance from the Atlantic Daily newsletter relates the full CBS transcript of Mr Murrow?s glorious account.
?We took off from Bermuda at 11.30am in the specially equipped B-29. The Air Force boys were working for the taxpayers; going out to chart, measure, map, and study the hurricane. We climbed to 10,000 ? blue sky overhead, blue water without a single whitecap below ? and headed west. For about an hour and a half, there was nothing to do except remember that flying is made up of many hours of boredom, interspersed with a few minutes of stark terror. ?Then, there were a few whitecaps but no cloud. Then, the whitecaps grew in size, surface wind about 30 miles an hour, a few scattered cumulus clouds ahead. One big cloud seemed to summon its neighbours and they built castles and lakes and cities on hillsides, all white against the blue of the sky. We bored through a few and skirted others. Then, there was a big mountain of clouds ahead, and we went in. A few rain squalls, but little turbulence. The texture of the cloud changed, became a sort of ghostly gray. We couldn?t see the wingtips of the aircraft. Twenty minutes later, there was a little bluegray light, but it seemed to come from all around us, above and below. Suddenly, blue water again. No whitecaps, but the ocean was heaving and undulating as though a giant were shaking a rug.
The navigator wanted to know if anybody could see surface wind. The radar scope didn?t show anything. We were bounced around a little. The skipper said, ?There?s a storm around here somewhere, let?s go find it.?
?Into another cloud, out on the other side, and the ocean had changed its face. Long irregular furls like a drunken plowman had been plowing a field of blue velvet and turning up snow. We went down to 7,500. Surface winds now estimated at about 60 miles per hour. Flew right along the top of a flat cloud with the feeling that if the pilot let his wheels down, he?d leave a track in it. The next time we saw water, the wind was cutting the tops off the whitecaps and there was a thin gauze of spray as far as we could see. Then, into the cloud again, and that ghostly gray light that seemed to rub off on the faces of the crew members and caused them all to look as though they were ill and hadn?t slept for a long time. ?The radar kept reaching out, looking for Edna?s eye. It showed a high bank of clouds to the right and to the left. We were flying blind in that gray stuff in the sort of valley between. Suddenly, there was a hole in the cloud, maybe a quarter of a mile across, and at the bottom there was foam. It was like looking down a deep well with a huge egg beater churning up milk at the bottom. We flew on. ?And then began the real search for the eye of the hurricane. There were sudden changes in temperature. More rain. Radar reported, the engineer reported. The navigator wanted to know if anybody could see surface wind. The radar scope didn?t show anything. We were bounced around a little. The skipper said, ?There?s a storm around here somewhere, let?s go find it.? ?The navigator asked for a turn to the left. And in a couple of minutes, the B-29 began to shudder. It was a twisting, tortured, wringing sort of motion. The co-pilot said, ?I think we?re in it.? The pilot said, ?We?re going up,? although every control was set to take us down. Something lifted us about 300 feet and then the pilot said, ?We?re going down,? although he was doing everything humanly possible to take her up. Edna was in control of the aircraft. ?We were on an even keel but being staggered by short, sharp blows. Then we hit something with a bang that was audible above the roar of the motors. And more than one man flinched. It was a solid sheet of water. Seconds later, brilliant sunlight hit us like a hammer and a little rainbow spun off the starboard outboard prop. And someone shouted, ?There she is!? And we were in the eye. Calm air, flat calm sea below. A great amphitheatre, round as a dollar, with great clouds sloping up to 25,000 or 30,000 feet. The water down below looked like a blue Alpine lake with snow-clad mountains coming right down to the water?s edge. It was a great bowl of sunshine. ?Someone, I think it was the right scanner, shouted, ?So help me, there?s a ship down there!? And there was. Right in the centre of the eye. We guessed her to be a 10,000-ton merchant ship, moving very slowly in that calm water, with only a thin feather of wake behind her. She appeared to be in no trouble, but trouble was inevitable sometime, because she was surrounded by those cloud mountains and raging water. ?The eye was 20 miles in diameter. We went down to 1,500 feet and flew back and forth across it, making shallow continued on next page
Before, during and after a storm, count on BF&M.