From Cropduster to Airline Pilot – a new book

We have published a new book, a very interesting book. It is the biography of LeRoy Brown, cropduster, National Airlines pilot, and retired of Pan American World Airways. As things happen, one of my colleagues at work, Dr. Leo Murphy, connected with Brown the same way Brown became an airline pilot – by accident.

At 92, Brown continues working in the aviation field by promoting and leading The U.S. Airline Industry Museum Foundation, Inc. He was instrumental in having a Convair 240 moved to its present location at the Orlando Apopka airport (X04).

LeRoy’s story is a fascinating trip down the memory lane of aviation history. His stories makes one think he has lived a charmed life (which he did), gives the reader insight into the cropdusting business, and takes us all on a few of his more memorable airline flights.

Here, from LeRoy’s book, is one of his unforgettable flights flown earlier in the jet age.

Excerpt from Cropduster to Airline Captain, by LeRoy H. Brown – © 2013 LeRoy H. Brown and Dr. Leo Murphy

DC-8 Engine Failure in Mexico City

Recalling my most unusual trip in the DC-8 is easy. On April 25, 1975, I received a call from crew scheduling advising me of a charter flight to Mexico City. Since they could not find anyone else, they assigned me the trip.

The flight was in one of our stretch DC-8’s, so I got dressed and went to flight control. It was a night flight and I filed a flight plan for 37,000 feet to be above the weather, which was forecast for rain. The trip was uneventful until we arrived at Mexico City where it was, in fact, raining really hard. During our approach, a completely unexpected event required our immediate attention.

Approach control brought us in quite high above the glide slope, so I reduced all four throttles to flight idle to get on the glide slope as soon as possible. We were about eight miles from the airport. After settling nicely down to the glide slope, I applied power to maintain the descent at the proper speed, only to discover all four engines had flamed out. I couldn’t believe it. It was the proverbial dark and stormy night and I had no engines.

I immediately turned on the ignition override switch and told the flight engineer, Mugovero (Muggs), that we better get at least two engines going or we were going to have a long, wet walk. I stayed busy flying the airplane while the engineer and copilot were scrambling frantically to restart two of the engines, which they successfully did.

These two engines gave us plenty of power to make a safe, successful landing. As we touched down, let me say the excitement level in the cockpit was quite high as we realized how close we had come to having a very bad accident with a full load of passengers. But, that was not the end. More problems awaited us.

An airplane holding for takeoff watched our landing and advised us on the radio that the tires on our right main landing gear were on fire. Thankfully, as I slowed the DC-8 down, splashing water from the wet runway doused the fire.

We were able to taxi to the terminal building and discharge the passengers. Muggs went out to inspect the tires and reported that two were flat. He also advised there were two wheels and tires in one of our baggage bins. I instructed him to put them on the airplane so we could go back to Miami.

Muggs returned to the cockpit to report the tires were the wrong size for this airplane. I asked him if they were round and full of air and if they would fit the axles on the airplane. He replied affirmatively, so I instructed him to put them on the jet as we were flying back to Miami without passengers.

After we pushed back from the gate for our return flight, all four engines started normally. We taxied to the runway where we received takeoff clearance. I opened the throttles for takeoff, but we were still plagued by gremlins. Only two of the four engines would accelerate, so I aborted the takeoff.

Naturally, some of the flight attendants came up to the cockpit to see what was happening and listened silently to our discussions. The copilot, Muggs, and I worked out a plan to get the two reluctant engines to accelerate. We decided we would begin the takeoff on the two good engines that would accelerate, and then as we approached 90 knots Muggs would attempt to add power to the idling engines. Everyone was in agreement this would work so we decided to give it a try.

Cleared for takeoff once again, as we approached the 90-knot mark, Muggs got a third engine to put out power and a few seconds later, the fourth engine also produced normal power. If these engines had not started producing power, we could have easily aborted the takeoff as we had plenty of room on the runway to slow down. We proceeded to Miami uneventfully and thankfully, with no more surprises.

I really did not get scared until I got home that night, as I could not get the events of the four-engine failure off my mind. My external performance in front of the flight crew when faced with the near catastrophe of a four-engine failure at night, in bad weather, while close to the ground, by no means reflects my inner personal feelings at that moment. The instant I realized all four engines had quit, I was gripped with fear and an empty, sick feeling. However, I quickly overcame my fright by a great rise in adrenalin that enabled me personally to fly the airplane while ordering the rest of the crew to do the things necessary to save our lives and those of the passengers. The flight crew performed their duties flawlessly. There was no time to declare an emergency, read a checklist, or alert the cabin crew to the problem. Had we been successful in getting only one engine running, I am certain we would have had a safe landing.

I still thank my lucky stars and the good Lord for giving this professional flight crew the ability to overcome their shock and to execute a flawless performance in the face of an almost certain tragedy. This four-engine failure was the one and only time something like this ever happened to me or anyone else that I know of.


©2013 J. Clark

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