In the spring of 2013 Clear Creek County asked us to host a plane crash exercise for regional Citizen Corps components. The exercise evolved into Operation Rocky Slope and featured a plane that could not make the ridge and crashed at the Loveland Ski Area.
Exercises are easy to plan. We host several every year and we have a good understanding of capabilities that we are testing and results that we are trying to capture. Most of the time exercises are easy to set up for, too. Logistics generally aren’t a big hassle for us, but every now and again we find ourselves in a situation where planning the exercise is a logistical nightmare that takes months to coordinate.
The plane crash, naturally, required that we have a plane as a prop. We’ve done this in the past and can normally go to the Centennial Airport to borrow one of their crash fuselages. This time around that did not work well for us. The airport was running an exercise with South Metro Fire and needed the fuselages for their exercise.
We asked the Denver International Airport about what they had available and while they do have a crash plane for training, it’s a full size 737 and taking it off the airport property is simply not an option. We checked with the Front Range Airport and the Rocky Mountain Airport and neither had anything to offer us. The trail of options ran dry. We had no plane.
But never underestimate dumb luck. A friend of ours, who is a member of Arapahoe County ARES, is also an inspector for the FAA. He heard that we were looking for a plane and stepped up to help broker a deal.
J. W. Duff Aircraft in Denver, an aircraft equipment parts (and junkyard) supplier was being sold to ACME Aircraft Sales & Salvage and would be consolidating facilities into a single location. This meant that they needed to move a multitude of planes – some working, most not – to centralize their facility. We were given a hand with negotiations and the new owners agreed to let us come out and pick out something appropriate for the exercise. This wasn’t going to be a loan. We were getting a fuselage to keep for good. That’s a pretty big deal, because even grounded planes are sinfully expensive.
On July 3 we came out to the J. W. Duff location to look at their inventory and select something that would work for us. We brought with us the director of the Community College of Aurora Center for Simulation Studies and the Disaster Management Institute. The goal was to share the plane. We collaborate with CSS/DMI on a regular basis and the plane would be made available to them in exchange for having them store it for us.
The simple task of picking out a fuselage turned out infinitely complex. J. W. Duff owns thousands of planes. We spent a long time looking around, identifying planes that were the right size, the right age, the right condition. It turned out to be a task far more complicated than we ever anticipated.
In the end, after much spirited debate, we settled on an old Beechcraft (Model 50) L-23 Seminole RU-8D, manufactured in 1957 and used by the Army Security Agency in Vietnam for aerial surveillance. At the time we figured that the plane would have an interesting history, but knew nothing until we started making calls and asking about the venerable plane. Based on its serial number, still etched in the metal identification plate, we were able to track down retired U.S. Army Captain Jon Myrhe, who said:
The RU-8D was a modified Beechcraft B-50 ‘Twin Bonanza,’ used by the Army Security Agency (ASA) in Vietnam for classified missions. While I don’t have specifics, I do know that #051 flew in RVN as part of the Army’s 509th Radio Research (RR) Group. Her unit’s RU-8D’s served in Phu Bai (I Corps), Long Thanh (III Corps), and Can Tho (IV Corps). I may well have flown that airplane in 1971-1972 while serving with the 138th Aviation Company (RR) in Long Thanh.
That was a pretty cool piece of information to retrieve and only served to confirm the colorful history that our plane had.
The plane was picked up just in advance of Operation Rocky Slope and parked in front of my house, waiting for the trip up to the mountains. The neighbors know what I do as a “hobby” and a car in the driveway loading or unloading response gear generally does not get a second glance, except from the neighborhood kids who think that having search and rescue neighbors is the coolest thing ever. The day that the plane spent parked in front of the house earned us a lot of attention. Everyone wanted a picture with it, including the UPS guy making a delivery in the neighborhood.
The following day Jennifer and I took the plane up to the continental divide. Not a lot of activity on the streets on a Saturday at 6 AM, but before long cars were speeding past us and pulling over, the occupants jumping out and taking pictures of the plane being towed. I have no doubt that there are dozens of Facebook pictures out there with the plane being towed.
Today the plane is hiding out on a farm in Bennett. Our goal is to clean it up and potentially do some historical restoration to restore dignity back to the battered fuselage. We will use the plane in future simulations, but we don’t want to forget the rich history of this heroic piece of equipment.
We are grateful to ACME Aircraft Sales & Salvage for this invaluable donation to OMEGA and to all the agencies and individuals who stepped up to make this donation a reality.