In the Summer or Fall of 1960, 34 Checkpool was setting out on a routine mission from Midway.  The takeoff roll was normal until right after rotation to leave the runway.  Upon leaving the runway, the right, main landing gear had a catastrophic failure of the main landing gear strut and the right main wheel fell off of the aircraft.  After leaving the aircraft, it hit the runway, bounced into the air and hit the right side of the horizontal stabilizer, breaking it off of the empennage (tail) of the aircraft.  This caused a serious instability of this fully gross weighted aircraft (approximately 142,000 lbs.) at a very low altitude.

As the plane began to pull and bank left, the pilots fought to keep it straight and level and ordered the flight engineer to start dumping fuel.  The aircraft slowly continued its climb over Midway as the crew began sizing up the options at their disposal.  Two things were certain: there was one main landing gear and a nose wheel to land on and with part of the tail missing, it was a crap shoot as to how the aircraft would handle in the final phase of an approach to landing, when it had to be slowed down.  The radome of the height finding radar, on top of the aircraft, blocked a significant amount of the airflow over the rudders and elevators (empennage).

As the plane circled, and the pilots had a chance to "familiarize" themselves with the new flying characteristics of the "reconfigured" aircraft and as it got lighter by dumping fuel, it was determined that a gear up landing was safer than having the crew bail out over a relatively hazardous piece of real estate.  I believe that the crew was given that option by the plane commander, but they elected to stay with the plane.

They had a few things going for them.  The weather was good and there was time to plan everything from the approach to landing to rescue of the crew with the emergency equipment standing by and a good runway to put it down on (they elected to land on runway 15, leaving the longer runway, 6 and 24, open for daily operations ).

There is nothing in "the book" to cover this procedure, with such a configuration and unknown flying characteristics.  The training and experience of the flight crew was among the greatest assets in making this emergency result in no fatalities and only  minor injuries, and preventing the loss of an airplane.  (The plane made no more barrier flights.  It was repaired and flown to a storage place in Tucson, Arizona).  All hands emerged from the aircraft on one piece.  When I get the names of the crew members sometime, I will list them here.

                                                                                                        Wes Mortensen