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Railroaders' Nostalgia > Buzzing Trains

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Date: 07/13/18 20:57
Buzzing Trains
Author: Cabhop

I recently got a email about Paul Mantz, a famous stunt flyer who was killed near Yuma filming "The Flight of the Phoenix".  Part of Mantz's bio was he got washed out the Army Air Corps in the 1920s for buzzing an SP passenger train.  Unfortunately on broad the train were a number of high ranking Army officers who took a dim view of the unauthorized low pass and Muntz was discharged from the US AAC. 

As for his buzzing the SP, durring WW II that was pretty common.  I talked to some old head engineers I worked with on the East End [Indio-Yuma pool] when I first hired out and was told how they were constantly being buzzed by Army Air Corps pilots practicing maneuvers to shoot up trains.  One Fireman decided to “fight back” so just as the plane was about to make his low pass over the engine, he threw a shovel full of sand into the fire box.  As the fighter flew through the resulting black plume of smoke, it sand blasted his canopy to the point that it was reported to the SP officials that the pilot had to hang his head out the side of the cockpit to get back to the base and land.  The SP issued a Special Instruction that crews were to avoid sanding flues when the Army was conducting practice runs on the trains.  


Date: 07/14/18 09:30
Re: Buzzing Trains
Author: crackerjackhoghead

Although frowned upon, the practice of buzzing trains has not stopped. Many times, when I was working the Yuma pool, fighter jets would fly low, along side the train, pehaps only 15 or 20 feet off the ground and "hop", back and forth, from one side of the train to the other.

Date: 07/14/18 10:48
Re: Buzzing Trains
Author: tehachcond

The Navy used to do that to us out on the Lone Pine Branch.  We were coming down from Searles to Mojave one morning, just minding our own business, and a Navy plane went over the caboose so low, he almost took the stove stack off!  Charlie Jones, who at the time, was the UTU safety guy was on the caboose with me,  He about came unglued!  He contacted the Navy and complained, but all he got was "the sound of freedom" thing.

Brian Black
Castle Rock, CO

Date: 07/14/18 10:49
Re: Buzzing Trains
Author: Fredo

The helicopters also Jeff. The little ones were the best. Wacthing them go straight down then make a right angle and go paralel to the ground was always a treat. And don't forget the aircraft that would sneek up on you from behind at night when you had the windows open. They all flew around with no lights on too.

Date: 07/14/18 11:11
Re: Buzzing Trains
Author: Westbound

Our son was in the USMC for 24 years and his tales of training activity while a passenger in USMC helicopters were terrifying. Even while in the Gulf War I don’t think he came that close to death. No excuse for such dangerous activity which would never be accepted in private industry. But to some, it’s just stupid taxpayer money, never mind the human factor. 

There’s a certain comparison between the high risk-taker pilot and the motorist who tries to beat the train to the crossing. Of course  in that situation the pilot has better odds of survival.

Date: 07/14/18 11:20
Re: Buzzing Trains
Author: CarolVoss

Legendary tales of the pilots buzzing the herds of cattle in Texas and Nevada etc.

Carol Voss
Salinas, CA

Date: 07/14/18 12:18
Re: Buzzing Trains
Author: Trainhand

When I first went to work for the SCL the helicopter pilots would fly very low to the groundit seemed like 10 feet or so down the right of way and pop up for trains crossings bridges etc. But I would venture most of them at that time were Vietman vets who were used to such. It scared train crews though.

Date: 07/14/18 13:39
Re: Buzzing Trains
Author: milepost180

I'm a retired pilot.  Back when planes had 3 man crews, I had an old Professional Flight Engineer that used to buzz trains on the old bridge across the great salt lake.  At night he would take an old Champ, with an electrical system, and fly down the tracks wagging the tail with the landing light on.  He did this with the appearance that a train was on the bridge and was going to have a headon collision.  As he got close he would turn the light off and break off.  I've always wondered if there were any old heads that have talked about ghost trains on the great salt lake?

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 07/14/18 13:39 by milepost180.

Date: 07/14/18 20:53
Re: Buzzing Trains
Author: fbe

We would be parked in a siding in eastern NE probably dead on the law about dawn and along from behind comes a radial engine crop duster at pole line level. Just short of the train the pilot throws the timing of the engine out of sync and it is ACK, ACK, ACK, ACK as he passes over the cab. This was generally followed by a wing wave as the duster headed off to the next job.

Date: 07/15/18 15:26
Re: Buzzing Trains
Author: wa4umr

Not rail related but these stories remind me of a practice at the Louisville (Ky.) Naval Ordnance Plant years ago.  The Navy would send their Phalanx CIWS for engineering and maintenance. The Phalanx CIWS (Close In Weapons System) was a 20mm Gatlin gun used to protect ships from aircraft, anti-ship missiles, and helicopters.   The Louisville AirPort was about a half mile from the plant.  It was common practice to mount the weapon system on the roof for testing and let it track airplanes coming into or departing Louisville.  Thousands upon thousands of people flew into Louisville and never knew they were in the tracking system of a very advanced Naval weapons system.

Railroad content, the only thing between the Naval Ordinance Station and the airport was the north end of the CSX Osborn Yard and two streets.


Date: 07/15/18 15:40
Re: Buzzing Trains
Author: Margaret_SP_fan

Buzzing anyone or anything is very, very dangerous and very childish behavior, and should be punished severely.  I mean time in jail!

Would any of thoes pilots do that to their elderly grandmothers?  Or their small children?  I hope not!

And how would those pilots feel if they learned that buzzing someone had caused a traffic accident in which people were killed?  Or caused someone to have a heart attack and die from fright?

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 07/15/18 15:43 by Margaret_SP_fan.

Date: 07/17/18 10:32
Re: Buzzing Trains
Author: Bob3985

There were a few of my eastbound trips to North Platte where in the afternoon we go into momentary darkness as one of the Air Force B-52's would be practicing their low level flying over the sandhills of western Nebraska. First time it was rather a bit of a surprise. Although not all that low it was a different feeling and a shadow passed over you until it popped out on your side of the cab.

Bob Krieger
Cheyenne, WY

Date: 07/17/18 11:31
Re: Buzzing Trains
Author: TAW

Margaret_SP_fan Wrote:
> Buzzing anyone or anything is very, very dangerous
> and very childish behavior, and should be punished
> severely.  I mean time in jail!

My dad was a Air Corps radioman in WWII. He was in a fighter squadron - just P-38s using the field. He had an antenna set up between two masts at the end of the field, out of the flight path. A B-17 crew, having finished their missions, buzzed the field on their way home (the unwritten rule was you buzz your own field on the way out, not another field). They were so low that the props caught the antenna cable and got tangled, resulting in the plane crashing and exploding on the field. They were done. They were on the way home. The flight crew's childish display did to them what the Nazis couldn't do.

(He never got over seeing that.)


Date: 07/17/18 12:11
Re: Buzzing Trains
Author: RRBadTrack

While filming the Trona Baldwins, we were buzzed numerous times by Navy fighters while interviewing the engineer who was dumping ballast. You can actually see one of the jets haul ass by the engineer's window, it was that low! It was an excellent experience!

On that same trip, we were buzzed by F4 Phantoms while shooting the UP near Barstow.

Date: 07/17/18 14:38
Re: Buzzing Trains
Author: tomstp

In the early 1950's Air Force fighter planes  buzzed the Jr High and High school  a whole bunch of times.  As I remember there were about a dozen planes.  They came in pretty low on the schools and then immediately pulled up, circled around and came back again and again.

Date: 07/17/18 15:56
Re: Buzzing Trains
Author: CarolVoss

Back in 1957 Cal was playing Navy in Berkeley and  two jet pilots at Moffet  Field decided to check out  the action and came swooping down over the Berkeley Hills straight at the press box at the stadium— all of us in the rooting section found ourselves staring into their backside and everyone in the press box left piles on their chairs—and then they swooped up and fired their afterburners——just so happened that the  commandant of the base was at the game and the boys got an interesting greeting when they landed.We were told they were grounded for 3 months.😀

Carol Voss
Salinas, CA

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 07/17/18 20:26 by CarolVoss.

Date: 07/17/18 17:47
Re: Buzzing Trains
Author: Margaret_SP_fan

TAW -- \
Thank you.

Your poor father.....  I grieve for him. 

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 07/17/18 17:52 by Margaret_SP_fan.

Date: 07/17/18 19:08
Re: Buzzing Trains
Author: fbe


The B52s and B1s would continue west to fly low level between Hemmingford and Crawford close to the White River or Niobrara River. If you were driving to Crawford as a relief engineer on the helpers you could crest the ridge leading to the river bottom and read all the lettering on the tops of those bomber wings. There it was all four wheels on the ground and looking down own the top of an intercontinental warplane in full flight.

Can railroading get more exciting in western Nebraska?


Date: 07/17/18 20:31
Re: Buzzing Trains
Author: PHall

There's a number of low level training routes in central and western Nebraska. B-52's smoking along at 250 feet and 250 knots is an unforgettable sight.
And it's totally legal and authorized too.

Date: 07/18/18 04:24
Re: Buzzing Trains
Author: dpudave

Train the way you fight. Saves lives in the end. But leave civilians alone. d

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