The last Sim flight

by Bob Burns

Bob Burns Bob Burns (pictured here at Carnarvon) share theses memories of the last – and quite eventful – Sims flight to Australia – prior to Apollo 17.

Apollo 17 Simulations

Lockheed C-121G Super Constellation NASA 421, Civil Registration No. N421NA

The scheduled arrival from Perth [After CRO Sims] at Canberra was for 20 November 1972.

The Sim Team was to be off loaded, and the aircraft proceed to Sydney, where it would base for the HSK simulations. Sim dates were scheduled for 21 – 24 November. A 200-hour Aircraft Inspection was scheduled at Sydney for 25–30 November, with a departure planned for 1 December 1972. [Apollo 17 Launch date: 7 December 1972]

Sim schedule Pacific A 17

The plan for the Pacific Apollo 17 Sim Team, October – December 1972.
Click for the full verson.

Courtesy Bob Burns.

The crew of the last NASA 421 flight to Australia

Evan Gull – Team Lead –NASA Capt. Charlie Lungren – Pilot in Cmd. – BFEC
Bob Burns – Telemetry – NASA Capt. Bob Liles* – Co-Pilot – BFEC
Nick Polizos – USB – NASA [Returned to Greece] Art “The Prince” Kestner – Flight Engineer – BFEC
Calvin Segree* – Comm – NASA Mike Polski* – Navigator – BFEC
Dan Surowiec* – RSDP – BFEC Hank “Mother” Borcz* – Crew Chief – BFEC
[Dan substituted for a NASA RSDP type who could not make this trip.] Terry Laguire – Flight Mechanic – BFEC
  Dick LaCroix – Aircraft Coordinator – NASA
  Harry Schenk – Lead Tech – BFEC
  Bob Schultz* – Telemetry Tech – BFEC
  Jim Conkin* – Command Tech – BFEC
[BFEC – Bendix Field Engineering Corp.]  * = now deceased

To say this part of the trip was uneventful would be a fantasy.

While we were still in Guam, we received a teletype from Goddard advising that the Instrumented Aircraft would be terminated upon our return to the States.

To say this cast a somber mood upon the entire crew would be a huge understatement. We got all the troops together and discussed the situation, and basically said, “We’re professionals, so lets suck it up, and continue on in the best tradition of the Sim Team and Air Crew members”. Everyone then proceeded to the Base Exchanges at the Navy and Air Force Base and proceeded to buy up enough stereo systems, cameras, TV sets, etc.... to fill up any empty cargo space on NASA 421.

Credit card and check book balances took a mighty hit that day, and the Guam Exchanges suffered a large depletion of their stock. I can still recall the look on the face of the Customs Inspector at Darwin as he came on board. We probably looked like a flying electronics store, with boxes of speakers, stereos, TVs, etc... stacked all over the place, plus he hadn’t yet seen what was in the cargo hold.

They wanted us to leave it all in Darwin until we left Australia, but we finally convinced them that wasn’t too practical since we would be departing via Sydney. They did insist that we unload everything and have it logged in to insure that it all left Australia, and that we would not be selling it. The Darwin folks were so nice, they said don’t worry, they would unload everything, take it inside, then put it all back on the aircraft... which they did.

Then they presented us with a bill for $400 Aust. for that ‘nice’ service. Nice Guys!!

Well, we finally continued on to Perth, where the Sim Team proceeded on to Canarvon on MMA, which we affectionately called “Mickey Mouse Airlines”, and the Aircraft folks set up shop to operate from Perth. The Carnarvon sims went well, and to the best of my knowledge finished on schedule.


421 overflies Carnarvon

NASA 421 making a low pass over the Carnarvon Station at the end of the Apollo 17 Sims, November 1972.

Photo: Stan Parkes, AWA accountant at Carnarvon, via Trevor Mosel.

421 overflies Carnarvon

NASA 421 making a low pass over the Carnarvon Station at the end of the Apollo 17 sims, November 1972.

Photo: Bob Burns.

Unknown to the Sim Team, minutes after we shut down communications with NASA 421, the number 1 engine gave up the ghost and was feathered and shutdown for the 600-mile trip to Perth.

When we flew back with MMA and taxied past NASA 421 and saw the feathered engine, we knew things were not going well. When we checked with the flight crew, we got the bad news that we needed another engine. The wheels were already in motion to have another engine flown in from the States. I was tasked with flying ahead to Sydney, via commercial airlines, and attempt to coordinate getting the new engine from Sydney to Perth, using a charter airline flight. With all the people in the loop, things got to be very chaotic.

Anyway, to make a long story short, the engine did get to Perth, and changed out.

Now for the funny part. Since we were getting rid of the Connies when we returned, we had no use for the bad engine, and offered to a Technical School of some sort in Perth to use for training purposes. Well, according to Australian law, it seems that we had to pay for the value of the engine, which was still valued at $100,000.00 US, even though we were giving it as a gift. At this point, the big brass got into the act and the US Ambassador contacted some folks in Canberra, and Parliament passed some sort of amendment to allow the engine to stay.

As a side note, I spoke to a Qantas Captain at Oshkosh recently who is one of the pilots for the Connie that was brought back to Australia in recent years. He informed me that they acquired our old engine and did a complete rebuild as a spare for their bird. Unfortunately, the paper trail is incomplete, and your Aviation folks will not approve its use again.

NASA 421 engine

And here is the engine!
It’s now on display at The Royal Australian Air Force Association Aviation Heritage Museum of Western Australia, at Bullcreek in Perth.

Photo: Trevor Mosel.

NASA 421 engine

This text tells the story of the engine.

Photo: Trevor Mosel.


I digress. Anyhow, the engine change took place, with the help of the Electronic Techs, and NASA 421 headed on to Canberra with the rest of the Sim Team. I don’t have the exact date yet when it arrived, but I’m sure we did not make the schedule date.


421 in Canberra

NASA 421 at Canberra, when the Sim team was dropped off.

Photo: Bob Burns.

421 starting engines

NASA 421 at Canberra, starting its engines.

Photo: Bob Burns.

NASA 421 leaving Canberra

NASA 421 leaving Canberra for Sydney where it would base for the Apollo 17 simulations.

Photo: Bob Burns.

Sim Team

Most of the Apollo 17 Sim team.

From left: Dan Surowiec (Bendix computer observer), Bob Burns, Dick La Croix, Don Gray (HSK Station Director), Evan Gull, Cal Segree and Nick ‘The Greek’ Polizos (just visible).

Photo: Robert ‘Hardy’ Dey.

HSK April 1972, by Bob Burns

Bob Burns from the Sim Team took this photo at Honeysuckle Creek in April 1972.

I do know that we got back to the States just before the launch, and I caught a flight down to Orlando, found a place to stay, and made it over to Kennedy for the launch. It was my first Saturn V launch, plus it was the first night launch. I remember the countdown did not go too smoothly, with a lot of unscheduled holds.

I was watching from a site near the VAB [3-miles] and was thinking that I would really like to be closer. The decision was finally made to continue the launch, I seem to recall it was around 2 am in the morning, and when the engines lit and it lifted off the pad it was like daylight. I was still wishing I was closer, when the sound waves reached us, and the ground was beginning to shake, and I started thinking that maybe I wouldn’t like to be any closer...... it was AWESOME!!!!! It was one of those moments that becomes a permanent place in the memory bank. I had no idea that you could see the staging so clear with just the naked eye. I guess I had seen so many TV shots, that I figured you had to have a powerful scope to see that kind of detail. I watched it all the way down range until Bermuda AOS.

It was the first time that I witnessed an Apollo launch, and of course it was the last moon mission. I did see another Saturn V launch, when the Skylab was launched, and even though it was a day event, it was still a spectacular sight. The Saturn V’s were real rockets.

I have seen a lot of Space Shuttle launches, and they are great in their own way, but there is nothing that approaches the Apollo Saturn Vs.