A riddle: Why is a Scamp camping trailer like a P-38 Lightning World War II twin engine fighter aircraft?
Answer: Because you have to complete a checklist of items before you fly into “combat.” Bear with me; I will explain.
I nicknamed my Scamp “Lightning” this week. One of my bizarre interests is the history of air warfare in the Pacific Theater of Operations during World War II. The story of the rapid ascent from “worst to first” in the combat capabilities of aircraft and air crew of the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Army Air Corps is incredible, almost beyond belief.
In less than three years after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States evolved from mediocre to preeminent, from an inexperienced and inept air power to the dominating and decisive force in every air, sea, and land battle.
If you have a similar fascination, two books that I recommend are Fire in the Sky – The Air War In The South Pacific by Eric M. Bergerud and Race of Aces – WWII’s Elite Airmen and the Epic Battle to Become the Master of the Sky by John R. Bruning. Read Fire in the Sky First; it is more comprehensive, detailed, and factual.
One of the most remarkable achievements of the war was the training of American pilots. How is it possible that the Navy and Army Air Corps could produce some many and such highly skilled airmen in so short a time? These pilots had to be a special breed. For example, the pilot of a twin-engine P-38 fighter had to be capable of performing (if I remember the information in Race of Aces correctly) nine different tasks in less than 30 seconds when an enemy aircraft was sighted.
Turn on the gun sight
Charge the four .50 caliber machine guns and the 20mm canon
Release the auxiliary fuel tanks
Switch fuel feed to internal tanks
Increase manifold pressure
Increase throttle setting of the engines
Adjust air/fuel ratio
Set propeller pitch
Check radio function
All these tasks had to be done manually, with analog controls, under the stress of imminent aerial combat. How could they do this? I would have been a fumbling, bumbling, stammering, fussing mess of incompetence for several minutes – and probably would have been shot down.
This type of attention to detail, this disciplined and orderly drill, has been my downfall during our leisurely vacation in New Mexico. (See – I promised I would explain this enigmatic connection between the Scamp and the P-38.) The desert Southwest is the antithesis of the jungle-covered, hot, and humid environment of the Southwest Pacific Theater during World War II. But irksome checklists lurk in the shadows in both places.
The P-38’s pre-combat checklist was nine items. The Scamp’s pre-towing checklist is 26 items. Twenty-six things that we must do before we can tow the trailer from one campground to the next, and I routinely forget to perform one or two of these tasks every time. There is really no excuse; it’s not as though I am being attacked by a Japanese Zero fighter of the Imperial Japanese Navy.
Here is the list:
Before Towing Trailer
1. Unplug campsite electrical cable
2. Unfasten city water hose
3. Crank up trailer stabilizer legs
4. Drain fresh water tank
5. Close ceiling vent cover and bathroom ceiling vent
6. Close and latch all windows
7. Turn off water heater
8. Turn off pressure pump
9. Turn off LP gas furnace
10. Turn of air-conditioner
11. Turn off electrical master switch (unless refrigerator should stay on)
12. Turn off LP gas tanks
13. Connect trailer coupler to ball hitch – SECURELY
14. Connect safety chains to the truck’s tow bar
15. Connect emergency trail brake cable to the truck’s tow bar
16. Crank up trailer tongue support jack
17. Remove wheel chocks
18. Connect trailer electrical cable to pickup truck socket
19. Check lights on trailer and pickup: brakes, turn signals, running lights
20. Check tire pressures and lug nuts
21. Check that all cabinet doors are latched and all items secure
22. Remove microwave oven turntable and store it securely
23. Lock dead bolt on outside door
24. Empty black wastewater tank at dump station
25. Empty gray wastewater tank at dump station
26. Confirm that all checklist items are completed
To date, I have forgotten to drain the fresh water tank, close and latch all windows, connect the electrical cable to the pickup, check the tire pressure and lug nuts, and securely store the microwave oven turntable. Fortunately, none of these oversights has resulted in the Lightning being shot down.
It’s just a matter of time, I suppose, before I neglect to crank up the stabilizer legs, unfasten the city water hose, unplug the cord to the campsite electrical box, or close the ceiling vent cover, any of which will cause some serious damage if not a complete crash of our Southwest vacation.
I am trying my best to avoid that. To the annoyance of my Beautiful Blonde Wife, as I prepare to drive away from our most recent campsite I chant, “All checklist items completed, all systems are go, and we’re ready for takeoff!”
Admittedly, my Scamp-Lightning flights have little in common with P-38 combat missions in the Southwest Pacific and more resemble a C-47 cargo airplane towing a Waco CG4A glider full of airborne troops. But that’s not nearly as romantic. And I’m sure the Waco gliders and C-47s had checklists way more complicated than the Scamp.
Maybe I should change the Scamp’s nickname from the P-38’s “Lightning” to the C-47’s “Gooney Bird.” The official nickname of the C-47 was “Skytrain,” but the Gooney Bird is more my style.