Captain Carl Gamble a real American hero who rose from the cotton fields of Alabama to become an aviator with distinction. The former U.S. Air Force pilot and veteran of the Vietnam War lived his dream to become a pilot, however, his experiences will certainly hold your interest.
Gamble who was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee and grew up in Madison, Alabama began his aviation career at Tennessee State University where he studied and achieved a Bachelor of Science Degree in Aeronautics in 1965. He received his Air Force Commission through ROTC and completed pilot training at Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio, Texas.
He flew over two hundred missions during his one year tour in Vietnam, flying a C-47 aircraft, his mission was psychological warfare operations. Carl was disappointed because he wanted his mission to be a C-47 gunship which was named “Puff the Magic Dragon” and later “Spooky.” He was assigned to Da Nang Air Force Base and was surprised to meet three other black pilots and a non-flying officer all from Tennessee State University. Eventually, there were seven black pilots and they all became very close friends.
During one mission while dropping leaflets to persuade the Viet Cong to give up and turn in their rifle for food. “The enemy would normally not waste ammunition to try and shoot us down because they knew our aircraft were harmless not a threat,” said Gamble. However, one day they decided to attack every aircraft flying into their territory and his C-47 was seriously damaged by enemy ground fire. The fifty caliber bullets entered the fuselage hitting the hydraulic lines and penetrated the left wing and left engine. The engine erupted into flames immediately, the cockpit crew shutdown the engine, but the fire continued to burn into the wing, the wings fuel cell exploded and was followed by a second explosion. Amazingly, the wing remained intact, therefore being only 20 plus miles from the Da Nang airfield instead of bailing out over enemy territory Captain Gamble made the decision to fly back to home base flying on one engine and a severely damaged burning aircraft. Gamble flew the airplane directly back to the airfield against traffic because he did not have enough altitude and the risk of an catastrophic explosion was real.
After landing the aircraft, the fire and smoke intensified, as the crew approached the back exit door there only way to escape sure death, the smoke and flames were preventing them from exiting the aircraft, so a helicopter hovered overhead using his blade wash to keep the flames away from the exit door. The crew escaped the burning aircraft and Captain Gamble was last to depart the stricken airplane. Just thirty seconds later while on the ground the aircraft erupted into a ball of fire when the fuel tanks exploded. For his heroism and quick thinking Gamble was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Fifteen years later on March 27, 1984 on a routine flight between Charlotte and Miami, Piedmont Flight 451 was on final approach to Miami when a flight attendant rang him on the intercom. The attendant said we have a passenger who wants to go to Cuba and is prepared to blow up the aircraft. The hijacker had a note so Gamble instructed the attendant to bring him the note and leave the hijacker in the rear of the airplane. The note said, “Lt. Spartacus, a soldier in the Black Liberation Army. I don’t want to land in Miami, I want to go to Jose Marti International Airport in Havana. There are two explosive devices aboard the plane that I and two comrades have planted aboard the aircraft.”
After reading the note and speaking with the hijacker on the intercom Gamble could not take the risk as the hijacker assured him this was no hoax or joke. If the airplane landed in Miami, the hijacker informed Gamble the lives of the passengers were in his hands. Quickly through the plane’s transponder the pilots sent a code 7500, signaling air controllers the plane was being hijacked. When they landed safely in Cuba all 52 passengers were released from the aircraft and followed by the crew. The 100 or more Cuban soldiers asked for Lt. Spartacus to surrender which he did to the soldiers. That was the first and last time Gamble ever saw of him.
Captain Gamble story includes one destroyed aircraft by enemy fire and a hijacked airliner. There are pilots who have landed burning aircraft and there are pilots who were hijacked. However, Gamble may be the first pilot to have faced both challenges and survived to tell his story in a book “My Blue Yonder” a memoir of his life’s story. The book can be purchased at website firstname.lastname@example.org.