Transporting Rum

Transporting Rum

By Ken Ritter

Was talking with Garland the other day, and we noted some of the shit the Military use to get away with, back in the days before drugs became such an issue, and how it seemed like there was always one asshole that would screw up a good thing…

I didn’t do much flying from foreign countries into US Bases, but in the 60’s, flying from one country to another outside the US, don’t ever remember seeing any Customs people, and I understand that even flying into US bases, Japan to Hawaii, Jamaica to the East Coast, etc, they were very lax in checking for contraband, and just tended to “Rubber Stamp” whatever paperwork you submitted… But as I said, there was always one asshole who would screw it up for everybody.

Three stories come to mind, only one of them I have direct knowledge of, but they were well known throughout the fleet…

The first is hearsay, but is well known… it involves flying rum from the Caribbean into Florida bases or even into Norfolk. At first it was just smuggling in a few bottles tax free, then it graduated to cases, and then some enterprising young Officer came up with an idea for creating more “booze space” by taking an old “drop tank”, cleaning it out and cutting a “door” for loading cases of Rum into the empty tank. For the non-aviation types, the term “Drop Tank” was used for a reason… Originally designed to provide extra fuel for extended range on small fighters, they were emptied first, then “dropped” to allow increased maneuverability in combat. Those of you who were lucky enough to be members of the “Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club” will well remember these, as the Gulf was damn near paved with old floating “drop tanks”…?

I’m sure the more astute of you have by now figured out… inevitably some “nugget” accidentally “dropped” one filled with cases of Rum… At that point, another enterprising Officer came up with the ultimate solution… They would thoroughly purge, clean and seal a thousand-gallon aircraft wing tip tank, thereby theoretically allowing for the smuggling of up to 1,000 gallons of rum per trip. This brilliant idea was put into practice, and it kept the Airedale community provided with an adequate supply of inexpensive Rum, plus decreased the number of trips necessary, thereby minimizing the chances of getting caught…

The officers would pool their money, and send a plane down whenever the Rum ran low, and everyone was now happy, except maybe for a few disgruntled Enlisted Men who provided the labor and expertise to make the scheme work, without being able to share in the benefits… but who cared about them…?

Then… one weekend an aircraft out of Norfolk flew south, loaded up with about 900 gallons of Rum and headed home. They had to stop at NAS Key West for refueling since with one “tip tank” full of Rum, they didn’t have enough fuel to make it all the way back to Norfolk.

In Key West, a young Airman on the Transit Line Crew proceeded to refuel the internal tanks, and then being either disgruntled at having his weekend interrupted, extremely conscientious, just plain dumb, or all of the above… he proceeds to TOP OFF THE TIP TANKS… Leaving the pilots to fly back to Norfolk with one tank containing about 900 gallons of Rum, and 50 or 60 gallons of Jet fuel…

As you can imagine, that took the import of inexpensive Rum back to square one, a few bottles each trip, as no one was willing to gamble their money on the possibility of some dumb Enlisted Man doing this again.

Since I’m sure most of you have a short attention span, in the interest of brevity, I’ll stop here and hold the other tales for a later date. So don’t go away, stay tuned to this network for more tales of derring-do and brilliant schemes thwarted by one disgruntled or very dumb individual…

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