From the November 1955 issue of the Navy Safety Center's APPROACH Magazine
The Naval Aviation Safety Center has obtained a factual account of a flight situation of such impact as to warrant special treatment. And again, as in the presentation of the "Man With the Banjo" (Aviation Safety Bulletin No. 20-54) the report is offered without editorial comment and with only a brief introduction.
It was a "routine" flight by members of a reserve squadron - eight pilots were scheduled; seven got airborne; five continued the flight to its unscheduled conclusion; one pilot died.
Concerning the five pilots, it is believed that their individual experience and backgrounds provide a fairly typical cross-section of reserve aviation. The list, which might well be repeated in any of a hundred similar activities, includes a manager of an electrical supply firm, the director of industrial relations for an oil refinery, a member of a construction company, an associate of a farmers' cooperative supply organization, and the director of a local chamber of commerce.
Married, family men almost without exception, these pilots drive or are flown to their base once each month to engage in three or four flights and to log an average of about 10 flight hours per month.
This is their story.
EIGHT reserve pilots were scheduled for a VFR cross-country navigation flight to provide cruise control training in F9F-7s prior to engaging in forthcoming maneuvers. Originally projected several months before, the flight received final approval and pilots were designated about 1030 one Saturday morning.
Because of the relatively short notice on which the flight was finally undertaken, the squadron found it necessary to obtain two replacement pilots from a local companion squadron. One of the replacements was designated flight leader because he had the necessary instrument qualification required for such flights.
Of the eight pilots scheduled, three had flown a hop the previously during the day; only four had made cross-country flights in the F9F- 7. As finally organized, the flight appeared something like this: Number 1: (flight leader) received checkout in F9F-7 two months before and had logged 10.7 hours in model. Number 2: Checked out in model a year previously and had about 60 hours in model. Number 3: Checked out in model previous year and had about 30 hours in model. Number 4: Checked out in model a year before; had about 29 hours in model. Number 5: Checked out about two months before and had approximately 20 hours in model. Number 6: Checked out a year before; had 20 hours in model. Number 7: Checked out about three months before; had about five hours in model. Number 8: Checked out a year before; had some 40 hours in model.
Distance of the flight was 555 miles over a route which approached mountainous terrain near the destination. Weather briefing noted a tornado well to the southwest of the route and scattered thunderstorms predicted en route. Time en route was one hour 30 minutes, with the flight to arrive over destination with an estimated 1840 pounds of fuel remaining.
Preflight planning was accomplished with most of the pilots working out their own flight plans, and with the flight leader completing a briefing "as thorough as any flight I ever briefed."
Starting, departure from the line and preliminary radio check was according to normal procedure. One aircraft was delayed on starting and was left at the line. Radio communications check proved difficult, with considerable shifting of frequency required to establish a common tactical channel.
On reaching the head of the runway there was an initial delay of several minutes while a number of aircraft landed. Takeoff was at 1705. Joinup after takeoff was quickly accomplished and the leader then circled the field at a low altitude to check the status of the delayed aircraft, which failed to leave the line. Flight members figured that some 800 pounds of fuel had been expended during delays.
Then There Were Seven
Departure and climb to 36,000 feet on a northwest course was uneventful, but approximately 110 miles out on course the No.5 and No.6 men returned to base after reporting excessive fuel consumption. No.7 then moved up into the No.5 position astern.
Then There Were Five
About 200 miles on course the flight encountered the first thunderstorm, an anvil head at about 32,000-34,000 feet, which they were able to drop under without difficulty. Thereafter several small thunderheads were flown over. Weather to the north and east of course appeared relatively clear.
About 250 miles out the canopy of No.5, formerly No.7 began icing over despite constant use of manual control, and in a short time he was looking out "through a dollar-sized hole." In a few minutes, however, the icing abruptly disappeared.
A radio check netted the report that destination weather was a comfortable 15,000 feet, scattered, with thunderstorms to the southeast.
Noting what appeared to be a sizable thunderstorm ahead, the flight began climbing to top it. At this time No.5 began to lag behind. When the flight had attained 38,000-40,000 feet, and was nearing the thunderstorm, the flight leader advised he was reducing power to 87 percent to allow No.5 to catch up. No.5 gave a count for a DF steer from the planes ahead, which he could no longer see. On reduction of power by the leader, Nos. 3 and 4 overran and used their excess speed to pull up slightly higher than the rest the flight.
Now No.3 called in that he was encountering stall in his airplane and No.5 noted the same condition. At this time a pilot, possibly No.3, suggested reversal of course, but No.4, higher than the others, reported he could see over the top of the thunderstorm.
Just short of the thunderstorm the leader began a left turn which immediately aggravated the stall of the aircraft. Mushing considerably, the flight entered the cloud, No.2 entering first, followed No.1, No.4 held course and altitude. No. 3's actions from this point are not known, but possibly he elected to go down through the clouds. No.5 attempted a 180 but stalled through the tops of the thunderstorms at about 39,000 feet.
From this point the integrity of the flight disappeared as each of the remaining pilots found himself in a situation requiring a separate solution. The account of how each pilot attempted to solve his individual problem follows.
Lost Leader ...
Completing his turn away from the cloud and circling in the clear at about 34,000-36,000, No.1 began calling the flight, but was unable to establish satisfactory communications. He then began a decent in the trough paralleling the near side of the cloud, throttle at idle, and leveled at 17,000 feet to go around the edge of the thunderhead and to resume base course.
It was then apparent that the 1500 pounds of fuel remaining would be insufficient to make destination, and No.1 began looking for a place to land. Following a highway he descended to 5000 feet to select a stretch on which to set down. After dragging the road for obstructions he made an approach over a pickup truck and touched down, blowing a tire as brakes were applied. On landing runout he noted a slight hill over which he might expect to see a car come at any time, so he turned off the highway at a side road intersection to clear. A car immediately came over the hill to investigate the low flying airplane.
Driven into a nearby town the pilot obtained the services of a tractor and a hired hand to tow the plane into town. This was accomplished after a few mishaps involved in being towed off the pavement onto the soft shoulder.
Thereafter No.1 was advised of the crash of another aircraft some 40 miles away and was driven to the scene to assist in its identification.
Then There Were Four ...
On entering the cloud, No.2 elected to descend through what he assumed to be only a layer, to bust out under, and remain contact to go on to destination. He extended speed brakes, reduced throttle and began a 5000-6000 fpm rate of descent, holding base course. The descent was considerably prolonged. He first encountered lightning and then severe turbulence, and meanwhile he attempted to hold a nose-down attitude to prevent stalling.
After the first period of turbulence No.2 became concerned about his altitude with reference to surrounding terrain, believing that below 15,000 feet he would be dangerously near to the mountains ahead. He turned north, and got into more violent turbulence, lost control of the airplane a couple of times and at 15,000 feet decided to eject. Still in turbulence, still in a dive, he jettisoned his canopy (he lost his helmet but does not recall when this occurred), and releasing the controls, pulled the curtain. Nothing happened, but he had been told that he might reasonably expect a two or three-second delay in the firing of the seat, so he was not particularly upset over the delay.
Curtain over his chin, he waited-then decided to peek around the curtain to see if he were still in the airplane. He was. He released the curtain, waited, still diving, considered re-safetying the curtain, discarded the idea and went back to driving the airplane.
While considering his next move he saw the ground materializing below to show that he still had a safe altitude. Breaking out beneath the clouds at about 5500 feet he retracted speed brakes and took up an easterly heading, unable to get much speed because of the absence of the canopy. After searching for a time for a place to land, he selected a stretch of highway, near a town. He was down to 500 pounds of fuel now. Checking the wind from the local trash dump he made an approach over an automobile at about 150 feet, leveled at 10 feet, cut the throttle and landed. Slowing to taxi, he folded the wings to cross a bridge and continued into town where he turned off to park on a side street.
After his report was made, arrangements were made for a nearby air station to send a crew with another canopy, fuel, a starter unit, and to disarm the hot seat. Faced with the problem of what to do with the seat cartridge, the pilot considered throwing it into a lake, burying it, and then obtained a shotgun from a patrolman and shot the side of the shell open, rupturing it so the powder could be removed. The shell case was turned over to investigating personnel for further check.
When the airplane was ready for flight, it was pushed by local citizens back to the highway, which was blocked off. A clear stretch of road about a mile in length was then available before the highway crossed a low bridge. Thereafter, another mile of open highway was usable. There was no fuel in the wing tanks; elevation of the "field" - was 2200 feet.
The airplane was almost airborne at the first bridge, and in accordance with his pre-planning, the pilot was able to lift the plane up on the oleos to clear the bridge safely. Thereafter he was airborne on the second stretch of runway.
"After I got off," said the pilot, "I came back and made a pass by the town to do a roll of appreciation for their help."
Then There Were Three ...
Because No.3 was not observed from the time the flight entered the top of the cloud, nor were any radio transmissions heard, his actions may only be guessed. The airplane crashed some 40 miles away from the point at which No.1 landed. The plane hit in a near-vertical angle on the corner of a cement foundation of a farm structure, digging a large hole and being demolished by the impact.
After the initial inspection the investigating party concluded that the ejection seat was not in the wreckage. Shortly thereafter, because of the inconvenience caused the property owner by the crowds of spectators and souvenir hunters attracted to the scene, it was decided to bulldoze the wreckage into the hole and to cover it up. The pilot was later found, dead of injuries which possibly resulted from hitting some part of the plane on bailout. Questions then raised concerning the absence of the ejection seat prompted the re-opening of the crash hole to re-examine the wreckage. Parts of the ejection seat were then found in the wreckage.
Then There Were Two ...
The No.4 man stated that from his position 1000-2000 feet above the rest of the flight, he could see over the top of the cloud, and recommended going over.
However, when the leader reduced power to allow No.5 to catch up, No.4 encountered, stall and began to lose altitude. He increased power to 100 percent but still lost some 1000 feet more. A tentative turn with the rest of the flight increased the stall and he returned to base course and was in the cloud. He too, thought he would be able to penetrate quickly.
Within the cloud, he reports that his fuel consumption appeared to have increased, and he decided to get down in order to have some fuel remaining for landing. At this time he had about 1500 pounds. Knowing that a range of mountains was directly ahead on course he turned to parallel the mountains and continued his descent at about 4000 fpm. He too encountered violent turbulence but the airplane handled very well and he never lost control. He attempted to raise CAA and Navy towers without success and then called "Mayday." His only answer was from an Air Force B-25 which gave him some idea of weather conditions beyond the storm area.
At 15,000 feet he heard No. 2 call he was in the clear. At 12,000 feet the fuel warning light came on (he had not retarded throttle during his descent). At 11,000 feet he broke out beneath the thunderstorm and turned to intercept base course. After attempting to locate himself by landmarks and down to 700 pounds of fuel remaining he circled a reservoir with the intention of a water ditching.
Noting the length of the reservoir dam, about 9300 feet, and its width, some 25 feet, he elected to try and land on the dam itself. To one side, the water level was about 15 feet below the top of the dam. On the other side was a drop of about 250 feet. A guard rail, about three feet high ran along either edge of the dam.
On touchdown, he avoided use of brakes and, flaps clattering on the tops of the guardrail pipes, completed the rollout and added power to taxi off the far end of the dam. Taxing down to some buildings he was met by an irate reclamation official who advised him that "Son, you're in trouble! You can't go around landing on government property like this!"
Shortly thereafter, arrangements were made to report the landing and for the removal of the airplane.
Then There Was One ...
At the time the formation approached the cloud, No. 5 was at about 39,000 feet at about, 170 knots, stalling through the tops of the clouds. On trying to make a 180, he stalled and mushed into the clouds. Attempting to fly out of the clouds on instruments, he also hit violent turbulence, being flipped on his back and getting into other unusual attitudes.
At times he was gaining 6000 fpm and at other times he was descending 4000 fpm. He came out below the clouds at 17,000 feet in a slight nosedown turn, but a low airspeed brought on a stall. He nosed over to pick up speed and lost altitude down to 6000 feet. He then climbed back to 15,000, having about 1900 pounds of fuel left.
Taking up an easterly course away from the storm area he was unable to establish his position, and spotting an abandoned airstrip, with only 700 pounds of fuel indicated, he elected to land. The strip was about 5800 feet long, and landing was without incident. No.5 then "took a chance and started walking." He was later informed that he was quite fortunate in his choice of direction, for had he taken the opposite direction he would have found no houses, just a long stretch of open country.
He found a house and was able to report his landing and arrange for fuel to be brought to the airstrip. Then, he reports, "I got my biggest shock when I saw a spectator smoking near the airplane as it was being fueled!" The plane was returned to base.
And Then There Were None .
From the November 1955 issue of the Navy Safety Center's APPROACH Magazine
by Tech. Sgt. Steve Smith
Randolph AFB, Texas
Their 1967 rescue from Laos was not much different from any other, but the "push" that saved their lives made aviation history.
Capts. Bob Pardo and Earl Aman and their back-seaters were assigned to the 433rd Tactical Fighter Squadron at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand. They'd flown mission after mission in their F-4 Phantoms but with no luck.
Their elusive target, the only steel production complex in North Vietnam -- just north of Hanoi at Thai Nguyen -- had been protected by low clouds during the nine days they'd tried to reduce it to rubble. Intelligence sources reported it was protected by a half-dozen surface-to-air missile sites and more than 1,000 anti-aircraft guns.
"This is the day," they thought as March 10 brought clear skies. A strike force of F-105s and F-4s would attempt again to take out the site targeted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Joining Pardo was his back-seater, 1st Lt. Steve Wayne. Aman was teamed up with 1st Lt. Robert Houghton. Their job: protect the F-105s and other F-4s in the strike force, using their missiles against any threatening North Vietnamese MiGs. They also carried bombs for the steel mill's destruction if they didn't see any enemy aircraft.
As the strike force neared the target, the skies remained clear of clouds and MiGs, making the missiles unneeded. But their bombs would soon join the tons of ordnance to be dropped on Thai Nguyen.
Aman was in trouble even before he began his bomb run. Heavy fire from anti-aircraft batteries found their mark. "He would have been justified to jettison his bombs and head for home," Pardo said. "Going ahead with the run showed a hell of a lot of fortitude and determination."
More fire poured into the Phantoms, finding Pardo's aircraft. As both pilots pulled away from the steel mill, Pardo saw several warning lights flashing brightly in his cockpit, but the Phantom was still responding and flying normally. Aman wasn't as lucky. The barrage of anti-aircraft fire had found his fuel tanks, draining 5,000 pounds of precious fuel in less than a minute.
"We were hit hard and losing fuel," Houghton recalled. "As we set a course that would take us straight to the refueling aircraft, we understood we weren't going to make it to the Laotian border. It was a sure bet we'd have to bail out over hostile territory."
They were running out of options faster than they were running out of fuel.
In normal air operations, a crippled aircraft would be escorted by its "sister bird," and the bail-out point radioed to rescue forces. That wasn't good enough for Pardo. He was about to make history.
"We first tried to put the nose of our aircraft in his drag chute compartment," he said. "But there was too much jet wash coming off Aman's plane." Pardo then tried putting the top of his fuselage against the belly of the crippled F-4. Again, too much jet wash.
"Aman, drop your tailhook!" Pardo shouted desperately.
"What?" Aman replied.
"Your tailhook. Drop it! I'm going to try to push you along."
The tailhook-used for carrier landings by the Navy's version of the now-venerable fighter is used by Air Force crews only for emergency landings. The hook snags a barrier cable stretched across the runway to keep the aircraft from veering or sliding. What Pardo was suggesting had never been done; the aircraft wasn't designed for such a maneuver.
Controlled by hydraulics, the tailhook lowered and locked into place, swaying in the slipstream of the F-4's twin J-75 engines.
Pardo pulled in behind and below Aman's crippled F-4 and slowly came forward, hoping to lodge the elusive tailhook against the leading edge of his windshield. Flying at 250 knots (about 300 miles an hour) the tailhook kissed the front of the windshield.
"Kissed is the right word," Houghton said. "If he so much as bumped the windshield, he would have had that tailhook in his face. We're talking about glass here. It was phenomenal flying, nothing less."
Pardo, however, believed the windshield glass was strong enough to withstand mild contact. "It was more than an inch thick," he said. "I had to be careful not to let the hook hit the side panels. They were too weak to take it."
With Aman's engines running, it was impossible to make contact because of the jet blast. With barely a minute of fuel remaining, Pardo radioed Aman to shut down his engines.
Pardo inched into position and made contact. They were now flying as one-two aircraft flying on one pair of engines.
Slowly pushing his throttles forward, Pardo was able to keep the tailhook lodged for a few seconds at a time, but that tripled their glide range, decreasing their sink rate to 1,000 feet per minute. Once he saw it could work, Pardo kept fighting the wind, the sink rate and the swaying tailhook. "I can't remember how many times the tailhook slipped off the windshield, and I had to fight to get it back in place," Pardo said.
As if things weren't bad enough, Pardo's F-4 started to show signs of the damage it sustained during the bombing run. A fire warning light indicated a probable external fire near the left engine, so Pardo shut it down. When he restarted the engine, the warning light was off, but the internal temperature increased to more than 1,000 degrees Celsius.
"It should've read only 600," Pardo said. "That meant the flame holders or burner cans inside the engine have ruptured, and there's an uncontrolled fire, which can explode the engine and possibly the airplane."
Wayne couldn't see the engine temperature gauge from the back seat, so he didn't inform Pardo to shut it down. "I just happened to see the needle move out of the corner of my eye," Pardo said. "I didn't need any more incentive to shut it down."
With only one engine to push two aircraft, the sink rate increased to 2,000 feet per minute. Obviously, they weren't going to make it on one engine.
Pardo hit the left engine start switch. It restarted and he resumed his push, hoping everything would be okay. Less than a minute later, however, the fire warning light returned. Wayne told Pardo the engine was on fire so he shut down the engine again -- this time for good.
They flew another 10 minutes on the remaining engine. Wayne called for a couple of tankers, hoping they could link up and get a pull from the large aerial gas stations.
But time was running out. The tankers weren't going to make it in time.
Luck was still with the two aircrews. They had reached Laos, having crossed the Black River. Pardo and Wayne realized it was time to get Aman and Houghton out of their crippled aircraft. They couldn't sustain the push much longer. Their F-4 was running low on fuel, and they were only 6,000 feet above ground, giving them about two minutes of flying time, two minutes to bail out.
When the last radio call for tanker support was received, rescue helicopters and several A-1 Skyraider ground support aircraft were dispatched to where the crew was expected to bail out.
Pardo pulled back and advised Aman and Houghton to eject. As he watched their parachute canopies open beneath him, Pardo hit the throttle on his remaining engine and headed for a U.S. Special Forces camp he knew was ahead.
Two minutes later, as Aman and Houghton drifted toward the ground, Pardo and Wayne realized their fuel was gone, and they'd have to bail out. "Steve ejected, and since I'd never flown a glider before, I stayed with the F-4 a little longer, then bailed out," Pardo said.
By now, Aman had landed on the back side of a cliff and Houghton, who'd suffered a compression fracture of a vertebra during ejection, was floating directly toward a Laotian village. "They were yelling and pointing up at me as I dropped," he said. "I knew if I landed on my back, I was finished. But I floated right into a tree. My chute snagged on a limb and I stopped, barely inches from the ground.
"As I unsnapped my harness and laid down, I couldn't remember ever hurting so much," he said. The sound of gunshots from approaching villagers changed that.
"It's amazing how fast you can move when someone's shooting at you," Houghton said. "I headed out of there as fast as possible. I've never been so scared in my life!"
While Houghton was running from the villagers, Aman was having problems of his own.
"I was wearing slick-soled boots, trying to scramble up a hill. Every step forward sent me back two."
Houghton remembers laying in deep grass holding his radio and .38 pistol when he heard the unmistakable roar of Skyraiders swooping low over the mountains. "Rescue choppers were close behind. When the villagers headed for cover, the choppers found me and lowered a line," Houghton said.
Meanwhile, Wayne and Pardo were facing the same dangers from villagers, but rescue helicopters reached them first. Within hours, all four had returned to their home base at Ubon, not knowing they wouldn't see each other again for nearly 30 years.
Although "Pardo's Push" -- as the feat is now called-became another eye-popping chapter in aviation history, it took former U.S. Senator John Tower of Texas to get Pardo and Wayne the recognition they deserved. More than two decades after their heroic feat of airmanship, both received the Silver Star.
"When we got back to Ubon, they didn't know whether to court-martial me or pin a medal on my chest," Pardo said. "Some people felt I should have let Earl and Bob eject and take their chances, so I could land my aircraft safely."
The quartet was reunited at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, last March.
Pardo retired as a lieutenant colonel and now lives in Golden, Colo. Aman also retired as a lieutenant colonel and lives in San Antonio. Wayne retired as a colonel and lives in Simpsonville, S.C., and Houghton retired as a major and lives in Spanish Fork, Utah.
Here's the straight skinny on an "interesting" (and short) F/A-18 flight that launched from the USS Constellation (CV-64) circa 1999. If you're easily offended by sailor language don't read it. It's as authentic a description as you'll read of carrior ops when things go to hell in a hand basket. The story is told by the pilot in an e-mail to his buddies ashore.
Greetings Slacker Landlubbers (except for you Dell) Hey, I felt the need to share with you all the exciting night I had on the 23rd. It has nothing to do with me wanting to talk about me and it has everything to do with sharing what will no doubt become a better story as the years go by. So....
...There I was. Manned up a hot seat for the 2030 launch about 500 miles north of Hawaii. (insert visions of "The Shore Bird" and many mai tais here) Spotted just forward of the nav pole and eventually taxied off toward the island where I do a 180 and get spotted to be the first one off cat I. (insert foreboding music here) There's another Hornet from our sister squadron parked ass over the track about a quarter of the way down the cat.
Eventually he gets a move on and they lower my launch bar and start the launch cycle. All systems are go on the runup and after waiting the requisite 5 seconds or so to make sure my flight controls are good to go (you know, there's a lot to be said for good old cables and pulleys), I turn on my lights. As is my habit I shift my eyes to the catwalk and watch the deck edge dude and as he starts his routine of looking left, then right, I put my head back. I hate to say this but the Hornet cat shot is pretty impressive - equivalent I would say to a gassed up K. (You agree Gato?)
As the cat fires, I stage the blowers and am along for the ride. Just prior to the end of the stroke there's a huge flash and a simultaneous boom! and my world is in turmoil. My little pink body is doing 145 knots or so and is 100 feet above the Black Pacific. And there it stays - except for the knot package, which decreases to 140 knots.
Somewhere in here I raised my gear which is interesting since it is not a Hornet "off the cat" boldface. It is however, if I recall correctly, an Intruder boldface. Oops!
The throttles aren't going any farther forward despite my Schwarzzenegerian efforts to make them do so. From out of the ether I hear a voice say one word: "Jettison." Roger that! A nanosecond later my two drops and single MER - about 4500 pounds in all - are Black Pacific bound. The airplane leapt up a bit but not enough. I'm now about a mile in front of the boat at 160 feet and fluctuating from 135 to 140 knots.
The next comment that comes out of the ether is another one-worder: "Eject!" I'm still flying so I respond, "Not yet, I've still got it." Our procedures call for us to intercept on speed which is 8.1 alpha and I'm fluctuating from about 8 1/2 to 11 or so.
Finally, at 4 miles I take a peek at my engine instruments and notice my left engine doesn't match the right. (funny how quick glimpses at instruments get burned into your brain) The left rpm is at 48% even though I'm still doing the Ah-Nold thing. I bring it back to mil.
About now I get another "Eject!" call. "Nope, still flying." Deputy Cag was watching and the further I got from the boat, the lower I looked. At 5 1/2 miles I asked tower to please get the helo headed my way as I truly thought I was going to be shelling out. At some point I thought it would probably be a good idea to start dumping some gas. As my hand reached down for the dump switch I actually remembered that we have a NATOPS prohibition regarding dumping while in burner. After a second or two I decided, "fuck that" and turned them on. (Major "Big Wave" Dave Leppelmeier joined on me at one point and told me later that I had a 60 foot roman candle going) At 7 miles I eventually started a (very slight) climb. A little breathing room.
CATCC chimes in with a downwind heading and I'm like: "Ooh. Good idea and throw down my hook." Eventually I get headed downwind at 900 feet and ask for a rep. While waiting I shut down the left engine. In short order I hear Scott "Fuzz" McClure's voice. I tell him the following: "OK Fuzz, my gear's up, my left motor's off and I'm only able to stay level with min blower. Every time I pull it to mil I start about a hundred feet per minute down."
I just continue trucking downwind trying to stay level and keep dumping. I think I must have been in blower for about fifteen minutes. At ten miles or so I'm down to 5000 pounds of gas and start a turn back toward the ship. Don't intend to land but don't want to get too far away. Of course as soon I as I start in an angle of bank I start dropping like a stone so I end up doing a 5 mile circle around the ship.
Fuzz is reading me the single engine rate of climb numbers from the PCL based on temperature, etc. It doesn't take us long to figure out that things aren't adding up. One of the things I learned in the RAG was that the Hornet is a perfectly good single engine aircraft. It flies great on one motor. So why the fuck do I need blower to stay level!?
By this time I'm talking to Fuzz (CATCC) , Deputy (turning on the flight deck) and CAG who's on the bridge with the Captain. We decide that the thing to do is climb to three thousand feet and dirty up to see if I'm going to have any excess power and will be able to shoot an approach.
I get headed downwind, go full burner on my remaining motor and eventually make it to 2000 feet before leveling out below a scattered layer of puffies. There's a half a moon above which was really, really cool. Start a turn back toward the ship and when I get pointed in the right direction I throw the gear down and pull the throttle out of AB. Remember that flash/boom! that started this little tale? Repeat it here. Holy fuck!
I jam it back into AB and after three or four huge compressor stalls and accompanying decel the right motor comes back. I'm thinking my blood pressure was probably up there about now and for the first time I notice that my mouth feels like a San Joaquin summer. (That would be hot and fucking dusty for those of you who haven't come to visit) I may have said "Shit!" on the radio here but haven't listened to the full tape yet and it could have been "Fuck!"
This next part is great. You know those stories about guys who deadstick crippled airplanes away from orphanages and puppy stores and stuff and get all this great media attention? Well, at this point I'm looking at the picket ship at my left 11 at about two miles and I say on departure freq to no one inparticular, "You need to have the picket ship hang a left right now. I think I'm gonna be outta here in a second." I said it very calmly but with meaning.
The LSO's said that the picket immediately started pitching out of the fight. Ha! I scored major points with the heavies afterwards for this. Anyway, it's funny how your mind works in these situations.
OK, so I'm dirty and I get it back level and pass a couple miles up the starboard side of the ship. I'm still in min blower and my state is now about 2500 pounds. Hmmm. I hadn't really thought about running out of gas. I muster up the nads to pull it out of blower again and sure enough...flash, BOOM! You gotta be shitting me.
I'm thinking that I'm gonna end up punching and tell Fuzz at this point "Dude, I really don't want to do this again." Don't think everyone else got it but he said he chuckled.
I leave it in mil and it seems to settle out. Eventually discover that even the tiniest throttle movements cause the flash/boom thing to happen so I'm trying to be as smooth as I can.
I'm downwind a couple miles when CAG comes up and says "Oyster, we're going to rig the barricade." Remember, CAG's up on the bridge watching me fly around doing blower donuts in the sky and he's thinking I'm gonna run outta JP-5 too.
By now I've told everyone who's listening that there a better than average chance that I'm going to be ejecting - the helo bubbas, god bless 'em, have been following me around this entire time.
I continue downwind and again, sounding more calm than I probably was, call paddles. "Paddles, you up." "Go ahead" replies LT "Max" Stout, one of our CAG LSO's. "Max, I probably know most of it but you wanna shoot me the barricade brief?"
(Insert long pause here. After the fact Max told me they went from expecting me to eject to me asking for the barricade brief in about a minute and he was hyperventilating. He was awesome on the radio though, just the kind of voice you'd want to hear in this situation.)
He gives me the brief and at nine miles I say, "If I turn now will it be up when I get there? I don't want to have to go around again."
"It's going up now Oyster, go ahead and turn."
"Turning in, say final bearing."
"063" replies the voice in CATCC. (Another number I remember - go figure)
OK, we're on a four degree glideslope and I'm at 800 feet or so. I intercept glideslope at about a mile and three quarters and pull power. Flash/boom. Add power out of fear. Going high. Pull power. Flash/boom. Add power out of fear. Going higher.
(Flashback to LSO school....All right class, today's lecture will be on the single engine barricade approach. Remember, the one place you really, really don't want to be is high. Are there any questions? Yes, you can go play golf now.)
The PLAT video is most excellent as each series of flash/booms shows up nicely along with the appropiate reflections on the water. "Flats" Jensen, our other CAG paddles is backing up and as I start to set up a higher than desired sink rate he hits the "Eat At Joe's" lights. Very timely too.
With visions of the A-3 dancing in my head I stroke AB and cross the flight deck with my right hand on the stick and my left thinking about the little yellow and black handle between my legs. No worries. I cleared that sucker by at least ten feet.
By the way my state at the ball call was 1.1. As I slowly climb out I say, again to no one in particular, "I can do this."
Max and Flats heard this and told me later it made them feel much better about my state of mind. I'm in blower still and CAG says, "Turn downwind."
Again, good idea. After I get turned around he says, "Oyster, this is gonna be your last look so turn in again as soon as you're comfortable."
I'm at 800 feet and hook myself at 2.8 (remember this number as I will subtract .1 every couple years until I reach the point where I say, "It was HUGE, I flew the DAY pattern!)
I lose about 200 feet in the turn and like a total dumbshit I look out as I get on centerline and that night thing about feeling high gets me and I descend further to 400 feet. I got kinda pissed at myself then as I realized I would now be intercepting the four degree glideslope in the fucking middle. No shit fellas, flash/boom every several seconds all the way down. Last look at my gas was 600-and-some pounds at a mile and a half.
"Where am I on the glideslope Max" I ask ask and hear a calm "Roger Ball." I know I'm low because the ILS is waaay up there and I call "Clara." Can't remember what the response was but by now the ball's shooting up from the depths. I start flying it and before I get a chance to spot the deck I hear "Cut, cut, cut!"
I'm really glad I was a paddles for so long because my mind said to me "Do what he says Oyster" and I pulled it back to idle. The reason I mention this is that I felt like I was a LONG FUCKING WAYS OUT THERE - if you know what I mean. (My hook hit 11 Oyster paces from the ramp, as I discovered during FOD walkdown today.)
The rest is pretty tame. I hit the deck, skipped the one, the two and snagged the three and rolled into the barricade about a foot right of centerline. Once stopped my vocal chords involuntarily yelled "Victory!" on button 2 (the 14 guys who were listening in marshal said it was pretty cool. After the fact I wish I had done the Austin Powers' "Yeah Baby!" thing.)
The lights came up and off to my right there must have been a ga-zillion cranials. Paddles said that with me shut down you could hear a huge cheer across the flight deck. I open the canopy and start putting my shit in my helmet bag and the first guy I see is our FDC, huge guy named Chief Richards and he gives me the coolest look and then two thumbs up. I will remember it forever. Especially since I'm the Maintenance Officer.
The first guy up the boarding ladder is CAG Paddles. I will tell you what he said over beers someday. It was priceless and in my mind one for the ages.
I climb down and people are gathering around patting me on the back when one of the boat's crusty yellow-shirt chiefs interrupts and says, "Gentlemen, great job but fourteen of your good buddies are still up there and we need to get them aboard." Again, priceless.
So there you have it fellas. Here I sit with my little pink body in a ready room chair on the same tub I did my first cruise in 10 years and 7 months ago. And I thought it was exciting back then!
P.S. You're probably wondering what made my motors shit themselves and I almost forgot to tell you. Remember the scene with the foreboding music? When they taxied that last Hornet - the one that was ass over the cat track - they forgot to remove a section or two of the cat seal. The board's not finished yet but it's a done deal.
As the shuttle came back it removed the cat seal which went down both motors during the stroke. Again, good video for someday over beers. Left engine N1 basically quit even though the motor is in pretty good shape. It was producing no thrust and during the waveoff one of the LSO's saw "about thirty feet" of black rubber hanging off the left side of the airplane. The whole left side, including inside the intake is basically black where the rubber was beating on it in the breeze. The right motor, the one that kept running, has 340 major hits to all stages. The compressor section is trashed and best of all, it had two pieces of the cat seal - one about 2 feet and the other about 4 feet long, sticking out of the first stage and into the intake. God Bless General Electric!
By the way, ECAMS data showed that I was fat - had 380 pounds of gas when I shut down. Again, remember this number as in ten years it will surely be FUMES MAN, FUMES I TELL YOU!
Look forward to getting to stage five with you all someday soon. Oyster out.
Gents, Hope this isn't too late but wanted to ask you all to do me a favor and be judicious about if and to whom you forward the email I sent you all about my experience on the 23rd. Tried to caveat it with the fact that I had no intention of it being a "me, me, me" type story but just a good story I wanted to share with you all. I read it over last evening and am concerned that a couple of things I said will be taken out of context by people who don't know me and as a result will be misunderstood. In particular I made some moronic comment about "the heavies" digging the fact that I suggested to move the picket ship. The fact is I really thought that I was going to punch and it could have happend. The picket was dutifully right at a mile or two in Connie's wake and - same as in the overhead stack - I have no faith in the "big sky, little airplane" or in this case, "big ocean, little airplane" theory. I always go through my "emergency off the cat" procedures in my head when I'm behind the JBD and did so in this case as well but the fact is that without a couple of great calls from the tower and from some guys on deck things might have been different. I know I mentioned them in the email but the "jettison" call was key and, after listening to the tape, it's the boss who suggests that I start dumping. I was on stem power and just staring at vsi, airspeed and radalt for the first four to five miles off the cat. These guys deserve a tremendous amount of credit for helping me out. I think I probably should have chopped out a couple of the "f" words too but at the time I didn't think about the email I sent you making the rounds.
Anyway, I just wanted to clear things up a bit. I think you all know me well enough to realize that I'm a pretty humble dude. I'd be lying if I said it didn't feel great to be able to bring this jet back but I also realize that it could have been anyone in the squadron - or air wing for that matter - that this happened to. It just happened to be me. If you forwarded my original one to anyone and feel the need to forward this one too I would not be opposed. Thanks dudes. You fu...er...guys still owe me beers though. Oyster.
Where Naval Aviators can go, when they have to die.
A place where a guy could buy a cold beer
For a friend and comrade whose memory is dear.
A place where no blackshoe or porkchop could tread,
Nor a Pentagon type would e're be caught dead!
Just a quaint little O'club; kind of dark, full of smoke,
Where they like to sing loud, and love a good joke.
The kind of place, where a lady could go
And feel safe and protected by the men she would know.
There must be a place where old Navy pilots go
When their wings get too weary, and their airspeed gets low.
Where the whiskey is old and the women are young,
And songs about flying and dying are sung,
Where you'd see all the shipmates you'd served with before,
And they'd call out your name, as you came thru the door,
Who would buy you a drink, if your thirst should be bad
And relate to the others, "He was quite a good lad!"
And then thru the mist you'd spot an old guy
You had not seen in years, though he'd taught you to fly.
He'd nod his old head and grin ear to ear,
And say, "Welcome shipmate, I'm pleased that you're here!
For this is the place where Naval Aviators come
When the battles are over. and the wars have been won.
They've come here at last to be safe and afar
From the government clerk and the management czar,
Politicians and lawyers, the feds and the noise,
Where all hours are happy, and these good old boys
Can relax with a cool one, and a well-deserved rest!
This is Heaven, my son, you've passed your last test!"
Cupid hit a bulls-eye with the first arrow.
I was smitten the very first time the woman walked into my office. I was a goner when, with confidence and savvy, she outlined a plan that would help my struggling electronic publishing company find the money it needed to survive.
Little did I know that she would eventually become the love of my life but soon come within a hairs-breadth of dying.
The quavering voice on the telephone answering machine said, "We've had a little problem, and I'm at Willow Grove. I'm okay, I'll call you later."
Naval Air Station Willow Grove? In a Cessna 152?
After working together for almost a year, Kate pranced into my office, settled pertly in a chair by my desk and announced with a coy smile that it was a great day to go flying. A recent convert to aviation, thanks to a ride in my open cockpit biplane, I thought she was asking to go again. But she knew as well as I did--no, better than I did--that there was work to be done.
So when I cocked my head and narrowed my eyes in question, she said,
"What I'm trying to tell you is I'm just back from my fourth flight lesson, and it's a beautiful day for flying."
As a flight instructor I was eager to hear about her flying experiences. Meanwhile, I pondered what stroke of fate had brought me together with this gorgeous woman that was smarted than I was, had better business instincts than I did, and liked to fly.
But that was days ago, and the phone message I'd just listened to had me perplexed and worried.
The 'we' suggested that an instructor had gone with her for some dual, instead of the scheduled solo session. That was easy to deduce because the spring weather was bizarre--snow so hard you couldn't see across the street followed by crackling clear blue sky and calm air followed by thunderstorm wind gusts followed by white-out snow, rinse and repeat. No competent instructor would send a student out in such conditions.
The 'problem' part, though, was hard to judge. "I'm okay" suggested she might not have been, and that was worrisome. And the fact that she was calling from a Naval Air Station suggested whatever the problem had been was significant enough that they'd had to land at an otherwise not open to the public facility. Strange.
Weather had to be the problem, I decided; and waited for the call that never came.
Instead, late in the day, she walked into my office, gingerly closed the door, and sat down as if something might break if she moved quickly. She blinked back tears, her lips quivered.
"Well, I've had an interesting afternoon," she said.
As the story unfolded I understood--although I'm not sure she did--that she'd very nearly died.
When she'd arrived at the rural Pennsylvania airport she was told her instructor wasn't there. The idea, far from a plan, had been a few minutes of dual--as is customary with a low time student--followed by solo practice takeoff and landings. Instead, the guy behind the desk threw her the keys to an aircraft and said,
"Why don't you go buzz your boyfriends house. The tanks are about half full, but that should be enough."
No discussion about weather, no admonition about low flying (quite the contrary), no words about doing a careful preflight, no reminder of the old adage that sky above you, runway behind you, and fuel in the gas truck are all worthless.
During the year we'd worked together we'd had occasion to travel on business in a lovely old G35 Beechcraft Bonanza. She showed an interest that went beyond simple pleasure in a sky-high perspective, so enroute I explained the instruments and controls to her and shared some of the things I'd learned in 25 years of flying. Fortunately, she remember a lot of what we'd talked about.
She prudently filled the Cessna with gas and took off, ready to enjoy a few minutes of freedom in three-dimensions over rolling Pennsylvania Dutch country before returning to practice some landings. At least that was her plan. With no training or advice, she had no reason to fear the deteriorating weather.
"About thirty to forty minutes into my flight," she wrote later to the FAA,"I began to encounter some clouds and snow at 3500 feet. I immediately headed back to Limerick. As the snow got worse I dropped down to 2500 feet to try to get below the snow. It was clear for a while, but the snow got worse again as I approached the airport. I was able to see the runway, though, so I entered the pattern on crosswind and announced my landing. About three quarters of the way down the downwind leg the snow got so bad that I was not able to see the runway. I immediately turned toward the runway hoping to see it, but I couldn't. I aborted the approach and attempted to get back in the pattern. I announced my intentions again on crosswind as visibility was a little better and I was able to see the runway. This time I was in and out of heavy snow on downwind. I was having trouble seeing the ground when I was to turn to base. At a momentary clearing I saw that I had drifted off course so I immediately turned to final at which time I completely lost all visibility."
This is the point where such stories often end.
But Kate, above all else, is a woman of determination. Well aware that the 500 foot high cooling towers at the Limerick nuclear power plant nearby, and remembering my admonition that the higher you are the safer you are, she decided to climb.
"It felt like the plane was neither climbing or moving," she wrote, "and I feared that the wind was holding me back. On later reflection I suspect that it was the lack of visual cues that caused the disorientation. I looked at my instruments and realized that I was, in fact, climbing so I tried to regain my composure. I announced to Limerick that I had aborted the landing and I did not know where I was."
While private pilots are given a modest amount of training on how to fly using only instruments, that's part of later stages of the curriculum. What she knew, she confided, was entirely what she'd learned in our few flights together. Her instructor had, so far, only taught her how to drive an airplane, not how to fly one. Worse, she hadn't been given even rudimentary training on the few instruments the aircraft had, or even how to change radio frequencies.
By happy chance, on one of those recent flights together, I'd explained how an artificial horizon and turn coordinator worked. Essentially I told her, 'Keep that little thing that looks like an airplane level and in the middle and the airplane will fly straight'. I don't remember exactly what I said about the turn coordinator, but it didn't matter. The one in her aircraft was broken.
Vertigo, you probably have heard, is what gets you. Staying balanced is accomplished with help from your inner ear, your eyes, and how you body feels. The problem is, when you can't see, that your inner ear lies to you and your body gets confused; vertigo takes over.
In every day life gravity pulls toward your feet, it pushes your butt into the seat if your sitting down. But in an airplane you can create your own G(ravity) forces, and they ain't always down. In a loop, for example, it's perfectly easy to have your butt pushed into the seat just as hard when you're upside down as it is when you flying right-side up. So if you take away visual references you don't know which way's up—literally.
To complicate matters, there are G-forces in an aircraft you don't experience in everyday, ground-bound life; and they can really confuse you. Well know to Navy flyers, for example, is what can happen to you during a catapult shot off a carrier at night. Transverse Gs, the forces you feel during horizontal acceleration, perversely, make you feel like your climbing. So, surrounded by black ocean, it's easy to develop an uncomfortable sensation that you're climbing too steeply. But if you push a little on the stick when you're flying at 100 feet and accelerating through 200 knots, it only takes a split second before you hit the water.
By the same process, when Kate started to climb the aircraft decelerated, and she felt like she must be descending, so she tried to make the aircraft climb...and it only decelerated more. And this is where the unsuspecting, untrained, pilot often loses control.
The airplane slows to the point where the airflow over the wing is no longer able to generate enough lift to hold up its own weight. It stalls (aerodynamic stall--nothing to do with the engine, which is working fine and pulling as hard is it can). The aircraft noses over, usually falling off to one side a bit, and the pilot pulls harder sensing the sudden descent. Noting an increase in airspeed, because of the sound of the engine speeding and wind rushing, the ill-fated pilot pulls harder yet, tightening the turn and increasing the rate of descent.
Observers on the ground, under such circumstances, report seeing the aircraft come out of the clouds at a steep angle. They say they heard the engine was screaming (overspeed) or "weird popping sounds," which is exactly the sound an aircraft engine makes when suddenly pulled to idle--a last dash effort when the pilot realizes, too late, what is happening.
So how do you avoid all this? You get proper training on how to fly using instruments, and how to resist the temptation to believe your lying body. Kate had been taught neither, but those few words about "keep the little airplane centered," and her determination to solve the problem saved her.
Eventually she flew out of the snow squall and could see she was lost, the airport nowhere in sight. Then Murphy stepped in. If things weren't already bad enough, while Kate was trying without success to communicate her plight to the flight school the transmit button on the microphone broke off and flew across the cockpit.
Meanwhile, another aircraft, hearing her terse calls saying she was lost, came up on the frequency and suggested she contact Philadelphia approach for radar vectors, direction to another airport. By using a fingernail, she was able to make the microphone work, and told the helpful pilot that sounded like a great idea, but no one had taught her how to tune the radio. He patiently explained which knobs to use, and what numbers to put in the radio, and mirabile dictu, she was able to switch frequencies, and hear aircraft talking to Philly Approach.
Announcing that she was a lost student pilot with less than two hours of solo experience, the approach controller calmly and reassuringly gave her directions to another airport to the east, Wings Field. That sounded like a good plan; her early flights had been at Wings Field before the school's recent move to Pottstown-Limerick Airport. But as she approached the area she could see snow squalls similar to the ones that she had just narrowly escaped.
She said, no, that didn't look like a good direction to fly and explained why. The controller, realizing that the weather was continuing to get worse, and that the pilot he was talking to was flying an aircraft with less and less fuel, redirected her to Willow Grove Naval Air Station, just a few miles away.
Approaching at right angles to the runway, at first she had problem seeing it in the distance. Then, almost overhead, she had trouble recognizing it as an airport because, as she said, "It had a really big-ass runway."
Directed by Approach to switch to Willow Grove tower, she was cleared to land, only to believe, for the second time that day, that she might die.
"Watch out for the wires at 500 feet," the controller cautioned.
Oh gees, I'm at 600 feet, she thought. "What wires at 500 feet, I don't see any wires," she asked, leveling out.
"Land long, land long," another voice said.
With 8,000 feet of runway ahead of her--the longest and widest she'd ever seen--that would not be a problem, even with a little whoopdeedo in the middle of her approach. As she flared, the 2 inch steel emergency arresting gear cable flashed beneath her wheels. Held 10 inches off the runway by steel springs to ensure arresting hook engagement, it was just the right height to rip the landing gear off a little Cessna. But she missed the cable, made a "pretty good landing, under the circumstance," and taxied to the ramp.
Parked between huge Navy P-3 'Orion' sub-hunters, she was intimidated enough. When a Jeep screeched to halt, and Marines with rifles jumped out she almost lost it. When she heard a voice on a walki-talki ask if they needed help bringing her in, she cracked up.
"Do I really look like a security risk to you?" she laughed?
Even the Marine couldn't stifle a grin, and she started to relax a little.
Walking to the Operations building nursing an overdose of adrenalin and blasted by the cold blustery wind, she started to shiver.
"Can we run?" she asked.
"No m'am, if you run I'll have to shoot you." Another grin.
They walked the rest of the way across the windy ramp. Quickly.
Inside the Operations building everyone came out to see who the lost lady was...and gave her a round of applause.
"You sounded very professional on the radio," the controller said.
"How did you know what to say when I told you I couldn't see the wires at 500 feet?" Kate asked.
"They blindfold us and put us behind the wheel of a Jeep out on the ramp. You learn very quickly how important clear, calm directions are.
"We were worried about you, though, 'cause the weather really sucks." the Navy Chief on duty said. "Oh sorry, m'am, that's Navy talk. But it is pretty shitty."
After writing a short, surprisingly coherent, statement on Navy stationary for the Ops Officer, and certifying in writing that she would hold the U.S. Government, The Department of the Navy, and Willow Grove Air Station "harmless from any damages sustained by me or the aircraft as a result of having landed," she called back to the flight school. After explaining what happened to an apparently unconcerned voice she was told just to fly on home, dear.
She explained that given her recent ordeal and poor weather she didn't really want to do that. She was told it was probably a good idea to get back on your horsie, honey. Besides, the weather had cleared up some.
As she protested, the Operations Officer took charge of the situation, asked for the phone and told whoever he was talking to that the aircraft was not leaving the ground unless it was flown by a licensed pilot. "Navy Regulations say so, and I say so. Any questions?"
Hugely inconvenienced by the whole thing, two instructors drove the hour on the Pennsylvania Turnpike to Willow Grove and Kate flew back with one of them.
"Good thing, too" she said. "It was very bumpy, and even the instructor had trouble landing in the crosswind when we got back. He had to use full control deflection."
Is there a moral to this story? Well, a couple.
The first is if you're a pilot, especially a flight instructor, act on your instincts. If I had, Kate would never have been in such jeopardy. She told me once, for example, that she'd asked her instructor why they were doing a certain maneuver and his response was, "Because I told you so." I laughed that off as one of those you-had-to-be-there jokes. But when she later told me that they never used a check list, and he made her feel kinda foolish if she had to resort to one, I should have acted. Later, I found out they never used the shoulder harness (required), they never did a post flight debrief (required), they hadn't signed her off for solo before she went (required), etc. What other shortcuts did they take, say with required maintenance?
The second moral to this story is if you're a student pilot you unfortunately don't know what you don't know. So don't buy flight training because it's cheap or just because it's conveniently nearby, as Kate did with no other criteria to judge by. Make sure your instructor gives you a thorough preflight and post flight debrief, on the ground not in the airplane. Sure you'll pay for the time, but ground instruction will be cheaper than doing it while you're paying for the airplane too. If you don't like your instructor, ask to fly with someone else. A good pilot isn't necessarily a good instructor (but never vice versa). In the military you have to 'hack it' regardless of who's in the cockpit with you. Not so when you're paying good money for training that you and other's lives will depend on.
I will always be grateful to whatever fate brought me together with this wonderful woman--indeed my days with her have defined my life. I'm even more grateful that she had determination and luck to find a solution when she'd 'had a little problem'.