• One Way To Bring Down An Airliner (or not)

Here's [not*] what happens when a goose goes into a jet engine, as happened to US Airways Flight 1549 before it ditched in the Hudson. The video was taken during certification tests, and sent to me by a friend at the FAA.

video


*See comment below

• Blackberry Pilot

Is the guy in the right seat texting or checking his Blackberry ?



Naw, didn't think so. But the picture is good evidence why you shouldn't put loose items on the parcel shelf or seat behind you.

• Second Guessing Sully?


After watching the video of US Airways 1549 ditch in the Hudson, and after reading that controllers suggested they go to Teterboro, I wondered what the situation would have looked like to the pilot. So I cranked up Microsoft Flight Simulator X on my iMac (yes, Windows actually runs better on a Mac) to see what would have happened if Sully had gone to KTEB instead.

UPDATE: Also tried returning to KLGA Rwy 13. Added images below.
UPDATE: See info from Airbus pilots before the comments.
UPDATE: See what a goose does to a jet engine
UPDATE: A history of airline ditching with pictures


UPDATE: FAA transcript and audio from the flight are available here.
So I set the sim for January 15th, 2009 at 3:25PM and lined up a 160,000 pound (20,000 under gross wt) A320 on runway 4 at La Guardia.

One minute after takeoff at 3000' I shut down both engines. That's La Guardia under the aircraft in the distance (click images to enlarge).

As I turned west, Teterboro is a small white patch across the river, middle left in the windscreen, above the George Washington Bridge highway.

"We're too low," turning south just north of the GW bridge "We're gonna be in the river"

Seconds before splashdown

Splash, right at the 38th street pier. So the simulator model is accurate and produces the same result.

Here's the profile map

Now let's try for Teterboro and make it as easy as possible—no pax or cargo, minimum fuel, no worries about the steady stream of biz jets and GA traffic that would otherwise defintely be a factor. Same cut at 3000 feet, balloon to 4600' to reach best glide speed of 130 from 250kts climb speed. Over the river headed west, crossing the Hudson, it looks like it might work.

Modified base for Rnwy 24 Teterboro (6000 feet long), still looks do-able.

But after touchdown slightly long thanks to misjudging the tailwind (about 1000') and without reversers, we're off the end. So there may be a way with a light aircraft and better approach. 7000' Rnwy 19 is not an option because of the longer approach, Rnwy 1 worse yet for same reason and it requires an acute turn to final.

Now let's try it at 180,000 pounds, close to gross weight (Vr goes from 131 to 161, and so does best glide speed, I'll wager). Over the river it's not looking good, and the fly-by-wire system won't let me fly slower than 200, which is probably above best glide speed.

Headed straight for the airport, forget runway lineup. We're going to have to put it in the river (not the Hudson). Dumped the flaps and ended up well short (we hit the highway bridge and then went in the drink)

About 2 miles short.


Good call Sully!

Someone asked what woukd happen in the sim if we tried to go back to La Guardia and land on runway 13. Heavy it didn't work in 4 tries. Light (empty), I didn't make it the first time, but it was close. Next time it worked when I turned back almost immediately. Here's what it looked like on approach

And after landing

Here's the map

So once again—Good call Sully!


A new map from FAA with more detailed real life time/altitude/speed info (click to enlarge)
Update #2 from someone who knows a lot more about this than I do:
Reports state geese were flying at 2900'. This would imply that the A320 would have already cleaned up from its original take off flap setting (most likely config 1 which would have a small amount of flap on the trailing edge and a small amount of slat on the leading edge) to a clean configuration and acceleration to 250 kts indicated airspeed, the maximum permitted speed below 10,000' in the US.

The engines would have been in the 'climb gate' which means that the auto thrust system would be engaged with the FMGES (flight management, guidance and envelope system) computers able to automatically set thrust to whatever it requires between idle and approx 90% of the maximum continuous thrust.

The co-pilot was the pilot flying (PF) for this sector with the captain playing the pilot non-flying (PNF) support role (radios, monitoring, system selection, etc). On fly by wire (FBW) Airbuses (Airbii?) the autopilot can be engaged from the later of 100' or 5 seconds after take off but most of us like to play awhile so I don't know if it was engaged or if PF was hand flying at the time.

It would appear that on hitting the birds the power loss on both engines was instantaneous. I would expect that the flight deck would momentarily have gone dark with all the screens blank while the electrical system reconfigured itself onto battery power. During this time a small ram air turbine (RAT) would drop out from the underside of the aircraft with a freewheeling propeller that spins up to 6000ish rpm in the airflow.

Modern Airbus have 3 electrical systems referred to as the Green, Blue and Yellow systems (you can't afford to be colour blind in an Airbus!) with hydraulic dependent systems spread across these 3 providers to allow system redundancy. The engines have pumps attached that normally pressurise the 3 hydraulic systems to 3000 psi however these engines had now stopped so the RAT would supply hydraulic pressure at 2500 psi to the blue hydraulic system only. With only the blue system available the aircraft would have had both elevators but only the left aileron operational (the rudder is electric on the 320 so other redundancy caters for that). The loss of all the engine driven electrical generators would also cause the emergency generator to come on line. This is a small generator that is driven by blue system hydraulic pressure (effectively a windmill in the fluid lines) with enough output to power minimal flight instrumentation, flight control computers, FADEC's (computers governing thrust management), SFCC's (slat/flap control computers), etc, etc. The emergency generator means that the batteries can be saved for any future needs as they are only guaranteed for 30 minutes.

So at this point the aircraft has flight controls and limited electrics. There would then be the most awful buzz of aural warnings and illuminations as the aircraft then reports itself to the pilots as being unfit for use. If the autopilot was engaged it would have dropped out and as the only pilot instrumentation showing would be the captains PFD (primary flight display) and the ISIS (integrated standby instrument system) he would now become the PF while the co-pilot now became the PNF.

In normal circumstances Airbus flight guidance is unlike conventional aircraft as forward and backward movement of the sidestick does not directly control the elevators but does directly control g load demand. Lateral movement of the sidestick does not directly control the ailerons; it sends a request to the flight control computers for a desired roll rate. There are also flight envelope protections in place controlled by the flight control computers that prevent the aircraft exceeding preset pitch and bank angles, min and max speeds, min and max g loadings, etc and when all these are in place the aircraft is referred to as operating in 'Normal Law'. There are another 6 'laws' that the aircraft can fly under (alternate 1, alternate 2, flare, abnormal attitude, mechanical backup) including the reversionary mode the aircraft would have dropped into in this case, 'Direct Law'. In this mode the sidestick movement is effectively directly related to aileron and elevator movement and in effect the aircraft has downgraded itself 3 stages to handle the same as a normal aeroplane. We even have to start trimming!

The aircraft appears to have reached a max alt of 3200' before transitioning to the glide. The Captain is now handflying and will also have taken over the radios while the FO now has the job of dealing with the systems and failures. The Airbus has a system called ECAM (electronic centralised aircraft monitoring) which not only displays normal aircraft system information on 2 screens in front of the pilots in the middle of the panel but also automatically presents checklists and operation procedures during failures scenarios. The upper ECAM screen would be awash with pages and pages of procedures for him to work through however the aircraft
will prioritise the failures and put the engine relight procedures at the top of the list

The ECAM would instruct him to:
1 – Switch on the engine igniters. Jet engines operate with the 'spark plugs' normally switched off as they are a constantly burning fire unlike a piston engine. Relight
will not happen without a spark though.
2 – Return the thrust levers to idle for correct fuel delivery during start sequence.
3 – Request PF to fly at 280kts which is the optimum speed for relight. In light of the low altitude I very much doubt they would have wanted to do this. If they had they would have needed a target pitch attitude of approx 2.5 degrees nose down and assuming a weight of 70 tonnes in still air the glide would have been 2.6nm per 1000'. I suspect the captain would in fact have come back to 'green dot' speed for improved gliding range. Green dot speed is computer generated and displayed as a green dot on the speedtape on the PFD and shows you the exact speed for max lift/drag ratio for that weight in the ambient conditions in the current configuration. I would hazard a guess that on a little Airbus (minibus!?!) this would be just over 200 knots.
4 – Select the emergency generator manually on in case the system has not come on automatically.
5 – Use number 1 VHF or HF radios and Transponder as only those are powered in emergency electrical configuration.
6 – Reset number 1 Flight Augmentation Computer allowing recovery of the electrical rudder trim as the unpowered right aileron would now start to float up hampering control further.
7 – If no engine relight after 30 seconds then engine master switches off for 30 seconds to purge the combustion chambers before restarting the ignition sequence. Below FL200 the APU can be used to assist with engine starting however even if the APU had been running it would not be able to be used within 45 seconds of loss of engine driven generators to prevent interference with emergency generator coupling.

At some point the crew would then have to accept their fate that the engines are unlikely to restart and transfer to the Ditching checklist which is not on ECAM but would have to be accessed from the QRH (quick reference handbook) located to the side of each pilot.
Now the FO had a new list of jobs to perform:
1 – Prepare cabin and cockpit. Ensure cabin crew are notified and doing their thing, secure loose items in the cockpit, prepare survival equipment, tighten harness and select harness lock, etc..
2 – Switch GPWS (ground proximity warning systems) and EGPWS (enhanced GPWS) systems off so that the aircraft does not start shouting 'Too Low Gear' or 'Whoop Whoop Pull Up' at you when you are trying to concentrate on a tidy crash.
3 – Seatbelt signs on. Somehow think this one got into the checklist to appease the lawyers at the subsequent board of enquiry!
4 – Turn off cabin and galley electrical power.
5 – Select landing elevation to zero on pressurisation control panel as this would currently be set to the landing elevation at the planned arrival airfield. If the aircraft
was still pressurised on ditching it might not be possible to open the doors.

The QRH advises the crew to ditch with the gear retracted and the flaps set to the max available setting (normally called Config Full). On the A340 we can achieve Config Full as our RAT supplies the Green hydraulic system. However, looking through the A320 manuals where the RAT supplies the Blue system I can only see a capability to deploy the leading edge slats only. It would be possible to get Config Full by manually switching on the Yellow system electric hydraulic pump to pressurise the Yellow system and then via a PTU (power transfer unit) the Green system would also be powered but this is not SOP so I suspect the aircraft may have ditched with slats deployed and flaps retracted but don't take that as gospel.

At 2000'agl the FO then:
1 - Check that the cabin pressurisation mode selector is in AUTO.
2 – Switch all engine and APU bleed valves off.
3 – Switch on the overhead 'DITCHING' pushbutton. The outflow valve, the emergency ram air inlet, the avionics ventilation inlet and extract valves, the pack flow control valves and the forward cargo outlet isolation valve all close to slow the ingress of water.

At
1000'agl the FO then:
1 – Makes 'Cabin crew seats for landing' PA.

At
200'agl the FO then:
1 – Makes 'Brace for impact' PA.

At touchdown the FO then:
1 – Engine master switches off.
2 – APU master switch off.

After ditching:
1 – Notify ATC.
2 – Press all engine and APU fire pushbuttons to arm fire extinguisher squibs and isolate fuel, hydraulic, pneumatic and electrical couplings.
3 – Discharge all engine and APU fire extinguishers.
4 – Initiate evacuation.

I have left out a lot of the explanatory text from the QRH for brevity but you can see that this is an almighty amount of work to achieve in an ultimate pressure scenario. I have not even touched upon the proper evacuation checklist. I have also done Monsieur Airbus an injustice but drastically simplifying my explanations of the key systems in an attempt to make them more understandable but I hope it is of interest to those that made it to the end of the text!
In my company we do practice this event in the simulator for both ditching and crash on land. In fact I last did a 4 engine inop landing in the simulator just 6 months ago having simulated a departure from Tokyo followed by a volcanic ash ingestion at FL250 in the climb leading to 4 engine flame out with unsuccessful relight attempts. We ran the exercise twice and both times managed to successfully glide back to Tokyo with the only damaged being burst main wheels from hammering the brakes. We practice many, many other horrendous scenarios (such as flying the aircraft to successful airport landings with the loss of all power to the flight control surfaces) so you can see that the only subjects that we are not prepared for are the ones we haven't thought of yet.

Hats off to the entire crew for a most amazing job done brilliantly and top marks to Airbus for showing all the doubting Thomas's that they were so very wrong about the strength of the aircraft.


Comments on the above from another Airbus driver:


The Airbus in everyday operation is a wonderful aeroplane and makes the job easy, unfortunately its when things start to go wrong that it makes life difficult for you. What the description of events doesn't really convey is the time frame across which all this happens.

During the climb they would have heard a couple of large bangs as the birds were ingested and a very noticeable drop in engine note. They would have immediately looked at the engine indications on ECAM realising they have lost power from both engines, a second or two later the whole cockpit would have gone dark with some clunking noises, losing all screens and no matter how brief this is, its always scary! A second or two later just the Captain's screens would have come back and simulatneaously the autopilot would drop out with the audible cricket warning (The Airbus philoshopy is if you have a double failure 'you have control', just when you need the extrra capacity you have to fly it too) . ECAM would be going spare 'binging' away in a panic flicking through drills prioritising them, so for a short while you can't do anything as the screen keeps changing. All in a matter of seconds. If they were just over 3000' when this occured they had just over three minutes before splash down. Not long to pull yourself together, realise your not going to make the airfield ahead, decide on the river, remember the appropriate drill in the QRH, get your FO to start carrying them out and configure for a ditching.

Added to this they had a problem with the cabin crew. After any incident the flight deck will give the cabin crew a NITS brief) Nature of the problem, our intentions, the time frame to landing and any special considerations for their duties) The trouble is they had just taken off, as soon as the wheels are up the cabin crew are released for duties and whats the first thing they do? They get on the PA and try to sell you shite you dont want. So our man couldn't contact the crew or the passengers to tell them what is going on. (A good argument I think to reduce the annoying number of unneccessary sales PAs on flights) No doubt a certain amount of his last three minutes were spent trying to break through the sales crap to announce to everyone that they were making a forced landing. While flying the aeroplane and making the Mayday calls (as only his radio worked.)

Apparently the Captains CV is a thing to behold and well worth looking up, if ever there was a suitable man to be flying that plane that day it was him. There is no doubt that they both did an amazing job and I just wonder if it had been Ryan air, with a 2500 hr Captain and a 200 hour Eastern European First Officer would the outcome have been the same? I doubt it.

• A-7 Punch Out over Laos

By Harry Hoffman

The strike mission began going bad for the Navy lieutenant when the plane ahead of his A-7 Corsair II came off-target with hung ordnance and he started getting "that old feeling." Sure enough, he soon found himself quietly drifting down through thick clouds into Laos.


More than 30 years after the event, some memories have become fuzzy while others remain crystal clear. The one recollection that remains vivid and foremost in my mind is the bravery and dedication of the men who risked their lives to save me. Consequently, this is their sea story as well as mine.

Snuggled Up For The Night

As a second-tour pilot with Attack Squadron (VA) 97 in the USS Constellation (CVA-64), I felt like a seasoned combat veteran—but not invincible. I can remember writing to my wife and describing the eerie beauty of flak and tracers against the sky on night missions and the paradox of doing something that had become "routine" despite the inherent danger.

Well, maybe I felt a little invincible. But any of those feelings came to an abrupt end on 3 April 1970.

I was section leader of a two-plane A-7A Corsair II mission. For the uninitiated, the A-7 was a single-seat, subsonic light attack jet, not a fighter. The vintage "A" model was underpowered but (fortunately) well armored. It could carry a reasonable bomb load. Our usual ordnance was ten 500-pound MK-82 bombs. On this particular mission, however, our task was to "seed" a supply route in Laos and the ordnance was designed not to explode on impact but rather to act as proximity mines that detonated only when vehicles passed nearby. Our radio call sign was War Ace.


I recall that it was a clear day at the target itself, but the weather had been overcast en route to the site. The threat of enemy MiG aircraft had long since been neutralized, and there were no reported SAM (surface-to-air missile) batteries in that operating area. Overall, it seemed like a fairly routine and low-threat mission. The only thing we had to worry about was the ever-present AAA (antiaircraft artillery) threat, consisting of 37- and 57-mm batteries.

During the Vietnam War, Navy and Air Force strikes were accomplished on such a routine and predictable basis we used to joke that the enemy probably knew our flight schedule better than we did. Often as we approached a target and checked in with the forward air controller (FAC), we would find ourselves queued up like commercial airliners waiting for an approach to an airport in bad weather. Such was the case on this particular mission.

Belly Shot

Our FAC informed us that the flight ahead of us was about to make final runs on target and we should position ourselves to commence attack as soon as they were clear. Usual procedure in this case was to orbit off-target at a slightly higher altitude, ready to roll in when instructed. Standard tactics were conservative: roll-in at 12,000 feet, release at 6,000 to 8,000 feet, and "jink" pulling off the target. My wingman and I were ready. At this stage in the war, most of us just wanted to get on-target and then off as quickly as possible and get home to the carrier-no heroics, no unreasonable risks.

A7 Corsair II

As we orbited the target, I spotted the last aircraft of the preceding mission just about to roll in on his final run. The FAC had marked the road segment with smoke and told us where he wanted our first drops, in this case two mines per run. I mentally picked a point about 180 degrees opposite the last roll-in point of the preceding flight, and we set ourselves up to do our own roll-in as soon as cleared. That's when things began to go wrong.

Any naval aviator will probably tell you that timing is everything. My Corsair was perched just right to roll in at the time and place I wanted when the preceding aircraft came off-target with hung (no release) ordnance. Without skipping a beat, the FAC radioed us to make another orbit and roll in on the tail of the previous aircraft, which was beginning another run to jettison his ordnance on-target. The problem with doing this is that it gives ground gunners a better chance to zero in on targets. With yet another flight stacked up behind us, the FAC was trying to move things along. Although I was beginning to get "that old feeling," I complied.


As soon as the hung-ordnance bird jettisoned his load, I was called in "hot"-right on his tail from 12,000 feet. This is the point where things seemingly began to happen in slow motion, a phenomenon many others in similar situations have experienced. At about 8,000 feet during the run, I felt a thump, sort of like encountering another aircraft's jet wash. In retrospect, I'm amazed at how efficient the mind becomes when you know you're in trouble. I made some very quick decisions in a very short time.

Still in the run, I looked instinctively to my right. From the A-7 cockpit you can see most of the outboard wing surface. Mine had the same appearance as the back side of a tin can after target practice. Not a good sign. The adrenalin was beginning to flow, but my thought processes took on a crystal clarity that I wish to this day I could summon on demand.



I keyed the mike button and said, "I think I took a hit—aborting." Almost simultaneously, I reached out and punched the control-panel button to jettison all ordnance. I experienced another thump as the ordnance released and then a feeling of relief as I realized the aircraft was still flying and controllable. I'm sure my low pullout off-target had some of the defenders ducking for cover. I was already pointed east toward the Gulf of Tonkin. The FAC acknowledged the situation and offered stand-by assistance as needed.

Checklists were whirring around in my brain. But unlike during our squadron safety quizzes, they were now as vivid as black print in my mind. Focused on my cockpit gauges, I heard the FAC clear my wingman to drop all his ordnance, and he was quickly on his way to join up. Hydraulic pressure was beginning to fluctuate. Another checklist: ISO(lation) hydraulics selected, minimum control movements, etc. The aircraft was still flying, and I began to get a hopeful feeling. It didn't last long.

During the Vietnam War, the U.S. Air Force had airborne search and rescue (SAR) assistance monitoring all strike frequencies. To my relief, only moments after heading off-target, the radio crackled with a reassuring Air Force voice offering assistance and tracking: "War Ace, what are your intentions?"

By then my wingman had joined up and was looking me over. He confirmed my worst fears: I had holes in my wing and the fuselage underside and was streaming some vapor. I decided my best bet was to head for Da Nang. I relayed this to the airborne SAR. Within minutes they let me know Da Nang was alerted, standing by with local SAR, and could foam the runway if needed.

Things were looking better, but just west of the Laotian border and the Ashau Valley, my luck ran out. With a shudder, the engine seized, electric power (with gauges and radio) went out, and the controls began to stiffen. I popped out my ram air turbine in a vain attempt to gain backup power and controls, but nothing happened. My Corsair was still straight and level, but I knew it was going down.


We had been flying toward Da Nang at about 15,000 feet. There was an overcast with tops around 9,000 feet as far as the eye could see, obscuring the ground. And then the aircraft began a slow roll to the left.

Again I was in a slow-motion world; decision processing had vivid clarity. I decided I didn't want the situation to progress to me riding an uncontrolled aircraft into the overcast below. If I was going to eject, it seemed a better option to do it while reasonably straight and level. I had just enough time to look out to my right and give a lame wave goodbye to my wingman as my aircraft continued to roll. I learned later that he got the message and radioed to the airborne SAR, "It looks like he's going to punch out."


I pulled the face curtain, and as you can imagine, the wild ride in a McDonnell-Douglas Escapac II ejection seat is at least as spectacular as a Disneyland E-ticket ride. The seat worked as advertised. The memory is as one might expect: chaos, cold air, pain, G-forces, noise, and then zap—the reassuring but traumatic opening shock of the chute. The transition from all of this to a "peaceful" downward drift in a quiet, vast, open space is a memory that's etched in my brain. Another is the bizarre sight of the aircraft canopy spiraling slowly away from me toward the cloud tops far beneath my feet.

Then came one of those rare moments that seem almost absurd in retrospect: I distinctly remember declaring out loud to no one in particular but myself: "Jesus Christ, what the f--- am I doing here?"

I vaguely recall pulling out the PRC-90 radio from my survival vest on the descent, contacting my wingman on guard (emergency) frequency, and telling him I was okay, but I couldn't swear to this. The PRC-90 was to become my most valuable piece of survival gear in the whole subsequent adventure.

The most unnerving part of the descent was the trip through the 9,000-foot overcast. It was like drifting through a bowl of milk-total whiteout and disorientation. My main disadvantage was not knowing what was below me or when I was going to hit it. The chute oscillations from the cloud turbulence were no fun, either.

The answer to the above question came too quickly for me to react. As it turned out, the bottoms of the overcast were only about 100 to 200 feet above the ground. Still oscillating, I hit on a hillside, facing up the hill. There was only a split second between breaking out of the clouds and impact. From my perspective at the time, it seemed like I had landed vertically on level ground. Not so. I hit at an angle and immediately tumbled backward down the hill, landing on my fanny with an impact that apparently bestowed a compression fracture on my lower vertebrae (in retrospect, this might have occurred during ejection). Years later this would be worth free Purple Heart license plates from the state of Nevada and back pain on cold winter days.

Looking around, I saw that the top of the hill disappeared into the cloud bottoms. I was relieved not to find an immediate enemy presence, and the cloud cover probably helped by obscuring my descent from the bad guys. I got out of my chute and hid it beneath the dark underside of my survival raft, which had broken out of the seat pan. I decided to head for high ground, but the terrain was thick tropical brush that made movement agonizingly slow, particularly with back pain.

The trip up the hillside was exhausting, and I probably only managed to get about 100 yards from where I hit the ground. I picked the thickest foliage I could find and settled in. It was late in the afternoon and dusk was approaching. With the volume as low as possible, I contacted my wingman on the PRC-90. He let me know that SAR was on its way and he had to depart. That was a very lonely time.


Soon after dusk, the radio crackled. Captain David Wray, USAF, flying "Covey 251" (presumably an OV-10) announced his presence as the on-scene SAR coordinator. He had some good news and some bad news. The good news was that he was there and had a fix on my position. The bad news was that HH-3 Jolly Green Giant helicopters would not be flying my SAR mission because the area I was in was considered "too hot." That did not help my paranoia at all.

Covey 251 assured me he would be overhead for several hours and was working on "Plan B." Meanwhile, he advised radio silence. By this time it was getting very dark.

About an hour later, Covey 251 chirped up again with more good and bad news. First the bad: I would be spending the night in the jungle. The good news was that the Army was sending in rescue helos at first light. With assurances from Covey that he or his relief would be somewhere nearby overhead for most of the night, I settled in for the duration.

One of the points made during jungle environmental survival training (JEST) was that in an evasion situation, the best bet was to stay put and be perfectly still, much like a rabbit avoiding its stalker. That turned out to be some of the best advice I ever received.

I won't recount the minute-by-minute paranoia of spending a night in Laos under the obvious circumstances, but suffice it to say it was no fun. Sounds and sensations became magnified. In the darkness, I could feel things crawling on various parts of my body, but I didn't want to know what they were. Dewdrops falling off leaves and landing on other leaves sounded like footsteps right by my head. I did a lot of thinking and bargained with God with a lot of promises if only He would get me out of there alive.

Not all of this was paranoia. Since landing, I could hear occasional distant explosions and rifle cracks. I just hoped no one knew where I was. They didn't, but they did try to find out. Several times during the night I heard the nearby sound of voices and an occasional burst of weapons fire. From JEST training I knew that the enemy didn't have the luxury of flashlights, so this was a technique designed to make the evader panic and break cover. I had no desire to become a hero or a martyr. The thought of a final shoot-out with my trusty .38 police special seemed like a poor option.


Dawn brought another crackle on the PRC-90. Covey 251 told me three Army UH-1 Huey helicopters from the 101st Airborne Division out of Hue/Phu Bai were on the way. The weather was still low overcast, and Covey told me to start making my way to a clearing about 100 yards from my position. There was no sign of enemy activity in the area. Things were beginning to look better.

Within 20 minutes or so, the first radio call from the UH-1s came over the PRC-90. The flight estimated they were five minutes out. What I didn't know at the time was that the lead helo in the flight was the only one with a working homing beacon to zero in on my PRC-90. Another problem was that his attitude gyro wasn't working. He had to fly under the 200-foot overcast using nothing but treetops for attitude reference—all the while with two trusting UH-1 wingmen tucked in close to his side. I still thank my lucky stars for the courage and determination of these guys.

I was poised at the edge of the clearing when I heard the first sounds of helo rotors. The lead UH-1 advised that his homing instruments were becoming erratic, so he requested "steers" from me using his rotor sounds. I gave him reciprocal bearings from my survival compass as best I could. I don't have to tell you the absolute joy of seeing that first helicopter come into view from the other side of the clearing. I called my visual contact and popped my orange smoke flare. In another 30 seconds they were hovering above the clearing.

A new problem quickly became apparent: The "clearing" was not totally clear. Very tall bamboo plants populated the entire area, preventing the helos from landing. The lead chopper hovered overhead, and I could clearly see the crew. Next they dropped a rope with two D rings on the end. I learned later that the usual mission of these helicopters was extracting Special Forces from operating areas by hooking them up to this rig and dangling them underneath until they reached a safe area. That's what they were expecting to do with me.

I just stood there like an idiot with a stupid look on my face, trying to figure out the rig. The helicopters had no time for this. The crew waved me off, retracted the rope, and again things began to look bleak.


Realizing they were dealing with a clueless Navy pilot, the lead Huey's crewmen exercised the next option. With blades swirling, it descended, chopping off the tops of bamboo plants. When it was low enough, out the side door came a rope ladder. This I knew what to do with, but deciding I was too dim-witted to know my next move, one crewman began to descend the ladder to assist. I met him midway up and literally crawled over him on my way into the chopper. I sprawled onto the helo bay floor, and we sped away to Hue/Phu Bai.

I learned after the fact that by the time we were exiting the scene, the helos had attracted some enemy activity on the periphery of the clearing. A Huey gunner described it as a "Mexican standoff." The bad guy raised and pointed his weapon but never opened fire. The gunner returned the courtesy, and we were gone.



After the usual flight-surgeon check at Hue/Phu Bai and a restless night's sleep in the "Q," I was returned to the Constellation via carrier onboard delivery. In my scrap heap I still have a copy of a bill made up by the 101st Airborne for $2,557,946 (one each, A-7A aircraft) and $2,343 for flight time (3 UH-1s and one OV-10).

True to my promise to these brave men whom I will never forget, I rooted for Army during the second half of the next Army-Navy game.

Dr. Hoffman graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1965. After flying 225 combat missions in Vietnam, he attended medical school, graduating in 1974, and served as a flight surgeon and research test pilot. After completing his Navy service in 1982 with the rank of commander, Dr. Hoffman practiced medicine in the public sector until 1986, when he entered the U.S. Air Force Medical Corps. Three years later he retired from the Air Force as a lieutenant colonel. He later practiced occupational medicine in California before passing away on 11 May 2004

• SAM Hunter Killer Mission Goes Badly

The head of our local FAA Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) is a pilot's pilot, a Marine Aviatior, and a gentleman in every respect. Occassionally he sends along items I might not have seen otherwise. He writes:

This story exists in several forms. It was immortalized by Col Jack Broughton in his landmark book about F-105 Operations called "Thud Ridge". The incredible odds facing the F-105 missions over North Vietnam and the Navy missions over North Vietnam are still marginalized by the general distaste for the Vietnam war. Someday someone will examine the military history surrounding this amazing aviation warfighting, and these true heroes will receive their due.

An interesting sidelight is the emerging conflict between the old TAC and SAC personnel. At the time SAC personnel controlled the Air Force, while TAC personnel fought the war. This was the LeMay era, when subordinates did not speak out of turn. Many frontline fighter pilots lost careers in the battle to create realistic training to prepare new pilots for the rigors of tactical aviation up north.


TAC pilots did have one spot of comraderie with SAC pilots. They all loved the tanker guys who were almost always there to help a thirsty bird home. One of the most striking passages in Broughton's narrative is his description of an F-105 flaming out due to fuel starvation while plugged into a tanker. The tankers would enter a gentle dive and allow the F-105 to accomplish a restart while accepting fuel.

Jerry Pendzick
Manager, San Diego FSDO


SAM Hunter-Killer Mission
By Gary Barnhill


During an F-105D combat tour out of Takhli, Thailand in 1965, Russian SAM (SA-2 Surface to Air Missiles) begun to appear in North Vietnam. Previously, we had driven over our targets unmolested at 18,000 feet to begin a dive bomb attack. The newly arrived SAM's canceled out our high altitude sanctuary and forced pilots down low, where anti-aircraft fire was intense.


We begged permission to take out the proliferating SAMs before they got to us. Request denied. Prez Lyndon Johnson feared it might hurt the Russians' feelings since they provided the SAMs to North Viet Nam.

One day our base commander, a colonel who did not fly combat missions, bravely announced: "We" are going after the SAM’s. Captain Mike Cooper, showing more guts than tact, called out from the back of the room, "What's this 'we' crap, Colonel, are you going along in the F105F two-seater. Getting shot at everyday tends to loosen up one's military decorum.

Navy LtCmdr Powers landed his A4E at Takhli carrying his own 500 lb bombs. Powers was the XO of the USS Oriskany's VA-164 squadron. The Navy had sent their very best. Powers knew this was a big time White House directed mission, and dangerous.


Takhli scheduled two outstanding Flight Commanders. Mike Cooper would lead a flight of four Thuds from the 334th TFS, with mates: Jim Butler, John Stell and Lee Adams. Gayle Williams would lead four from the 562nd: Gary Barnhill and two others whose names escape me. Each Thud would carry 8x750 lb. bombs. This was in the days before "smart" and "dumb" bombs.


This joint Navy/Air Force mission briefing was more like a focus group. Powers wanted to fly across the target level at 50 feet and skip bomb it. We preferred to dive bomb, using a pop-up from the deck to create a dive bomb run. That made it tougher for the ground gunners to track us. No sweat, since Power's would be first across the target and out of the way, his flat pass would not conflict with our dive-bombing.

These were called "Dooms Day missions", because invariably someone got shot down from the heavy defenses around Hanoi. Did guys shy away from these missions? Are you kidding? Your best friend would lie, cheat and screw you to get your slot on a Dooms Day mission.


Power's plane had a magic black box, well, what passed for magic, circa 1965. Actually it was similar to the old coffee grinder ADF (Direction Finder). A needle would point in the general direction of a SAM site, when and if the SAM was in the SEARCH mode. Operator skill required.

We launched, joined up, refueled and headed North only to find a solid overcast at the let down point. It was a No-Go. Or was it? Power's pulled the Thuds into a tight nine-ship "V" formation and descended into cloud. No one would have criticized him one bit if he canceled for weather and returned to base. He pressed on.

Nearing the target, we finally broke out of cloud and went to the deck. No longer a "formation", now just a gaggle of bomb-laden Thuds strung out in loose single file. At one point, there were hills on both sides and overcast above making a sort of tunnel. I got slung into cloud during a turn and immediately punched the nose down desperately hoping for valley beneath and not hillside. I remember thinking; I'm NOT going to miss this (mission) for anything. I flew so low over a guy driving a farm tractor that he leapt to the ground. He was doin' about two knots, we were doin' 550. When they are shooting at you: Low is good...Fast is good.

My plane was hit by small arms fire causing some yellow caution lights to glow, as we screamed low level towards the target.

The Thud was well built. Once, when all Thuds were grounded do to several inexplicably blowing up, someone suggested giving them to the Army for use as tank crushers. Taxi a Thud over a tank and collapse the gear...crushing the tank. Another joke suggested painting Thuds yellow and using them for ground power units. Rumor was: Republic was going to make the Thud out of cement, but they found out steel was heavier.


We didn't know the SAM's exact location, but hoped the Navy's magic black box could point the way. We were the goats, tethered to lure the lion out into the open for the kill. Until that day, it was a big deal when just one or two SAMs were launched. Now they were firing SAMs like artillery. Fifteen is the number I remember. It's what they mean by: "All Hell's Broken Loose".

Powers calmly transmitted; "I've got 'em on my nose...starting my run". He flew directly over the target at tree top level and was literally disintegrated by withering ground fire.

My turn. I lit the burner and popped up to about 7500 feet, Power's emergency locater beacon screeching in my headset. As the nose came up, I clearly remember saying aloud to myself, "Oh crap, I don't want to do this".

During that brief dive bomb run, which seemed an eternity, there was a sharp knocking sound, like a fist on a door; it was enemy ground fire hitting the plane. I instinctively shouted into my oxygen mask: "Stop It. Stop It".

Years later, a VA shrink would explain that utterance was related to the trauma of a severe belt whipping when I was ten. Got my feet wet in the snow on the way home from school. My Dad held me tightly by the wrist beat my buns and legs with a leather belt. Shrink said I had no evidence at age 10, or on the bomb run that either event was survivable. In both cases, my mind thought I would die. It both cases, I pleaded hopelessly: "Stop It. Stop It".

The anti-aircraft hits caused multiple red and yellow emergency lights to blink incessantly, I transmitted my intention to get to the water off Haiphong before ejecting. Radio chatter was understandably chaotic. Each Thud pilot was individually living his own Hell, jinking violently to get away from the unrelenting ground fire.


Alone and doing 810 knots on the deck (that's right, Buddy, 810 knots) I slowly overtook a Navy F-8 Crusader as if passing a car on the freeway. We exchanged gentle pathetic waves as if to say: "Oh, Hi there, don't know you, but hope you're having a nice day?" I swear it was the most surreal moment of my life.

Still on the deck, but now over the safety of Gulf of Tonkin water, a sort of euphoric invincibility set in. If I ejected over the water, the Navy would surely pick me up.

But the fire warning light had gone out, so I strafed a couple of boats capable of capturing downed pilots. The Vulcan fired six thousand rounds a minute. That's one round of 20 millimeter every 37 inches, literally a stream of lead. It sounded more like a Hoover than a machine gun.

Decided there was no reason to jump out if this bird was still running. Did that last month and it scared the crap out of me. On the radio now, with precious little fuel remaining I was begging for a tanker. Made radio contact with a KC-135 somewhere in cyberspace. Following a terse debate challenging HIS priorities, we got together with barely any fuel reading on my gauge.

Made it back to Takhli. Gear, flap and flight control problems but landed in one piece.

Had hits all over the plane, except the extremely vulnerable underbelly engine area. It required 4,000 man-hours of work just to ferry it somewhere else for repair.

I pleaded with the base commander to award Power's the Air Force Cross. He didn't like the idea. Reminded me that the Navy had their own Navy Cross and handled their own decorations. I pushed my point as if we were equals. Don't you get it; the USS Oriskany lost their top guy while USAF gets a big headline back home. Power's brilliant leadership was why the mission succeeded! Give the NAVY guy the AIR FORCE CROSS! The colonel wasn't a fighter pilot. He didn't get it.


General George Simler flew in from headquarters to have a beer with the guys on the mission. Sitting at the sorry-no-ice-today, O'Club bar, Simler and I were hangar flying like two young cadets. He was that kind of General.

I passionately pitched Simler on awarding the Air Force Cross to Powers. He loved it, instantly. Turned and said dismissively to the Base Commander: "take care of that, Colonel".

Navy LtCmdr Powers received the Navy Cross. Posthumously.



A decoration awarded that day could have described any of the pilots on the mission: Thunderchiefs...Hunter-Killer mission...against Surface to Air Missiles...deep within hostile territory...low level high speed run...encounter withering ground fire...pressed the attack...dropped bombs in heart of target complex...remarkable mission...overwhelming odds...skill...aggressiveness...

Another pilot who was on that missioin wrote to Jerry:

An old man who served in WWII told his grandson, "I was never a hero, but I served with many who were." That's how I feel. The most remarkable characters in my life were the heroes I was honored to fly with in 1965. They didn't all come home. Nam was not a very glamorous or patriotic war, but every fighter pilot I knew put his life on the line as if it were.