• And Now For The Rest Of The Story

There are certain occasions that stick in your mind, indelible vignettes of an experience that don't fade with time. One such occasion occurred while orbiting overhead in an EA-6B 'Prowler,' waiting to recover aboard the Connie (CVA-64) someplace in the South China Sea.

Looking down from several thousand feet, I watched as the launch proceeded, and was startled to hear someone (probably the Air Boss) call "Keep it flying, keep it flying!" As I watched, the RA-5C just off the catapult rolled over and went into the water. The splash looked, from altitude, as if someone had dropped a boulder into a pond—a frothy ring expanding silently. Other than a sudden jump in my heart rate, nothing changed. The ship continued steaming, we continued flying, nothing more was said on the frequency.

But there was a lot going on as the folks on the ship's bridge swung the stern and screws away from the crash site, the 'Angel' helo headed for the spot, and the launch was suspended even while preparations began for the recovery. Back on board we learned the crew survived, and watch PLAT video tape of the event. But in a city of 5000 not everyone is your neighbor and that was the extent of the story.

Just now, thirty five years later, I found the following on the web and learned the rest of the story.

edited by Bob Lawson
In "The Hook"
Winter of 1980

On rare occasions (fortunately) a few Vigi pilots experienced a strange phenomena upon being catapulted from the carrier. Once in awhile there would be a Vigi that would decide it wasn't going to carry all of that weight of the fuel cells in the rearward ejecting linear bomb bay, between the engines. [Seen here on a model.]

Upon receiving the cat stroke, they would unceremoniously dump the three cells right on the flight deck! This usually resulted in a spectacular conflagration on the flight deck, but didn't present a problem that a competent pilot couldn't handle.

However, on one occasion, when only one cell came out with its 2,000 lbs of fuel, ripping the plumbing out of the next cell, it resulted in one of the hairiest cat shots ever recorded. Only through the quick reactions of pilot LCDR Howie Fowler, a well designed North American ejection seat, and whole lot of luck, are he and his RAN, LTJG Art Dipadova, here to relate the story. The tale begins on a fair spring afternoon in WestPac in 1973 as the crew manned their RVAH-12 RA-5C BuNo 156609 aboard Connie. But let CDR Fowler tell it:

CDR H. D. "Howie" Fowler, USNR

Following a normal brief and preflight the turnup went well with no problems. We were first directed to cat three but then changed to cat two because of problems with three's shuttle. The catapult shot seemed normal, but the nose dropped off the bow causing a settle which required more than normal stick throw to correct. I noticed a RAMPS light on the annunciator which went out after reseting it.

I selected 30/25 flaps/droops and raised the gear. I thought the ramps had closed reducing thrust to the engines and caused the settle. I made a normal clearing turn to starboard and climbed to 300 ft.

As I leveled and the aircraft was accelerating through 200 kts, Departure Control came up with "605 you dropped one of your tanks on the deck and its on fire. " At the same time Art told me he had a fire warning light I saw both engines 1 and 2 fire warning lights on.

The aircraft started to buffet and yaw slightly back and forth. I felt what I thought were explosions in the tail section. Immediately, the aircraft pitched nose down and commenced a violent roll to the right which I estimate was 300-400 degrees per second. Also at the same time, all of the annunciator lights came on with the stick going full forward and to the right, freezing in that position.

I called "Eject!, Eject! " and on the second command I initiated ejection with the left turn and pull knob. At this time the aircraft had completed at least one roll and was now about 90 degrees right wing down and about 20-30 degrees nose down.

As luck would have it, we had just converted our seats to the 0-0 configuration and they worked beautifully, although at first I thought nothing was happening. Time slows down to an eternity and your brain freezes each moment.

The canopy left the airplane and I was aware of an eerie sound caused by the wind. The seat dropped down and bottomed out as I saw smoke from the cartridge and left the cockpit. I lost my helmet and mask as I went out but could clearly see the airplane, I was looking directly at the tail as it hit the water in a 60-70 degree nose down attitude.

When I left the airplane, it had completed about 270 degrees of at least its second roll. I got a full parachute canopy at about the same time that I entered the water. After inflating my life vest I got rid of the chute, and was soon picked up by the helo with no injuries, but I took on a lot of salt water.

Howie's RAN wasn't quite as fortunate. Art's seat left the airplane about 3/4 second before Howie, when the Vigi was on its back. He had attempted to initiate the ejection himself but the violence of the rolling motion caused his arm to be thrown outboard as he reached for the left hand knob. As he grabbed for it the second time and pulled it, he felt the ejection sequence begin.

He was conscious of being inverted as he went out, felt the seat separate and at about the same time he hit the water inverted without parachute deployment. After going under- water 5-10 ft, he tried to inflate his life vest but found his right arm extremely weak and unusable. He managed to get the left toggle pulled which brought him to the surface, but just barely.

After struggling in vain to reach the right toggle with his left hand he unfastened his left parachute riser. At about this time the rescue helo arrived overhead and the swimmer entered the water to assist. It was just in time, as Art was swallowing "quite a bit of the sea. " He was pulled into the helo and they went after Howie. Both crewmembers were back aboard Connie within 15 minutes after the ejection with neither man sustaining serious injury.

The entire lapsed time from the time they saw the fire warning lights until they found themselves in the water was probably about as long as it took you to read this short paragraph.

Here's a portrait of a sister-ship I took during the same deployment. You can watch a movie of the bird that crashed, during a recovery earlier in the deployment --> here.

• Launch 'Em

Part The First

Part The Second

• Hang Tight

My second favorite pilot of the female persuasion emailed the following:

There's a book review in the Sunday [UK] paper today that makes you want to go straight on Amazon. The book is called On a Wing and a Prayer by Joshua Levine and is all about the World War I pilots.

This extract caught my eye:

One summers afternoon in 1917 Grahame Donald attempted a new maneuver in his Sopwith Camel. He flew the machine up and over, and as he reached the top of his loop, hanging upside down, 6000 feet above the ground, his safety belt snapped and he fell out. He was not wearing a parachute; they were not issued to pilots in the belief their availability would impair their fighting spirit.

Hurtling to earth, with nothing to break his fall, Donald's death was seconds away—but it didn't come. In an interview given 55 years later he explained, "The first 2,000 feet passed very quickly and
terra firma looked damnably 'firma'. As I fell I began to hear my faithful little Camel somewhere nearby. Suddenly I fell back onto her."

The Camel had continued its loop downwards, and Donald landed on its top wing. He grabbed it with both hands, hooked one foot into the cockpit and wrestled himself back in, struggled to take control, and executed "'an unusually good landing".

Loopy Lou

While you're out finding books, look for anything by former RAF fighter pilot Derek Robinson.  He's best known for his military aviation novels full of black humor. . .oops, I mean humour.

Novels set in RAF squadrons during the Second World War:

Piece of Cake (1983) is set during the Phony War and Battle of Britain with Hornet Squadron flying the Hurricane. There is a TV mini-series (1988) with the same name based on this book.

A Good Clean Fight (1993) covers the Desert Air Force during 1942 with Hornet Squadron flying the Curtiss Tomahawk.

Damned Good Show (2002) covers RAF Bomber Command's early bomber operations and has fictional No. 409 Squadron RAF flying the Handley Page Hampden.

Novels about spying during the Second World War:

Kramer's War (1977)

The Eldorado Network (1979)

Artillery of Lies (1991)

Other books include:

Invasion, 1940 (2005), a non-fiction work about World War II which aims to debunk "two powerful myths": first, that the RAF alone prevented an invasion of Great Britain by Hitler's Germany; and second, that such an invasion force would inevitably have conquered Britain.

Rotten with Honour (1973), about Cold War-espionage.

Red Rag Blues (2006), about espionage and the McCarthy witchhunts in 1950's America.

• Future of Flight?

German Fuel Cell Powered Aircraft

• A First Officer's Tale

So we took off from KTUL yesterday afternoon after airlining back to pick up the airplane that morning.

My leg to fly as we were empty. Captain calls thrust set . . .airspeed alive . . .80 knots and crosscheck . . .V1 . . . Rotate.

I pull her off initially 15 degrees nose up . . . he calls positive rate . . . I says gear up . . . he says gear's traveling . . and then says Oooop's we got a red light on the gear!

I says we got big vibration on the nose.

We did a low fly-by the tower (really cool, remember I'm flying) who said, it appears your nose gear doors are closed, but the gear is wedged up against them.

Mmmmmm, we are 1500lb's over max landing weight so we can either dump or burn it off. No place to dump so round and round we go.

Call maintenance on the sat phone who tell us to try dropping the gear to see if it'll come down (we had thought of that as well, but wanted to get some reassurance before pulling that lever again).

Thanks be to Darwin! Three greens! Albeit with some dodgy grinding of metal sounds.

Another (even lower fly-by) hey I'm getting used to this bird now, and the tower say "well it looks good but . . . hey do you guys want services out ? Duh, . . .yes please (You'll remember I'm not backwards when coming forwards with these things).

Airplane is down to max landing, adrenalin is a little increased Capt calls 1000 feet, on slope, ref plus 10 . . . .500feet, on slope sinking 600, ref plus 10, three greens. . .200 feet on slope, sink 500 . . . on ref . . . three greens.

I hold some power all the way to contact with the runway, and bags of back stick settling the nose down really slowly on the 10,000ft runway (not one of those short 6000ft ones), no reverse thrust just the open buckets and we roll off with no problem and back to where we had come from. Yes, that would be maintenance!

So here we sit and will stay until tomorrow now while men in blue coveralls stand around and scratch at parts of their bodies and say things like, Mmm, what the fuck?