03 October 2006

TINS* Tuesday: Riderless Horse

Reveille came early at 0400 for the A-7B pilots of a light attack squadron deployed aboard an attack carrier. Briefing was scheduled at 0445 with the first launch at 0600. Two of the four scheduled Corsair II’s completed the launch and, after the mission was completed, returned for an IFR recovery. The two pilots separated for individual Case III approaches. The wingman, a lieutenant (junior grade), marshaled on the 220 degree radial of the carrier's TACAN, 31 nautical miles at 17,000 feet. Ship's weather was given to him as 1,200 feet overcast with ¾ to one mile visibility in fog, tops at 10,000 feet. Departing marshal on schedule, he called “platform'' at 20 miles, 5,000 feet, and took a cut to the final bearing of 035 degrees. Change to landing configuration came at ten miles with the J.G. electing to make a Mode II approach, using the cross needles because of a previous problem with the pitch mode of the automatic flight control system.

At one mile, he was on centerline and slightly low. Looking for the ball without success, he called "Clara" (no ball) and disengaged the automatic throttle. In response to the LSO's call that he was a little low and to drop his hook (which he had forgotten), the pilot raised his nose and added some power. The engine chugged slightly and about that time the ball came into view on the lens. Because the ball was rising, power was reduced. T he Corsair promptly started to settle. The LSO called for power and the J.G. went to military thrust. For several seconds there was no response from the engine. The pilot felt he was either going to hit the ramp or the water. Thinking the engine had quit, he immediately pulled the face curtain and ejected, wings level, 125 knots at 150 to 200 feet. He was deposited in the water aft of the ship while his A-7 continued the approach. Leveling off, the empty Corsair II proceeded straight ahead, passed the ship, then turned downwind. As the aircraft left the 180 degree position on its next approach, the angle of bank gradually increased to past 90 degrees, and the Corsair II hit the water with the engine still running smoothly.

Oh my achin' bones. Don't think this didn't happen, 'cause it really did. It's hard to second guess the pilot who’s really on the spot, but seems as though there is one factor missing in this guy’s impetuous decision to get out: What happens to the bird afterwards?

These driverless airplanes ain't quite like the horse who threw his rider and then trots home to the barn. They seldom make it and often wreak considerable havoc along the way. One which recently did make it practically destroyed the barn and all its contents in the process. Another, an F-4, took off after its crew had ejected and flew more than a mile toward home plate before crashing into a house. What next? If this guy had been coupled to the ACLS, this bird might have completed the approach to an arrested landing without him. Careful young ‘un, you can be replaced by a black box.

(First published in the February 1970 issue of Naval Aviation News. Had a similar experience on IKE when a recovering F-14 broke the CDP and dribbled off the angle. Crew ejected and the suddenly lighter Tom began an arcing climb in burner, crossing over the flight deck and planting itself on the backside of the loop about 100 yards off the starboard bow.)