A section of AV-8B Harriers was scheduled to fly a day training sortie and hot pit, and then perform night carrier qualification to regain currency. Shortly after takeoff, the mishap pilot reported to his lead that he had a fuel-flow proportioner, or PROP, caution. He secured the PROP system and balanced the fuel manually in accordance with NATOPS procedures. After landing from the day event, the mishap pilot, his flight lead, and the squadron landing signal officer (LSO) discussed the situation and decided to continue the mission and launch the aircraft into the pattern for the required night landing. A fuel proportioner malfunction is a downing discrepancy, a fact known to all three.
Because of an unrelated malfunction, the flight lead’s aircraft was shut down prior to the night event. After taking on fuel and water, the mishap aircraft was launched into the Case III pattern for his night landing. Approximately two miles from landing, the engine RPM began to fluctuate. The pilot executed his NATOPS immediate action items and initiated a waveoff. After climbing to 1,500 feet, the pilot reported his RPM was fluctuating between 75 and 95 percent and began a turn downwind to enter the Case I pattern. After turning off of the 180, the aircraft descended below glide path. Passing the 90, the pilot selected full power and leveled his wings, but could not arrest his rate of descent. The pilot ejected at approximately 40 feet AGL.
Grampaw Pettibone says:
Only two good things can come from this kind of knuckleheadery. The first one is we got that fine Marine out of the briny not too worse for the wear. The second is that you kids will hopefully learn something that may keep you from making the same mistake. Heck, that’s what we do here in Gramp’s house, right?
Back when Gramps was an instructor, we had an adage: “Live to fly, die for the ‘X.’” We said it jokingly—but only half jokingly—’cause after all, what kind of Naval Aviators would we be if we didn’t get the job done for the old man? But there’s a line kids, and these gents were so far beyond it they didn’t even know where it was! Gramps loves me some hard charging Marines (is there any other kind?) but gee-whiz, there weren’t bad guys coming over the horizon, this was C-darned-Q. It was nothing but a training mission and three smart, disciplined, and highly trained aviators all thought it was ok to launch that jump jet on a demanding night evolution, even though it wasn’t really airworthy—and that just don’t make sense.
So come here kids and let’s talk about what’s important here. We get paid to take risks, sometimes extreme risks, but a training sortie ain’t the time to do it. Training’s important, but it ain’t so important that you should unduly risk your air machine, much less your hide.
Now you kids run along, Gramps is gonna wander down to the barn and muck some stalls.