Illustration by Ted Wilbur
An E-2 Hawkeye crew was conducting field carrier landing practice at an outlying field (OLF). At the abeam position, they called for a full stop to make a crew change. As they were passing through the “90” position, the landing signal officer (LSO) noticed what appeared to be white smoke emanating from the aircraft. The LSO called on the radio, “At the 90, check your dumps,” but then immediately called, “You are on fire.” The pilots noticed the “oil low” light followed by a fire light on the port engine. The pilot in the left seat began the “engine fire” in the flight memory items. He secured the engine and at the memory procedure “landing gear as required,” opted to raise the gear and initiate a waveoff. Both the crew and the LSO began coordinating with the tower for the aircraft to return to the nearby naval air station (NAS).
Noting that the engine was still on fire, the aircraft commander, sitting in the right seat, decided to land at the OLF. The crew executed a teardrop maneuver to set up landing on the downwind runway, lowering the gear and hook (there was no arresting gear at the OLF). The aircraft touched down and it was immediately apparent to the pilots that the nose wheel steering and normal brakes were inoperative. The crew tried both the auxiliary brakes and the emergency brake with no effect.
The aircraft then travelled the length of the runway, and noting they were still travelling at considerable speed, the crew shut down the starboard engine as they departed the runway. The aircraft came to a stop in the soft sand, the crew egressed and the fire was extinguished by the OLF crash and salvage crew.
The post-flight inspection revealed the regulator solenoid in the air turbine start control valve backed out of its housing, allowing uncontained bleed-air to enter the start assembly. This caused the starter to engage, overspeed and fail. The bleed-air continued to flow into the engine nacelle undetected by the fire detection system and caused the oil pump housing to fail. This released pressurized oil into the nacelle, which was ignited by the bleed-air, causing an uncontained fire that burned through hydraulic lines and electrical wires, including the wiring for the fire suppression system. The fire eventually burned holes in the nacelle and began to melt away the landing gear doors.
The OLF arresting gear had been permanently disestablished in an effort to save money.
Well, that went from routine to ugly in the blink of an eye! Kids, these guys had a lot of snakes show up in the cockpit in a short period of time, and I don’t like to play Monday morning quarterback, but you know ol’ Gramps’ job is to take these events apart and see what we could have done better. Now, there is always a period where the boys and girls in the game don’t have all of the info and have to rely on training and instinct, but this one got so squirrelly so fast, it seems to this old timer like the best course of action would have been to get that flying machine on terra firma and sort out everything else with the steed tied down and an adult beverage in hand.
Seems to me that both the pilots and the skivvie-waving LSOs had a bit of “let’s get the machine back to the maintainers” attitude. Don’t get me wrong, that is often a great call and better for the squadron. When you are already set up for a full stop, however, and the fire lights are on and engines are shutting themselves down, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say, let’s land that gnarly beast! If you landed and you didn’t need to, well shoot, you can take right back off, right? In this case, it may be that an immediate landing without raising and lowering the gear would have left some pressure for brakes.
So gather ‘round kids and let’s make sure we get this lesson: If the airworthiness of your machine is in question, your priority needs to be your own skin. It’s good to think of the organization and the troops, but don’t let getting the bird fixed take precedence over looking after your own self.
And as an aside, I got a burr under my saddle that our leaders made the decision to remove arresting gear for budgetary reasons. The whole purpose for an outlying field is to be a mini full-up NAS. We got crash crews (thank the almighty!) and in this geezer’s opinion, we should have had some spaghetti on that runway when it was needed. This event cost over a million dollars of mama Navy’s money! How much did we save pulling the gear out of that OLF?
Now you kids get on back to work, Gramps is gonna go take a spin around the patch in my own flyin’ machine.
Gramps from Yesteryear
Hot Stick, Hot Switch
An SH-2F Seasprite pilot returned to sea duty after an instructor tour in the Fleet Readiness Squadron (FRS). He described himself, albeit facetiously, as “Joe Hot-Stick Aviator” because he had become extremely proficient in the SH-2F during his instructor tour. He looked forward with great confidence to his assignments as his ship’s det. officer in charge. Moreover, his three junior pilots and two air crew members had been his students at the FRS. He felt bulletproof.
At sea, he was tasked to perform a vertical replenishment (VERTREP) of a canned torpedo from a supply ship without a landing area to his home plate. Although he had not executed a VERTREP in two years, he had no reservations nonetheless.
Approaching the ship, the air crew conducted the Hoist/Helicopter-In-Flight Refueling (HIFR)/VERTREP checklist, emphasizing hoisting. The hoist-cable cut switch was set in the armed position. The hoist was then lowered to deliver the cargo pendant for the torpedo can. The supply ship crew had attached an H-46 helicopter pendant to the load, which was too large for the SH-2F’s cargo hook, but the evolution began nonetheless.
The air crew member in the Seasprite lay flat on his stomach with his head out the door to observe the cargo hookup. The deck crew tried to jam the oversized pendant onto the small hook. Observing this, the air crew member called for “load release” to prevent the pendant from jamming the helo’s hook.
The pilot quickly punched the sling-drop button to release the VERTREP load. He had forgotten that he had left it in the hoist-cable cut position. The hoist hook and a small amount of cable narrowly missed striking the prone air crew member on the head as they separated from the hoist boom. The pilot then released the VERTREP load from the cargo hook using the manual release.
Another near miss!
This “ace” pilot failed to complete the Hoist/HIFR/VERTREP checklist the second time after completing the first evolution: hoisting. Prior to VERTREP — the second evolution — he failed to change the position of the cable cut/sling-drop power switch.
Had the hook and cable whacked the air crew member on the noggin, they mighta had a very serious customer in the nearest sick bay. Or worse. Checklists are the roots to success for Naval Aviation. They can also be the roots of disaster if you don’t use ‘em properly.
(Lt Cmdr. Ken Taylor contributed this article.)