Gramps from Yesteryear
Illustration by Ted Wilbur
As part of an S-3 Viking squadron Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization (NATOPS) unit evaluation, two weapons school instructors were scheduled for a flight with two squadron naval flight officers (NFO). The brief was thorough but didn’t include any mention of the fact that, in addition to the standard post-stall gyration items, the weapons school pilot would be demonstrating cross-controlled inputs to show a more violent departure as part of the post-stall gyration portion of the hop. Once airborne, the pilot entered the first post-stall gyration at 21,500 feet by holding full aft, neutral lateral stick. He neutralized the controls and recovered by 14,000 feet. The pilot then entered a second post-stall gyration at 22,000 feet, utilizing unbriefed, cross-controlled inputs; booting full left rudder and holding the stick fully to the right. The Viking departed much more violently to the left, and then began to settle into a steady-state spin. The pilot held the prospin control inputs for at least three full revolutions. As the aircraft passed through 17,000 feet, he neutralized the controls and began scanning for indications of a recovery. The weapons instructor in the right seat, an NFO, began backing the pilot up with altitude calls. At 14,000 feet, the S-3 still hadn’t recovered, and at that point one of the NFOs in the back also began calling out altitudes over the internal communication system.
The pilot continued to hold the controls neutral for a short time before shoving the stick full forward. At 10,000 feet—the hard altitude for ejection if the aircraft still isn’t showing any indications of recovery—the angle of attack was pegged high, the turn needle was full left, and the airspeed was oscillating between zero and 70 knots. The S-3 NATOPS states that a constant airspeed is one of the indications of a spin, but the manual does not elaborate on what that airspeed actually is. The pilot reasoned that since the airspeed was oscillating, he wasn’t in a spin, so he never put in antispin controls.
Passing 7,000 feet without any signs of imminent recovery, the pilot called for ejection. The instructor NFO in the right front seat initiated ejection, and as his seat fired clear of the aircraft, the rocket motors gave the pilot first- and second-degree burns on his face and neck. All four aviators were subsequently pulled out of the water by an air wing search-and-rescue helo.
The only thing missing in this here escapade was the pilot saying, “Watch this,” before he started his unbriefed departure. And “unbriefed” ain’t never a good thing in my experience. Leave spontaneity to the horn blowers in them Beale Street jazz bands. Aviators need to brief the flight and then fly the brief. The lack of a clear definition in the Blue Pill regarding what constitutes a spin didn’t help none, neither. Of course, at the cost of a sub-hunting tanker, the NATOPS reads a little more clearly now. All Gramps can say about that is it’s a helluva way to run a railroad.