Gramps from Yesteryear
Illustration by Robert Osborn
Before well-known artist Ted Wilbur first illustrated “Grampaw Pettibone” for Naval Aviation News in 1994, there was Robert Osborn, who in 1943 created the “sage of saftey” character. From 1943 until he stepped down in 1994, Osborn’s illustrations could be seen in the pages of Naval Aviation News. Here is a 50-year peek back in time to 1967. — Ed.
This particular pair of F-4 Phantom “phlyers” was scheduled to fly as number four in a four-plane Sparrow missile-firing flight. After departure, the leader experienced an auxiliary air door malfunction and returned to base. Number two assumed the lead and headed for the designated firing range. All three aircraft attempted to fire but, owing to problems with the ground controller’s radar, they were unable to do so. The flight then departed the firing area and set up an orbit in trail to burn down fuel southeast of the home field at 10,000 feet.
After a few turns in this pattern, all three aircraft were down to landing weight and the flight leader took up a heading for the initial approach to the duty runway, simultaneously instructing the flight to join up. Number three, believing that number two had lost sight of the leader, attempted to lead him in the rendezvous. As number three approached the leader from slightly above and astern, he realized the closure rate was excessive, so he retarded the throttles and extended the speed brakes.
Shortly thereafter, all electrical power was lost, both engines were unwinding through 25 percent, airspeed was 300K and the altimeter read 1,700 feet. The distraught driver attempted to re-light the starboard engine by activating the ignition button but met with failure. (RPM on both engines was down to 20 percent by this time.)
Again he attempted to airstart the starboard engine by checking the left throttle in the OFF position, positioning the right throttle to idle and depressing the right ignition button. While the pilot was holding the ignition button, his radar intercept officer (RIO) yelled, “Do you want me to eject?” To which he replied, “Affirmative.”
After the RIO departed, the pilot turned his attention to the left engine and met with failure again. During this interlude, the Phantom continued its descent and at this moment was down to 400 feet, indicating 200 knots. Noting the acuteness of the situation, the unfortunate driver followed the example of his RIO and ejected. Both “phlyers” enjoyed successful ejections and were retrieved in short order by the station helo.
Oh, my achin’ ulcers! The board concluded that contributing cause factors to this fiasco were “the pilot’s perceptual error, which led to a high closure rate necessitating rapid retardation to the throttles, the impaired physical condition of the pilot’s left thumb (due to a previous fracture) resulting in his unorthodox grip on the throttles, and ‘body English’ which may have caused excessive lateral forces to be applied to the throttles.”
Well, I’ve heard everything now. Sure, we can afford improvement in design, but we can’t legislate against poor headwork. I seriously doubt if it would’ve helped this youngster anyway. First of all, we’ve gotta accept a missed rendezvous once in a while and take it like a man by sliding outside to a safe distance. Secondly, drivers like this fella had better bone up on the right procedure for restarting after a dual flame-out.
A little more Know and a little less Hope will save us a lot of airplanes and pilots, not to mention boosting the moral of the next-of-kin.