Grampaw Pettibone

Gramps from Yesteryear

September-October 2008

Illustration by Ted Wilbur

Tree Top Tangle

A two-seat F/A-18 Hornet was scheduled for an air-to-air radar evaluation hop. Prior to takeoff, the nose wheel steering failed but troubleshooters had supposedly corrected the problem. The Hornet got safely airborne but the gear handle would not move up. The white mechanical stop was visible in the landing gear control panel. The pilot reduced power and depressed the down lock override (contrary to NATOPS), removing the mechanical stop. He raised the gear handle and initiated a right turn.

The flaps were raised from half to auto and everything worked normally except the nose gear remained extended. The pilot reduced power to preclude exceeding airspeed limits for the hung gear. While the main gear were extending, the engines were at idle, the aircraft decelerating. The rear seater noticed ground closure and called, “Watch your rate of descent.” The pilot went to military power, then maximum afterburner.

Ahead was a line of trees, about 100 feet tall. The aircraft struck the tops of the trees in a nose-high, wings level attitude with little vertical velocity. The aircraft managed to land but the left stabilator sustained major damage. The left engine was severely fodded.

grampa_pettibone_says_leftSometimes a minor emergency can turn into a bucket of cobras a Ia Indiana Jones. I know the Hornet is one fine flyin’ machine and can do wonders. But it’s no better than the human bein’s in the cockpit. A 10- to 30-knot overspeed of the gear ain’t as bad as hittin’ the ground. The guy in the back could have been a little more help, too.

If you think you might have had the same kind of trouble in such a situation, better bone up on emergency procedures. Not too many of us like those squirmin’ cobras.