Grampaw Pettibone

Gramps from Yesteryear

March-April 1999

Illustration by Ted Wilbur

Hairy Harrier

Following a roll-and-go in the landing pattern, the pilot of an AV-8B Harrier II began a climbing right-hand turn downwind. He looked over his right shoulder to check his position relative to the runway. He reduced power and leveled the Harrier at the pattern altitude of 1,000 feet. He then went into a 60-degree angle-of-bank turn with the nozzles at 24 degrees.

The tower transmitted, “keep it kinda tight on downwind, visibility ain’t that great.” Weather conditions were 3,000 feet scattered with 3 miles visibility.

“Not a problem,” responded the pilot, looking to the right. He increased his angle of bank to 80 degrees, set the nozzles to 60 degrees and applied back stick pressure. Within three seconds, the Harrier’s angle of attack increased from 11 to 23 units and the aircraft stalled, causing the nose to yaw down and to the right. The pilot went to full power and moved the stick full forward and to the left. The angle of bank returned to 60 degrees, right wing down, but suddenly the aircraft rolled rapidly to the right and went inverted. With 15 degrees nose down and descending through 800 feet, the pilot ejected. He landed safely suffering only first-aid injuries. The aircraft crashed and was destroyed.


I’m just sadly shakin’ my head with downcast eyes over this fiasco. Never were truer words spoken than when somebody etched in stone the following: “Flying is inherently dangerous, but it is mercilessly unforgiving of human error.”

The Harrier pilot simply failed to keep track of his angle of attack. Do that down low and slow in the traffic pattern and you’re invitin’ trouble—and trouble will have absolutely no problem findin’ you.