Grampaw from Yesteryear
Illustration by Ted Wilbur
An S-3 Viking with four in the crew was on a familiarization flight for a copilot/tactical coordinator (COTAC). Although the COTAC had more than 1,100 hours in the model, this was his first flight after being out of the cockpit for over three years. During the preflight briefing, the pilot did not discuss specific aircraft coordination and communication requirements as was dictated by air wing standard operating procedures.
In the training area, the pilot initiated entry into a cruise configuration full-stall demo 13,000 feet. The Viking progressed normally into the stall with buffet and wing rollout occurring at the appropriate angle of attack (AOA). This rollout tendency is a normal S-3 stall characteristic and is one of several indicators used to determine that an aircraft has entered a fully stalled condition.
However, the pilot did not ensure that the AOA was adequately reduced prior to power application. As a result, AOA increased and a deeper stall occurred. The S-3 entered a post-stall gyration (PSG), completing nearly two gyrations before the pilot applied out-of-control flight recovery procedures based on the delayed recognition of the PSG.
At this time, the attention of the pilot and COTAC was focused on illuminated trim/speedbrake and master caution lights. Mistakenly believing that these cautions were associated with the departure, the pilot removed his hand from the stick to reconnect the trim/speedbrake channels on the flight control test panel. The aircraft was now 45 degrees nose low, 50 degrees left wing down, and passing 10,000 feet with increasing airspeed as the pilot placed his hand back on the slick.
As the pilot applied recovery control inputs, he noted 8,000 feet on the altimeter, considered ejecting but believed the aircraft was recoverable. He did not convey this to the crew nor did the crew recognize indications of recovery from out-of-control flight. An ejection call was made over the intercom and command ejection was initiated above 6,500 feet with 250 knots airspeed. All hands were rescued within 30 minutes with varying degrees of survivable injuries.
Singe my socks and pass the bicarb! What happened to professional briefings and knowing proper stall recovery procedures? This isn’t the old days when biplane drivers plowed into weeping willows with some regularity, walked away from the crashes and later chuckled about their brush with the Grim Reaper. When there’s more than one in the crew, coordination and communication have to be treated as absolute milestones in the briefing process. Knowledge of stall recovery procedures and out-of-control flight wouldn’t hurt, either.