Category Archives: Grampaw Pettibone

Grampaw Pettibone: Hurried in a Helo

Illustrations by Ted Wilbur

A helicopter crew experienced an auto blade track caution light with the onset of vibrations during a training mission. The pilot in command reset the auto blade track system, completed the mission, and landed to debrief and refuel prior to returning to base. The crew did not conduct the NATOPS-required postflight or preflight inspection during the stopover. During the subsequent startup, the air crewman noticed an unusual object hanging from the main rotor head and alerted the helicopter aircraft commander (HAC). Instead of inspecting the discrepancy, the HAC elected to launch from the ship for a return to base.

Immediately after takeoff, the crew noticed a substantial one-per-revolution vibration. The pilot in command tried to manually track the blades, which only  increased the vibrations. In response to the increased vibrations, he returned the blade track system to automatic and increased power to hasten the return to base. Shortly thereafter, a loud bang was heard in the vicinity of the main rotor accompanied by the onset of severe vibrations and nose up pitch. The co-pilot (pilot flying) entered an autorotation while the pilot in command secured the engine control levers. The aircraft ditched, rolled right, and sank. All three crewmembers utilized the helicopter emergency egress device (HEED) bottles and escaped safely. The subsequent safety investigation revealed no personal or physiological factors and faulted the crew for disregarding NATOPS pre- and postflight requirements, poor decision making, and poor crew resource management.
GramPaw Pettibone saysGrampaw Pettibone says:

Boys and girls, this is one of those dag’ gum no-brainers! Gramps wants to get back to home base to see Miss Ellie as much as the next guy, but I ain’t gonna risk my hide to do it when I know there’s something sketchy going on in my flying machine! Back when I was a youngster in Pensacola, Lt. “Spuds” Ellyson taught me that a thorough postflight and preflight are the best insurance policies around. Best of all was they didn’t cost a cent. I still do it with my pickup, my shotgun, and my dentures to this day! These boys just didn’t take the few extra seconds to look that whirlybird over and cover their hides.
What’s even more important than that insurance policy is a good crew, and these hard chargers had one. If you got a kid in the back who tells you something is danglin’ at the wrong angle, you gotta stop and listen! That young ’un is along for the ride in the back, and has a vested interest in the health of the steed he’s riding. I’ll bet my britches that he wasn’t looking for a swim in the big salt pond.
Now ol’ Gramps is a pretty smart guy, but I know full well that I ain’t smarter than NATOPS. When something’s amiss, I’m gonna do what it tells me. This pilot had a serious case of “Get Home-itis” and decided to
 ignore  both NATOPS and his air crewman. NATOPS says plain and simple to do a postflight and  preflight—including  visually inspecting the rotor head—on every leg. What’s even more confounding is that he ignored NATOPS again when he experienced those stinkin’ vibrations on the second leg and they got worse when he tried to manually track the rotors. Then for some durned reason, he INCREASED power, which was the straw that broke this camel’s back.
They didn’t have a whole bunch of them helio-copters around when Gramps was a kid, but even the dumb kid in the back of the class knows that vibrations in a whirlybird are bad. Now, huddle up ’round ol’ Gramps and listen here for just a second—this goes for you boys and girls with wings on your flyin’ machines too: If you’re out flyin’ and you feel something out of whack, stop thinkin’ about gettin’ home and start thinkin’ about gettin’ somewhere safe, like on land. Use the experience from the boys and girls that were smart enough to put it in NATOPS: When all you’re thinking about is getting her back to the barn, you’re setting yourself up for trouble.
Now you kids go get some flyin’ in; Gramps is gonna cool off out on the front porch and see if I can talk Miss Ellie into coming over for a visit.

Gramps from Yesteryear

Bird to Paradise

The P-3 crew was to fly from NAS East Coast to NAS West Islands for a professional conference. They planned the journey thoroughly. A week prior to departure, the maintenance officer told the pilot he would be flying an Orion fresh from a scheduled depot-level maintenance. The maintenance officer wanted the crew, which included three patrol plane commanders, to wring out all the systems. “Bring back a stack of gripes on this aircraft,” the pilot was told.
Just before takeoff, the number three engine disconnect pressure low light came on. The P-3 returned to the line. Repairs were made and the Orion launched.
The P-3 landed at NAS West Coast. Prior to shutdown the pilot directed a recheck of high-frequency (HF) radios, radar, inertials, etc.—systems that would be essential for the next day’s over-ocean leg. All checked 4.0.
Next morning the airfield was shrouded in fog. On preflight, none of the gear that checked OK the previous day was operative. Both HF radios and the radar were hard down. The local NAS had depot-level maintenance available, and several hours later the aircraft was mission-capable once again. The fog had lifted and the Orion took off for the islands.
During the descent into the destination field, the starboard aft observer cautioned the pilots that the HF wire antenna on his side had separated from the vertical stabilizer and was slapping against the side of the aircraft.
Although there was no structural damage observed after shutdown at NAS West Islands, the P-3’s brand-new paint job was scarred.
After the conference, the P-3 crew was about to take off for the return trip east. The auxiliary power unit door would not close, however, and the Orion taxied back for repairs.
The exhaust door actuator had failed in the fully-open position and a supply system check revealed none available on station. The pilot decided the best alternative was to bolt the door closed. It took a search of several squadrons to obtain the correct part.
Those repairs made, the P-3 finally launched. But on climbing out, both HF radios and the radar quit. The pilot decided to hold 100 miles east of the departure point and burn down to landing weight. It was about midnight and the P-3 was in a solid overcast at 15,000 feet. Icing was so severe that constant wing de-icers were required to keep the wings clean.
The crew descended below the overcast, dumped fuel, and returned to the base for more repairs.
Taxiing in to the line, both HFs and the radar mysteriously  fixed themselves and began working. The crew reevaluated the situation, checked the time remaining with respect to crew rest requirements, and decided to continue the nonstop flight to NAS East Coast. They topped off with fuel and took off.
For the first two hours of the hop, the equipment worked. Then the P-3 lost HF communications with the air traffic control center. The crew raised an overhead Pan Am airliner and passed position reports through it until reaching the mainland. Ultimately, they landed at NAS East Coast, just under the maximum “crew day” with just over minimum “on top” fuel.

 

GramPaw Pettibone saysGrampaw Pettibone says:

Ol’ Gramps ain’t so sure it’s positive thinkin’ tellin’ the aviators to “bring back a stack of gripes” on the aircraft. And I can’t tell what they did with that antenna wire, from the report I got. Sometimes those HF radios worked and sometimes they didn’t.
But I do know this: It’s best to have a dress rehearsal before opening night. A thorough, local test hop woulda saved a lotta grief for this crew. And for the metalsmiths: I wouldn’t want to be around when they saw the scraped paint and that bolt in the exhaust door!
Originally published in September-October 1990.

 

Grampaw Pettibone: The Blade Connection

Illustrations by Ted Wilbur.

 

Two CH-53Ds and one CH-46 were to engage in an external lift of hulk vehicles to and from a confined-area pickup zone. The helicopter aircraft commander (HAC) of helo Dash 1 briefed the flight to proceed as three individual units under his control as mission commander. Each HAC then conducted individual crew briefs. Taxi and takeoff sequences were not briefed. Dash 1 HAC was delayed in operations for a last-minute brief and tasked his copilot to brief the crew and preflight the aircraft. The Dash 1 copilot complied. He also instructed the crew chief to re-spot the CH-53 for more rotor blade clearance during the turn-up. When the HAC arrived at the aircraft, he performed a cursory inspection and decided that the re-spot was unnecessary.

After engine start and pre-taxi checks were completed, a mechanic on a nearby helicopter anticipated Dash 1’s need for a taxi director and positioned himself accordingly. After receiving taxi clearance, Dash 1 began rolling forward under control of the taxi line. The taxi director saw he was no longer needed and, in fact, was being forced to run backward to avoid being run over by the aircraft. He rendered an informal salute to indicate termination of his taxi direction. Dash 1 HAC acknowledged the salute.

The direction of taxi placed the sun at the pilot’s 11 o’clock position, 10 to 15 degrees above the horizon. Dash 2 was parked facing in the same direction with rotors turning, in the center of a painted H-2 ramp parking circle located 64 feet right and 150 feet ahead of Dash 1’s taxi line. The Dash 1 HAC taxied to the left of this line as he approached Dash 2, to provide what he considered a margin of safety. No taxi director was present. The crew chief was occupied with preparing the cargo pendant in the aft section of the cargo compartment. The first mechanic was looking out the left gunner’s window. The copilot noted that the blade tip clearance was going to be close, but made no comment to the HAC who was talking on the radio. As Dash 1 passed abeam Dash 2, the main rotors of the two helos suddenly intermeshed. Both aircraft immediately began to oscillate violently, knocking the crew about, as flying blade fragments sprayed the area. All aircraft were immediately shut down and the aircrews egressed without serious injury.

 

GramPaw Pettibone saysGrampaw Pettibone said:

Holy rotatin’ razors. This close a shave gives old Singed Whiskers a real rash!

In addition to plain old pilot error, Gramps smells a little contributory negligence in this, along with some supervisory error thrown in just for luck (all bad).

The fact that the copilot did not issue a warning, the crew chief was busy in the cabin, the taxi director released the aircraft while in a congested area, and the pilot’s primary concern was with a radio transmission instead of his aircraft, indicates not only poor crew coordination but general incompetence.

Facts concerning the marginal performance of this pilot as an HAC were well known to squadron supervisory personnel for some time but, due to a shortage of aircraft commanders, he was kept on the job. Gramps totally agrees with one endorser who stated: “When your HAC cannot hack it, it’s high time his qualification be reevaluated!” In addition, a copilot who sits idly by and allows his pilot to taxi into a parked helo without speaking up—even though he had just been reproved for antagonistically challenging the pilot over alterations to the pre-start checklist—is more kindergarten than professional.

This deviation from NATOPS and good sense directives, to engage in a childish act of kiddie bumper cars, resulted in needless, but significant, damage to two CH-53Ds, four CH-46Fs, and minor injury to two crew members.

You can rest assured that this “Blade Connection” is not a novel by Robin Moore. It ain’t novel at all!

(Originally published in March 1981 Naval Aviation News)

Right and Wrong

Following a thorough briefing, the pilot, copilot, and crew manned their E-2B Hawkeye for a night training mission. The entire prelaunch and launch cycle was uneventful and, after approximately three hours, the E-2 returned to the carrier.

A standard carrier controlled approach was flown. At three-quarter mile, with the aircraft established on the centerline and on glide slope, the pilot called the ball. The LSO rogered the ball and called for “little power and attitude.” The Hawkeye drifted a little left in the middle and the LSO called “right for line-up.” The pilot answered all calls correctly and crossed the ramp in good position; however, the plane was in a slight left-to-right drift.

The aircraft went flat across all four cross-deck pendants in a steady right drift, touching down beyond the wires at a point six to eight feet forward of the number four cable. The touchdown point was six to eight feet right of centerline with the aircraft still drifting right. Maximum power was added for the bolter and the aircraft stopped drifting and continued down the angled deck, 15 feet right of centerline. Prior to becoming airborne, the E-2B’s starboard wingtip made contact with the upper rudder sections of four A-7s parked clear of the foul line.

The pilot or crew was not aware of hitting the A-7s until notified by approach control. The crew then flew the aircraft to altitude where they performed a successful slow flight check. The only discrepancies noted by the crew were a missing wingtip cap and the fact that the flaps would not come up past the 1/3 position. The pilot reported a slightly mushy feeling in the controls. A foreign object damage walkdown was performed on the flight deck to clear debris. The pilot flew another controlled approach, resulting in a hook skip. The third approach terminated in an uneventful arrestment. The aircrew exited the aircraft in a normal manner.

The investigation revealed that, on the first approach, the waving LSO stated the pilot overcontrolled a low start, drifted left in the middle but corrected nicely and, from an in-close position, was on centerline and on glide slope. The LSO further stated that the pilot decreased his rate of descent approaching the wires but was on centerline and appeared to have the wires made. The right-drift during the final phase of the bolter was confirmed by the Pilot Landing Aid Television System tape.

The pilot, copilot, and air boss all stated that they observed the aircraft landing right of centerline four to eight feet. Evidence of the off-center landing was a line of tailhook trail marks clearly visible at 15 feet right of centerline. The impact was discovered by a taxi director who noticed debris. Damage to all the A-7s was limited. The E-2 damage was, fortunately, minor.

 

GramPaw Pettibone saysGrampaw Pettibone says:

Great balls of fire! What the heck goes on in this squadron’s operations office? This pilot was scheduled for this night flight in violation of the LSO NATOPS. The pilot was not current for the night flight. I believe I would have a piece of one operations officer and one so-called “scheduler”!

On the other hand, this was no excuse for the pilot to goof the approach. Besides, the driver is most certainly responsible for bringing his “non-currency” status to the attention of scheduling personnel. Lotsa people had their hands in this mess! ’Nuff sed!

(Originally published in August 1975 Naval Aviation News)

Grampaw Pettibone: A Crosswind Battle

Illustrations by Ted Wilbur.

An F/A-18 Hornet crew launched as part of a multi-aircraft flight from a strategic expeditionary landing facility to take part in a combined-arms exercise. Prior to launch, the Automatic Terminal Information Service (ATIS) included a wind warning for wind gusts of up to 25 knots at 50 degrees from runway heading. During takeoff both the pilot and weapon systems officer noted a significant crosswind.

The mission went as planned and the flight set up to return to the landing facility. A few minutes prior to landing, the flight lead checked ATIS. Winds were still reported in a crosswind, this time with gusts up to 40 knots. The mishap pilot did not recall hearing the flight lead pass the ATIS information to the rest of the flight.

The flight had pre-briefed a battle break of 450 knots at 1,000 feet. The actual speed at the break was 30 knots faster and the break was executed just past the approach end numbers. The mishap pilot had to wait until the 45 degree position to lower the gear and flaps because of the aircraft’s excessive speed. Fighting an overshooting crosswind, the aircraft touched down more than 40 knots fast and 2,000 feet past the intended landing point.

The mishap pilot felt that the aircraft was not slowing normally and added power with the intent of executing a go-around, but did not feel the amount of acceleration he expected and decided to attempt a long field arrestment. The hook missed the long field gear and the aircraft left the end of the runway. After jumping the first of a series of berms at the end of the runway, the pilot called for ejection.

The pilot ejected successfully. The weapon systems officer died as a result of injuries sustained during the ejection.

The mishap investigation showed the crosswind was very slightly over the F/A-18 NATOPS crosswind landing limit. In addition, at the time of the mishap all aircraft in the flight had sufficient fuel either to hold or Bingo to one of two suitable airfields.

GramPaw Pettibone saysGrampaw Pettibone said:

Kids, I’m gonna say this right up front. I know that pilot will carry a heavy load for the rest of his life. I’m not trying to pick on a fellow aviator, but I am going to ask you to take a look-see with me and find out how we could have averted this tragedy. If we ain’t gonna collectively learn from our mistakes, then shoot, I’ll hang up my spurs and, as that punch drunk fighter once said, “Fade off into Bolivian.”!

These aviators came rippin’ into the break and must have put on a good show—but durnit, this wasn’t showtime. The conditions were challenging and these fellas were behind their jet. There is really only one thing to do in that situation—WAVE OFF! Trying to salvage an unsalvageable situation is like selling your mule to buy a plow; it just don’t make sense!

Look kids, Gramps knows how it goes. We think a waveoff is a sign of weakness, a minor failure in a profession that doesn’t suffer any amount of failure well. What’s the first thing a naval aviator does after he trips and falls? He looks around to see who saw it happen. We don’t like to look bad, it ain’t in our nature. I understand not wanting to admit you ain’t gonna make it this time. Shoot, why do you think we have LSOs on the ship? (It ain’t just for the comedy!)

My poncho is a little puffed at the flight lead too—why didn’t he convey the seriousness of the situation he was about to lead his wingies into? Was there even a discussion about how much crosswind there was? Did these intrepid aviators have any idea what they were getting into? They had the gas to hold or Bingo and come back, so why the rush? I’ve said it before: flight leads need to LEAD!!

So look here kids. We all make mistakes, and every once in a while we even get a do-over on our mistakes. Make a school circle kids, and learn a lesson. Waveoffs are free. Don’t be afraid to use one every once in a while! Whether it is a “can do” attitude or just pride that is motivating you, don’t give in and try to make a bad approach into a good one. Add the juice, wave off, assess what you did wrong last time, and fix it.

Now you kids go on back outside and play, Gramps is gonna go sharpen his knife.

Grampaw Pettibone: A Loopy Flyby

Illustrations by Ted Wilbur.

A helicopter crew was performing a flyby of a ship. The ship’s captain joked on the radio that the pilot could not fly a loop. After passing the ship, the helo entered a nose up attitude. Climbing to approximately 300 feet, with a right angle of bank greater than 90 degrees, the pilot then reversed and descended in a left angle of bank and nose-down attitude approaching 50 degrees. The aircraft struck the water slightly nose low with a slight left angle of bank. The pilot and sensor operator egressed underwater; the co-pilot was lost at sea.

Several factors surfaced during the post-mishap investigation. Photos taken of the flyby clearly indicated the pilot exceeded NATOPS pitch and roll limitations for the aircraft. There was no indication the aircraft did anything the pilot did not command, and there were no obvious contributing aeromedical factors for any of the crew members.

The sensor operator stated that the pilot had performed the maneuver on previous flights with the same crew with no objections from either crew member. In addition, several squadron members reported flying with or witnessing similar unbriefed, high-angle-of-bank maneuvers several times on flights prior to the mishap flight.

GramPaw Pettibone saysGrampaw Pettibone said:

Jumpin’ jehosaphat, what was that pilot thinking?!? Gramps loves hard chargers and thinks aggressiveness is one of the basic traits that make naval aviators a breed apart. But gee whiz, kids, this was nothin’ but plain old stupid. There is only one time where I’ll nod at someone flyin’ their machine beyond the limits that Momma Navy gives us, and that’s when you are gonna hit something or something is gonna hit you. As this young’un proved, once again, there otherwise ain’t nothing good that comes from flying outside the envelope. This feller was feeling his oats and wanted to prove to that commanding officer on the radio that he was Sierra Hotel. The cost was beyond reason: one of our well-trained hard chargers, and an air machine to boot.

And what in tarnation was that ship’s captain thinking? Challenging a pilot, on the radio for all to hear, to do something that he knows is wrong? Encouraging that kind of behavior don’t make sense to Old Gramps. Commanding officers are supposed to look after their flocks and protect them like they were their own kids, because when you get to the heart of what command is really about, they are his kids! Shame on him.

This pilot was showing signs of what those geeks who study safety call “Failing Aviator Syndrome.” Gramps ain’t got no Ph.D., but I can tell you that someone—anyone—in that squadron should have spoken up about what this fella was doing. We don’t teach naval officers to accept this kind of erratic behavior, so why didn’t someone have the courage to speak up? You got to look after your buddies so one day they can look after you.

And finally, where in the world was this kid’s squadron commanding officer? Teachers, moms, hoot owls, and commanding officers are always supposed to keep one eye open and know everything going on around them. He’s got one of his gang who is straying farther and farther off the beaten path, and yet he either doesn’t know or doesn’t take action. Either way, it’s unacceptable!

You kids know Gramps gets his dander up when we lose one of our finest, especially to something as gol-darned brainless as this. Let’s at least learn a lesson from this one, shall we? C’mere kids, this is Gramp’s wisdom distilled like a fine sippin’ whiskey: Don’t fly your machine out of limits unless your life depends on it, and don’t accept someone who puts you in a bad spot by flyin’ crazy. Look out for your squadronmates, because outside of your family, they are the best family you got.

Now you kids get back to work, Gramps is going to catch me some Rockfish for dinner.

“I don’t care what Grampaw Pettibone predicts, the one thing we can be sure of is that there can never be an UNMANNED airplane!”

Grampaw Pettibone: The Backup Meatball

Illustrations by Ted Wilbur.

A Hornet squadron was embarked for carrier qualifications in support of carrier sea trials. The day quals period was challenging, with high winds and significant deck movement. A nugget who had flown during the day was also scheduled for the night period. Approaching the “in-close” position during the mishap pass, the pilot overcorrected a slightly above glide slope position with a significant power reduction while simultaneously making a large lineup and nose-down correction. The reduction of power, lowering of the nose, and loss of lift caused by the lineup correction caused an excessive sink rate. This gross and inappropriate correction inside of the waveoff window caused the Hornet to strike the flight deck rounddown at the point where the tailhook is attached to the aircraft. The hook and parts of the aircraft’s variable exhaust nozzle assembly were severed from the aircraft. The Hornet slid through and off the end of the landing area. The pilot ejected and landed on the flight deck, sustaining major injuries; the aircraft was lost.

The post-mishap investigation revealed the pilot was weak behind the ship with a significant history of lineup problems dating back to Training Command carrier quals. In addition, the pilot stated that his carrier landing technique was to use his Automated Carrier Landing System (ACLS) needles as his primary reference and use the Fresnel Lens Optical Landing System, or meatball, as a backup for glide slope information. The report also cited several supervisory errors. The squadron and wing landing signal officers (LSOs) failed to provide NATOPS-required pre-embarkation training on high-wind and pitching-deck operations. The squadron and air group commanding officers failed to staff the squadron adequately, causing the squadron LSO to be overtaxed with other responsibilities during a critical pre-embarkation work up for the inexperienced squadron’s first at-sea period. The squadron commanding officer and both LSOs failed to recognize the pilot lacked sufficient ball flying skills and was not prepared for the highly demanding environment encountered that night.

GramPaw Pettibone saysGrampaw Pettibone says:

Holy jalapeños! They set this kid up for failure and he took the ball and ran with it! We lost a jet, and we were durned lucky we didn’t lose the pilot or some of the good folks up there on the flight deck.

Let’s start with the preparation—or lack thereof—to go to sea. The squadron paddles was working too many jobs to get them boys ready for flying on the great briny. The squadron commanding officer overburdened his LSO because the air group didn’t give him enough experienced bodies. The wing LSO was there to help, but between him and the squadron LSO, they only did half a job. LSO NATOPS says you gotta talk about that stuff every time you get ready to go to sea, and they plum forgot. We shot that kid off the pointy end on a dark and stormy night without all the tools he needed in his bag. Anyone smell what I’m cookin’ here?

And our intrepid aviator? Well, Ol’ Gramps knows that every pilot has his way to do stuff, but using the ACLS needles in close instead of flying the ball is about as dumb as skinny dippin’ with snapping turtles. Gouge is great, but it’s no substitute for knowing the right way to do things and stickin’ to what’s worked for a long, long time. Gramps knows that none of this fella’s LSOs taught him that ACLS technique—he should have stuck with what he’d learned.

So here are today’s lessons, kids. First, you older fellas who are in charge gotta be in charge. Make the hard call. If you ain’t got what you need to do the training, either get it or don’t do the training. Stay ahead of the game and don’t let your folks get in over their heads.

You young whippersnappers, gather ’round and let’s make sure we got today’s lesson. Learn the right way to do it, and do it that way. Don’t make up procedures and don’t give in to bad habits. Shortcuts and unproven personal techniques have no place in big-time carrier aviation!

Now you kids get back to work. Gramps is gonna see if he can get the ol’ SNJ fired up for a trip around the patch.

 

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Well, let’s just say your gramps came THIS close to making his last flight long before even your daddy was a twinkle in my eye.

 I was barely a pollywog back then, but I had darned near wrecked every plane I could get my hands on. When ol’ grampaw was over in England back in the First War (that’s World War I, little man), those Brits gave me the nickname of “Prango,” which was their way of sayin’ I was prone to accidents. Those were the days when you could put her down hard, fix her up with fishin’ line and chewing gum, and be back in time for mornin’ chow. But this last one was a doozie, and it sure screwed my head on straight, and it ain’t been nothing but straight ever since. I was at Pensacola flying around in my N-9, a beaut’ of a seaplane, but I made the mistake of not giving myself enough water to land on, and I went right up onto the beach, over a car (that pesky float stayed back there, and the plane and I kept going), and then right through the admiral’s beach house. Some helpful gents got me out of there, and luckily I was all in one piece. But mark my words, on that day “Prango” Pettibone had to change his ways (and not just ‘cause the admiral said so!). From then on, safety was my number one priority. And people started to listen, too, ‘cause I knew everything that could go wrong (mostly ‘cause I’d already done it myself first!).

Grampaw Pettibone: Knock It Off

Illustrations by Ted Wilbur.

A fleet F/A-18 Hornet squadron sent a detachment to sea for carrier quals. A nugget who had only been in the squadron five weeks launched at approximately 0130 on his third flight of the day. The pilot reported to the carrier air traffic control center that he was ready for a turn downwind. Between that turn and the four-nautical-mile turn to final, the nugget dumped fuel to max trap weight, made two configuration changes, and, at the carrier air traffic control center’s (CATCC) request, cycled his Mode “C” twice. The pilot flew a below-average instrument approach and showed up on the ball with his wingtip lights extremely dim, which significantly degraded the landing signal officer’s (LSO) depth perception. The pilot, who later reported that he was feeling “a little exhausted,” flew a poor final approach, which culminated in an excessive sink rate close to the ramp. The LSO activated the wave-off lights less than two seconds prior to the jet striking the ramp. The jet hit 10 feet down the round down, on centerline, with both main mounts below the edge of the flight deck. The right main landing gear and tailhook were damaged by the impact. The hook engaged the three wire, but the hook point broke. The pilot executed bolter procedures and was instructed to divert to his home field. When he arrived at the home field, another pilot joined on him to assess the damage. The right main landing gear wheel and tire were canted 45 degrees inboard. The pilot performed a straight landing to the left side of the runway in accordance with NATOPS. As the jet slowed, it developed an uncontrollable right drift. The pilot ejected as the jet departed the runway. The pilot sustained major injuries; the jet was destroyed. When they launched, both the mishap pilot and his lead were on their third flight of the day and more than 12 hours crew day. Both pilots violated the squadron standard operating procedures on both counts. Prior to launch, the det. officer in charge tried to contact the squadron commanding officer for a waiver for the pilots, but was unable to reach him. The officer reported this to the pilots, but they elected to launch and no one stopped them.

GramPaw Pettibone saysGrampaw Pettibone says:

Good judgment comes from experience. Unfortunately, experience often comes from bad judgment. Kids, Ol’ Gramps realizes that mistakes happen, but nothing bakes my beans like a willful disregard of the rules. Several people involved with this one deliberately ignored a host of standard procedures, and we lost a jet and durn near lost one of our finest as a result! This wee lad was set up for failure from the get go. We got a flight lead who set a poor example by violating squadron procedures and allowing his wet-behind-the-ears wingie to do the same. We got an officer in charge who doesn’t seem to realize what bein’ in charge is all about, and we got paddles back there on his platform who is willing to wave a jet he can barely see. Someone should have called “knock it off!” on this one. Our nugget was fatigued and in over his head. The officer in charge and lead never should have let him go flying. What’s more, allowing him to take an immediate turn downwind and a four-mile hook was a bad call. That goofy light set up made it perty near impossible for paddles to figure out where that jet was heading. He should have had CATCC pull the jet off the approach, fix his lights, and try again. Make a circle kids and lets learn today’s lesson: When you are close to the line on a rule, think very carefully before you take your next step. Think about the example you are setting and what can go wrong. One of the hardest parts about being a leader is making the right call when it goes contrary to getting the job done. Now you kids skeedaddle, Gramps has some whittlin’ he needs to finish.