Thursday, January 22, 2015

Rollin' Rollin' Rollin'

The Viking was a great airplane for a Naval Flight Officer.  It had a bunch of interesting missions, and a busy primary one (ASW) that challenged the entire crew, especially the three guys not flying the jet.  We also we flew in both the front and the back seat, so you were either large and in charge- managing the mission, or you had a great view while backing up the pilot and back-seaters.
In the back of the jet, we sat in the TACCO or Tactical Coordinator position, next to the SENSO (Sensor Operator)- the Enlisted Aircrewman.  Up front, the COTAC (Co-Tactical Coordinator) handled the radios, weapons management, and navigation.  

I preferred sitting up front, backing up the pilot, which afforded one of the best views Naval Aviation had to offer- a big glass canopy and an high seating position.  It also came with another fringe benefit...the Hoover was dual-controlled.

If you look close, you can see the stick in front of the guy on the right.  That's where I'd get my stick time- great work if you can get it.

As a Viking guy, I can't say I "did the number" - pushing past the speed of sound, nor can I say I fired off missiles and dropped bombs on the enemy.  Few Viking guys and gals could say that, although the jet was capable of it and a lucky few did a couple lethal missions.  But I can say that as an NFO, sometimes semi-derisively called a Non-Flying Officer, I flew a lot.

For those who wanted to, most pilots were usually plenty willing to let the COTAC take over as much of the flying duties as the mission would allow- outside of takeoffs and landings of course.  

Zorching over the tops of the clouds was probably the most exhilarating, but the Hoover was completely aerobatic, so we had that going for us.  Continuous rolls and loops were prohibited maneuvers in the Viking, but Barrel and Aileron Rolls were good to go.  Barrel Rolls were fun, but I never got the hang of them, always losing too much altitude.  I liked doing aileron rolls the most- pulling the nose up to 10 degrees above the horizon and throwing the stick over, feeling the jet snap, that was just a blast; some of the most fun you could have with your clothes on.  

Some people were surprised when I told them that the S-3B was capable of those maneuvers- that the "Fisher-Price Jet" (No sharp edges, safe for kids!) could climb, dive, and roll like that...

And I didn't know you could roll a C-130.

In a minute, I'll get to that story from Approach Magazine.

Approach has always been a great magazine for the folks in Naval Aviation.  It's where one can read about the mistakes, near misses, and mishaps that our aviation brothers and sisters in the Navy, Marine Corps, and US Coast Guard confess their sins.  Usually the stories are fairly benign- nobody publicly fesses up to the more destructive mishaps, especially if their actions were a causal factor, but the ones that are written up and published are great for learning what not to do, and maybe for a bit of humor.

From the Navy website:
Since 1955 Approach magazine has guided Navy and Marine Corps aviation professionals with information, statistics and a bit of humor. Most of all, Approach has given aviators a place to share stories, misdeeds and adventures, to make us better, safer and more effective.
These first-person “There I was” stories have been the basis for Approach since its inception. This sharing of stories also has bonded naval aviators — past and present — to one another and to the profession itself. Picture yourself with a damaged aircraft, operating in blue water with a pitching deck and enough gas for one, maybe two, approaches, and you have everything needed for a “There I was” story.
This story has most of those characteristics and it worth a read.

So here you go:

It was supposed to be a routine logistical flight.   Our six crew members included an active-duty Marine test pilot, four aircrew from Air Test and Evaluation Squadron VX-20, plus an FAA Flight Test Engineer.
The four engine C-130 'Herc's' passengers included four maintenance people and a Navy active-duty maintainer.  We also carried various maintenance 'pack-up' items plus ends and odds of baggage.

Our mission was to reposition a Hercules KC-130T, to the expeditionary airfield at Twenty Nine Palms for electronic-propeller-control system testing in the field.

We had flown this C-130 Hercules through every imaginable test configuration at NAS Pax River.  All that remained was to evaluate system performance at low-level.  For several days, we would fly low altitude missions in the desert before returning the 'Herc' to its parent unit.

About an hour or so after take-off, we were settled into a routine flight at 24M on auto-pilot.  I was in the right seat and just had gotten into a comfortable position for my rear end . . when the aircraft suddenly . . pitched up.
Hard.  And simultaneously.  It rolled left.
The Aircraft Commander and I were mentally triggered to lurch forward with emergency 'hardness' to punch off our autopilot-disconnects.  In error, we both thought that a crippled ... failed autopilot 'system had gifted' us the pitch-up . . along with that severe wing drop.

To our further alarm, the C-130 continued its hard G pitch-up and its 'weird' aileron pressure . .
On its own !

The huge airplane continued to harshly rotating to the left.
Both of our hands and feet were on the controls . . to strongly oppose the control moves.  But unnatural forces overwhelmed our combined strength. 
And when the wings showed rotation beyond the gauges vertical, our Herc's left cockpit windows were slicing down through both guages' artificial horizons.
In a rolling inverted dive, we zoomed lower into the solid IFR 'goop.' 
The left seater yelled : " M-Y  A-I-R-P-L-A-N-E  ! "
After a short argument within my brain, I yielded my dual yoke control.  But my giving up the yoke was a totally disciplined effort.
Up front all of the cockpit crew and FAA guy, watched helplessly as the four-engine C-130 rolled completely over on to its back.  Its hull still rotating, we watched her fling herself almost straight down and picking up speed.
As the Herc lunged into an accelerating spinning dive. my aircraft attitude gyro was now 'fully displaying its never seen before . . brown colored reverse side' before it rotated like a child's toy top.
Our fascinating and specialized world became more violent when the NEGATIVE G's caught the airplane in its 'fist.'
Our flight engineer weirdly waving his arms and legs, was pinned  to the cockpit's ceiling.  At the wrong time, he'd un-buckled his seat belt and had been 'leaning far forward' to tweak an engine's fuel adjustment. 
During our second diving rotation, we 'roller coastered' into NEGATIVE G's. Now we had a dust devil of helmet bags, IFR approach plates, papers, coffee, dirt, dislodged knobs, were joined with a odd flight of a Subway sandwich floating like a towed ad banner past my side vision.
Back behind the cockpit, in the passenger/cargo area, pandemonium reigned.  Almost no one had their seat belt on.
Not even loosely in place!
Along with intense fear of the unknown, all of the passengers were bodily tossed to the ceiling where they trashed each other around within a swirling storm of dirt and stuff the multi-engine's cargo bay had accumulated over its entire service life.
As the many-engine aircraft flew on out of control, I looked over to glimpse at the left seater's attitude indicator ... it WAS NOT matching my own.
In fact, his attitude indicator had tumbled its internal gyro; it was flipping strangely.  Just ratcheting around and distracting us ... worse than worthless.
Both airspeed indicators were displaying 350 knots as the Commander strugged to pull up the Herc's nose.
After glancing at our increasing airspeed, I knew all four [ 4 ] the throttles were still at cruise power.  Without my asking the A/C, I yanked all four throttle levers back to idle power.  As our airspeed began to decay, I checked my turn and bank indicator.
W-O-W !
Its uncoordinated ball was max'd way over into its glass tube's right corner.  Next to ball's tube, its turn needle was maxed the opposite direction.
I yelled : "HEY . . WE ARE IN A SPIN !"
My shout shifted the Aircraft Commander's eye balls to his own turn and bank.  He quickly reacted as the Herc was entering its third rotation.
The A/C had stopped its roll rate with full tail rudder in the opposite direction.
But all that airspeed was building rapidly toward max red line showed we were pointed close to straight down.
As his attitude gyro was uselessly flipping around, the left seater was now focusing on his rate of descent and the whirling altimeter trying to perceive up from down.
As he tried to strong arm the 'Herc's' nose up to the horizon, I became aware of an in-credible whining sound.  It was previously unnoticed because both of us were alarmed and shouting the propellor on # 3 engine was reading 106% overspeed.

Still in dense clouds we finally got the wings level at 5,000 feet.  We declared an emergency to Indianapolis Center and a requested vector to the nearest long fat runway.   And to allow us to descend out of the IFR 'goop.' Still uncertain why the aircraft departed controlled flight, we ordered the crew to check on passenger injuries.  And we began assessing what had caused our odd-ball emergency.
We told our flight engineer to carefully head aft with our injured loadmaster who'd now been untangled from the stack of human bodies tossed here and there.
Fortunately, the loadmaster just had a moderate head wound, broken bones, and moderate cuts.
When we descended out of the 'goop' into seeing outside the airplane, we got our first ground reference since the emergency.  Then we got a visual fix on the emergency airport Indianapolis Control was directing us toward.
Simultaneously, some crew member or passenger came on the Herc's Intercom radio shouting 'FIRE!'We scanned our instruments, nacelles, wings and everything visible to check for a fire. 
But there was nothing we could see or find. 
With no time to look further, we told Indy Center the aircraft might on fire and we now required an immediate landing.
Surveying the Herc's interior scenario, it looked like a bomb had gone off. With assorted human beings and debris strewn all over the cargo area.  Up front, our flight deck was piled with everything your brain can think of.
Including a set of wheel chocks that zero gravity had migrated forward through the open cargo compartment door.
Turning on final approach, we'd no approach plates, or checklists. Our navigator was frantically digging and grabbing through the cockpit jumble to find the detail we needed.

Once we got our hands on West Virginia's Huntington IFR plate detail, we made a normal recovery and a fair landing.  
Because we feared fire somewhere onboard, we got on the brakes and quickly clear of the runway quickly shut down, set brakes, gathered our injured and evacuated.
No fire.
So we returned to the aircraft trying to discover what caused our life-threatening odyssey.
Rammed into the 'Hercs' tail feathers was a twenty [20 ] man rubber life raft.  It had deployed in-flight from its wing-storage arrangement. It was still inflated and was wrapped around our left horizontal stabilizer's leading edge.
In flight, both life rafts had deployed.  One vanished.  But the other had wrapped itself around the horizontal stabilizer then in a nano-second it had levered the 'Herk's' entire elevator control surface. 
Full up. 
We had (1) rolled upside down at least twice, (2)  lost 9,000 feet of altitude, (3) exceeded the three positive and 2 negative G's limits. And (5) the airspeed had approached 485 Knots.
The data pallet [brought along along to record flight-test data] captured invaluable performance data and allowed us to reconstruct our flight profile.

After extensive inspections and repairs, we flew our aircraft home.
Reflecting on this harrowing experience, I'm reminded of our good fortune in having a truly professional air crew, engaged in the important work of testing Navy-aircraft systems.
 We not only survived a catastrophic malfunction, but we maintained our resilient sense of humor [as attested by the four-leaf clover, that still 'nests' in my flight suit.]
Later, a crew member found some money lying on the ground. And we all had a good laugh when one of our group said : "This must be our lucky day."

Dan Sanders is a retired Marine Corps major, employed as a contract pilot with VX-20.
The Analyst gave a further 'heads up' : No pilot's immune to 'Blue Threat' [life-threatening equipment failure.]
In this instance, the cockpit was chock full of flying experience and expertise. This air-crew did an outstanding job
recovering after an un-commanded deployment of two life rafts attached under the C130's right wing.

One lesson worth repeating is: every time you are flying, stay strapped unless you have a need to move about the aircraft.  In this case, it would have prevented multiple injuries among both crew and passengers.
The second 'Blue Threat' is when [our aircrew] did not adequately recognize then attempt to mitigate the existing known hazard of un-commanded deployment of both life rafts from C-130 aircraft's wing.
There had been (6) six documented similar instances in the Hercules C-130. Effective safety processes must be promulgated and 'robust' enough to compel recognition and comprehension of the risks of . . known operational hazards. 
--Cdr. John Morrison, C-130 analyst, Naval Safety Center and Dan Sanders Approach September - October 2006 [abridged] 


  1. That was outstanding!

    (Great link too, I plan on following Approach in the future.)

  2. Used to read it all the time. Much better than it's AF counterpart.

    Just as an FYI, any aircraft can roll inverted. At least once.

  3. Tex Johnson. "One g maneuver, absolutely safe."

    I read Approach religiously. Great safety and teaching tool. The humor bitd was a bit more, er, humorous than it is here in the future. Sigh.

    So, War Hoovers and rolls. On a milestone safety flight many moons ago (in celebration of a ridiculous number of mishap free hours, something like 100k) the (iirc) outgoing skipper and the incoming skipper of the S-3 squadron were manning the front office and made a low portside pass bow to stern. Whoever was driving finished the pass with a roll. Actually an attempted roll and a cfit-water. That was a bad day.

    1. Tex is correct, but it requires turning room to maintain the one g. The G loading to maintain level flight at 90 degrees of bank is infinite. Which is why his famous roll of the 707 took place with the nose above the horizon. Unfortunately that probably was forgotten in the mishap you describe.

    2. Safety milestone flight I should have said. Sometimes the Big Air Boss will give you a pass on mistakes. Sometimes not.

  4. sounds something like a co-workers experience during the Korean War. He was a navigator on an RCAF DC-4 going to Japan from Canada carrying supplies and personnel. At altitude over the north Pacific the aircraft inverted and turned direction 180 degrees. They figure a wind shear got them real bad. The General who was in the toilet at the time lost his false teeth and nobody would dive to find them. The aircraft declared an emergency, landed and was not allowed to fly again. Wrinkled wings et al made it a hanger queen until disposal. No one could figure how it stayed in the air long enough to get a soft landing!

    1. Most likely all the prayers from crew and passengers.

  5. WOW, what a ride! Glad that all turned out more or less OK. I wonder what the final injuries were. Scary. Good reminder to keep the belt fastened whilst riding around in 737's.
    The Deuce used to, on occasion, roll nearly inverted when one would couple up the autopilot on an ILS. AHHH, Hughes avionics! And it had the additional benefit of letting us fly the instruments ourselves instead of the machine doing all of the work. Worked about as well as the missiles. Sand-seekers mostly.

  6. I remember reading that and just shaking my head... Lucky they survived that one!


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