Monday, September 28, 2015

Murph beat me to it

So It's Saturday and I’d already decided on the subject for today’s post which for me is usually the hardest part of the process.  Having made momentous progress on the post at that point, I decided to take a break and see what was posted on the usual suspect’s blogs.  

Quick visit to Aaron’s place to check on his progress towards his first solo.  No joy, just the description of a shooting in Detroit.  Off to Old NFO’s blog to read an “interesting” post.  Back over to Borepatch to read why I really don’t want to upgrade to Win10 and now I’ve got to fix Win7?  Thanks loads guys.  Quick stop at Insty for any breaking news, and then to the Timewaster for some photo goodness.  I knew Sarge and Murph were getting together this weekend, so I’m cutting them some slack on content, but stop by Murph’s anyhow as he’d posted a departure notice.  Wanted to see if he’d posted an arrival notice, hopefully with some airborne photography. 

Well, he arrived, sort of.  Seems he and a bird had a meeting of the minds.  Murph and airplane are ok.  The bird, not so much.  So, good news.

But how had he figured out the subject of my post and then managed to preempt the story by arranging a bird strike?

So….There I was* 

I’m an IP at Holloman AFB, flying the mighty AT-38B.  We’re back in the pattern after flying a BFM ride.  I’m in the front seat.  The student in the back seat is going through the IP upgrade (downgrade?) program.  A first assignment Eagle guy, it’s now time to pay the piper.  

I’ve flown with him before, and he’s having no problems with any aspect of the course.  In fact, I’ve learned a lot by having him in the pit.  I’m sure he was thinking I was showing him basic student mistakes when, in fact, I’m trying my best.  Of course there was some quid pro quo during the Air to Ground portion on the bombing range.  I’d talked him into splitting the six bombs, he’d drop the first, I’d drop the second (from the back seat), alternating for 30 degree, 20 degree and 10 degree attacks, quarter a bomb.  Most satisfying 75 cents I’d ever won.  But, I digress.

As I said, the back seat guy is having no problems, and since we've got a little gas left, he’s practicing back seat landings, so he’s got the jet.  We've come down initial as a two ship.  # 2 is lower on gas than us, so he did a full stop.  We request a closed pattern (pitch up to downwind) and been approved.  We’re on downwind, intending to full stop on this landing, so gear down and flaps at 100%.

Pretty sure I've flown this tail number.

I do a quick check to confirm his statement that Gear and Flaps are down.  Airspeed is good, displacement from the runway is correct.  A fourship of Eagles calls 3 mile initial.  I see them and so does the student.
He starts his roll off the perch (he begins the turn to final) with a “Juvat 1 is gear down full stop”.  “Roger Juvat, cleared to land, traffic is a flight of Eagles 3 mile initial.”  “Tally”

As he lowers the nose and rolls the aircraft to start the descending turn,  I glance down at the ground and notice we’re over the small arms range.  At that instant, I see a black object flash by.  Immediately thereafter, I hear a series of small explosions.  I think to myself “Hmm, I shouldn’t be able to hear the small arms fire.”  as I notice the fire light on the left engine.

“I've got the Jet!”

“You've got the jet!”

There are lots of things that the military does not do well.  Fortunately, Training is not one of them.  As I take the aircraft, I enter the emergency procedure mode.  Hammered into us repeatedly, since literally the first day of Pilot training, are the three rules in an emergency.

1. Maintain Aircraft Control

2. Analyze the situation and take proper action

3. Land as soon as conditions permit

Maintain Aircraft Control.  Fly the aircraft first, last and always.  Don’t hit the ground, anybody or anything else.  I light the burner on the good engine, roll wings level and raise the flaps to 60%.  I continue the descent in order to build flying speed, but cut the descent rate a bit. 

Maintain Aircraft Control. Where are the Eagles?  Ahh, there they are, they’ve already passed my nose and are above me.  No problem.  Fly the aircraft!  Airspeed, about 200, gear up.  225, Flaps up.  250, stop the descent.  Let’s hold 250 (max gear lowering speed).  

Analyze the situation and take proper Action. Figure out what the problem is and what needs to be done and in what order.   I've got flying speed, but I've got a fire and I'm in crowded airspace.  Got to let folks know to get out of my way.

“Tower, Juvat 1 is declaring an emergency, we've got a fire on the left engine.  Standby for further information, but inform White Sands that I will be entering their airspace.” 
 Didn’t want to compound our problem by getting shot down by a test missile.
Ok, back to the problem at hand, I've got a fire on the left engine.  That's a Bold Face procedure.  Bold Face procedures were procedures that Aircrew were required to know verbatim, down to the punctuation.  Written test weekly, only passing score was perfect. Failure meant grounding until written perfectly.

Throttle, affected Engine-Idle, Throttle, affected Engine- Off if Fire warning light remains on.  If fire is confirmed eject.  

(As I said, training is NOT a thing the military does badly.  30+years since flying the jet, I wrote that from memory.  Confirmed it with Google, but typed it first.)

I pull the left engine throttle to idle.  It may have been microseconds, but it felt like I gave it forever, the light did not go out.  I pull the throttle to off.  The light goes out immediately. 

Well, good, we might not need to eject.

Maintain Aircraft Control.  Airspeed’s steady at 250. Altitude steady at 1500’ AGL.  Right Engine, looks steady.  Hydraulics, good, all gauges good.  

Analyze situation and take proper action. Let's make sure I know the entire situation. “You see anything wrong back there?”  “Nope”
“OK, we’re going to set up for a straight in and configure at about 5 miles”  

I contact the SOF and let him know the plan.  He approves and says he’ll contact the appropriate folks.  I know the fire trucks are already rolling, but he’s talking about “all the rest”.  The Wing King, the squadron, the Wing Safety Officer, all the folks that will have me filling out paperwork for the rest of the day.

Maintain Aircraft Control. 5 mile final, I add a couple of percent on the right engine to compensate for the soon to increase drag and put the gear handle down.  I feel a very satisfying thunk followed by 3 green lights.  OK, flaps to 60%.  (The increase in flaps from 60% to 100% is mostly an increase in drag.  More drag in a real single engine emergency at high pressure altitude is not something I want.)

Analyze the situation and take proper action. “Juvat is 5 miles, Gear down, three green confirmed, full stop with emergency.”  The "confirmed" was included to prevent the call from the Wing King asking the SOF asking me to confirm three green, which usually would occur over the overrun, when I had other things to do.

“Juvat is cleared to land.”  

I’m holding it at about 180 just in case. (Normal approach speed is 155K +1 knot per 100 lbs of fuel over 1000, we’re below that, so normally I'd be 155)  I want to cross the threshold at 155, but I want to continuously decelerate to that point.  Extra airspeed is my friend all the way to the runway.  The runway is more than 2 miles long, so getting stopped shouldn't be a problem.

Land as soon as conditions permit.

Cross the threshold, quick glance at the airspeed.  155. We’re committed to landing, there will not be enough thrust to get us back airborne if something happens now. I continue the throttle reduction to idle and begin the flare. I’m rewarded with a nice chirp when the mains hit the ground and continue pulling on the stick to aerobrake.  

Taxi clear, pull in to the dearm area and shut down when the arming area chief gives me the signal.  Total time from declaring the emergency to shut down?  About 5 minutes.

Climb out and can’t resist taking a look at the left engine.  I see daylight as I look down the intake.  And STINK! Barbecued Buzzard stinks to high heaven.
Not mine, but you get the idea.

As the squadron scheduler, I've got a good relationship with the maintenance NCOICs. (The OIC also, but it’s the NCOIC that’s going to give me the straight answer on whether or not there’s going to be a jet for a sortie.)  So, later that day, I ask him what damage the engine had taken.  He said that the bird (it really was a buzzard) had taken out all the turbine blades which was why I could see daylight.  The engine was irreparable. 

In doing some research for this I came across a blogpost about applying the 3 rules in an emergency to everyday events.  Lotta truth in that.



  1. Ouch!

    I recall an A-7 coming aboard after hitting a seagull while bombing at Vieques. As the jet taxied out of the gear a maintainer gave the customary hand signal query, "is the jet up or down?" To which the pilot replied with an emphatic thumbs down -- hand and forearm protruding through the smashed quarter panel glass.

    Your post caused a curiosity synapse to fire, so I googled first bird strike and found a claim that Wilbur recorded the first bird strike in 1905 -- and he did it on purpose!

    1. I think I'm the first, maybe only, pilot to have an alligator strike. It was on the runway a couple thousand feet down one night. I had just touched down in the F-4 and dropped the nose gear to the ground. Saw it just before it disappeared under the nose and hit the nose gear collapsing it. Very short roll out after that.

    2. Now that put a smile on my face. I'm sure it was anything but funny at the time. Did the maintainers stencil a gator on the jet or did they have too much adult supervision?

    3. I don't recall. That was early in the Reagan years, before AFB's were all painted Creech brown and fun was unauthorized, so it's a possibility.

    4. PrairieAdventure I almost spit PB&J across my desk reading "To which the pilot replied with an emphatic thumbs down -- hand and forearm protruding through the smashed quarter panel glass." Definitely a down.

    5. This picture shows a similar one. Sometimes outstanding visibility lets you see things that are better off unseen.

  2. Oh sh!t oh dear.

    Bird strikes are no fun, no fun at all.

    1. Yeah, a couple of feet higher and a foot or so to the bird's left and I'd have been the one eating the buzzard instead of the engine.

  3. I remember the Florida Air National Guard F-16 that had the pig strike. I was working night shift at Kaman Aerospace and the F-16s were new enough that I always looked when they were taking off and landing. As I watched the F-16 i saw a puff of something and then the jet went toward the left. about that time the pilot ejected and the plane went off int the trees. The pilot was OK and they were able to fix the plane. He hit a wild sow and some of her piglets. A few years later it was a question on Final Jeopardy. Some of my friends were amazed that I knew it and even more amazed that I actually saw it.

    1. Interesting. Kinda amazing they were able to fix the jet. Between whatever damage the pig strike did, the departure from the runway and an ejection, you'da thunk the jet would be pretty much done for. I wonder if it was a hangar queen most of the time?

  4. With all the birds in the air it is amazing that there aren't more bird strikes. Or more likely the little ones go in and out unnoticed ;-)

    1. This was the only one I had, although I recall seeing a few birds close by while flying, so it was a bit of a surprise while looking for pictures to see page after page of bird strike photos on google. The birds I had close passes with all seemed to use the same effective avoidance technique, they would just fold wings and drop.

    2. As a maintainer I've seen dozens of planes that have suffered bird strikes over the years. Usually there's just a bloody smear on the paintwork if it's a small bird such as a starling or pigeon. Bigger birds gulls, eagles, vultures etc will dent the leading edge, shatter a radome or in one case buckle the avionics bay door and take out half the electrical system. Geese are dangerous because of their weight and you never hit one goose, you hit half the flock.


    3. Yeah, I hadn't thought of the flock thing. Guess it was a good thing the buzzard was scoping out a dead rabbit or something. A dead cow would have brought a whole formation into play.

  5. That had to be quite the tense moment. Thanks for the story of some very instructive handling of the emergency - there's much to take away from it though I hope I'll never need it in the air in a real emergency.

    1. I hope so also. However, much like a pistol, better to have and not need.......

      We trained so much in the sim as well as simulated in flight, that we were already on the ground before I really had a chance to worry. Again, much like your pistol training, the more you do it, the more it becomes instinctual.

    2. I guess the word really should be instinctive.

    3. The word really should be reflexive.

      We have no instincts for how to fly an airplane, manipulate a firearm in a violent encounter or drive a vehicle on an icy road. We build reflexes through training and constant practice that serve us in an emergency. the higher quality your training, and the more consistent and rigorous your practice, the higher the likelihood you'll survive these encounters. Your story is the perfect example of how to do it right.

      Sorry, one of my long-standing pet peeves. I would like to remove the word instinct from all training syllabuses. Just my 2 cents worth.


    4. Good point and a much better word, thanks.

  6. Remember Fabio getting hit in the face by a goose on a roller coaster at Busch Gardens?

    1. Believe it or not, I did not know this happened until I read it just now What a long shot!

    2. Lucky the goose hit the car first.

  7. If I was your CO you wouldn't have an ass to sit on.

    1. I do believe that requires an explanation.



  8. You are turning final and everything is great and you lose an engine in a two engined aircraft. You are only seconds to touchdown. Add a little power to the good engine, hell push both throttles forward and land the aircraft and if you are unsure of the prob, shut down both engines on the roll out.
    In the final turn the GIB who was as the story indicates was no nugget could have shut down the engine before landing. Crew co-operation anyone?
    This should suffice for some serious thinking about this story.

    1. Noted.
      I didn't "lose" an engine. It was on fire. Rather than continue turning towards a populated area (the base) in an aircraft in which there was a very real possibility I'd be ejecting from, I elected to roll out pointed towards an unpopulated area while I took care of the problem. Maintain Aircraft Control. Analyze the situation and take proper action. Land as soon as conditions permit. Not Land as soon as possible.
      Hind sight is twenty-twenty isn't it.

    2. Not buying it, The conditions permitted no better opportunity and I wasn't using hindsight. I couldn't believe that you commences an overshoot as I was reading it.
      You can't rewrite history so there you are but I did keep my feet off the floor as I was reading

    3. Noted.
      I'm still alive. The back seater is still alive. The jet was repaired. Nobody on the ground was injured.
      End of story.

  9. Ah yes, EPs... BURNED forever in memory...

  10. @juird s

    At Laughlin we had a 38 solo student taken out by a buzzard strike directly to the cockpit and KIA. Bird strikes are not a laughing matter..

  11. LOL! "juirds" how the H did THAT happen?

  12. PS: Now if this had been yesterday when that Whiskey Front came in early, low and fast I could understand, but today? :)

  13. Once worked for an engineer who built a cannon while at Boeing to simulate bird strikes. The cannon fired a bird. He got in trouble because he used live birds.


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