Sunday, March 24, 2013

Backup Flying

By R.L. Clark

I cannot remember who stated the following but it is true; Flying a Fighter Plane is best described as “Hours of boring activity frequently interrupted by minutes of stark terror.”

Cubi Point, Navel Air Station
Our squadron was deployed to Cubi Point in the Philippines for several reasons. We were to practice strafing at Camp O’Donnell. This was the site where the Bataan Death March survivors were kept.  It was converted to a strafing range later on.  Also, there was a U-2 element across the field which flew sorties westward and needed cover when they were on the return flight.

Bataan Death March
Definition:    PC-1  Primary hydraulic system for controlling      the plane.
                     PC-2 Backup system if number 1 fails.

 All US Military planes operate under a Redundancy system. If primary fails, you have an independent back-up.

I was launched from Cubi at 0:400 in the AM with a flight of 4 heading due West.  Your guess why we were heading that way.  We reached 35,000’ and were proceeding.  Some 180 miles into our flight, I noticed my PC-1 gage flickering.  A few minutes later it started to slowly go down.  No sweat, I still had PC-2. I turned the flight over to my section leader and told him I was returning to Cubi with my wing man. He should continue the mission. Shortly after I was heading back to Cubi, PC-2 started to flicker.  This cannot happen! 
F8 Crusader

Two independent systems?

 I declared an emergency and asked the tower at Cubi if there was a Safety Officer in the tower with F-8 experience.  Soon I received a call from the tower. “this  is Dale Mitchell.  I have over 1000 hours in the Crusader. What is your problem? I asked “ is this Commander Dale Mitchell from VF-124?” He said yes and I replied that I knew him and that he was one of my instructors when I was at Miramar.

F8 Control Panel
 I said that PC-1 was almost gone and that PC-2 was impossibly going down and that I needed some advice! He said that the first thing I should do was DON’T TOUCH THE STICK AGAIN! PLAN TO FLY THE PLANE WITH THROTTLE AND MINIMUM TRIM AND RUDDER. I rogered and asked him to stay with me to touchdown. He told me that I was cleared for a straight-in approach to Cubi and that the Crash Crew was standing by. 

Manila Bay
 I requested that the Mobile Arresting Gear be set up because when I landed I was going to HOT.  Meanwhile, PC-2 was continuing to drop. I mentioned this to Cmdr. Mitchell and he said I should be prepared to eject if it hit Zero.  My response was NO WAY, MANILA BAY IS LIKE A HOTEL FOR SHARKS. WHERE EVER THIS PLANE LANDS, I WILL BE IN IT!  

As I approached the field,some other moron keyed the phone and said I should be prepared to eject. I won’t tell you what my response was to that. It was tough but I landed HOT and somewhere down the runway I grabbed the Morest  Cable.

I bought Dale Mitchell a double martini at the club that night.

Later on they found that when the plane was last in check, some unthinking person decided that if a "TEE" unit was inserted only one Hydraulic system would be necessary to serve the plane. This incident destroyed the Redundancy factor which we relied upon. As you may imagine,every F-8 was quickly examined to see if others had this problem.  Thankfully I was the only person who encountered this problem.


(The Morest cables were held about 6 inches above the runway by fixed polystyrene supports. They are used to  "grab" the plane and bring it to a stop, similar to the way a plane lands on a carrier.  -R.L.)