Friday, May 03, 2013

A Day at the Office, May, 1963

By R.L. Clark

It has been raining here in Tennessee for the past several days, so any type of outside work has been impossible.  Trying to find something useful to occupy my time, I decided to clean out an old footlocker which I had put away and not looked into for years.  One of the things I found was my copy of an Accident Report from long ago.

When we were relaxing at the Officers’ Club, the pilots who flew in Korea and some who flew in WW II used to claim that you were not really a true Fighter Pilot until you had “TORE UP” at least one airplane.  I can tell you honestly that the United States Navy Department does not like it at all when one of their airplanes is “TORN UP”.  They investigate every piece of it that can be found, looking for something that can be identified as a cause.  It is almost with glee when they identify the cause as “Pilot Error”.  They do not like to admit that something was possibly wrong with their airplane!

Our squadron was detached to the USS Constellation and were in the final stage of carrier landings prior to deployment to the Far East.  Four pilots had to be left behind and the decision was made to leave the four who were the least proficient in carrier landings.  The importance of our designation as an All-Weather unit meant that night landings were part of the agenda.  Consequently, if someone had questionable landings in good weather, he might have big problems at night. Every landing is graded and the camera is on the plane from a point in his approach until touchdown.  If you hook either a 3or4 wire, the LSO is happy.  If you hook a 2 wire, he is not very happy and will “talk” with you.  If you hook a 1 wire, you will receive a chewing from everyone up the line.

R.L. coming in for a landing
I was making my approach and had the meatball just a hair high as was my customary way of landing. (Just a little Jesus factor). I caught a 4 wire, felt the main landing gear touch down, the nose gear fell through and the plane started to come apart from the intake duct on backward.  The hook held the wire but I was stunned to say the least.  When I finally regained my senses, I saw one of the deck crew frantically signaling me to cut the engine off.  One of the pilots up on “Buzzards’ Roost” later told me that as the plane was coming apart, the engine was spitting it out like a big shotgun.  
Actual photo of R.L.'s plane coming apart

Needless to say, those on deck were taking cover anywhere they could find it.  I shut down and was pulled out after the engine quit.  I am enclosing 2 photos; one of my approach and one at touchdown just as the plane is starting to come apart.  I had “TORE UP” my airplane!

The results of the Accident Investigation revealed that the “Drag-Link Pin” that holds the nose gear together had been defective from the manufacturer.  When they removed the chrome plating, and put it under the scope, each landing could be seen and apparently I was just unlucky enough to have been the one in the plane when it finally gave way.  Well, that’s how I became a real Fighter Pilot and “TORE UP” an airplane.  My only negative result was a ruptured lumbar disc which I still have today.  Sometime later on in Japan, I spent some time in the Camp Zama Army Hospital where they taught me how to “live with it”