Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Ice water in the veins of an engineless F-16 pilot

I spent some time around F-16s during my time in the Air Force.

Neat airplanes and they'll go like hell. They can turn inside of a housefly and are more agile than an Anthony Weiner caught with his Mr. Wiggly dangling on Twitter.

Except when the engine quits. Then they drop like a rock.

Military jets are designed to fly at high speed with lots of thrust pushing them along to create the negative pressure needed on the flight surfaces to sustain lift, and thus flight. Without thrust, aka: engine(s), the only way to develop necessary airspeed is to point the nose down.

But with the F-16, you have one more wrinkle: It's a fly by wire airplane meaning the flight controls are manipulated by the pilot, but operated by a computer. In other words, no cables or direct hydraulics between pilot and ailerons, elevators and rudder. Engine goes, power to computers go--unless you can get your EPU (Emergency Power Unit) fired up.

Translation? To paraphrase our worthless vice president, losing your engine in an F-16 "is a big (f-bombing) deal."

Here is a video of a USAF reservist with pure ice water in his veins making a deadstick landing into Elizabeth City, North Carolina after his engine went mammary glands up.

Here are a few observations you might find interesting:

• The whole episode, from start-to-finish only takes about 3 1/2 minutes!

• The video begins as the flight is being followed on radar. The flight leader asks for the Elizabeth City tower UHF freq which is repeated as 355.6 and the entire flight switches to that freq: Just one-more-task for the pilot to execute in the cockpit as he reports that his engine has QUIT. He has to activate the Emergency Unit to maintain electric and hydraulic power. This unit is powered by Hydrazine: (the caustic fuel that Germany created in WW II to power their V-2 Rockets and their ME-163 rocket fighters among others.) Thus, the last call about requesting fire support after the jet is safe on deck, and pilot breathing easy.

• Meanwhile, back in the cockpit, the pilot is busily attempting to "Re-light" his engine: (Unsuccessfully, of course) while tending to everything else.

• The video is taken using the Head-Up-Display (HUD) camera which also has a voice recorder.

• The HUD is a very busy instrument, but among things to notice are the 'circle' in the middle which represents the nose of the aircraft and where it is 'pointed': "The velocity Vector".

• The flight leader reports they are 7-miles out from the airport and at 9000 ft altitude. Since the weather is clear and the airport is in sight, this allows for adequate "Gliding distance" to reach a runway with the engine OFF. Rest assured, jet fighters glide sorta like a rock. They don't enjoy the higher lift design of an airliner like that which allowed Sullenburger to land in the NY river.

• Coming down 9000 ft in only 7-miles requires a helluva rate of descent, so the pilot's nose remains well below the "Horizon" until just prior to touching down on the runway. The HUD horizon is a solid, lateral bar, and below the horizon, the horizontal lines appear as dashes. You'll see a "10" on the second dashed line below the horizon which = 10-degrees nose low.

• Radio chatter includes the flight leader calling the tower and the tower stating runway 10 with wind 070@5MPH + altimeter setting of 30.13: yet another step for the pilot to consider.

• The flight leader calls for the pilot to jettison his external fuel tanks and asks another pilot in the flight to "Mark" where they dropped.. The tower later tells the pilot to land on any rwy he chooses.

• Pilot reports "Three in the green" indicating all three gear indicate down and locked which the flight leader acknowledges.

• You will hear the computer voice calling out "Warnings". More confusing chatter when none is welcome or even necessary. (That's "Hi-Tech" for ya.)

• The pilot has only ONE CHANCE to get this right and must also slow to an acceptable landing speed in order to stop on the short runway. You'll see Black rubber on the rwy where "The rubber meets the road" in the touchdown area. Note that during rollout, he gets all the way to the far end which you can see by all the black skid marks where planes have landed heading in the opposite direction.

Besides saving his own skin, this incredibly professional--and brave--pilot also saved the taxpayers around $20 million by bringing the sick Falcon to the ground in one piece.

When's the last time you saw an accountant or lawyer do something like that?

It still boggles my mind why we pay our worthless-ass politicians more than we pay our military people.


Everett said...

Fantastic! There is an example of why we have the best damn trained pilots in the air!!

Well, even if he is USAF, he did a great job. Hell I was breathing faster than him!

Anonymous said...

What about the flip side of that Tex?

Example: I saw a Youtuber of an Israeli fighter jock that brought one in on ONE WING. If I recall it was an F16 too.

And sure, that is great for bragging over beers and impressing the Peanut Gallery - but a pilot is still worth more (tactically and financially) than the bird. Could the argument be made that these guys are taking foolish risks?

Ed Skinner said...

I'll ride with this guy any time, any place. Talk about focus!

Old NFO said...

He done good :-) And he could have voided his contract with the Government (punched out) any time he felt he wasn't going to get there...

Murphy's Law said...

Now THAT is what you call earning your flight pay.

An Ordinary American said...


I saw that video of the Israeli bringing it in on one wing. If I'm not mistaken, it was in an F-15. Still no easy feat.

As far as a "foolish risk," there is an old saying by Bob Hoover, a legendary aviator, that goes, "Fly the son of a bitch all the way to the scene of the crash."

Translation: Fly the airplane until it can't fly any longer or any further.

In this F-16 driver's case, he had 9,000 msl in altitude and a 6,000 foot runway seven miles away, favorable winds, VFR weather and had the airport and runway in visual the entire time.

On one hand, he probably would have had a hard time with the AF accident investigation board if he'd simply punched out.

Another factor was what was below him. East coast of North Carolina is populated pretty good. He didn't have enough altitude to take the bird out to sea and then be able to safely punch out.

Once you eject your airplane, you have no control over what it's going to do and where it's going to end up. That is in the mind of virtually every military aviator in existence.

And the final thing. . . as a pilot myself, you are loathe to hurt your airplane unnecessarily.

There is another old saying that goes, "Skin, tin, ticket" and means in the event of an emergency, you save yourself (skin) first, your airplane (tin) second and your license (ticket) last.

If you are able to safely save your skin, then you concentrate on saving your tin--which this pilot did, and superbly. And along the way, there was nothing he did that would jeopardize his ticket.

It was a fantastic job by a very well trained, professional aviator.


Old NFO said...

I cross linked to this one too :-)

Kirk said...

Balls. Of. Steel. That took some serious professional flyin to get that bird down...one stray gust of wind, and he'd be in the field!

Grew up in an Air Force family, knew a guy from church who was an F-4 driver. He had a serious hydraulic failure over a small south-Georgia town, and elected to ride it in instead of punching out. He kept his bird aloft long enough to miss an in-session middle school by about a half mile. His funeral was one of the biggest the base had ever seen. My hat's off to any pilot who sticks with his bird as long as possible...ESPECIALLY over a populated area (you can see houses/buildings on the ground at the beginning of the video).

Alan said...

Re: paying pilots

Every pilot I know would fly for free. They're lucky they don't have to PAY to fly.

You know I'm right.

An Ordinary American said...

I noticed the airspeed at touchdown.

Roughly 160 knots or so.

For the non-flying among us, that translates into around 185 mph.

You steer small airplanes, including F-16s, with the rudder pedals--which you operate with your feet.

That's just under 200 miles per hour, steering a three-wheeler with your feet, after a 9000 foot descent, turn to right base and final with no engine.

And I still wonder why our Beavis and Butthead politicians and staffers are paid more than our military personnel.


Geodkyt said...

Anonymous said... July 12, 2011 6:40 PM

What about the flip side of that Tex?

Example: I saw a Youtuber of an Israeli fighter jock that brought one in on ONE WING. If I recall it was an F16 too.

And sure, that is great for bragging over beers and impressing the Peanut Gallery - but a pilot is still worth more (tactically and financially) than the bird. Could the argument be made that these guys are taking foolish risks?

That Israeli fighter jock was flying an F15D (tail number 957 (80-0133, c/n 0669/ID003)), had a mid-air collision with an A4 Skyhawk (A4 fireballed, pilot ejected successfully) while doing ACM practice, and NO ONE realized he was shy a wing until he landed -- the fuel vapor and such prevented anyone (including his wingman, or the instructor pilot in the back seat) from seeing the damage.

Landed at double the "maximum" landing speed, ripped off the arrestor hook (yes, F15s and other land-based fighters have 'em -- not for carriers per se, but for short runways).

The Israeli pilot later said that if he had realized he was shy a wing, he'd of punched out. But since he was in controlled flight, he figured he stick with the ride as long as he could.

Mc Donnell Douglas said at first that the report was impossible, and the engineers they dispatched figured the Israelis were just trying to cover up a taxiing accident, because their computer simulations said it couldn't fly like that -- not enough lift or control.




Turns out the F15 ALSO generates lift from the fuselage they didn;t account for, and the elevons in back provide more lift and just enough control. . . if you have enough thrust. (Since McDonnell also built the F4 Phantom, you'd think they understood that whole, "With enough thrust, you can make a brick fly," thing! {chuckle})

Geodkyt said...

(BTW, Punching out is dangerous.

"If we're flyin', we ain't dyin'!"

An Ordinary American said...


I was almost 100% it was an F-15, but the info you provided is absolutely priceless.

THANK YOU for the info, write-ups, opinion and links.

You just made my day with this information.

If you're ever my way in Texas, I'll owe you a beer. Guaranteed.

Best regards,


EvanDouglas said...

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