HOW TO BE MARRIED TO A MARINE FIGHTER PILOT--A Marine Corps pilot's wife: F-4s, F/A-18s and aviators from my perspective.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Aviator Brief XIX: Flying At Any Cost

Maintenance officers appreciated pilots who got a plane home to be worked on. If it could be flown safely--fly it. Some weak dick pilots and RIOs downed their ride for every little hydraulic fuel leak. Phantoms were elderly planes--they all leaked a little bit. Get some balls, fergodssake.

An FNG lieutenant in VMFA 314 didn’t like causing trouble for his AMO--Aircraft Maintenance Officer. So, on a refueling stop in Yuma, one leg away from home base, frustrated when the F-4 wouldn’t accept external electrical power from the starter, he decided to try a non-standard procedure, principally used for testing the RAT--ram air turbine, in order to get going. In the non-standard procedure, high-pressure air is directed at the RAT, which spins into operation, providing power. The lieutenant deployed the RAT, and standing on the wing, held the nozzle of the hose from his Wells Air Starting Unit.

The pilot intended to guide high-pressure air from the hose across the blades of the RAT. The RAT would spin and produce enough power to light off his fighter.

Fast-moving air charged through the hose to the nozzle.

Unfortunately, back-pressure on the hose caused it to thrash about wildly. The hapless lieutenant, flying twenty to thirty feet in the air, whipped back and forth, held on as long as he could before being tossed to the concrete below.

Medical personnel needed over a hundred stitches to close up the deep three-inch gash on the lieutenant’s arm.

He lived to make general--and to be a credit to the Marine Corps.

Ignorance was temporary, unless it proved fatal.

Redemption comes if the lesson is learned. The lieutenant had his story told in Granpaw Pettibone--a safety cautionary column in Approach magazine. The theory being that aviators can learn from others’ mistakes and prevent further injury or loss of valuable equipment. Andy always talks of the aviator as one of the more expensive pieces of equipment the service has. In 1970 it cost 1.5 million to train a fighter pilot. Nowadays it is more, probably a lot more. If you add in the time it takes for OCS through flight training--the military can’t afford to lose personnel.

All of that is an accountant’s view of aircraft mishaps and reasons to prevent them.

On the other hand, I know how many people are affected by the loss of a single person.

I dreamt of my older brother Don last night. Sunday will be the 31st year since he died in a midair. In my dream, he walked into a room where I spoke with other writers about writing and publishing and marketing. He was so big and full of life. He grinned and said, “Hi guys!” I was so very glad to see him.

Many things would be different if his plane hadn’t run into the same piece of sky as another. His loss changed my family dynamics and exposed so much of the dysfunction of my childhood.

As the New Year begins, I need to look at the costs of my own mishaps and learn my lessons so they are not repeated, so I don’t crash and burn leaving sadness and regret in the ashes.

What mistakes have you made that you need to learn from?

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