604, you're a divert.
I was the squadron's junior mission commander. The rest of the crew included the junior carrier aircraft plane commander (CAPC) and three level-one aircrew, with as little as three months in the squadron. The brief, preflight and launch went smoothly. We assumed station profile at altitude and did some basic troubleshooting of our systems.
On our return to the carrier, our CAPC checked in with marshal, who had us proceed to the Case I stack at 3,000 feet. As we approached the carrier, the CAPC recommended that before we start dumping fuel to reach max trap, we drop the landing gear.
I realize this seems strange, but we had our reasons. Over the past two days, we had three aircraft drop their landing gear and had unsafe indications. Granted, on each of these events, the crews were able to troubleshoot and get the gear down and locked.
As we approached the stack, our pilot slowed to gear speed, and with bated breath, he lowered the landinggear handle--silence.
Then I heard, "Uh, oh," over the intercom system.
As we had feared, our port mainmount was still barber-poled, while the other two indicated down and locked. Our pilot looked aft and noted the gear appeared to be down and locked, but he couldn't confirm it. We quickly began to troubleshoot, but to no avail. Because the problem had been widely discussed over the last few days, the emergency-procedure (EP) execution went smoothly, but unsuccessfully.
We contacted our tower representative to discuss our malfunction and report that the EP had been completed. Immediately, on a different radio, I heard the familiar voice of my CO, who had just launched on an OEF mission. He had me switch to our TAC frequency.
I now had rep in one radio, tower in a second, marshal in a third and the second Hawkeye in another. Everyone had recommendations and instructions for us. A CRM nightmare ensued. My CAPC talked to rep and marshal to coordinate a join-up with a tanker, while I asked our CO for guidance. All the while, we were talking internally to each other about what the other was hearing. We were now holding four different simultaneous conversations.
The going-in assumption when flying in the North Arabian Sea is that you are "blue water," meaning no divert is available, and the boat is the only available place to land. Actually, several foreign fields are within divert range, but they're used only in extremis, and with direction from the chain of command.
Not surprisingly, the tanker's visual inspection provided no conclusive results. The port main gear still appeared down. I instructed my air-control officer (ACO) to look up the bingo numbers, both dirty and clean. The pilot discussed the possibility of using the emergency-extension system to get the gear down and locked. Then we discussed with the tower rep the ramifications our actions would have on those numbers.
That's when we heard a voice from the almighty, "This is the captain, 604, you're a divert."
Silence. Then rep, tower and our TAC frequency exploded with instructions and advice. My CAPC and I tried to weed through the plethora of information and determine what was important. It didn't seem to matter though. We all were thinking the same thing, "Now what?"
Our rep echoed the divert call. Fortunately, we already had calculated the bingo numbers. We raised the gear and flaps, squawked emergency, and headed for one of several air bases in the area used for diverts.
During the transit, the sheer distance from the field, along with the language barrier, made it difficult to reach and understand the approach controller. We could hear their transmissions, but they could not hear us. With assistance from a helpful Air Emirates flight, we relayed our problem and stated our intentions. We also requested the arresting gear be rigged in case we got the same unsafe indications. We read aloud the emergency-gear-extension and the field-arrestment procedures to refamiliarize ourselves.
Our discussions were constantly interrupted by our inability to understand ATC, which led to further confusion among the crew as my ACO and radar officer (RO) were reading ahead in the pocket checklist. In retrospect, sticking to the adage, "aviate, navigate, communicate," would have mitigated the chaos. The approach controller was ready for us when we switched over, but upon check in, we couldn't determine which end of the runway had the arresting gear rigged.
We were cleared to hold overhead the field with about 30 minutes of fuel remaining. We did a quick pass for familiarization, and had tower do a visual landing gear check. As suspected, we had misunderstood the tower controller, and the runway with the gear rigged was opposite what approach had passed. With one more pass, we dropped our gear, and to our frustration, received the same unsafe indications as earlier. We ran through the emergency-extension procedure with no joy and prepared for the field arrestment.
We told tower that we were ready to commence. They promptly cleared the pattern and gave us the "OK." We prepared for the worst-case scenario: a gear collapse on touchdown. We removed the CIC ditching hatch and tightened our seat straps. Our CAPC talked our pilot through the descent, as the crew in the back stayed silent.
We touched down, engaged the cable and came to a full stop. As we did, the gear indicator switched from barber poles to down and locked. With a sigh of relief, we contacted tower and told them our status. Tower wanted us to shut down the engines, so that they could move us out of the arresting gear. However, the E-2C needs a huffer to start, which the airfield didn't have. The CAPC and I decided that I would leave the aircraft to tell the ground-emergency personnel that we couldn't shut down, but that we could use reverse thrust to exit the wire.
I got out of the plane on the runway. After shaking hands with the base duty officer, I acted as plane captain and directed the aircraft out of the wire. The pilots taxied free of the arresting gear and headed to the transient line to hot pump for our return trip.
After some troubleshooting and coordination, we took off. Because we had expended our single shot of emergency gear-extension nitrogen, we left the gear down to avoid another unsafe indication,. The trip back to the ship was quiet, and we recovered.
As a junior mission commander with no experience with this type of situation, the term "helmet fire" was an understatement. So much information was pouring into the plane that we couldn't process it and effectively communicate. In retrospect, we should have stiff-armed some of the other contacts and focused on safety of flight, talking only with the rep and making sure the crew was on the same page.
When it is your problem, own it. Take a deep breath and don't be afraid to give a few "stand by" calls on the radio while you make sure to complete things correctly. Also, don't be afraid to be conservative. In no way was lowering the gear in the stack going to hurt us. Some may think it was unnecessary, but our early check of the gear saved us a few thousand pounds of fuel, making our divert possible. Be ready for anything, even if it is just an easy day.
LT. SECCOMBE FLIEs WITH VAW-125.
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|Title Annotation:||port side mainmount failure|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2012|
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