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Been there! Done that! Tale of the instructor pilot.

Ah, my fini-flight. There were no clouds and the water was as smooth as glass -- a beautiful day over the Gulf of Mexico. The mission was an advanced basic fighter maneuver sortie for a B-courser about to graduate F-15C formal training unit. After 20 minutes of utterly humiliating the poor Eagle driver-to-be with my superior fighter pilot skills, it was time to go home. As we set up for our formation landing, my mind was filled with images of being "hosed down" and my wife and little girl standing there laughing.

I signaled to put the gear down and we did; however, my wingman's formation became very erratic, and as I glanced over to him, I noticed something was wrong. A potato later, he came across the auxiliary radio and said, "I have no landing gear at all." We went around from the approach to give us some time to deal with this and set up a box pattern. His gear was down, but there were no gear down indications in the cockpit. I got out my checklist and scanned the page. "Yes, yes. I've seen this a million times. We just land normally."

I called the Supervisor of Flying (SOF) and told him what we had and that we were going to land normally. Then the words came across the radio for all fighter pilots based at Tyndall to hear, "The checklist calls for an approach-end arrestment." I couldn't believe it. I had just scanned the checklist. I scanned it again -- only this time, I actually read every word. Sure enough, a recent change to the Dash-1 had, in fact, changed the checklist and required taking a cable for this situation. My wingman took the cable uneventfully and I landed normally.

After the debrief, the words of my first squadron commander came back to haunt me. Before I flew my first operational sortie he told me, "There are two groups of people who cause more mishaps than any: the new inexperienced wingman and the 2,000-hour instructor pilot." I had no idea how true these words were until I became one of those 2,000-hour instructor pilots. I probably should have known how true they were as a wingman, but I could hardly get up on frequency, much less realize what a hazard to aviation I was. I had always remembered those words and tried hard not to become one of his statistics. However, things had changed. My focus on taking the fight to the enemy and turning him into hair, teeth, and eyeballs had changed to watching the sortie board and turning pilots' 781s into 1.8s or 1.9s. I had become "one of them."

The unfortunate part of our business is that we often put those two groups of people together. Why? Because there is no other way to pass on the experience of 2,000-hour fighter pilots to the new wingmen except to fly them together. Our history is filled with incidents involving this combination. I had seen this scenario play itself out in my squadron at one of my earlier assignments.

Soon after I arrived, the squadron commander was giving a mission qualification training check to a new wingman. During their radar trail arrival, number two (the new guy) put his gear down and had an unsafe gear indication. The flight lead rejoined on number two and confirmed his gear was down, but the checklist still called for a cable arrestment.

The flight lead contacted the SOF and informed him of the situation. The SOF asked if they could hold while he got some other aircraft in before they took the cable -- a simple request that soon turned sour. The flight lead raised his gear and went back with his wingman into the radar pattern. The radios became intense as the SOF and flight lead coordinated to get as many aircraft in as possible. After a few minutes, number two's "fuel low" caution came on. Number two tried to convey this to the flight lead, but was told, "Standby, I don't need any inputs from you right now."

Not wanting to upset his squadron commander, number two didn't say another word until asked. At 20 miles from the field, during the base turn to the instrument landing system, the flight lead asked number two's gas. "Eight hundred lbs," he answered -- 800 lbs is emergency fuel in the Eagle! This was followed by a quick "Say again" from the flight lead with a slightly higher pitched voice. The flight lead coordinated for an immediate turn to the field. At 10 miles, number two had 500 lbs. At 5 miles the flight lead called for the gear and asked number two his gas. "Four hundred lbs." In an effort to save gas, the flight lead directed number two to shut down an engine, which is not an accepted procedure. Number two complied. At 250 lbs (within the plus or minus tolerance of the gauge), number two touched down, took the cable, and immediately shut down the other engine.

What happened? How did a relatively low threat Emergency Procedure (EP) turn into a near Class A mishap? Two things. First, the flight lead had a strong "been there, done that" attitude, and second, the new wingman knew he was flying with a highly experienced fighter pilot who would not let him down. The "been there, done that" attitude resulted in over confidence and a feeling of being able to deal with an EP and all the wing's aircraft at the same time. The one miscalculation he made was that his gear was up and his wingman's was down, resulting in dramatically different fuel consumption. He assumed their fuel was matched. I asked number two after the flight if he was ever scared or knew he may have to jump out. He replied, "No, I was with the squadron commander."

I am not suggesting in this article that young wingmen should never fly with 2,000-hour instructor pilots. Instead, my intent is to show how easy it is to become overconfident by relying on past experiences and not preparing for the future. High-time instructor pilots must force themselves to study and know the Dash-1 cold. They must also listen to their wingmen. As much as many of us shun the term crew resource management in fighters, it is a useful tool to deal with stressful situations. Experienced instructors should always listen to their wingmen, if only to determine the level of task saturation during trying situations. Your decisions should be based on a combination of experience, systems knowledge, and your wingman's current capabilities and condition -- not his condition in the brief. Wingmen should never forget that they are the aircraft commanders of their jets. Wingmen must also have a thorough knowledge of systems and a good understanding of the results of their actions. If a flight lead ever put s you in a bad position, be ready to plead your case with precise information and procedures. You may well be the link that breaks the chain to a mishap.
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Author:DeStasio, Robert A.
Publication:Combat Edge
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2001
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