Don't touch nothin'.
I was relieved to be back aboard the ship after a six-hour OEF mission. The plane was secured to the deck, and I was ready to shut her down. I reached for the ejection seat ARM/SAFE handle and gave it a tug, but nothing moved. The handle was stuck in the armed position and the seat couldn't be safed. I gave the handle another tug. The components of the seat started to bend, but the handle refused to pop into the SAFE position. Now what?
I thought about time critical risk management (TCRM). I called for a troubleshooter, and he plugged into the jet. We discussed the situation and possible corrective procedures. His first suggestion was to examine the ejection-initiation handle between my legs to see if it was partly actuated. I looked at the handle but was apprehensive about touching it. I envisioned myself getting three swings under the parachute after manipulating the handle a little too hard. I slowed down and thought about doing everything step-by-step.
A running jet with no pilot was the first hazard my maintainers would face should I abruptly depart from the cockpit, so I signaled to shut down. Next, I notified the plane captain (PC) to get everyone away from the aircraft while I worked on the handle.
Ensuring all my harnesses were snugly attached, I grudgingly turned my attention to examining the ejection handle. It did seem loose, and I could see that it wasn't securely seated. I tried to push it back down into its housing, but it wouldn't snap into place. I asked for the ejection-seat safety pin and tried to insert the pin while forcing the ejection handle into the normal position --no luck.
The troubleshooter asked to climb up on the LEX next to the cockpit to see if he could fix the problem. I stopped and thought about the list of hazards that were accumulating: armed ejection seat, open canopy, and the troubleshooter leaning over me to work on the handle. Reluctant to put another person in danger, I continued my efforts to reseat the handle, but it wouldn't safe. The preface of the NATOPS manual advises to use sound judgment when encountering issues outside of normal circumstances; I was in the sound-judgment zone of operation. Admitting defeat, I carefully unstrapped and exited the cockpit.
I was greeted at the bottom of the ladder by one of the squadron AMEs. He was very confident he could fix the problem with low risk of the seat firing. I gave him my vote of confidence, but asked him to work on the ejection handle without putting any part of his body over the seat if possible. Within a few short minutes he was able to reseat the ejection handle and safe the seat.
There are times when you have no choice but to accept risk. The TCRM process was helpful because it made me slow down and think about the available solutions to my problem. I then thought of all the things that could go wrong with each required action and chose the safest option.
BY LCDR JAKE HUBER
LCDR HUBER FLIES WITH VFA-131.