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Hey, I think he aborted!

We were two months into deployment as our light division of Growlers prepared for a night, suppression-of-enemy-air-defenses (SEAD) training flight from Misawa, Japan.

The takeoff was briefed to be a 10-second afterburner go. The brief covered the standard emergency briefing items, including division abort specifics. We taxied out of the glow of the hangar lights into a dark and hazy evening.

Lead and Dash 2 took the runway, with Dash 3 set in the holdshort. Lead started the takeoff roll, with Dash 2 following 10 seconds later, followed by Dash 3 taking the runway. Shortly after Dash 3 started his roll, he noticed Dash 2's afterburners had destaged at what seemed to be sooner than normal. Dash 3's initial reaction was that Dash 2 was climbing away, so they continued their takeoff roll.

Dash 2 had actually aborted their takeoff for what felt like a surging or failing engine. They first noticed something was wrong around 50 knots when the airspeed was erratic. The velocity vector also was jumping abnormally --this would have been the ideal time to abort. Within a few seconds the jet passed through the high-speed cutoff of 100 knots. As the takeoff roll continued, so did the engine surges. By the time the aircrew decided to abort, they were at 140 knots. The engine anomaly did not meet the threshold for high-speed-abort criteria per the SOP. Dash 2 called out their abort over the radio and engaged the long-field arresting gear.

As Dash 3 approached 75 knots when they realized something was wrong. Dash 3's EWO asked his pilot if he could tell if Dash 2 was airborne. The pilot responded that he thought so, but wasn't sure.

Around 120 knots, the Dash 3 EWO said, "Hey, I think they aborted." The pilot had just realized the same thing. By the time everyone figured out what had happened, Dash 3 was at 145 knots and elected to continue their takeoff. Dash 3 took an offset to the right side of the runway as they passed overhead Dash 2 at 400 feet.

Dash 2's abort call had been made on tower frequency, so it was not heard by the rest of the division, who were on the departure frequency. Dash 2 had not switched the primary radio to departure as instructed by tower after takeoff clearance. No abort call had been passed over the flight tactical frequency on the second radio. Dash 2 engaged the long-field arresting gear. A dual, high-speed abort situation could have occurred had Dash 3 executed the standard sympathetic-abort procedures after late recognition of Dash 2's abort. Dash 3 could not have stopped prior to Dash 2 had they elected to abort.

A high-speed abort in a 60,000 pound EA-18G stresses the aircraft's brakes to the limit. Even after the long-field arrestment, the aircraft's wheel-brake assembly had been damaged from overheating.

Many factors contributed to the evening's events: weather, communication, and as always, situational awareness. However, the one factor that caught everyone's attention was complacency. Takeoffs and landings tend to become "standard" when really they are the most likely place for things to quickly become "nonstandard." Our light division on that dark Misawa night found this out first hand.



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Title Annotation:Runway Environment
Author:Smith, Brian; Charnas, Nick
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Mar 1, 2013
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