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For a good many years I've been preaching that there are just three things you can do when an airplane catches on fire in flight--put the fire out, jump, or land immediately. Here's a case where the pilot chose the last alternative and did a mighty slick job of it.

Shortly after takeoff in an F8F-2, the pilot reduced power to 32 inches and 2,200 RPM and started his climb-out over San Francisco Bay. The tower called him a moment later to report that the starboard landing gear had failed to retract. The pilot reduced speed and turned back toward the field while completing the procedure of raising the gear.

He had just succeeded in getting his gear up and was at an altitude of 2,500 feet when he had a complete power failure. To complicate matters further, the cockpit filled with smoke and fumes.

The pilot quickly turned his oxygen regulator to the 100 percent position and headed toward the field for a dead stick landing. Although he could not see what was happening at this time, the aft underside of the fuselage of the F8F-2 was on fire. He gave three hard pulls on the release handle for his drop tank, but it refused to jettison.

Concentrating on reaching the field and making a good dead stick landing, the pilot could not tell how much of this plane was burning. Actually the fire was so severe that his luggage, which was stowed in the belly compartment, could not be located after the accident. It was either entirely consumed by the fire or fell out when the bottom of the fuselage burned away.

Correctly judging that he would not make the field if he lowered his flaps, the pilot left them in the retracted position. He cut all switches and waited until he was certain of reaching the end of the runway before lowering his gear. The landing was good and the pilot hastily abandoned the plane at the completion of the roll out.

By this time the fire had burned itself out, but the pilot must have been surprised when he looked at the area behind the cockpit. The damage report states that 50 to 75 percent of the underside of the fuselage between the wheel wells and the tail wheel was completely burned away.

Grampaw Pettibone says:

Shades of Walter Mittyl I think this fellow should have assumed a non-chalant air when the fire truck arrived and said, "It's nothing much, fellows, I put it out myself."

He certainly did a swell job of handling an emergency fraught with many dangers. The plane is a strike, and in retrospect it looks like it would have been safer to bail out. However, the pilot was not in a position to see how much of his plane had burned away, and he took quick action to provide himself with plenty of oxygen.

The maintenance folks took the engine apart and found that all articulating rods and the master rod were sheared from the crankshaft. Two cylinders were split half way up the cylinder barrel and there was a good size hole in the main case. Oil flowing through this hole ignited and fed the fire until the engine oil was exhausted.

Initial engine damage may have occurred during starting. The plane had been on the ground for about two hours. And the prop was not pulled through prior to starting the engine.

The failure of the drop tank to jettison was caused by a loose clamp on the cable.

Do you have a story for Gramps? Email him at nannews@navy.mil.

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Title Annotation:Cramps From Yesteryear
Publication:Naval Aviation News
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2008
Words:605
Previous Article:Bad air day.
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