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Point of no return.

Decision Making


Mission Analysis






It was a good night for a combat flight in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), and I was scheduled to fly a close-air-support (CAS) mission.

To prepare for my brief, I harkened back to a discussion our ready room had had a few weeks earlier concerning land-as-soon-as-practical versus land-as-soon-as-possible emergencies, with emphasis on the worst-case scenario of a single-engine emergency. The ready room took into account the time-distance problem, winds at altitude, the effects of drag on a single-engine aircraft, and, finally, the time involved for a flight-deck pull-forward.

Once we crunched the numbers, we agreed on a turn-around point that allowed a single-cycle recovery on the boat. If you were any further north of this point, the best option would be to press in-country toward the primary divert of Kandahar. Little did I know I was about to put this NATOPS "science project" to the test.

During my brief, I discussed a game plan for dealing with land-as-soon-as-possible emergencies. The rest of my brief was focused on the mission and supporting the troops on the ground. Soon, my wingman and I were airborne and in-country on the boulevard. Everything was going as advertised until I heard the sound that no Hornet pilot ever wants to hear: The sound of Betty's voice announcing an engine problem.

After the initial "engine left" alert, I looked down to discover a left engine, oil-pressure caution, accompanied by significant fluctuations in the oil pressure. After executing the NATOPS boldface procedure of throttling the engine to idle, I keyed the mic and told my wingman about the caution. No more than 10 seconds passed before I felt the aircraft surge. As I looked down at the engine instruments, a left-engine-flame-out caution stared back at me.


My immediate thought was, "Where am I on the boulevard?" Looking down at the HSI, I realized I was approaching the point of no return.

From our ready-room discussion I knew the best option was to make a U-turn and head back toward the boat. As I did so, my next thought was to get my wingman in the loop and have him break out the PCL. With regard to safety of flight on the boulevard, I made a quick call on boulevard common to broadcast my intentions. Fortunately, the winds at altitude on the boulevard were about 30 knots, a sharp contrast to the 80-knots-plus winds we had seen during the last few days.

I got established southbound and realized it would be nearly impossible to maintain altitude on a single engine with a combat loadout. My wingman began to read the procedures for flameout, single-engine approach and landing. I throttled off the left engine and placed the right engine at mil power. Still unable to maintain altitude, I started a slow 100 to 200 fpm rate of descent to maintain 250 knots.

I AGAIN MADE A CALL on boulevard common, announcing I would not be operating at the published boulevard altitudes. Seeing how difficult it was to maintain altitude, and knowing that I wanted more options with respect to fuel and time, I told my wingman to start reading the procedures for selective jettison. I had to get rid of my ordnance.

After hearing my calls on common, several other aircrew offered assistance. A KC-10 offered to stay with us and provide fuel options in case of divert. A section of Hornets from our sister squadron offered to help on their return to the boat. Using my newly acquired CRM options, I cleared my wingman off frequency, had him contact the Hawkeye, and relay details of my emergency to the boat. These details included my desire to recover early, to have alert tankers ready, and, finally, to request a pull forward.

As my wingman started coordinating, I filled in the other section of Hornets on my emergency. I told them that I had cautions normally associated with single-engine operation, and also a FLAPS OFF caution with channels 1 and 4 of the left LEF X'd out on the FCS page. We quickly discussed divert options should the single-engine approach not go as planned. We then double-checked all the NATOPS steps that I had completed.

We now were feet-wet again, and I had lost about 5,000 feet of altitude. As I pointed toward mom, I prepared to jettison my ordnance in the carrier-operations-area (CVOA) box, and I caught my last glimpse of the sun as it disappeared below the horizon. I was headed for a night trap.

I was now within comm range of the boat and switched the section over to the squadron-rep frequency. The skipper came up on the other end, and I filled him in on the emergency, the NATOPS steps taken, and my current fuel state and burn rate. I finally expressed my intentions to jettison my ordnance in the CVOA box. He rogered up all the steps and then backed me up as I prepared to jettison.

A crucial step in the CRM process was the final step of the select-jettison procedure. To make sure that I did not accidentally push the EMERG JETT button, the skipper directed me to grab the parking-brake handle with my left hand and use my left thumb to press the SEL JETT button. After my wingman and I checked one last time for any surface contacts below us, I jettisoned the bombs.

With an increased max-trap weight and aircraft maneuverability, I could focus entirely upon the single engine approach. Feeling more confident about a single-engine recovery, and with two sweet tankers airborne, I had my wingman tell the KC-10 that we would work organic-tanking options if needed. The KC-10 departed shortly thereafter. I cleared off my wingman and worked directly with the rep to get the jet on deck. The next alligator closest to the canoe was the configuration change with the FLAPS OFF caution.

Stepping through the NATOPS procedures with the rep, we agreed the best course-of-action would be to start a descent to 10,000 feet, and then do a controllability check. Once slowed and configured, we checked for any associated BLINs or FCS cautions. Satisfied with the check, I pressed the FCS reset button, and the FLAPS OFF caution and Xs cleared.

Ready to come aboard, I talked through my landing checklist with the rep, confirming we had double-checked everything. Paddles came up on frequency to talk me through the single-engine approach. As I made my way down and got established on final bearing, I took a moment for one final cockpit sweep. I adjusted my aileron and rudder trim to account for single-engine operation and found that line-up would be extra challenging because of the asymmetric thrust. Paddles did a great job helping me with the lineup and power calls. Once I had the ramp made, they gave me a smooth talkdown into the wires.

More than anything, this emergency was an exercise in CRM. The communication portion of CRM is usually the portion that is first to deteriorate. Everyone, including my wingman, the other Hornet crews, and squadron rep worked well together. The KC-10 crew also provided options that factored in to the decision-making process. Finally, the flow of information ensured that NATOPS procedures were followed; this allowed for a single-engine approach and landing aboard the boat. Had our ready room not had this discussion and worked out the point-of-no-return numbers, this situation could have gone poorly. Preflight planning and preparation will always set you up for success.

CRM Contacts: Naval Aviation Schools Command

Crew Resource Management

181 Chambers Ave., Suite C

Pensacola FL 32508-5221

(850) 452-2088/5567 (DSN 922)

Fax (850)452-2639


Lt. Tony Anglero, Naval Safety Center

(757) 444-3520, Ext.7231 (DSN 564)


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Title Annotation:Crew Resource Management
Author:Reddick, Justin L.
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Sep 1, 2011
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