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Single engine over Baghdad.


My wingman and I departed the right wing of the KC-135 tanker and climbed 1,000 feet to clear the tanking stack. As we cleared the tanker's airspace, I swung the nose of my FA-18C eastward toward Baghdad, the site of our Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) tasking. As I accelerated away from the tanker track, I heard an unwelcome "thud, thud, thud" from behind the cockpit, followed almost immediately by a chorus of "deedle-deedles" from the master-caution circuit. It was going to be an interesting mission.

We had launched on a midday, standard OIF mission and were fragged to support a joint-tactical-air controller (JTAC) on the ground in Baghdad. These missions were routine as we neared the halfway mark of our deployment. My aircraft was equipped with a standard air-to-ground load, including two drop tanks and two 500-pound-class weapons. Weather in-country over the past few days had been marginal, because of recurring summer dust storms blowing from Syria. These storms limit visibility over much of the country. We just had topped-off on our first of three air refuelings before entering our tasked airspace. Then the admin of recovering became our mission focus.

I stared at the engine instruments and tried to assimilate the cautions that stacked up on the left DDI. The right engine rpm dropped steadily, even though the throttle remained at military power. I pulled the throttle to idle and maintained momentary hope the engine would relight. Spooldown, restart, right? What causes the engine to do this anyway? No such luck: no restart.

The engine continued to spool down to 10 percent, and I told my wingman my right motor had flamed out. I pulled the throttle to the off position. I asked to orbit at my present position, while we tried to sort out the problem and consider options. We were about 100 miles from Al Asad, our preplanned divert in-country and well past 400 miles from mom. I wasn't enthused about dragging a single-engine Hornet that far south, with an engine that "flamed out for no apparent reason," while expecting a heavy, single-engine pass in summer Gulf conditions. I continued the orbit back to the north and put Al Asad on the nose.

I queried the airspace controller for an updated weather report for Al Asad. Our preflight brief had said to expect intermittent IFR because of dust storms. The controller quickly said that Asad had had around one mile of visibility on the last observation. This info passed my sanity check. We started a descent, as mil power on the good engine wasn't keeping the fully fueled and loaded Hornet level in the mid-20s. We discussed cause and effect within the flight.

I asked my junior wingman to join up and give me a good belly check, looking for evidence of problems--nothing. After I adjusted weight, my trusty wingman started to back me up on the procedures for a single-engine landing. We decided to try to momentarily motor the right engine, just to see if the hydraulic system on the right side was available for normal gear extension and braking--fortunately, it was.

As I checked in with approach control, things started to happen fast, forcing us to quickly consider of our options. The visibility was a little less than a mile, and the precision-approach radar (PAR) was down. So, we would fly a surveillance approach to minimums, into a glowing orange and brown sunset of a dust storm, to a dusty runway, surrounded by, well, dirt.

After a frantic search of the pocket checklist (PCL) for engaging speeds and weights of the nonstandard M31 arresting gear, I adjusted down to a reasonable fuel weight that would give me an option of going around. I would prefer to keep the jet on the long runway if I skipped the gear and use normal braking techniques with the jet's carrier-pressurized tires. I turned to final, cranked the right motor, and after getting three-down-and-locked, energized the APU to allow normal braking, if required.

The runway had a decent, newly installed approach-lighting system, which significantly lowered my stress level on short final. The calm quickly was overridden as the lens broke out, but I couldn't immediately locate the arresting gear that was promised. My second scan showed the arresting-gear wire actually was in front of the lens position on the runway. A minor, single-engine, power correction later, and I pulled out the wire.

This adventure produced several learning points. First, single-engine landings in the Hornet, with the right motor secured, present a handful of options that are much clearer during 1 G, on-deck training, than in a foreign country in a sandstorm. Crank the motor? Landing weight that requires a flare with a heavy jet? What to do with the nosewheel steering (NWS) without HYD2 online?

Second, you need crew coordination to cover approach options, runway lengths, and go-around options to reach (or at least QA) the best plan of action.

Last, I validated the "little note" on the EPs about how restarting the APU in flight may scorch the fuselage and activate the fire element because of exhaust. On postflight, significant scorching was noted behind the APU exhaust, along with a singed fire element that probably was close to popping a caution, which certainly would have multiplied the pucker factor. The engine also had an auxiliary gearbox that had eaten itself up, killing the boost pump and all hope of any relight.

Five days with the Marines in the desert, eating food somehow better than wardroom 3, and a new engine later, I brought the dusty jet back to the carrier with a freshly "decorated" tailhook, courtesy of my stellar hosts.

Cdr. Hyink is VFA-151's executive officer aboard USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72), with Carrier Air Wing Two.
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Author:Hyink, Jeff
Article Type:Personal account
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2009
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