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Throttle...brakes.

The abort decision has been a part of my training since the first flight in the mighty T-37. I remember long conversations on critical field length, decision speed, go-no-go speed, and the different categories of takeoffs. Fortunately, all through pilot training, I never had to utilize any of this knowledge. Later, flying C-141s and C-5s, I learned of critical engine failure speed and rotation speed. Still later, I transitioned to the F-15, adding much more powerful afterburning engines and cable arresting into the equation. After five significantly different airframes, with a myriad of abort considerations specific to each type, I have a sufficiently jumbled mix of knowledge in my one brain cell to confuse almost anyone.

Fortunately, over the past 8 years of flying, I've been able to practice the appropriate procedures in simulators and gain the sort of proficiency I'll need in case I ever have to use the knowledge. The simulator generally prepares you for the worst-case scenario known and builds both reactions and skills to handle these situations. For all my practiced abort scenarios, I've only had to use these skills twice in my career.

The first situation was during a category III takeoff while flying a maxed-out C-141. For those of you that may be a little rusty on the category III departure, rotation speed is less than critical engine failure speed, placing the aircraft in a scenario where you are getting ready to lift off, but if you lose an engine, you wouldn't be able to control the aircraft using the flight controls. I was performing the takeoff from the right seat, and after passing rotation speed, I noticed a thrust reverser "Not Locked" indication in the cockpit -- generally not a good situation. I had seen this scenario before in the simulator and aborted the takeoff, in accordance with the boldface procedures, safely getting the plane to a stop and returning it to maintenance.

The second and only other time I've had to stop an aircraft from taking off came after about 900 flying hours in three different airframes. This time, I had my F-15C Eagle all ready for flight, prepared to depart on an Operation NOBLE EAGLE sortie. The aircraft was configured with three external fuel tanks and four missiles on the wing pylons. I was cleared for takeoff, lined up my formation on the runway, waited for my wingman to get into position, ran up the engines, and switched to departure frequency. After my wingman indicated that his jet was good to go, I released brakes and began my takeoff roll. Operations were normal at this point; we were about to be air-borne via a 15-second trail departure. Unfortunately, the next 50 seconds of my life proved this was not going to happen.

Passing 120 knots, with an abort speed of 133 knots, I felt an increase in the nose wheel shimmy on my jet. This became violent as the speed approached 130 knots, and I elected to abort. After applying the initial Dash-1 procedures, and reducing the throttles to idle, I heard a loud bang and the nose of the aircraft impacted the runway as the nose landing gear failed. I concentrated on keeping the jet on the runway centerline using rudder actuation and differential braking. I also called my wingman on the auxiliary radio to let him know of the situation. I then switched back to tower frequency and told them I was aborting. Apparently anyone who was watching the takeoff was aware of the failed takeoff attempt and was able to see the nose of the jet sliding down the runway. Based on the high-speed of the aircraft, I dropped the tail hook in case I had to engage the departureend cable. As the aircraft slowed down, I placed the throttles into the "OFF" position to prevent further damage to the engines.

Unbeknownst to me, the aft end on the jet had become engulfed in flame, and the only indication I had was tower informing me I was on fire. As the situation appeared to be under some semblance of control, I decided against ejecting. The jet was staying on runway centerline, and I began preparing to emergency ground egress once it was stopped. Once the F-15C stopped, I noticed fuel pouring onto the runway from a ruptured centerline tank. I quickly jumped over the left side of the canopy rail and ran away from the jet.

I can safely say that I had never experienced a simulator that adequately represented my situation that day. However, all the "routine" aborts I'd practiced ingrained the appropriate procedures into my mind. When the time came to recall this knowledge, it was readily available. Looking back, I feel this situation could easily have turned out a lot worse. I'd like to think it was some of my actions that prevented this from elevating to the next level: loss of life or the jet.

As pilots, we take off and land everyday. This is, by sheer definition, part of our flying lives. On the other hand, I've learned over the years not to treat any takeoff or landing as routine. Abort procedures are very similar among many Air Force aircraft, with minor differences such as thrust reversers or tail hooks to help the situation. Dash-1 procedural knowledge is a must, and I review these prior to each takeoff I perform. Simulator training is invaluable in honing your skills for handling emergencies. Learn all you can in the simulator, especially those emergency procedures that hopefully do not happen on your daily sorties. Finally, recurring hanging harness and egress training is generally seen as something that simply "needs to get done." Take the time to review your egress procedures and equipment just in case you have to get out of an aircraft.

As a parting shot, should something unusual happen during a routine area of flight, make a decision and execute. Time is of the essence during an abort.
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Article Details
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Author:Capt. Morgan, Michael T.
Publication:Combat Edge
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2002
Words:993
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