STORIESHow crazy is it to be a Navy pilot?
My first and only water landing
Squeezing in a successful landing
Thanks for visiting.
— Ted Henry
First, a little background. The squadron had a CO for a time that was a complete douchebag and squadron performance, morale and safety suffered as a result. Now it happened that one of our pilots had over rotated on a night take off and hooked the arresting cable by accident going against the grain. There was no give in the system and the hook is not designed to be used while in the raised position. The result was that the aircraft frame became bent and thereafter the aircraft required full left trim for straight and level flight. It could fly using only the right engine but not using only the left. Reading between the lines I assume that the CO, who was a horrible sycophant, did not want any blemish on his tour as CO. So he did not allow the incident to be reported with the risk of it being classified as an accident (i.e. loss of aircraft). Being a jet pilot he did not have to fly that pig.
I was about a month away from leaving the Navy.
So there I was, on a firing range sweep** at very low altitude when I noticed the starboard oil pressure was zero. All other indicators were fine. I slammed the gauge with my fist because due to the tropical environment it’s not uncommon to have gauge problems. The needle didn’t budge. We’re at 50 feet and needed to climb immediately. I advanced the prop rpm levers in preparation for adding max throttle and the starboard engine overspeeds catastrophically. I then engage the emergency prop feathering to stop the overspeed and to shut down the engine. Having lost the wrong engine we cannot climb and are skimming the surface in ground effect. We got really really low. There was smoke coming from the damaged engine. My workload was through the roof. Later my copilot told me that the barometric altimeter read below zero for awhile. It’s known that if you fly low enough the venturi effect can draw down the altimeter reading below sea level.
OK, the engine oversped because the prop rpm governing servo uses engine oil to maintain the rpm setting. As soon as I touched the prop lever, the oil trapped in the servo dome, the only oil remaining in the engine, was released thus letting the prop blades go to zero pitch. This is really not good.
It was nice clear day with little aircraft activity and we were about 10 miles straight out up wind of the runway. I had the copilot handle the radios while I wrestled the airplane. We declared an emergency and requested an immediate landing from the wrong direction. The tower replied "roger take a right downwind" meaning get in the landing pattern. No dammit. That would require flying a much longer distance and climbing over the small hills on the downwind side of things. We cannot climb and are abusing an engine at maximum power. We never get any reply acknowledging our situation so I get on the radio using the international distress frequency (which means every airliner and facility within 100 miles can hear me) and broadcast that we are landing downwind at Roosy Roads WITHOUT CLEARANCE and to stay the heck out of the way. You need to know that landing without clearance is forbidden under any circumstances and can result in serious consequences to one's career.
I briefed the copilot that we would hold gear and flaps until over the runway and that he could lower the hook once feet dry. Approaching the shoreline I picked a path between trees slightly off line from the runway itself because I cannot get the plane over the trees. We were mowing the grass so to speak. I advised the tower that they will not be able to see me until I pop out of the trees over the runway. Out of extreme peevishness I took the arresting gear which drug out a bunch of anchor chain onto the runway thus shutting the place down for awhile.
The S-2 does not have nose wheel steering and cannot be taxied at low speed with only one engine. I could have just landed normally and turned off on a taxiway before shutting down, but having a smoking engine that self destructed and another engine run above specs for too long, I was in the mood to get out of that aircraft as soon as possible. The arrested landing went fine (would have been fun under different circumstances), we exited the aircraft and started walking towards our hangar. It wasn’t long before they sent out transportation to pick us up and deliver a cordial but pointed invitation to go talk to the current CO (who was a good guy). I was sorry he was soon going to be called up to the hill and get chewed on by the Admiral.
So why did I lose an engine? Simple. There is a “Y” maintenance drain on the bottom of the 13 gallon oil tank (the total oil volume being pumped to all bearing surfaces every 120 seconds) that had been left open. This drain is not visible in a typical pilot preflight inspection. After getting thoroughly warmed up, the sludge in the drain neck blew out and soon thereafter all of the oil as well. Without lubrication the reduction gearing between the engine and prop chewed itself to bits. Later one of the maintenance crew gave me a piece of it for a keepsake. Also one of the ground crew going over the aircraft told me that the bottom of the aircraft was wet with seawater. Hmmm, I guess we got really low. Or maybe we just accumulated a lot of spray from the ever present white caps.
Obviously the personnel in the tower were incompetent and had been showing signs of this for awhile.
**= During firing range activities an S-2 would be sent out to clear unauthorized craft out of the area. Generally it was just letting the local subsistence fishermen know they needed to vacate for awhile. They alway complied very nicely and it was not a problem. Sure, there were notices to mariners and pilots that specified when and where but these are not the kind of people with resources to gather that kind of info. It generally worked pretty well. Now the disguised Russian trawlers that shadowed the fleet were a different type of issue which I did not get involved in. They stayed out of territorial waters anyway. They were always around for our big operations that went on in the Atlantic.