by lex, on Mon – August 30, 2004 at 05:55 PM
It’s good to have a niche in the blogosphere – as I’ve mentioned before, you want to hear sea stories from an aged FA-18 pilot living in San Diego who commutes to work down the 5 on a BWM R1150GS motorcycle, you come here.
But that puts a bit of pressure on the old memory circuits, so I’m fortunate to have correspondents that can both share their tales with all of us on these pages, and also jog the noggin.
After I got out of the Navy, I worked on my airline transport pilot license.
One thing I needed was to get my multiengine rating unrestricted from
centerline thrust. I had an older guy that was a great instructor and well
known around the area and we used to talk a lot about flying. The
following seemed to be his favorite story. Whenever we ran into someone he
knew, he always requested I tell it.
One weekend I flew cross country in a TA-4J Skyhawk from Meridian, MS to the
Northeast to visit family and also pick up Grizz, another SERGRAD
instructor, in Connecticut. He had driven his family up there to escape
the searing summer heat of the South, and I was to fly in and we would both
fly back to NAS Meridian.
Grizz and I got our wings at the same time and we both stayed on to
instruct. He wanted to get into F-14 Tomcats and I was hooked on light
Well, I filed our return flight by way of Andrews AFB and he asked if he
could take the front seat out of Connecticut so his family could watch him
fly off. I told him no problem.
I got in the back seat and as Grizz was getting in the front seat he handed
me a tupperware container to hold.
Take off was a nice, low transition clean up, and climb out went
uneventfully. Once we were at altitude cruising along I decided to check
out the tupperware. It was full of cookies. Chocolate chip cookies.
So I started munching on one and watched Grizz in his front seat mirrors.
Eventually he noticed me eating his cookies and asked me to hand him one.
Well, it’s a bit of a stretch to hand something from the backseat to the
front in the Skyhawk. I was all the way forward holding the cookie between
two fingers as he was reaching over his shoulder trying to grab it. Of
course it dropped down onto the cowl and neither of us could reach it.
So I took the plane and eased the nose up and gained a couple hundred feet
then pushed over to zero g and the cookie floated up and started bouncing
off the canopy. Grizz was pawing the air trying to grab it. Meanwhile I
soon had to pull back to keep from busting altitude and it dropped back down
out of sight.
I porpoised the aircraft up and down about three times like that with the
cookie gyrating all over before I ended up popping the speedbrake in and out
which floated the cookie to the front cockpit into his hands at last.
Well, center called us and wanted to know if we were having problems. The
IFF was transmitting our altitude, as it is supposed to do, and all they
could see was our altitude bouncing up and down like we were riding a roller
Naturally we reported a little turbulence but that we now seemed to be in
Ah, the old “passing the cookies between the cockpits” tale – so often told, so tragic.
Reminds me of a story when I was a “stash” ensign in Oceana: Two seat TA-4J, adversary pilot in the front with an NFO (weapons systems officer, not a pilot) in the rear. The weather had turned foul on the return to base, when the nose gunner realized that his approach plates (containing the exact procedures, headings and altitudes required to execute the approach procedures) had been left on deck, back at the base. Without them, he’d have to confess to the controller that he couldn’t execute the approach procedures and would need a talk-down.
Two things wrong with that: 1) You’re supposed to always carry the approach plates for the field you intend to land at, not doing so (regardless of the weather you expected to encounter) is a violation of policy, and 2) Letting the controller know you didn’t have your plates would be telling.
Not to worry though, the stalwart NFO in the trunk had his plates. A brief discussion ensued as to whether it would be better to keep the plates in the back and have the NFO talk the pilot through the procedures, or whether that would needlessly complicate the approach. Fighter pilot ego probably played a role in the eventual decision to pass the plates forward to the pilot.
Not being able to afford the risk that the plates might fall into the great unknown between the seats (à la Jonboy’s cookie tale), a hand-to-hand turnover was decided upon. The pilot loosened his straps, the better to throw his right arm back behind him, up and over the intervening gap between the seats. The NFO leaned forward in a much more comfortable and conventional way to pass the approach plates over when fate intervened.
Just as the pilot was at the uttermost limit of his contortionist arm extension, the jet hit a patch of rough air, resulting in the immediate (and exceptionally painful) dislocation of his shoulder. He screamed in pain, and the back seater, instantly cognizant of what had happened, had a moment of severe doubt as to follow on courses of action.
Entering severe weather, the only guy actually qualified to fly the airplane had just been rendered 50% mission capable. As the jet started to roll right into the madness, his choices were to take control or eject, knowing that if he did the latter, the pilot’s arm would be ripped off by the canopy as it jettisoned.
He grabbed the stick.
In time the pilot managed through sheer force of will to wrestle his now useless limb back into his part of the cockpit. Almost blinded by pain, he manipulated the throttle while the back-seater controlled the aircraft’s attitude through stick inputs, and the pilot’s coaching. Together they managed to safely land the airplane in a talk-down approach.
The NFO earned an Air Medal for saving the jet and his pilot’s life. The pilot earned a trip to the medical clinic and the unceasing admiration of his pilot friends, delivered in the form of the kind of surgical needling at which fighter pilots routinely excel.