Flameout approach

By lex, on December 12, 2006


I’ve had the opportunity over the course of my flying life to land with “an” engine shut down, which fact always made me glad that I had been issued two of them to go along with the rest of my FA-18. I did get a few hundred hours of single engine F-16 time down in Key West as an adversary pilot, and several hundred hours in single engine A-4’s there and in training.

You hear things in single engine jets that you’d be able to safely ignore in their multi-engine counterparts. Especially at night. “Night noises,” we’d call them, the bumps and whines of a mechanical contraption seem somehow magnified by the realization that you’re sitting on top of a single-point-of-failure, which is why God created ejection seats I guess.

If you lost a motor in the A-4, your only real option was to try and get it re-lit, so long as altitude permitted. My XO lost his motor alongside me one bright and sunny day near Marqueses Key in the Bay of Florida. We had plenty of altitude to work the problem, and like a good wingman, I talked him through the re-start checklist on the radio. It was something we were all required to memorize, but it can get kind of cramped and hectic in that formerly comfortable cockpit when the go-music stops, and a man might get forgetful. In any case it was useful to have a record of the proceedings on tape for the mishap board’s satisfaction if it came to that. Which it eventually did for my XO.

“Zoom climb, stores jettison, manual fuel control, throttle – idle, deploy ram air turbine, throttle off, ignition then idle,” and at this point I got off the checklist briefly to ask him, “How’s your fuel flow?”

“I’m not getting any,” he replied.

“Then I’ve got bad news,” said I because you need fuel flow, to go along with go-juice in the tank and windspeed to turn the turbine, you surely do. He punched out a bit later, having run out of airspeed, altitude and pretty much out of ideas. It was cool to watch in one of those “glad I’m not you” kinds of ways, especially when he got into his raft and onto his handheld radio and let us know he was OK. I tried to get a good visual fix on where the A-4 splashed in, if for no better reason than it was going to make a great place to find lobsters next season, but a few moments after it went in it was as though it had never existed and we never could find it again.

The F-16 came with two types of flameout approaches you were expected to attempt if the engine quit, so long as you had a suitable landing field in range and the right kind of weather. It had a hydrazine fired emergency power unit to run the flight controls once the engine-driven generator had tripped off line, and as I recall there were up to eight other redundant power sources, including a box containing a series of – no kidding – Eveready “A”-cell batteries.

One of the approaches was the straight-in, and that was all about airspeed, altitude and glide ratio. If you had the first two, the third came for free and there was very little drama to it. The overhead approach was little more exciting, it started over the field aligned to runway heading at 8100 feet above ground level, plus a 300 foot margin for every 1000 pounds of fuel or stores above 1000 pounds as I recall. From that perch you started a 15 degree nose low turn to downwind at 3000 feet or so and 210 knots, gear handle down abeam the landing zone, base turn at 1200 or 1300 feet with the wheels down and locked (”three green”) and a final approach with g on the jet that looked more like a strafe run to a naval aviator than any honest attempt to land a jet aircraft.

The round out took you from 200 knots down to 170-150, which is cooking on pretty high heat, but if you came in too slow or too low then you’d be hard pressed to make it to the landing surface, and that was considered very bad form. Faster isn’t necessarily better, because you’re supposed to be able to stop the jet in the distance remaining, and for all that the Viper had great brakes you could set them on fire by max performing with the wheels to make up for what you’d min performed with your airmanship. It was a lot of fun really, so much it almost felt like cheating.

We simulated the engine out condition by retarding the throttle to just above idle and feathering the speedbrakes out about 20 degrees or so. Jason is kind enough to send this vid showing an F-16 landing on a flameout approach without the benefit of simulation. He does a fine job from my perspective, especially considering the fact that his wingman hyperventilates a bit while trying to be of assistance – that can be a tad distracting.

Any landing you can walk away from.

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Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, by lex, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Carroll LeFon, Flying, Lex, Naval Aviation

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