‘ANOTHER CATERPILLAR STORY’
I read with great interest the article, "About that Caterpillar Pin," that appeared in the Spring 2011 issue of Wings of Gold. CDR. John Bradford Jr. USN (Ret.) described his successful ejection from a flamed-out T-33 (TV-2), except for a broken right elbow. Five years earlier, in September 1958, I also ejected from a flamed out TV-2, and also suffered an injured right elbow. The similarities are remarkable.
I was flying in the rear seat of a TV2, taking my annual instrument flight check. LTJG A. H. Gonzalez was in the front seat as the instrument flight instructor. The first indication of trouble occurred after one hour of flight. I was under the hood when I felt a rumble and vibration of the aircraft, similar to that encountered when extending dive brakes at high speed. I noticed a fluctuation of the RPM followed by a decrease to 90%. My first impression was that Gonzalez, for some reason or other, had taken control of the aircraft, had lowered dive. brakes, and changed throttle setting. Gonzales then told me he had the aircraft and to come out from under the hood. He transmitted that the tailpipe temperature gage had pegged at 1,000 degrees. This I had not noticed in the few seconds the rumble existed.
At this point, we had a few moments to evaluate the situation. We were at about 20,000 feet, at 86% RPM, the rumble was gone and all gauges were reading normally. With both NAS North Island and NAS Miramar under an overcast, NAAS EL Centro was chosen as the best field available for landing, considering the possibility of reoccurring engine malfunction. I heard Gonzalez contact NAS North Island tower, explain the difficulty, and request contact with the VF-121 maintenance and safety officers. He also announced his intention to proceed to EL Centro. Positive radar and IFF identification was obtained from the San Diego radar control center.
We then discussed the situation on intercom. It was decided to flame out the engine should the trouble reoccur. We would then bailout rather than attempt a flameout approach or dead-stick landing at El Centro. We then reviewed all emergency and bailout procedures.
After five minutes of normal flight, the trouble reoccurred. The rumble was heard, the aircraft shook, the TPT pegged at 1,000 degrees, and the RPM increased to at least 100%. This time it again stopped, but immediately reoccurred and continued, even though Gonzalez had decreased the throttle to idle. I heard Gonzalez say, "I'm flaming out," and then, "It's flamed out." When this was done, all rumble and vibration stopped.
Gonzalez proceeded to place the aircraft in a glide, gave the Mayday reports and received position reports from the radar center. He then asked me to read the re-light procedure normally carried on the rear seat side panel. I advised against an attempted re-light, since the situation was serious enough for a voluntary flameout, and the inherent explosion possibility in such a situation. By this time we were at 10,000 feet, heading east over the Chocolate Mountains east of San Diego, with insufficient altitude to make it over the last mountain range. With no suitable terrain for bailout within gliding range, the decision was made to eject. Gonzalez made the radio report of bailout, and then came on intercom with a last minute review of procedures. He would jettison the canopy and I would eject first. He would follow. He then disconnected his radio gear.
I disconnected radio leads, removed oxygen mask and hose attachment, removed kneepad, cinched all chute straps and the helmet strap, lowered the hehnet visor to cover the eyes but clear the nose, and waited for the canopy to blow. When it didn't, I yelled to Gonzalez that I was going. He raised his hands in an affirmative manner. I raised the port handle to lock shoulder straps and then raised the starboard handle to jettison the canopy. The canopy was off and gone in an instant. I then visually acquired the trigger, took hold, assumed an erect position, and ejected. I recall no high wind buffet in the interim between canopy jettison and ejection, however the aircraft was fairly slow (around 140 knots) and in level flight.
The initial ejection acceleration was more violent but similar to that encountered in the ground trainer. However, it was over so quickly that no particular sensations, except for the instantaneous jar, were noticed. The departure from the aircraft was much more violent than anticipated, although I remember being pleased by the easy and successful exit. I was stunned for probably the first second of exit by a high, head-forward tumble rate estimated at two to three revolutions per second. I remember being impressed by how far away the aircraft appeared as it flashed by. After about a half dozen revolutions, I was concerned about the high tumble rate and became aware that I was in a tucked position. I straightened out to decrease the tumble rate, and then realized that I was still in the seat and clutching the seat handles in my hands. I pushed the seat aft and away, and then went after the D ring. With the aid of the left hand, I visually acquired the Dring and pulled it with my right. I recall seeing the chute stream on one revolution, and then experienced a severe shock as the chute blossomed. The shock was much more severe than the ejection. In fact, I looked up anticipating to see some panels of the chute torn. However, the chute appeared to be undamaged. It is hard to estimate the time involved in this sequence; however, I would estimate five to seven seconds.
Once the chute was open, there was nothing to do but hang there and wait. At this time, I noticed a very strong exhilarative feeling. I was very happy and pleased with the successful ejection. It appeared as if! might land on a smooth portion of the rugged terrain, and I was finally able to spot Gonzalez's chute and the black smoke from the crashed aircraft behind me. At mountain top level, I began oscillating fore and aft by plus or minus 30 degrees. I tried to reduce the swinging but all efforts were in vain. However, at low level, the oscillation stopped and I appeared to have no horizontal velocity. Therefore no chute straps were opened. The landing was made on a level, sandy portion of the terrain, and no difficulties were encountered. I grabbed for the bottom risers, however the chute was already collapsing and no action was required.
After removing the chute and finding no injuries, I began to run to the spot where I had seen Gonzalez's chute descend, removing Mae West and helmet en route. I was afraid Gonzalez had landed in the rocks and would probably be injured and need assistance. The distance between us was roughly one half mile, and it took me about three to five minutes to get there. However, I found him in good shape, spreading out his chute to aid aircraft spotting. A short time later, a helicopter was seen circling the area where the TV had crashed. I fired a smoke flare (Gonzalez had both of his fail to fire), and the helicopter headed for us. I was about to light the last smoke flare when they saw us and settled down to pick us up.
There were several malfunctions apparent in the emergency. First, the canopy jettison handle in the forward cockpit failed to function. Second, Gonzalez's two smoke flares failed to function. Third, my automatic chute opening device possibly failed to function. We were below the barometric altitude for the automatic release. Whether the automatic opening device failed or whether I pulled the D-ring simultaneously with the automatic release, I don't know. I did not, at the time, consider waiting to see whether the chute would open automatically.
1. Before ejecting, all I could see below us was extremely rugged, mountainous terrain. I was sure we would sustain injury, probably serious injury, on landing. Several days later, I flew over the area where we had ejected. I found it to be a small level area, the only one of its kind within sight. We both landed in that small, level area, I at one edge, Gonzalez on the other. Strictly fortuitous. We certainly had no way of seeing it priot to ejection.
2. CDR Bradford wrote, "Pain from my right elbow told me it was broken. I'd read ofT-33 pilots suffering the same injury ... " In my case, my arm around the right elbow was also injured, with significant swelling and discoloration. There was a deep indent in the skin on the upper side of the elbow. Although the skin was not broken, it was obviously the result of a hard impact. I still have a scar there. A strange injury. Therefore, a day later, I climbed into another TV-2 cockpit to explore possibilities. I discovered that, when raising the starboard handle to jettison the canopy, the elbow naturally moves out, away from the body and underneath the canopy railing. The distance from the elbow to the railing is perhaps five inches. Then, with the tremendous acceleration from ejection, even that short distance was sufficient to produce a damaging impact to the elbow when the elbow impacted the railing. I wonder if this is what happened to CDR Bradford?
3. In conclusion, I would like to commend LTJG Gonzalez (wherever he is now) for the efficient and professional manner in which he handled the emergency. The ejection, although conducted under controlled conditions, was executed with a precise plan and without hesitancy. Effective training in emergency procedures by VF-121 as well as all Navy organizations, was apparent in the resultant success.