Previous posts in this discussion:
PostTragedy over the Ganges Delta, 1961 (Michael Sullivan, USA, 01/14/13 1:33 am)
In response to JE's follow-up questions to my post of 12 January, the monsoon had nothing to do with the two aircraft losses, though we were in the clouds the entire time from Karachi to Singapore.
Both accidents were caused by leaking AVPIN fluid that the aircraft uses to start its engines. The leaks ended up spilling into the engine bays, detonating and then causing fires which caused explosions. Luckily the first aircraft we lost happened on start up at Malta, and the pilot and radar observer were able to exit the aircraft before it burned to the ground.
Unfortunately we were over the Ganges Delta about 90 miles east of Calcutta flying to Rangoon when the lead aircraft caught fire and exploded. We were a five-plane formation then and flying close together at 35,000 ft. due to the monsoon clouds. We saw the flash and the lead aircraft rapidly lost altitude, and we thought we saw at least one ejection prior to losing them due to poor visibility in the clouds.
We all returned to Calcutta with our four remaining Javelins. There a search and rescue was launched, and we boarded a Hastings aircraft which carried our en route maintenance team to try and locate the crash site. We located where the aircraft had crashed due to scorch marks, but the jungle and foliage was so thick it appeared the trees where it had crashed had sprung back up again. We returned to Calcutta with no luck in finding the aircrew.
We left the next day in our four remaining Javelins for Singapore via Rangoon, Bangkok and Penang (Malaya).
We arrived two days later at RAF Tengah with our four jets. We had another huge scare going into Penang, as the field started going zero/zero due to a huge thunderstorm approaching and I was No. 4 and the last aircraft to land. I had to stop my aircraft on the runway after landing, as I couldn't see 10 yards in front of me and wait for the visibility to improve about 15 minutes later before exiting the runway and parking my jet. If I had been 30 seconds later I couldn't have landed; I was out of gas so I would have had to eject!
To try and eliminate problems like this we had two B-57 Canberras escort us due to weather from the monsoon from Karachi to Singapore. One would take off and go to our destination and stay in the landing pattern. The other B-57 would go half way, and as we approached the "go, no go" line if we had to turn back to our take-off point, the B-57 with us would radio us a weather report from the B-57 in the pattern at our destination, and this determined whether we'd continue on. We only had to turn back once in those seven legs.
It took the British Jungle Rescue team out of Singapore three days to find the aircrew that had ejected over the Ganges Delta. Unfortunately, the pilot was dead and found hanging in a tree with a broken neck that he broke on ejection. He wasn't an operational squadron Javelin fighter pilot and was from the Ferry Command. His job was to lead flights from England to the Far East. He could fly many different models but didn't know much about any of them. The troopers said he never put on his leg restrainer straps, which pull your lower legs back in tight to the ejection seat upon ejection so you don't bang them on the instrument panel or front windscreen going up the rail. What caused his death was that he manually separated from the Martin-Baker ejection seat, which is catastrophic if you mix up the three steps which he did. You'd normally never manually separate, as the seat functions in all areas automatically.
The only time you'd manually separate is if you had a malfunction, so what we believe what happened to the pilot was he ejected around 35,000 ft. in the clouds and manually separated because of problems he thought existed but didn't.
What happens after ejection is a small 5 ft. chute comes out of the top of the ejection seat to stabilize the seat from tumbling into a normal sitting position while descending. The main parachute opens at 12,000 ft., plus or minus 2,000 ft., and the opening shock separates the seat from the pilot which is attached by sticker clips. Then the pilot descends to the ground via a normal parachute descent.
If you mix up any of those three steps, the main parachute lines will come out and wrap around the pilot's neck and the opening shock will break his neck. I can understand why he manually separated, as he was in the clouds, couldn't see his radar observer and had no idea how to judge height. The wait for the main chute to open must have seemed like an eternity! He probably sat in the seat for a minute or so and the main chute hadn't opened so he thought it had failed and so now he executes manual separation but mixes up the correct steps. A real shame, as it didn't need to happen, just like so many aircraft accidents and loss of life could have been prevented.
The good news is we got the radar observer back, as the Jungle Rescue Team found him sitting on the roots of a tree out of the water in a most hostile, dangerous swamp area. He hadn't had time to stow his navigation plotting board, as the pilot had initiated the ejection so he had injured his knees badly hitting the board on ejection but recovered very nicely in a few months. He has written a great survival story for his three-day ordeal, and most experts says this is the worst possible place to have to survive because of the elements, isolation with no civilization around, tigers and reptiles!
Bottom line is aviators don't get flight pay because they're young, handsome and dashing...It's because it's a dangerous line of work. But we love it and never think of the perils because it can't happen to me!
JE comments: Michael Sullivan's tales from his fighter-pilot days underscore the horrendous dangers faced by these knights of the skies, even in peacetime. I'm sure all WAISworld joins me in thanking Michael for sharing this sad but captivating experience.
A Ride in a Russian L-39
(Cameron Sawyer, Russia
01/15/13 6:31 AM)
What a fascinating story from Michael Sullivan (14 January).
I flew as a passenger in an L39 jet trainer of the Russian Air Force, some years ago. It was an incredible experience. The pilot, taking advantage of the fact that as a sailor I do not suffer from any kind of motion sickness, took the craft through all kinds of aerobatic maneuvers like loops, Immelmann maneuvers, rolls, and best of all, a maneuver the name of which I don't know, where we flew in a shallow dive up to the Do Not Exceed speed of the airframe, then pointed the nose straight upwards, flying up vertically like a rocket, engine at full throttle, until all the airspeed gradually bled off, at which point we stalled, and spun out, falling like a falling leaf. It was supposed to be a lesson in recovery from a spin. Just as we lost the last of our airspeed, we popped up out of the clouds, still in a completely vertical attitude. An unforgettable experience. I surely envy Mike for having had a career which allowed him to be in and around jet aircraft his whole life.
Before being allowed to go up, I was made to spend most of a day learning how to use the ejection seat--this is why Mike's post reminded me of this experience. I had no idea that they are so dangerous. On this particular aircraft, if you fail to hold your head firmly against the headrest of the seat when it goes off, you would be decapitated. Nice! They had a training rig--a dummy ejection seat on a spring--to demonstrate the many ways you can be killed or maimed by using the ejection seat improperly.
JE comments: Wow. I don't think Prof. Hilton would have approved (he once cautioned me against buying a motorcycle), but this joy ride sounds like a great deal of fun. Want your own L-39? Here's a sharp 1984 model in Soviet livery, priced to sell at $185,900:
A Ride in a Russian L-39
(Michael Sullivan, USA
01/15/13 2:33 PM)
I have two friends that own L-39s. One not only owns an L-39 but also owns a MiG 21 and a MiG 23. He lives in Wilmington, Delaware and was a former USAF F-102 pilot. He has a Harvard MBA and has made a lot of money working with Fanny Mae.
The other is Bob Lutz, a former Marine pilot and peer of mine as we went through Flight School together, who is heavily involved in the auto industry and is the former Vice Chairman, General Motors Corporation. I believe he had to crash land his L-39 a few years ago when the landing gear wouldn't extend.
I was surprised to learn that there were so many foreign military prop and jet aircraft owners in the US. You must be able to afford about a 1,000 gallons of fuel per hour in a high-performance jet fighter, and then to be able to purchase replacement parts. Many of these jets are out of production, so you have to try and locate parts from all over the world or have the capability to make them. Takes a huge bank account!
JE comments: At around $6 per gallon of jet fuel, L-39s are not a hobby for the faint of wallet! I calculate $100 per minute of flight time.
Bob Lutz is one of my all-time heroes of the auto industry. I'd be honored to meet him someday.
- A Ride in a Russian L-39 (Michael Sullivan, USA 01/15/13 2:33 PM)