Student Naval Aviator CQ
Student Naval Aviator CQ
This occurred sometime in the mid to late 1980's; I can still see the event as clear as day, just as it happened yesterday. It started as just another CQ det (Carrier Qualification detachment) at Naval Air Station Key West, Florida. All three TRAWINGs pooled their aircraft and shared them with the student pilots as fast as the carrier could take them. Things started to go downhill from the start. TW-3 and VT-7 pilots brought back Scooters from the boat requiring two engine changes and a serious overstress inspection - all to our TW-2 aircraft! Sadly, one VT-7 pilot disappeared and I think his body was never recovered. I vaguely recall a truck delivering a small piece of wreckage to the hangar that some fisherman had snagged.
Toward the end of the first day’s second CQ cycle, we overheard an emergency call to the Det Ops folks on the radio. A VT-7 SNA (Student Naval Aviator) had made an EXTREMELY hard landing on a touch-and-go at the ship and broke a retaining gear at the top of the starboard main landing gear strut allowing the strut to hang almost a foot lower than normal. With the extra length of strut exposed, he was unable to raise the gear. Rumor Control had it that the SNA was told to bail out by the powers-that-be aboard the ship, but he had flown back to the Naval Air Station with the gear down. We all lined the edge of the ramp as he made a pass for Ops to look him over while burning off any gas left in the drop tanks. Everyone gasped at the sight. The starboard wheel was about 16 inches lower and cocked 90 degrees to the runway! After circling for a time, the fuel state was apparently within limits and the crash crew ready. Everyone who wasn't otherwise occupied lined the ramp to watch the crash that was sure to come.
I don't know exactly what kind of precautionary approach was used, but we watched intensely as he settled toward the runway. As soon as the starboard wheel touched the pavement, it snapped off, cartwheeling end over end down the runway underneath the tail of the Skyhawk. Our intrepid aviator punched the throttle and resumed flying without touching another wheel to the ground. Free of the extra long strut, he was able to raise all of the landing gear and made a few circles while the errant strut and wheel were recovered from the runway where they had tumbled and bounced for a couple hundred feet. Once again, he made his approach, this time wheels-up.
I have heard stories of the Skyhawk Ski Club, but now we got a chance to watch it gain a new member. The engine was shut down just before touchdown and the Skyhawk slid along on the drop tanks showering the runway with sparks. After enough of the aluminum had disappeared from the bottom of the tanks, gravity took over and they collapsed slightly within a second of each other and a small explosion as the last few ounces of fuel ignited. The flames disappeared quickly and the Skyhawk slid to a stop with only a skinned nose, a couple of BCM 300 gallon drop tanks, and a starboard main landing gear to repair.
Epilogue: I heard the SNA was canned after the incident. Best airmanship I ever saw, though, in saving the plane after he snapped the strut off. A crane had to be brought in from Truman Annex in Key West to move the jet from the runway. You can imagine the problems they had getting through the mid-day traffic in the narrow Key West streets. It was several hours before they arrived to put the jet on a flatbed and move it onto some jacks we had set up near VAQ-33's flightline. Because the repairs and engine changes needed to refly the Skyhawk, four of us were left behind when the rest of the Squadron personnel returned home to Texas. We spent almost another week putting the plane back together - - - another week in KEY WEST!