DEADSTICKING THE A4:
Flew the A-4B/C from 09/65 to 12/66 - about 370 hours, 160 traps while attached to VA-95, NAS Lemoore and USS Intrepid, one tour to 'Nam (May to Oct '66) - 105 missions, 60 off Dixie Station, the rest off Yankee. I previously flew A1's - 1100 hrs, 300 traps, 2 Med cruises with VA-36 off Saratoga. Finally, flight instructed (RAG) the A7.
The most excitement in the A4, ironically enough, was never directly related to combat ops, but rather routine ops, which sometimes went very awry.
Many numbers remain hazy, others clear…(gimme a break…this happened about forty years ago!!) Since I didn't keep detailed log book notes, I believe this event occurred after our combat cruise, prior to my PCS orders to the A7 RAG, probably late 1966. I recall being very comfortable in the aircraft. It was routine briefing for a routine flight, a HI-LO-HI navigation flight out of Navy Lemoore, (NLC), with some pre-charted low level navigation around the western States with a full fuel load (two drop tanks).
Bill Iams was the section leader, a great guy, officer, and pilot, with whom I'd been flying for years through two aircraft types. Wx was 6000' overcast, "clear as a bell" beneath and startup, takeoff, join-up, and initial climb-out were uneventful.
Tucked in tight on Bill, climbing through 17,000', somewhat NE of FAT (Fresno), heading NE, we slowly broke out of the clouds. The sensation of speed was terrific, as the top of the cloud deck whipped by - what a kick!
Then, just above the cloud layer, Bill appears to rapidly accelerate. I run the throttle up, and call "Bill, gimme a percent". He continues to open, I've got the throttle "fire walled" - he's running away from me - time to look inside.
Airspeed's dropping, EGT is "red-lined", no fire warning, don't recall RPM or fuel flow.
WHAT THE…?!? - Again.
I ease the nose over a bit, back into solid IFR. OK, I'm STILL flying, throttle's back, EGT is below red-line, no indication of an imminent explosion. Start an easy left turn, made a fast decision to fly (or rather, glide) at 220 KIAS (best glide speed; L/D Max?). Squawk 7700 on the transponder, and call Oakland Center (our controlling agency) to tell'em what's happening. I demand clearance "DIRECT NLC, and clear the way, notify NLC of the situation, and giv'em an ETA," etc.
The reply from ATC Oakland really tee'd me off. They wanted to know if I could maintain altitude. I always thought those dudes knew what type aircraft they were controlling!
After rapidly making it abundantly clear as to what my situation was, and demands were, they quickly acceded. Now the entire sky was mine!
So here we are - solid IFR, headed SW toward NLC at 6000' overcast, clear as a bell underneath, descending at about 1000 fpm, got 220 KIAS nailed (max lift/drag?), got plenty of decision-making time, Ram Air Turbine is deployed, dumping fuel, O2 mask in my lap, furiously puffin' on a Benson & Hedges, calculating times/distances/altitudes/number of cigarettes left, reviewing controlled ejection procedures, etc. The jet is flying (or more accurately, gliding) beautifully - except when I push the throttle up, my EGT redlines, and my little J-52 (?) absolutely refuses to give me any thrust.
Shoot, this is just what I had asked for! Transitioning to the A-4 from the A-1 was a blessing to me. I was fascinated with the apparent ease with which one could abandon the jet if it turned on you.
After several (mis)adventures in the old Spad (uncontrolled flight following a deck launch into severe turbulence; emergency pull forward on the boat (CVA-60) as I approached/landed in one threatening to come apart; controlled crash landing in a blizzard in North Africa, etc.), I had relished the thought of a controlled ejection vice a bailout from a crippled Spad. Would even remember to hang on to the rip cord handle, have that sucker "bronzed", and hang it over the fireplace!
Now, I was forced to quietly explain to "the Man upstairs", that I had changed my mind. I found the cockpit to be a wonderful place - warm, and snug, and quiet (yeah, love that part - quiet!), and comfortable. The unspoken, but deeply felt reply, was: "Forget it, son - you wanted it, and now you got it!"
Well, what to do - plenty of open farmland around Lemoore. I can be sure to do no damage if I "punch out" when I'm closer in, and VFR - we'll see.
Broke out into the clear, as expected, at 6000', heading roughly SW and directly in front of me, the two long (12,000'+ parallel runways – 13/31?)
Bend the jet around to starboard a bit, hit a very modified 180 degree position for the left runway (13?) just where I wanted - maybe three or four thousand feet - lot's of altitude, think I - start a left turn towards a close ninety degree position, and "dirty up". I got gear, and flaps, landing checklist complete, Approach Control & Tower have been excellent, crash gear is in place, I own the entire airport. What could be easier?
The jet, however, now in the landing configuration, assumes the flight characteristics of a brick. Wants to drop like a rock. I fly the angle of attack, and eyeball the end of the runway – going to be a very close call. One hand on the stick, one hand on the alternate ejection handle. I'm gonna make it!
NO I'M NOT!
YES, I AM
I think the AOA indicator was at about two o'clock - rate of descent probably around 1000' FPM, and landed the jet about two feet up the left one! Rolled out, and shut down. Home safely - saved the Navy an airplane.
Squadron tractor met me on the runway, hooked up to tow me to the ramp. Now I'm in mild shock. What the hell had just happened?!? Unstrapped, opened the canopy during tow-in - stood up in the cockpit, looked back, down the right side shoulder intake – nothing. Then the left one.
The "greenhouse" assembly was right there at the front of the engine - could see nothing but dirty primer yellow painted aluminum in the intake - airflow completely blocked.
At the ramp, with several maintenance folks around, checked out the tailpipe - several streaks of molten aluminum in evidence.
Couple of days later, maintenance gave me two 8" X 10" black & white "glossies" of the engine hanging on a stand at AMD (Aviation Maintenance Depot). The entire engine spool was smooth, no compressor blades, no turbine blades!
I was then informed by maintenance that USN had lost five A4's prior to my experience, all with the same basic engine indications - red-lined EGT, zero thrust. Mine was the sixth event of this type. Thankfully, all pilots ejected safely. Because mine was available for inspection, the following was discovered. Hardware (nuts/bolts) securing the "greenhouse" assembly at the front of the engine had loosened, dropped out, and passed through the engine, totally destroying it - then allowing the "greenhouse" to fall, blocking airflow. At that time, the Maintenance Manual allowed re-use of elastic stop nuts following "greenhouse" removal for routine maintenance. Manuals were changed to require new hardware (nuts/bolts) to secure the "greenhouse" after each removal. Similar incidents never happened again, so far as I know!
But, WHAT A RIDE!!
Ron "Banty" Marron