Location: CVA-66 USS America
Description: During the 1967 Mediterranean cruise of USS America (CVA 66), what normally would have passed as just another day of flight operations turned into a literal "cliff hanger" for LTJG Karl Leuffen of VA 36.
After trapping on board America, Leuffen routinely added power to taxi forward out of the arresting gear, only to discover that he'd lost hydraulic pressure and had no brakes. Following that discovery, in short order he made two contributing errors. He forgot to drop his hook (the pilot signal to deck crew indicating loss of brakes) and he failed to shut down his engine. As a result, the aircraft continued to move forward on the flight deck toward the bow.
Alert members of the deck crew recognized what was happening and threw wheel chocks and tie down chains beneath the wheels in an attempt to stop the aircraft, but too late and to no avail. The thrust of the idling engine provided sufficient momentum to overcome the attempted blocks. Leuffen's Skyhawk reached the round down at the forward end of the flight deck and over the side he went - almost. As the nose of the slow moving aircraft dropped between the catapult bull noses, the drop tanks speared and became entangled in the deck edge personnel safety net structure. The Skyhawk was stopped, hanging over the bow in an almost vertical position.
LTJG Leuffen was in an extremely precarious position with only minimal support being provided by the relatively flimsy safety net piping. If that support gave way, the aircraft would fall into the sea and almost certainly be run over by the ship, probably with a fatal result. The deck crew hurriedly attached tie down chains. To help "hold" the aircraft in position, the captain kept the ship into the wind with 30 knots blowing over the bow.
The Skyhawk's main landing gear were still on deck, so the problem was to disentangle the aircraft from the personnel safety net rigging. A catapult hold back fitting (designed to hold the aircraft on deck until the catapult is fired during the launch sequence) was attached to the rear fuselage of the Skyhawk Then, the "Cherry Picker," the flight deck crane, was attached by cable to the hold back fitting. The Skyhawk was eased backward until it was again in a normal three point stance on the flight deck, and quickly secured. LTJG Leuffen's only injury was to his pride and damage to the aircraft was minor. After thorough inspection, the drop tanks were replaced, the nose wheel door and wing slats were repaired, and the aircraft was back on the flight schedule the next day.
As Shakespeare wrote, all's well that ends well. Or, as humorist Will Rogers said, Everything is funny, as long as it is happening to someone else."
From the Summer 1997 Skyhawk Association Newsletter.
Skyhawk Newsletter article by Captain Wynn Foster, USN (ret) and Ted "Bear" Langworthy for documentation.