Wednesday, December 10, 2008

F/A-18 crash in San Diego

Well, they've figured out why the F-18 crashed. Apparently the plane suffered an engine failure during a training flight from the aircraft carrier it's based on. On a twin-engine fighter that's not considered a catastrophic failure that would prompt the pilot to ditch, it's merely a major failure that requires the plane to land as quickly as possible. With a trainee pilot aboard, SOP is to head for the nearest land-based airstrip that can handle the plane if one's in range rather than risk landing back aboard the carrier. The pilot was following the most direct route he could back to Miramar, which is also why he was making his approach from the west (nearest the carrier) rather than circling completely around the base (flying over residential neighborhoods the whole way) and making the more normal approach from the east. On final, low and slow and with landing gear down and flaps out, he lost his remaining engine. In that configuration with no engines the F-18 has all the glide characteristics of a bowling ball. You aren't even going to have much choice in where you aim it, it'll be going down so fast.

My guess is the second engine went from a bird ingestion, or from damage from the first engine failure. There's plenty of seagulls and other large birds in the area it went down, and it was low enough it could've easily picked one up.

Some of the civilians are wondering why the pilot took the risk of taking a damaged plane over a city. Well, what else was he supposed to do? This is a trainee pilot without many carrier landings under his belt. A carrier landing involves hitting a 3-foot square that's bobbing around by 12-15 feet every 10-15 seconds, in an airplane that's also bobbing around by 5-10 feet every few seconds, while travelling at 180mph, and with only one engine he's only going to get one shot at it (even under the best of circumstances it's not unusual for a trainee to need 3-4 tries to get aboard). On a regular airstrip he'll have a lot more room for error. Heading for land's the safest option.

1 comment:

Patrick Roberts said...

i was amazed at what a non-condemning attitude the father of the family that was killed had after this crash