COOLSTONE CONVENES THE BOARD
Coolstone had just taken off on a test flight in an F-IOIB. While climbing out, he had experienced some lateral control problems. He held at 35,000, and as the aircraft slowed down after the climb, he experienced an uncontrollable roll tendency to the left at around 270 knots. Even with full right aileron below 270 knots he couldn’t hold the aircraft level. He knew he was in serious trouble.
“Hello, McCoy Tower, McCoy Tower. This is Coolstone One, over.” There was a certain amount of urgency in Coolstone’s tones.
“Roger, Coolstone. This is McCoy. Go ahead.”
“This is Coolstone. I’m having control difficulties with this aircraft. Please call our squadron Ops and ask the CO to get on the radio. I’ll pick him up on the tactical frequency.”
As Coolstone waited, he began to weigh all the factors in this situation. He was pretty sure he couldn’t land the bird without an accident in its present condition, but he certainly didn’t want to bail out. What do you suppose the Accident Board would say? If he bailed out, he probably wouldn’t be open to much criticism, but it seemed such a shame to leave a bird in this kind of shape. If he tried to land and goofed in the slightest, well, he’d seen the results before – GCI.
Then on the radio he heard, “Hello, Coolstone One. This is Surefire Ops. Do you have a problem?”
Coolstone recognized the voice of his commander.
“Surefire from Coolstone. You bet your boots I have trouble. I can’t control this bird under 270 knots. Seems as if the aileron control craps out, or something. I let it go to 260 just a few minutes ago, and got into a roll before I could get the speed up enough to stop it. What do you recommend?”
“How much fuel do you have, Coolstone?”
“Well, if I hold it here at 270 to 275, I’d say I have about one plus 45.”
“Roger, boy. Stand by.”
At this point a thought began to take form in Coolstone’s mind – an insidious, sneaky, dirty thought that only could gain birth in a devious mind. I know what I’ll do, he thought. I’ll give the accident board my problem. I’ll do exactly what they recommend, and no matter what happens, it won’t be my accident. Let the experts investigate this one before it happens. For once they can do their famous second guessing on the first go.
“Hello, Surefire. This is Coolstone One. Over.”
“Roger, Coolstone. This is Surefire.” It was the commander still.
“Roger, Skipper. I’ve got a problem here. I don’t know whether to bail out or try to land this thing. In any case, I’m sure I am going to have an accident of some type. I can’t control the bank under 270, and I can’t stop it with full right aileron or rudder. I’ve turned off the autopilot and I’ve pulled the circuit breaker, so that shouldn’t be the trouble. What I was thinking – how about getting the Accident Board members together there in the squadrons and give me the expert advice before I have the accident? I’ll abide by their judgment on whether to bail out or try to land this thing and have my accident then. I’m pretty sure I’m going to have one.”
“Well, now, Coolstone,” said the CO. “This is unusual, indeed. Actually, it is up to you – the pilot’s discretion, and all that type of thing. It’s really your deal.”
“Yes, sir, I know it is my problem and at my discretion, but if my discretion isn’t the Board’s discretion, I’ll get tagged with a pilot error accident, and you know what that means. Unless you’d care to advise me what to do yourself?”
“No, no, er, ah, I wouldn’t care to do that right now, and you have a point. I tell you what I’ll do. I’ll get the Board down here as quickly as possible.”
The CO called the tower and activated the crash circuit, as there is nothing that will scare up an Accident Board quicker than the activation of the crash circuit. Therefore, 15 minutes later an impressive looking puffing group was standing around the squadron radio. This group was composed of the Board president, the accident investigator, the flight safety officer, the doc, the tech reps for the aircraft and engine, the weather man, the group maintenance officer, and, of course, the squadron operations officer, and the CO.
The Board president took the microphone. “Hello, Coolstone One. This is the Accident Board president. I understand you are having a little problem. How much fuel have you remaining?”
“Yes, I might say I have a little problem. I just can’t control this bird under 270 knots. I have about one plus thirty remaining. I could use some advice. How about holding a board and right now, based on the information we both have available to us, advise me what to do? Shall I get out, or shall I try landing? I figure I have an accident cinched both ways. I might save part of the bird at least if I landed.”
“Mmm, ah, yes. Let’s see,” said the Board president. He looked inquiringly at the group surrounding him, and surprisingly enough, none were anxious to talk. At normal Accident Board meetings, the president couldn’t keep them quiet. They all knew exactly what the pilot should have done and didn’t, but now they were strangely silent.
“How about you?” The president looked at the aircraft tech rep. “What would you suggest under the circumstances?”
Well, let’s see,” said the rep. “I really should have my dash two to look at, so I can check out the circuitry. I would hesitate to say without my books. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if this wasn’t an engine problem anyhow.” He looked slyly at the engine rep.
“Oh, come off of it,” said the engine rep. “You airframe people stay up nights trying to hang us. Now you can’t get out of this one.”
“Well,” said the Board president. “I’m still waiting. What do you think? Should he come in and land, or should he bail out?”
“Well,” said the aircraft rep, “offhand, I’d say he is probably exaggerating his problem somewhat and undoubtedly could make a safe landing. Our equipment has double-safe circuits, with failsafe failsafe devices provided to you only by my company.” He broke off as the president handed him the mike.
“You tell the pilot all this information and whether you think he should land or not.”
“Oh, no, no, no,” said the tech rep, handling the mike like it was smallpox. “No, I didn’t say for him to land. I just said-”
“Well, to sum it up,” said the president. “What you said was that you don’t know what he should do.”
“Well, now, I didn’t say that either,” said the rep, “but look, I’m just an advisor, I’m really not a member of this Board.”
“O.K., O.K.,” said the president. Looking around once again, he said, “Who’s got something to say? How about you, Wag?”
“Yeah, yeah,” said the irrepressible weather prophet. “I’d say about 5,000 broken and 15 miles, just as I forecasted.”
“Sure, you would, Wag. How about it, Doc? What do you think?”
The Doc looked thoughtfully for a moment, then said, “Is he hypoxic? And ask him if he had breakfast. You might even ask him if he’s having any personal problems.”
“No, Doc. He’s not hypoxic, and I doubt if personal problems or the lack of breakfast have anything to do with the aileron.”
“Well,” said the Doc, “Obviously I can’t contribute.”
At this point the maintenance officer spoke up. “I’ve been thinking,” he said. “Maybe if he came down to a lower altitude and tried it there, the temperature difference might improve the operation of the aileron control. Now, I don’t mean that this particular problem right here is caused by temperature, but on the other hand, wide temperature changes can sometimes cause even the best-maintained equipment to operate strangely.”
The Board president recognized this pitch from the last accident board.
“Here’s the mike,” said the Board president. “Go to it.”
“Hello, Coolstone, this is the maintenance officer. I wonder if you have considered coming down to, say, 5,000 feet or so and seeing if the temperature change will solve your problem. It’s just possible it might clear it up.”
“Roger,” said Coolstone. “I understand that you’re recommending that I come down to 5,000 feet.”
He was interrupted by the maintenance officer. “I didn’t say I recommended that you do that. I just wondered if you had thought of it.”
“Yes,” said Coolstone. “I thought about that and lots of other things, too. Now just what is it that you recommend? Shall I come down and land, or shall I stay up and bail out, or is there something else you’d like me to try?”
“Well, now, let’s see. Mmm … I recommend … no … stand by.”
The maintenance officer wordlessly handed the microphone back to the Board president. The Board president addressed the Flight Safety Officer. “What do you say? What should he do?”
“Well,” said the Flight Safety type. “He obviously is experiencing a malfunction. I’ll be sure and put it in my next Safety Officer’s Report. But as to what he should do right now, it looks like it’s a decision he’ll have to make for himself. But I sure would like to get the bird back so we can find out what’s wrong.”
“You tell him that,” said the Board president, and the Safety Officer found himself holding the microphone.
“Hello, Coolstone, this is the Flight Safety Officer. Do you read me?”
“Roger, boy,” said the Cold Rock. “What do you recommend? Do you have something?”
“Well,” said the Flight Safety Officer. “I recommend that you do whatever you think is right. It’s up to you, the way I look at it.”
“Wait a minute,” said Coolstone. “I want to do the right thing as you people see it, not as I see it. Now it would appear that you and the rest of the experts there, standing with your both feet firm on the ground, could do a little first-guessing for me, and give me some suggestions. What do you recommend I do? I’ll follow through.”
“Stand by,” said the Safety Officer.
“Let’s call the division,” someone suggested.
“Excellent idea,” said the Board president.
A priority rush, rush call was placed. After a second or so, the division Safety Officer was on the line.
“This is the Accident Board president here at McCoy. We’ve got a problem,” and he went on to explain the situation in full to the Safety Officer at the division. Then he said, “What do you recommend that Coolstone should do here? He is insisting that we give him some assistance in the form of recommended action. Would you suggest that he land, or should he bail out?”
“Stand by one,” said the division Safety Officer. After a long delay, while the president could hear much loud discussion in the background, the Safety Officer came back on the line. Then he said, “Being that far away from the problem, we don’t have any firm recommendations at this time. However, we think you’d better check with ADC.”
“Roger,,” said the president. “That sounds real good.”
The lines to ADC were promptly cleared by the emergency call. Soon the Director of Flight Safety at ADC was on the phone. “This is the Director of Flight Safetv. Can I help you?” he said.
“You certainly can,” said the Board president, and then proceeded to explain the whole situation, ending with the fact that Coolstone only had about 30 minutes of fuel remaining, and asking him for recommendations.
“Well, let’s see,” said the Director of ADC Flight Safety. Ah… mmm… I sure wish I had this on paper; I would definitely recommend that the pilot… Ooops, there goes the blue phone. The general is calling. I’ll have to hang up, but be sure and let me know how it comes out.”
The Board president had the problem back in his lap once again. At this time Coolstone came back on the radio.
“Come off of it, you guys. I’m going to have to come in now, if you recommend that I land. Otherwise, I’ll fly over the field and eject. I’m at the end of my fuel. I’ve tried flying the airplane with gear flaps and speed brakes down, but I still can’t hold it below 270. What do you recommend? I have to have it right now.”
Sweat broke out on each every board member’s forehead. The moment of truth had arrived. The president stared thoughtfully. The rest of the members shuffled their feet and cleared their throats, but said nothing. Then the Board president had an idea. He called the squadron CO and the Ops officer over. “Look,” he said. “Let’s tell him to come on in, and if he can’t keep it in control all the way through to the final, have him eject. Is that O.K.?”
“O.K.” They all nodded in agreement.
“It’s a real good idea,” said the maintenance officer. “The temperature might help, too.”
“O.K., Coolstone,” said the Board president with a sigh. Here’s what we recommend. Come on in. Keep your speed no higher than necessary, make a high pattern and a long, long final. If you have trouble anywhere in the pattern, eject before you get below 1,000 feet.”
“Roger,” said Coolstone. I’ll give it a go. Thanks a lot.”
He brought the airplane down, entered a high downwind, put out his gear, flaps and speed brakes, and kept his speed above 270 – right on 275 as a matter of fact. He turned a long, long base, and, trying to keep his altitude, allowed the speed to bleed off. The bird, already in a left bank, increased its angle of bank uncontrollably. Coolstone frantically brought in both afterburners, and he was ready to eject. It looked like he’d had it. Then the speed came up slowly, and he regained aileron control once again.
There were 10 separate sighs of relief – 9 board members’ and Coolstone’s.
At this point all the board members were yelling instructions at the president.
“Tell him to eject,” one said.
“Tell him to turn without banking,” another said.
“Tell him to hold it straight up,” said another.
“Make a longer final.”
“No, a shorter one.”
Coolstone heard none of this. The president of the Board remained silent.
On final now, Coolstone held a good, solid 275, with the stick full right. He even had some rudder in to hold the wings level. This caused a slight skid, but Coolstone was planning on releasing it as soon as he touched down. In fact, he had all of the steps firmly in mind. The runway was 9,200, including overrun. It had a barrier. He figured he’d pull the chute just as soon as he landed, use aerodynamic braking until 110 or so, and then lower the nose and really get on the binders. With luck the barrier would catch him with little or no damage. If he missed the barrier, he’d be going off the end slowly enough so that there would really be no serious damage to the aircraft.
Over the threshold now, he let the bird down, and then pulled the drag chute and felt it catch, and then was horrified to feel it release again. He saw his airspeed was about 250. He held the nose up as far as he could without getting the main gear off. He felt the aerodynamic braking take over, then he saw the end of the runway coming up at a remarkable pace. At 115 or so he placed the nose gear on the runway and really clamped on the binders. The antiskid went into action.
Coolstone could see he wasn’t going to get stopped. At the last moment he released the brakes and steered for the center of the barrier, then just held on. He glanced at his airspeed and saw he was doing 60 knots. The barrier did not catch him. He went off into the boondocks and, just before he stopped, hit a small ditch which collapsed the nose gear. That was all. The bird stopped.
Whoops, he thought. I made it, and a pretty good job, even if I do say so myself. He got out of the airplane and surveyed the damage. Sure enough, all that was really dinged was the nose gear itself.
A week later Coolstone attended the Accident Board for his accident. The president reassured him that it was merely a formality, just to satisfy the records. After Coolstone was sworn in and had sat down, the president said, “Now we have a few questions, just for the record. For instance, what speed did you hold on final?”
“About 275,” said Coolstone. “I couldn’t hold the airplane level at any less. I tested it several times and you saw what happened when I turned base.”
“I’ll say we did,” said the president. “It took a good bit of flying to recover from that. When did you deploy the chute?”
“Well, right at touchdown, of course,” said Coolstone. “But it came right off, because I was going too fast. For just a bit I thought it would hold.”
At this point the maintenance officer spoke up. “Just for the record, here’s what we found wrong with your control. It was maintenance error, and there was nothing that you could have done to correct this problem in the air. And, just for the record, the chute did not malfunction. It was packed correctly and deployed correctly but, on account of the high speed, it sheared from the aircraft. That’s just for the record,” he repeated.
The Board president took over once again. “I think that’s all we’ll need, Coolstone. Thank you very much. It looks like you did a real good job.”
Coolstone left the room, and decided to wait outside. He felt good. Everyone said he did a good job, and they had found the failure. But he wanted to hear the words – the actual Board findings – from the horse’s mouth. About an hour later he was still waiting. He wasn’t particularly concerned, for he knew of the many details and paperwork involved in an aircraft accident report.
Finally the door opened and the Board president led the group out.
Coolstone rose to greet them, all smiles. “Well,” he said, jokingly. “What’s the verdict?” Never doubting for a moment what he would hear.
“Sit down, Coolstone,” said the Board president, placing a fatherly arm around Coolstone’s shoulders. “Here’s what we found – pilot error.”
“Pilot error!” shouted Coolstone. “I did just what you said. You knew I was going to have some kind of an accident. I told you I would. You recommended that I land. I did just what you told me to do.”
“Yes,” said the Board president, “but how could we know you would deploy the chute at 270. The maximum drag chute deployment speed, we find in looking at the dash one is 215. Also, by our figures – we have just spent an hour with the charts – if you had waited until you did have 215, it would only have taken about 5,100 feet of runway to get stopped.”
“But … but … but,” said Coolstone.
“Don’t worry,” said the Board president. “This is just a fact-finding committee. No disciplinary action will be taken.”
Coolstone started to protest, but he knew better. He knew it would be no use. He walked dejectedly out of the room, and said to himself, “Oh. well. maybe I’ll like GCI.”