Unintended consequences: Ejection seat edition

The legendary Colonel Jerry Cadick (USMC, ret.) writes to comment on Steve Hayward’s meditation on unintended consequences. This is too good to keep to ourselves:

Your article reminded me of some personal experiences I had in 26 years as a Marine fighter pilot. Not with seat belts, airbags and red light cameras, but with ejection seats.

I became a naval aviator on 6 October 1964. This was a time when ejection seats ranged from technology of the late 1940s to Martin-Baker modern ejection seats that could be used at zero airspeed and zero altitude. I flew jet aircraft with both capabilities (…I also flew prop aircraft that pilots had to bail out of, as in WWII…)

I had two experiences that involved “unintended consequences.”

The first one: Mid-70s I was a staff officer at Headquarters Marine Corps in Washington, DC. Aviator staff officers had to fly 110 hours annually to rate flight pay. I chose to fly the T-33 jet at Andrews AFB and the T28 prop aircraft at Quantico, Virginia.

I took Wednesday off to fly a T-33 jet on a round-robin flight to Georgia, then to Wright-Patterson AFB at Dayton, Ohio and back to Andrews AFB.

Climbing to 30,000 ft on the leg to Wright-Patterson, the engine rpm suddenly dropped from 100 percent to 90 percent on its own! I went through all engine emergency procedures but nothing seemed to fit this unusual loss of power. So I proceeded to Wright-Patterson, requested a practice instrument approach to a full stop landing. With landing gear extended, flaps full down and on landing speed about 800 ft above ground, the FIRE warning light came on and smoke entered my cockpit through all the air vents. A couple of seconds later, the engine exploded and blew out the left side!

The old ejection seat in my T-33 required 1000 ft above ground (…1940s technology…) in order to have the altitude to deploy a full parachute. With no engine and a fire, I spotted a muddy cornfield ahead, blew off my tip tanks and declared an emergency. I had 13 seconds left before touchdown… As I approached the corn field I spotted telephone/power lines and had to glide under them, which put my touchdown just in front of a hog fence around the corn field. I went through the fence, tearing off my flaps, landing gear doors and speed brakes. I rolled across the muddy cornfield about 800 feet when the nose landing gear broke off, so the T-33 came to an abrupt halt. Opened the canopy, unstrapped, looked behind the cockpit and saw nothing but flames 20-30 feet high!

I have since maintained that I set the world`s running record for about 220 yards, running across a muddy cornfield in full flight gear!

Air Force flight surgeons gave me a flight physical, pointed out that there was an Air Force passenger plane leaving shortly for Andrews AFB and put me on it. Once there I drove home and the next morning was back at my desk in HQMC as if nothing unusual had happened.

The second one: Fast forward two years and my staff tour long over, I am a Major and operations officer of an F4J Phantom squadron at Marine Corps Air Station, Beaufort, South Carolina. But, as a TopGun instructor, I am also checked out to fly the A-4 Skyhawk as an aggressor pilot. (…The A-4 closely matched the flight characteristics of the Russian MiG-17.

The A-4 squadron had a “14 year long accident free record”; the longest of any squadron in the Marine Corps! I am scheduled to fly a 2v1 air combat flight against 2 Phantoms. I launch first to go 50 miles out to sea to reach my station. It is winter. I reach my station, establish radio contact with the ground radar control and with the 2 Phantoms. We commence our first run to engagement.

Within seconds, my A-4 engine starts making explosive sounds! A quick scan of my instruments reveals the *oil pressure* is at 5 psi, way lower than normal 30 psi! I declare an emergency, knock off the dogfight, ask the F4 Phantoms to join up on me and head for MCAS Beaufort. My engine ran, roughly, until I got overhead the beach, at 16,000 ft and 10 miles from the base. Then it quit and went to zero rpm; indicating an engine seizure .

I deployed an emergency ram air turbine for electricity to my radio. I called the Beaufort tower and requested to be cleared to land on runway 21, a 10,000 ft runway. They cleared me. Now, the A-4 Skyhawk had a modern ejection seat that was zero/zero capable! However, US Navy aviation policy was “NO deadstick(…no engine…) landings! Pilots were to eject from aircraft….

It took me only about a *nanosecond* to decide that “this Marine fighter pilot was NOT going to end the longest safety record in the history of Marine aviation…” I had already deadsticked a T-33 into a cornfield 2 years prior, under worse circumstances than this. And reasoned that would be viewed in my favor….

I glided over the air base at 10,000 ft and lowered my landing gear, maintained 195 knots airspeed (…best glide speed for a Skyhawk…). I had no flaps because they were electrically activated and the ram air turbine could not provide that much electricity.

I glided to a touchdown on runway 21 with a centered *meat ball*, the normal touchdown point, and dropped my tail hook to catch the rollout end of runway 21`s arresting gear. I hooked the arresting gear and came to a full stop.

The commanding officer of the A-4 squadron was there on the runway, helped me unstrap and then shook my hand for saving his squadron`s “historic record”!

Two days later, all Hell broke loose! The Navy Safety Center got the message—-and— demanded that I go before a flight performance board, who would remove my Naval Aviator Wings of Gold, for deadsticking that A-4 Skyhawk!

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES: The Navy Safety Center *used* my mandatory deadstick landing in the T-33, two years prior, as evidence that I apparently had a *fear of ejecting*….

I wrote letters back and forth to the Navy Safety Center explaining that in the T-33 landing, I had no choice and that in the A-4 landing I was driven to not have my name associated with ending the longest safety record in the history of the Marine Corps. {…Besides, what I did not say and could not prove, was that I was a natural fighter pilot who had no fear of living on the edge, in the world of aviation combat…)

Long story, short. My Marine Aircraft Wing commanding general, while stationed at MCAS Beaufort, was my squadron commanding officer in Vietnam, where I flew 192 combat missions in the F-4B Phantom. I went up to his base at MCAS Cherry Point, N.C. and met him at the officer`s club one Friday evening. Now a Major General, I appealed to him to stand between my decision and its rejection by the Navy Safety Center.

I still have no idea what he did, BUT, the threats from the Navy Safety Center simply ceased!?!?

How is that for unintended consequences?

Semper Fidelis,
Jerry R. Cadick
Colonel USMC (ret.)

PS: Pilot callsign awarded me from that A-4 squadron commanding officer was: “Kamikaze.” Which I kept through five commands, the last being the largest Marine Air Group in the USMC. Nine squadrons, 300 officers and 4000 Marines.

Colonel Cadick, we salute you.

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