When someone hit the “mute” switch on my XO’s fighter…
A beautiful day in Key West. Florida. I’m part of a three-ship of bogies, fighting against a pair of FA-18s from the east coast training squadron. I’m in a TA-4J, a two-seat version of our subsonic, single engine adversary aircraft. My squadron XO is in the single-seat version, an A-4E. Our flight lead is a good friend in an F-16N – he has a radar, he gets us to the merge.
We’ve had two hacks, and are half way through the third, when I hear a “knock it off, I’m flaming out.” It’s the XO, and already he’s starting to lose altitude as the engine unwinds. It was a single engine aircraft, with the one (the only) engine driving the generator and no battery, so I know he’s already deployed the ram air turbine, or RAT. The RAT is a basically an electricity generating windmill, that deploys from the fuselage cheek into the windstream when a handle in the cockpit is pulled.
I ease power to idle and feather the speedbrakes to maintain position. We’re at around 15,000 feet, descending at about 2000-3000 feet per minute. We’ve got some time before 3000 feet (our minimum controlled ejection altitude in that aircraft) but not lots of time. I start going through the engine failure checklist from memory on the UHF radio to help him out – like me, he has it memorized. Unlike me, he’s about five or six checklist steps away from punching out of what had moments before been a perfectly suitable airplane. It’s going to hurt, physically. Pointed questions will be asked at the mishap review. One tends to get distracted. […]