Article About Texas - UNITED STATES |
No Fuel. No Field. No Problem?
by Ltjg. Rich Clark
"Wind 290 at 10 kts, cleared for takeoff, switch to departure, monitor guard." I knew I could handle all that and more. After all, I was a veteran of three weeks of T-2C Buckeye flying. I could intercept radials and shoot point-to-points with the best of them! I selected hot mike for takeoff after pulling "the bag" over my portion of the canopy in the aft seat. After a quick "Ready, Sir", we were on our way. No problem!
Returning from the x-country would be a simple event. The instructor was to get us airborne, then I would fly our first leg with an under "the bag" approach into an enroute airfield. We planned for a quick fuel stop and the same sequence to our second stopover. After a final fill up, wed be on our way back home to south Texas and good old NAS Baseclosure. No problem.right?
The first portion of the flight went as briefed. I figured that if I could remember the details I had missed during earlier approaches, I could rail the next few. That way, I could finish the trip by leaving a positive impression with my instructor. I was confident and ready for anything. Anything, that is except a closed airfield. That is where the real fun began.
In the finest of training command traditions, I called the stopover field early to check on a questionable weather forecast. That was perhaps my wisest decision of the day. We were informed that we were welcome to shoot practice approaches, however, the field was currently closed to transient aircraft. Still no problem?
While I was busy running through procedures for a helmet fire with secondaries, my instructor was doing some figuring. He decided instead of going to the nearest divert and risking an overnight delay, we would turn south and proceed directly to our home field. My number crunching efforts suggested that perhaps this was not the best course of action. Being a humble T-2 student (and a NAVCAD to boot), my opinion meant about as much as an LSOs. After politely thanking me for my concerned and considerate critique of his decision-making process, my instructor elected to follow through with his plan.
They say the stars at night are big and bright in Texas. That may be true, but not nearly as bright as a low fuel light I saw as we were approaching the initial approach fix. We abandoned thoughts of a Tacan approach and chose an enroute descent to GCA pickup. (Brilliant, huh?)
There was a conspicuous tension in my voice as I responded to controllers. The instructor suggested holding the gear and flaps until on final. If only he had been thinking that clearly 30 minutes earlier! I prayed to the JP5 gods to grant me just a few more minutes of flight time. "five miles.three miles.two miles.
We landed the mighty Buckeye with enough fuel remaining for a max-range taxi profile to the line. I grabbed my gear and egressed after a forced separation of my lower extremities from the ejection seat. We proceeded quietly into the hangar for a thorough debrief and analysis of the days events.
Is this article about fuel problems and bad decisions? Sure it is! But it didnt have to be. More appropriately it shows how avoiding small inconveniences now can lead to much larger problems later. It matters not whether you are the newest TACCO in the back of a P-3, or the junior wingman in a division of Hornets, if something seems wrong, SAY SOMETHING! It is much easier to explain your reasons for speaking out to the mission commander, than to explain to a mishap board why you could have avoided an accident but said nothing.
Ltjg. Clark flew with VFA-195.
Ltjg. Rich Clark