This pilot brings a whole new meaning to “stick the landing.”
Just after taking off from the carrier in early June, U.S. Marine Corps Capt. William Mahoney, attached to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263, had to get creative with an emergency landing.
“It was a normal flight day, we were going out to re-punch currency for landing on the ship in the evening,” Mahoney said in a video posted on YouTube. But as soon as he left the deck, the jet indicated a problem.
“As I was climbing away from the deck and put the gear up and realized that I had a gear malfunction, so I immediately pulled the power back and slowed the aircraft down so I wouldn’t overspeed the landing gear,” he said.
Mahoney didn’t know whether his gear was up or down. He had to rely on his shipmates to tell him what was happening, and to figure out the solution. Eventually, they brought out a make-shift stool.
“Eventually, Major Murphy came over the radio and told me that the ship had this amazing invention, basically a stool, that was built specifically for this reason” he said.
But Mahoney never even saw the stool before he managed to land the roughly $35 million jet right on point.
“That pilot did a fantastic job flying the jet under an incredible amount of pressure, and frankly other pilots have died in similar situations,” retired Marine Corps. Lt. Col. Art Nalls, who has flown the AV-8 A and B variants for more than 20 years, told TheBlaze.
Nalls pointed out there is no mention in the video of the emergency system that blasts the landing gear into position with 3,000 pounds per square inch of nitrogen.
“The landing gear is actuated by a hydraulic cylinder, one cylinder on each gear and you put hydraulic fluid into the actuator and that causes the gear to come down — that process is reversed for raising the gear,” Nalls said. “The emergency system is a standalone system that uses compressed nitrogen, stored in something that looks like a scuba bottle, and its actuated by opening a valve that allows that pressure to go into the same hydraulic lines and same actuator used for a regular landing.”
Nalls explained why the crew may not have been able to use that backup system.
“For example, if you had a mechanical failure — if a bolt came loose or if you had combat damage — that would physically prevent the gear from lowering, the emergency system isn’t going to do anything, it would just throw all the excess fluid over the side of the airplane,” he said.
Another Marine Corps veteran, Lt. Col. Paul Geddes, an F-16 pilot with the Air National Guard 113th Wing, flew AV-8Bs in the deployed environment when he was a captain.
“Landing that plane safely is a testament to [Mahoney's] demeanor and skill as a pilot,” Geddes said. “Being able to put the plane on centerline — it looked like he had done that dozens of times — but in fact none of us are trained to do that.”
Col. Geddes said he doubts many pilots even know that kind of special stool exists, but it may have been created after this incident in 2006. Another Harrier experienced a nose gear malfunction, but according to Internet lore, the commanding officer told the pilot to put the aircraft down on…mattresses.
“What a major cluster, that was wrong on so many levels,” Col. Nalls said, “I had heard of that incident before, but I can’t tell you what happened there.”
TheBlaze contacted Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point to confirm it was, in fact, a TAV-8B assigned to VMAT-203 that attempted the ill-fated “soft” nose landing. A spokesman for the base said it was “difficult to track down” the info, but did eventually confirm “the mattress landing did occur here.”
So the Marine who developed that stool deserves a raise.
“It’s almost impossible to second guess decision making in these situations, but the bottom line is, the best part about (Mahoney’s landing) is that the pilot walked away and the plane will likely fly again,” Col. Nalls said. “Nothing succeeds like success.”