How One Gutsy Harrier Pilot Walked Away From A 'Catastrophic' Engine Failure

Gear
AV-8B Harrier jets with Marine Attack Squadron 311 fly over Helmand province, Afghanistan, June 10, 2013.
Photo via DoD

With Marine Corps Class A aviation mishaps at a five-year high, the branch’s decision back in April to extend the life of the AV-8B Harrier attack aircraft — an about-face from an earlier 2014 replacement program despite the jump-jet’s hazard-prone record — seemed strange. But a new internal Department of Defense investigation captures the stark consequences of the accident-prone aircraft’s newfound lease on life.


On March 8, 2016, a British Royal Air Force pilot deployed with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 162 (reinforced) aboard the USS Kearsarge in the North Arabian Gulf narrowly escaped death when his Harrier burst into flames during takeoff, as Military.com reported at the time. But while the pilot, assigned to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit as part of an international training exchange program, managed to walk away without a scratch, a new Pentagon investigation obtained by Military.com paints a grim picture of the incident.

Frankly, it’s a miracle the 29-year-old flight lieutenant walked away at all. The Harrier was loaded up with munitions as part of the 26th MEU’s seven-month deployment with the Kearsarge against ISIS in Iraq and Syria; the aircraft’s $63 million in damage included “$245,000 in ordnance jettisoned to avoid ‘cooking off.’”

And that’s not even including the fuel. “I saw the clamshell panels blow upwards and outwards with a large ball of flames right behind it,” one witness, a Marine gunnery sergeant, said in a statement, according to Military.com. “A few seconds later, I saw fuel on the deck start spreading underneath the jet and drifting forward to the nose …  At this point, the fuel ignited covering the entire jet nose to aft in fire.”

Although the investigating officer who authored the Pentagon report described the incident as “catastrophic” — the subsequent explosion and fire crippled two other Harriers and a ton of other expensive equipment — the branch concluded that it was “unable to determine” the exact cause of the incident. The RAF pilot “executed all emergency procedures in an exemplary manner by exercising good judgment despite facing unique and unforeseen circumstances,” according to the report.

As Military.com notes, the March incident was just one of three Harrier-related aviation mishaps to afflict the Corps in 2016 alone; in September of that year, the Corps ordered a temporary operational pause on Harrier jets with the III Marine Expeditionary Force after a third mishap in the Pacific Ocean near Japan. The causes of those two incidents, according to Military.com, “have yet to be made public.” And people wonder why they call it “The Widowmaker.”

WATCH NEXT:

A Syrian commando-in-training applies the safety on his rifle during basic rifle marksmanship training in Syria, July 20, 2019. (U.S. Army/Spc. Alec Dionne)

The U.S. government failed to effectively account for nearly $715.8 million in weapons and equipment allocated to Syrian partners as part of the multinational counter-ISIS fight, according to a new report from the Defense Department inspector general.

Read More
The GAU-5A Aircrew Self Defense Weapon (U.S. Air Force photo)

Editor's Note: This article by Matthew Cox originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

Air Force gunsmiths recently completed delivery of a new M4-style carbine designed to break down small enough to fit under most pilot ejection seats.

Read More
(Navy photo / Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jess Lewis)

NEWPORT -- The Office of Naval Inspector General has cleared former Naval War College president Rear Adm. Jeffrey A. Harley of most of the allegations of misconduct claimed to have occurred after he took command of the 136-year-old school in July 2016, The Providence Journal has learned.

Harley, in one of a series of interviews with the The Journal, called the findings "deeply gratifying." He said many of the most sensational allegations -- "offers of 'free hugs' and games of Twister in his office" -- reflected a misunderstanding of his sense of humor, which he describes as "quirky," but which he says was intended to ease tensions in what can be a stressful environment.

The allegations, reported last year by the Associated Press, prompted a national controversy that led to Harley leaving the college presidency after almost three years in office.

Read More
REUTERS/Scott Audette/File Photo

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), has long been seen as an apologist for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, whom she met during a secret trip to Damascus in January 2017.

Most recently, a video was posted on Twitter shows Gabbard evading a question about whether Assad is a war criminal.

Since Gabbard is the only actively serving member of the military who is running for president — she is a major in the Hawaii Army National Guard — Task & Purpose sought to clarify whether she believes Assad has used chlorine gas and chemical weapons to kill his own people.

Read More
Barrett's bolt-action Multi-Role Adaptive Design (MRAD) system (Courtesy photo)

The Army is almost doubling its purchase of new bolt-action Precision Sniper Rifles as its primary anti-personnel sniper system of choice, according to budget documents.

Read More