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

Gear
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:

Every once in a while, we run across a photo in The Times-Picayune archives that's so striking that it begs a simple question: "What in the name of Momus Alexander Morgus is going on in this New Orleans photograph?" When we do, we've decided, we're going to share it — and to attempt to answer that question.

Read More Show Less
Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces control the monitor of their drone at their advanced position, during the fighting with Islamic State's fighters in Nazlat Shahada, a district of Raqqa. (Reuters/Zohra Bensemra)

MUSCAT (Reuters) - The United States should keep arming and aiding the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) following the planned U.S. withdrawal from Syria, provided the group keeps up the pressure on Islamic State, a senior U.S. general told Reuters on Friday.

Read More Show Less

President Donald Trump claims the $6.1 billion from the Defense Department's budget that he will now spend on his border wall was not going to be used for anything "important."

Trump announced on Friday that he was declaring a national emergency, allowing him to tap into military funding to help pay for barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Read More Show Less

Long before Tony Stark took a load of shrapnel to the chest in a distant war zone, science fiction legend Robert Heinlein gave America the most visceral description of powered armor for the warfighter of the future. Forget the spines of extra-lethal weaponry, the heads-up display, and even the augmented strength of an Iron Man suit — the real genius, Heinlein wrote in Starship Troopers, "is that you don't have to control the suit; you just wear it, like your clothes, like skin."

"Any sort of ship you have to learn to pilot; it takes a long time, a new full set of reflexes, a different and artificial way of thinking," explains Johnny Rico. "Spaceships are for acrobats who are also mathematicians. But a suit, you just wear."

First introduced in 2013, U.S. Special Operations Command's Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) purported to offer this capability as America's first stab at militarized powered armor. And while SOCOM initially promised a veritable Iron Man-style tactical armor by 2018, a Navy spokesman told Task & Purpose the much-hyped exoskeleton will likely never get off the launch pad.

"The prototype itself is not currently suitable for operation in a close combat environment," SOCOM spokesman Navy Lt. Phillip Chitty told Task & Purpose, adding that JATF-TALOS has no plans for an external demonstration this year. "There is still no intent to field the TALOS Mk 5 combat suit prototype."

Read More Show Less

D-Day veteran James McCue died a hero. About 500 strangers made sure of it.

"It's beautiful," Army Sgt. Pete Rooney said of the crowd that gathered in the cold and stood on the snow Thursday during McCue's burial. "I wish it happened for every veteran's funeral."

Read More Show Less