“I’m not going to lie. It was scary, but our training and the system we have in CENTCOM is really good,” Capt. Jonathan Kipp, F-15E WSO.
An F-15E Strike Eagle on a combat mission over the Middle East encountered a rare emergency on both engines but the crew was able to fly the aircraft to an emergency divert location in January.
As told by Senior Airman Giovanni Sims, 378th Air Expeditionary Wing, in the article A Wounded Eagle, US Air Force (USAF) Maj. Peter Kaszynski, F-15E Strike Eagle pilot, and Capt. Jonathan Kipp, weapons system officer (WSO), from the 494th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron led a two-ship of F-15Es on a close air support (CAS) mission. Four hours into the flight, while providing seamless coverage to the Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) on the ground with the support of their wingman, this particular mission turned into a harrowing situation usually only encountered in emergency procedures simulators. Thick cloud cover meant that the air-to-air refueling rendezvous had to be accomplished with flying primarily by reference to instruments rather than visually. Additionally, the datalink and air-to-air distance measuring equipment that improve situational awareness on their wingman were both inoperative. Finally, coalition ground control radar was temporarily down, meaning they were not getting updates on where other aircraft were in the area. This left them with only one way to locate their wingman, their radar.
While training and proficiency make air-to-air refueling routine, connecting two airplanes in the skies above a modern day war zone is anything but mundane. As Kaszynski and Kipp were completing their rendezvous with the tanker for their last top off, the aircrew observed a “MASTER CAUTION” warning indicating failed flight control hydraulics, utility hydraulics, and generator power on their right engine. They rapidly assessed the situation as an airframe mounted accessory drive (AMAD) failure. The dual-engine fighter provides redundancy so the aircrew still had operable flight controls, utility hydraulics, and electrical power; however, the AMAD failure checklist restricts use of the affected engine to idle power.
“We left it to our wingmen to continue the show of force because our main goal was to help the guys on the ground,” said Kipp. “We just took a breath, took out our checklist and ran through the safety procedures.”
The aircrew immediately executed the appropriate emergency action items. Kaszynski and Kipp pulled the engine to idle power and diverted towards the nearest appropriate airfield in the area of responsibility using thrust from only the remaining engine.
As they continued their emergency divert, communication with their wingmen was further complicated by two radio failures, forcing them to juggle the monitoring of tactical frequencies. Once they were able to direct their wingmen to rejoin as they continued to the emergency divert location, Kaszynski and Kipp accomplished cleanup items on the emergency procedure checklists. While their wingmen conducted a battle damage check on the exterior of the aircraft, Kaszynski and Kipp observed a left bleed air caution associated with their left engine, compounding an already serious emergency with a second malfunction that could have resulted in an in-flight fire. The aircrew rapidly accomplished the emergency checklist items for a bleed air caution, but the problem remained. Because the left bleed air caution remained illuminated even after accomplishing the checklist, the compound emergency resulted in checklist guidance to leave both the left and right engines in idle.
“Following the checklist precisely would have given us minimal thrust or another idle engine,” said Kaszynski. “We chose to maintain engine power to get us to our destination safely.”
The aircrew soon faced a third problem when the Environmental Control System (ECS) caution light illuminated. The aircrew ran the ECS caution checklist, and accurately assessed the ECS caution to be a result of relying upon the bleed air source from the right engine (as directed by the left bleed air checklist), which was in idle as directed by the AMAD failure checklist. Amidst this challenging and complex emergency, which could have very easily resulted in an unsalvageable situation, Kaszynski and Kipp were able to successfully divert and land their aircraft at a suitable airfield.
Upon inspection of the aircraft, maintenance discovered that the AMAD completely failed, resulting in heat damage that could have led to a fire had the aircrew not quickly diagnosed the situation and executed the checklist properly.
“I’m not going to lie. It was scary, but our training and the system we have in CENTCOM is really good,” said Kipp. “Our wingmen throughout the AOR took care of us while in the air and getting us operational again on the ground. It was great teamwork.”
Overall, any one of the above emergencies experienced in isolation is a major aircraft malfunction. Kaszynski and Kipp seamlessly managed compounding emergency procedures in a dynamic combat environment, resulting in the safe return of both the aircrew and aircraft.
As a testament to the U.S. military’s readiness in the theater, the F-15E was repaired and resumed flying combat sorties within the week.
Photo credit: Tsgt Brad Fallin / U.S. Air Force and Teddy Techer