Cold War Era

Former USAF F-4 pilot explains why he was punished for doing a Smooth Emergency Landing after one of his Phantom II’s engines exploded

‘The deputy commander for operations (DCO) wanted to give me an article-15 (nonjudicial punishment) for not ejecting,’ Charlie Noak, former USAF F-4 Phantom II pilot.

In a military aircraft, an ejection seat is a system designed to rescue the pilot or other crew of an aircraft in an emergency. In most designs, the aircraft canopy comes off and the seat is propelled out of the aircraft by an explosive charge or rocket motor, carrying the pilot with it. Once clear of the aircraft, the ejection seat deploys a parachute. In two seat aircraft, the seats are ejected at different angles to avoid a collision.

Before ejection seats, pilots would have to remove the aircraft canopy manually to climb and jump out.

Ejection seats can save lives.

But does a military pilot get some kind of “punishment” if he ejects from a plane?

‘Other than the physical punishment, none that I know of. I was once punished for not ejecting from an F-4,’ Charlie Noak, former USAF F-4 Phantom II pilot, recalls on Quora. ‘In 1987 my right-engine had a massive overspeed due to its Fuel Flow Controller (this had never occurred in an F-4 before) failing to the full flow position. The engine’s exhaust gas temperature (EGT) went from normal to over 1,500 degrees F so quickly that by the time I pulled the throttle back to the close position, the engine had already exploded due to the high heat causing the turbine blades expanding and breaking off as they chewed into the engine’s protective casing. The fireball extended from 100+ feet in front to 300+ feet out the back. The broken off turbine blades were twinkling in the afternoon sunshine. There was no continuing fire, so I headed back in a slow turn to land at the airfield I had just left. During my approach, the utility hydraulic pressure, which makes most every control surface of the plane work, began dropping in fits and starts, going to zero pressure slightly before I landed.

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-4E Phantom II 32nd TFS, CR 68-446

‘Single engine failure with loss of utility hydraulic failure was the most dreaded of all F-4 emergency procedures – if you get low on glideslope on final, you would need to use afterburner on the good engine to climb back to the correct glideslope. If you apply afterburner, however, the plane will flip over, and drive you into the ground.

‘I stayed on the correct glide slope, and made a smooth landing (I was motivated). The deputy commander for operations (DCO) wanted to give me an article-15 (nonjudicial punishment) for not ejecting. However, the Phantom (F-4) fleet was grounded worldwide for FFC inspections, and seven were found to be on the verge of failure. Those were all replaced, and a new item was added to all major inspections. Twelfth Air Force thought I should be recognized for saving the airplane so that the problem was identified. As is usual in such cases, the “bad boy,” and the “atta boy” canceled each other out.’

Noak concludes;

‘Faced with the same problem today, I would do the exact same thing.’

Photo credit: SRA PERRY HEIMER / U.S. Air Force

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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  • Charlie Noak, give your folk enough material left for proofing that the misshapp is not your fault looks like good training and better reaction !
    On Febr, 13, 1964 - a friday naturally - I opted for an unscheduled training flight since I wasn't too famous with the offered lunch. So my instructor an I performed some TCTPs and finally some pinoccle landings on a snow covered road. The last planned landing occured to be our last since the 3blade main rotor of our Bristol Sycamore went out of sinc and forced the 3leg landing gear in a massive GROUND RESONANCE !! Turning left some 100° and slamming on the right side happend within 3-5 secs which we both stayd completely cautious !
    Next day I send a letter to a fellow doing the same duty in a sister flight in the north of Germany with a point-for-point report of my happening (enclosed a bill for a beer box - we had a bet running for the first crash paid the bill !!) !
    A few days later I got an answer - with an enclosed bill - and the akknowledgement of my hint regarding the Flight Manual ".. in a case of....do this or that ..." never to do "or" : My letter arrive4d just before a scheduled TCTP and he happened to come in the same misshapp - aan induced ground resonance !! And following my instruction finally all stayed safe und survived.!!
    The revision of our Flight Manual left only one reading to the theme Ground Resonance: Get airborne again so the wheels are clear and when the rotor is in stern again try the next landing ! If GR occurs again perform aforesaid steps then turn the helicopter 90° left and land again !
    We both IP & PF were not punished and the crash was marked as written off to training incident !

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