Losses and Aviation Safety

RAF PILOT WAS ABOARD THE USMC AV-8B HARRIER THAT CAUGHT FIRE ON BOARD USS KEARSARGE LAST YEAR

While the pilot was given a clean bill of health and no other personnel were hurt, the explosion and fire caused damage to two other AV-8B Harrier jump jets on the deck and one $3.6 million Litening advanced targeting pod

The accident investigation for a VMA-223 AV-8B that caught fire as it was launching from USS Kearsarge to conduct strikes on ISIS last year has been completed.

It was revealed that a British exchange pilot from the Royal Air Force (RAF) was at the controls of Harrier BuNo 165003 when its engine exploded during the take-off run.

The flight lieutenant was praised for his handling of the emergency.

As explained by DoD Buzz, the 29-year-old exchange pilot had flown the majority of his career in an RAF Hawk T1, a training aircraft, but had amassed more than 326 hours in the Harrier. The investigation determined he was current, capable and healthy, and did nothing to cause the aircraft malfunction.

Moreover, the Marine investigating officer wrote in the mishap report, “[The flight lieutenant] executed all emergency procedures in an exemplary manner by exercising good judgment despite facing unique and unforeseen circumstances.”

As the pilot himself explained, he had completed all final preflight checks and had slammed the throttle to take off from the ship. Then he heard “a massive pop” and felt the aircraft decelerate sharply.

“The aircraft had a lot of momentum, and it ultimately veered to the port side after rolling down the flight deck for about 80 feet,” the report states.

At this point, flames were visible on the body of the aircraft, and the firefighting team attached to the Kearsarge was already moving to extinguish the fire.

Over the radio, the pilot was told to eject. But he saw he had control of the aircraft and was able to bring it to a stop.

So instead, he “safed” his ejection seat, opened the Harrier’s canopy, and moved to exit the aircraft that way.

While the pilot was given a clean bill of health and no other personnel were hurt, the explosion and fire caused damage to two other Harriers on the deck and one $3.6 million Litening advanced targeting pod, according to the investigation.

Other Harriers that had already launched from the aircraft were diverted to Bahrain after the fire and ordered to jettison their bombs at sea in a designated “drop box.”

While the investigation cleared the pilot of any culpability in the incident, it left questions unanswered as to what caused the engine failure, described by the investigating officer as “catastrophic.”

Actually investigators believe an issue with a compressor blade was the cause of the incident.

Photo credit: Photographers Mate 3rd Class Angel Roman-Otero and Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Lacordrick Wilson / U.S. Navy

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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