Losses and Aviation Safety

The story of the USMC F/A-18 Hornet student pilot who lost his wings for doing aileron rolls after touch and goes while practicing landing

‘With gaping mouths, the instructors watched one of their star students, a Marine rocking the program, execute an aileron roll at pattern altitude,’ Tim Hibbetts, former US Navy F/A-18 Hornet pilot.

Do you remember the Top Gun scene where Maverick does an aileron roll with his F-14 Tomcat right off the cat?

What would happen to him and to any other military pilot doing unnecessary aerobatic maneuvers?

‘Down in Southern California, there was a newly-winged Naval Aviator going through the Marine Corps Hornet fleet replacement squadron (there was a token number of shared students and instructors between the Navy and Corps “RAGS”),’ Tim Hibbetts, former US Navy F/A-18 Hornet pilot, recalls on Quora.

‘He’d finished the majority of the syllabus, but was having trouble in the carrier qualification phase. The Landing Signal Officers didn’t feel he was ready for the boat, so they were giving him some extra bounces and watching his tapes (in addition to the normal rounds of Field Carrier Landing Practice).

‘A few instructors were clustered around the VCR watching one of his passes from an outlying field where there were no LSOs, just he and a few other students practicing landing.’

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Hibbetts continues;

‘One of them jerked forward and stabbed the rewind button while the others were talking about the last pass.

‘They all now turned and watched the screen again.

‘It was immediately after the touch and go, the student’s jet pointed slightly up, another Hornet in the field of view ahead of him. With gaping mouths, the instructors watched one of their star students, a Marine rocking the program, execute an aileron roll at pattern altitude. Speechless, they scoured the rest of the tape and saw him do this a few more times.’

Hibbetts concludes;

‘He was standing tall in front of the squadron CO who pulled his wings less than an hour later.’

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Photo credit: MC3 (SW) Benjamin Crossley/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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