In The Schmeeze

  • Published
  • 357th Fighter Squadron
So there I was ... in the schmeeze. Actually, it was a standard Korean night -- 2½ miles vis this way and 2½ miles vis that way. I was leading a twoship, nighttime, close air support training mission in an eight-mile patch of sky just south of the demilitarized zone. As always, our training was magnified with marginal weather, minimum illumination, comm jamming from our Korean counterparts and virtually no airspace to execute our air-to-ground game plan. After 50 minutes of target talk-ons, coordinating attacks, rolling in and reacting to threats, I was happy to return to base without any deconfliction breakdowns and zero hazardous air traffic reports filed against my flight -- always solid goals when flying along the DMZ at night.  

Weather during RTB was rapidly decreasing at home plate, so at 25 miles out, I broke us up into separate flights to shoot our own ILSs to a full stop. The ILS approach was uneventful. About two miles out on glide slope and on course, I picked up the runway and prepared for landing. This brings me to the point of this article -- the sortie isn't over until you're in the chocks with engines shut down. As aviators, we know this; yet, how many of us have received a downgrade, hooked a ride or had a "close one" during the benign RTB?  

I'm about 2 miles out and visual with the runway, just having finished a pretty challenging sortie and feeling, well, nothing actually. I wasn't dozing off, thinking about home or anything like that. But I wasn't really thinking "what if," either. Then it hit me ... or rather, they hit me. 

At approximately one mile out and 300 feet, I saw a couple quick flashes and felt several thuds. It took me a second, but I figured I just hit a flock of birds, and it was time to get away from the ground. I executed the "Boldface for Engine Failure While Configured to Land" procedure, which is essentially go max, close your speed brakes and get your flaps up to maneuver. During these steps, I kept one eye on the engines and the other on the runway. I was convinced that at any second the engines would start rolling back, and I was going to have to get out and walk. Fortunately, that didn't happen.  

After executing my boldface, I was about onehalf mile out, engines working fine and in a safe position to land, so that's what I did. Somewhere on short-final, I declared an emergency. After landing, I taxied clear and shut down. I turned the jet over to maintenance where 12 separate bird strikes were found. So I'm proof: birds do fly at night. Since my AIM-9 skewered Daffy Duck, it was easy to determine what I hit. Fortunately for me, the A-10's "mighty" T-34 engines shredded up the other ducks without a hiccup.  

The lesson I re-learned from this experience is to stay in the game all the way through engine shutdown. While I wasn't thinking of other things outside of flying the jet, I definitely wasn't maintaining the same level of focus as I was 30 minutes earlier when I was rolling in and dropping bombs.  

Bottom line: I was lucky. Complacency didn't bite me this time, but that doesn't mean next time it won't. I'm lucky the bird strikes weren't worse, lucky I was in a safe position to land and lucky the A-10 was built so tough. Like unrecognized spatial D, complacency can sneak up on you. And like spatial D, complacency can kill you. Regardless if you're into your 8th hour crossing the pond or if you're reacting to a troops-in-contact, always consider, "What next?" Boldface and CAPS are there to save you when you're in a crunch, but if it takes six to nine seconds for you to react, then what? Don't let complacency sneak up on you. Stay diligent and, as always, check six. Our profession requires nothing less.