View Full Version : Marine Corps' "Widow-Maker"....

12-13-02, 09:26 AM
Apparently, an upcoming (to begin Dec 15) 4-part series of articles on the Harrier....


12-13-02, 09:30 AM

12-15-02, 05:07 PM
Los Angeles Times

December 15, 2002


Far From Battlefield, Marines Lose One-Third of Harrier Fleet


12-16-02, 06:17 AM
(Though it doesnt state that)

Los Angeles Times

December 16, 2002

The Vertical Vision

Punching Out At 15,000 Feet

A pilot has a lot to consider in those crucial seconds. Eject too soon and
your career could suffer. Go too late and you're dead.

By Kevin Sack, Times Staff Writer

PRAIRIE VILLAGE, Kan. --Odd as it may seem, the first thought that crossed
Lt. Col. John W. Capito's mind as he felt the initial lash of freezing rain
at 15,000 feet was of the 8-year-old boy at the airfield.

"Have you ever had to eject?" the youngster had asked as Capito prepared to
jet off in his AV-8B Harrier.

"No, kid," the 39-year-old Marine told him. "That never really happens."
Capito knew better. Harrier pilots must always be prepared for an
unscheduled ride up the rails. Considering the plane's safety record, some
say they feel "spring-loaded to eject."

It is rarely a simple call, or one afforded much time for calculation. Reach
down and pull the black-and-yellow rubberized handle at the right moment and
you float to earth with the anticipation of free drinks at the officer's
club. Pull it a second late and your family faces a closed-casket funeral.
Punch out before it is clear that the plane is doomed and you can expect a
lifetime of second-guessing.

On March 31, 1985, Capito ejected into a battering storm over Long Island
Sound. His harrowing descent to the 38-degree water below lasted nearly 20
minutes. While buffeted by gusting wind and pea-sized hail, he had plenty of
time to contemplate the causes and consider the consequences.

His odyssey began at the Naval Air Station at South Weymouth, Mass., where
the boy had posed his question. Capito was a Kentuckian, the son of a
Marine, and an experienced aviator. Before joining a Harrier squadron in
1973, he had notched 130 missions in Vietnam in the F-4 Phantom.

Now he was second in command of the Harrier training squadron at the Marine
air base in Cherry Point, N.C. He had been tapped to become the squadron's
commander in three months.

From the first time he saw it, Capito loved the pure power of the plane.

"You see a Harrier hover and then a few seconds later accelerate at 400
knots and it's just impressive," he recalled. "It was loud and smoky and
fast, all the things you wanted in an airplane."

Like most Harrier pilots, Capito had survived several close calls. Early in
his career, he forgot to adjust the plane's thrust nozzles when accelerating
out of a hover and sank to 20 feet above ground before recovering. In 1976,
he flew his way out of an engine vibration and landed safely. Two years
later, he descended vertically with inoperable landing gear.

On that dreary March day in 1985, Capito was flying an AV-8B, the new and
improved version of the Harrier. Dozens of pilots had been forced to eject
from the earlier model, the AV-8A, but Capito would become the first of 70
to bail out of the AV-8B. During preflight checks, Capito noticed that a
small door on one of the intakes was sticking rather than flapping open as
designed. He knocked it loose shortly before takeoff, satisfying himself it
would not pose a problem.

The takeoff and climb were uneventful. But as Capito cruised up to about
26,000 feet, he felt a thump and then the telltale trembling that almost
always announces an engine failure. "It was," he said, "like being on a
vibrating bed in a cheap motel."

A compressor blade had cracked, probably from simple fatigue, an alarmingly
common occurrence with the Harrier. It had happened to Capito three times
before, and he had always managed to bring his plane home.

But this time the vibration was much worse. The blade fragments had
punctured a fuel cell and sliced through an electrical cable.

"Flameout!" Capito radioed to his wingman as he attempted to restart the
engine. It would be his last transmission. His power had vanished.
Capito knew what he was going to have to do, and was not particularly
thrilled about it. He could see no more than 50 feet, and he knew it would
be cold and wet outside the cockpit. He wasn't sure where he was. Near
Hartford, Conn., maybe, he thought.
Capito wanted to stay with the plane for a while, down to 5,000 feet if
possible, so he could get under the weather. He fantasized that his Harrier
might fix itself. But at about 15,000 feet, smoke started seeping into the
cockpit. His decision was made for him. "If I wait too long," he thought,
"I'll burn up the parachute."
He had checked his harness, his helmet, his oxygen mask, his visor. He had
tightened the seat restraints. He pulled the nose up to trim his airspeed to
about 230 mph. It was time. He sat back, head flush against the headrest,
feet on the rudder pedals, the position recommended to protect the spine. He
yanked the handle. He kept his eyes wide open. This he did not want to miss.
With a booming detonation, the canopy blew away and he felt the rockets fire
beneath his seat. As the seat propelled him out of the aircraft, the
concussive deceleration of his forward airspeed blew his helmet and oxygen
mask right off his head. "It was like somebody just took a huge inflated
baseball bat and hit me as hard as they could," he said.
Still strapped in his seat, Capito tumbled backward in two somersaults.
After a freefall of perhaps five seconds, he felt the reassuring tug of his
parachute risers, saw the chute deploying and felt the seat separating from
his body.
He was OK. He checked his watch, and then started obsessing about the intake
door. Had that caused the flameout? He worried that the Marines would snatch
away his command if his careless mistake had destroyed a plane. But the
sting of icy hail brought him back to the present.
"Hold on," he told himself. "You're not out of this yet."
He covered his bare head with his hands to fend off the hail. Lightning
pierced the distance. Updrafts and downdrafts fought for his parachute. He
thought he should have been falling about 1,000 feet a minute, but he could
tell he wasn't. He was mostly moving sideways.
Capito focused on his training, mentally reviewing the procedures for
releasing his inflatable raft just before splashdown. "I can do this!" he
yelled into the wind.
He wondered how far he was from shore. If he cut the right parachute lines,
he could steer toward land, but he couldn't remember which lines.
Finally, he broke out of the clouds to discover a view that was both
breathtaking and eerie. He could see for miles around, and he was alone. No
choppers. No Coast Guard cutters. Nothing.
As he approached the water, he pulled the handle that released and inflated
the raft and watched it plunk into the sound. He followed right behind,
unsnapping the parachute straps from his shoulders as his feet touched the
water. He plunged into the frigid sea and then pulled the raft toward him
with its lanyard. Weighted down by survival gear, Capito threw himself into
the raft, got tossed out by a swell, and heaved himself in once more.
The air temperature was 40 degrees, and the drenched pilot could not stop
shivering. He was no more than two or three miles from shore, not far from
Montauk Point at the eastern tip of Long Island. But when he fired up
flares, they barely seemed visible. And when he dropped a dye marker, it
sank like a rock.
"I began to think I was going to be there for a while," he said.
Fortunately for Capito, a Long Island pilot named John Duell and his son,
Todd, 17, heard that a plane had crashed into the sound and took off in
their single-engine Cessna. Todd spotted smoke from Capito's flares and they
summoned help.
Fifteen minutes later, a Coast Guard cutter arrived and pulled Capito
aboard. Hypothermia had set in. Another hour and he might have been in
The doctors at Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport warmed Capito with
blankets and fitted him with a neck brace as a precaution.
The Duells arrived with dry clothes and a premixed martini in a glass
covered with plastic wrap. Because it was a Sunday afternoon and there were
no motels nearby, the Duells invited the bedraggled pilot to stay with them.
After making sure Capito was comfortable, the Duells decided the day's
adventure should not get in the way of their traditional Sunday night outing
to Skipper's, a local seafood restaurant.
"John," Duell informed his house guest, "we're going out to have our Sunday
night lobster. You can stay here and make calls and rest."
Capito ripped off his neck brace. "Steamed or broiled?" he asked.
The next morning, the Marines arrived to take Capito to his base. A week
later, he was back in a Harrier cockpit. After salvaging parts of the
engine, Marine investigators concluded that the intake door had played no
role in cracking the compressor blades. Capito got his command.
Now a developer in this Kansas City, Mo., suburb, Capito keeps one of his
plane's broken compressor blades mounted on a plaque like an aviator's
Oscar. Though he acknowledges the Harrier's problems, he remains committed
to the plane and to the community of pilots and mechanics who have made it
their lives.
He will be 60 in three years. And on that birthday, John Capito wants to go
skydiving, this time on his own terms. In the dim light of memory, his first
ride down seems thrilling, even life-affirming. Once he broke through the
clouds, the serenity was overwhelming.
"I would like to visit the quiet again," he said.

Posted on Dec 16, 2002, 7:09 AM
from IP address

12-17-02, 05:48 AM
Los Angeles Times <br />
<br />
December 17, 2002 <br />
<br />
The Vertical Vision -- Part 3 of 4 <br />
<br />
At Least We Got To Kiss Him Goodbye <br />
Jeff Smith knew the Harrier was unforgiving, but he flew it with gusto. 'I'm...