Marine Corps' "Widow-Maker"....
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  1. #1

    Marine Corps' "Widow-Maker"....

    Apparently, an upcoming (to begin Dec 15) 4-part series of articles on the Harrier....

  2. #2

  3. #3


    Los Angeles Times

    December 15, 2002


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

  4. #4

    Apparently, Part 2?

    (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

  5. #5

    The Vertical Vision -- Part 3 of 4

    Los Angeles Times

    December 17, 2002

    The Vertical Vision -- Part 3 of 4

    At Least We Got To Kiss Him Goodbye
    Jeff Smith knew the Harrier was unforgiving, but he flew it with gusto. 'I'm
    ahead of it, Dad,' he would say.

    By Kevin Sack, Times Staff Writer

    COGGON, Iowa -- Through the viewfinder of his mother's video camera, Jeffrey
    Smith looked the picture of Marine Corps confidence in the moments before
    takeoff on June 29, 1992.

    Fit and trim in his olive flight suit and aviator shades, the 29-year-old
    pilot flashed a Tom Cruise smile as he made his final preflight checks. He
    walked around the wings of his AV-8B Harrier, inspected the flaps and
    climbed nearly all the way into the huge conical intakes, surveying the fan
    blades for any hint of damage.
    "No gremlins in there," he reported.
    Then he pulled on his helmet and clambered into the cockpit. He fired up the
    Harrier's engine, which responded with its trademark screaming whistle, and
    gave a final thumbs-up and a waved farewell to his mother and father. Smith
    taxied the plane to the end of the runway, and paused like a bull getting
    ready to charge.
    As they watched from the tarmac, Ronnie and Donna Smith could not have been
    prouder of their son.
    After an eight-month deployment in Japan, he was thrilled to be back on
    American soil, reunited with his wife, Dee, and discovering the heart-tug of
    fatherhood with the 6-month-old daughter who had been born in his absence.
    With 619 flight hours under his belt, he had recently been promoted to
    captain and clearly felt in command of his plane. While overseas, he had
    worked himself into top physical shape. His parents could feel the muscles
    when they hugged him goodbye.
    "He just seemed invincible," Donna Smith said.
    It is a word used often to describe the 45 Marines who have died in
    noncombat accidents involving the Harrier. They always appeared that way
    before they climbed into their planes, so utterly self-assured, like the
    all-American heroes of some old black-and-white movie.
    It was part of the culture. They were among the best aviators in the
    country: bright, brave, ambitious, dedicated to the Marines and to the
    Harrier's mission of protecting troops on the ground, like airborne big
    Many gravitated to the single-seat Harrier precisely because of its
    daredevil appeal. The pioneering aircraft can ascend like a helicopter and
    then speed off like a jet, and its uniqueness has made it both the most
    captivating and the most dangerous plane in the U.S. military.
    During his training, Jeff Smith had called his father any number of times
    with news of Harrier crashes. With 143 major accidents in its 31 years of
    service, the Harrier's accident rate is significantly higher than those of
    comparable combat planes.
    Jeff always had an explanation -- the pilot or some mechanic had fouled up
    -- and he promised to spend extra time in the simulator, practicing
    emergency procedures.
    "I'm ahead of it, Dad," he'd say.
    But as they watched that day, under a sky the color of faded denim, Ronnie
    and Donna Smith came to understand that even the most conscientious pilot
    can only do so much to stay ahead of the Harrier.
    The Smiths, with their thick hands and sun-weathered faces, are about as
    Iowa as you can get. Jeff was the second of five children, all of whom
    pitched in on the 1,700 acres the family farmed in the "Field of Dreams"
    lushness of eastern Iowa.
    Until they got caught short in the credit crunch of the 1980s and sold off
    much of their land, the ........


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