26 Αυγούστου 2010

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Αφηγείται ο Joe "Corn" Hruska

I saw the collision occur with enough time to start a full aft stick pull. As anyone can tell you who's witnessed a significant event, temporal distortion takes effect and things seem to happen a lot slower than they are really occurring. I remember watching the two aircraft about to collide with my jet slightly higher, and having a faint hope that ΓΙΙ pass over the top of his jet. About the time I’m watching his cockpit and turtle deck disappear underneath me (still with full aft stick), I hear a tremendous thud (like hitting a 50 gallon barrel with a baseball bat) followed by a sound of "Ugh" from yours truly.

The next thing that I can recall is sitting in a white fog watching my hands flailing around in front of me. The jet was in some type of corkscrewing rolling maneuver and 1 was getting tossed around pretty good. The white fog was most likely caused by the rapid decompression at high altitude. About the only thing I could see were my hands, the view outside was pretty blurry.

At this point I made an attempt to reach the ejection handles. The handles sit up near your knees, but I can remember looking straight down at them. The gyrations of the aircraft made it difficult to reach the handles. Imagine being tossed around on a carnival ride under varying gs and trying to position your hands to a specific spot in space, then holding them there. I finally gave up on trying to reach with both hands, and let my right arm flail wherever it wanted, focusing instead on my left hand trying to reach the ejection handle. After several attempts my left hand finally gripped the handle and I was able to pull it.

There is often a lot of interest in what it feels like to eject out of an aircraft. Pilots are curious about the experience, even though we all hope we never have to do it. When it happens to you, some details are branded in your mind and others you have no recollection of. For example, I can recall seeing the canopy leave the aircraft out of the corner of my eye, feeling my calves hit the seat as it started to go up the rails, and watching the floor of the aircraft fall away, but I cannot remember anything that happened in the seconds following that sequence.

I must say at this point I owe a debt of gratitude to everyone who ever taught me anything about survival in an ejection situation. The training automatically takes over, and despite all the chaos around you, you go through the steps you were trained to do.

I knew I had ejected from the jet and the first thing you're taught is to check for a good parachute. As I looked up for the canopy, I thought it was odd how small the 'chute was, and it seemed the wrong color. No bother, it seemed to be working okay, and although very small it was fully deployed. It wasn't until I began to go through the other steps I realized I was still sitting in the ejection seat and basically free-falling with a drogue 'chute to stabilize the seat. At first it was very windy and I felt as though 1 was struggling with my equipment, but the ride soon stabilized and became very smooth. (So smooth in fact, that 1 had the impression that in the event I never got a real parachute, I could ride the seat to the water with no problems.)

There is no explanation for some of the things you do in such a situation, but around this time 1 figured I better help out the accident board that was bound to convene. I checked my watch and noted the time for accurate reconstruction. My line-up card was also still attached to my knee-board which was still attached to my leg. However, it was blowing in the wind and appeared to be coming loose. Don't ask me why, but I became very concerned that the card would blow away and the investigation board would not have access to it. I began to toy with the damned thing to preserve it, until common sense finally took over and I let it blow away in the wind.

As I said, the seat became very smooth and I settled in for a nice ride from 35,000 to about 14,000, where the seat is supposed to separate and you get a main 'chute. I was told later that the free-fall lasted about one and a half to two minutes. If you're curious, the seat, when falling with the drogue 'chute, sits pretty much upright with a small amount of forward tilt to it. The water below was looking as though more and more detail could he seen (3-4 foot seas that day), and I began to worry about getting a main 'chute. It wasn't long before I could hear some clicking in the seat and the next thing I knew I was looking at the seat in front of me. In the next instant my main 'chute opened and I saw the seat zip away below me. That removed all doubts about my ability to ride the seat to water by the way.

This was the chance to follow through with the rest of the steps for ejection. When checking for my visor, I found that it was already gone. I pulled off my mask, but thought it too valuable to just throw away into the Gulf of Mexico (never mind the nice expensive F-15 that was now going to be a reef in the Gulf of Mexico). The seat kit was already deployed, and I released the four-line jettison to stop the swaying of the 'chute and air spilled out of it. By the way, if you're not used to that it can be very disconcerting. If you're still wondering about the mask, I eventually realized I was being stupid by trying to preserve it (as though it were the most expensive part of the jet), and just did an over-hand toss with it and flipped it away, watching with interest until it disappeared from sight.

About this time I began to take inventory of what had happened. I wiggled all my fingers and toes just to be sure they were still attached. I didn't inflate the LPUs life preserver units right away, as I became concerned for my flight lead and began to search the sky for him. At this point I was convinced he was dead, as I thought I had taken the entire top of his jet off. I said a few prayers to the good Lord for him, and was then interrupted by the sight of falling debris all around me.

The most noticeable piece floating down nearby was a wing, I believe the right one. (One of those sights that is branded into your brain.) It was fluttering end over end like a leaf in the wind and I could clearly see fuel lines sticking out of one end. It must have been no more than 100 feet below me. How it missed me and the parachute, I'll never know. There were all sorts of dark green objects in the air around me as well. I never figured out what those were.

Sometime during the fall in the 'chute I finally caught sight of my flight lead. He had ejected as well, and I could see him hanging from his parachute. He was a little lower than I was, and the first I knew for sure he was alive and kicking was when I saw him crawl into his raft. There is no description for the relief felt at such a sight. You have to experience it to appreciate it.

While in the parachute I started to notice a lot of splashes in the water below me from pieces of falling aircraft. I distinctly remember seeing the seat make quite a splash, and being thankful I wasn't riding it anymore. The wing I saw was now further away and also made quite a splash in the water.

The adversary aircraft we were fighting were now on the scene and they quickly spotted both of our parachutes. Flying by and giving us each the obligatory once over, they could see we were okay. I tried to wave my legs and arms but succeeded in looking like a deranged man trying to do jumping jacks. They got the message though.

After watching lead get into his raft, it was time to prepare for the splashdown. The landing was smooth with the seas about 3-4 feet with big rolling swells. I quickly got into the life raft prepared for a long stay. However, rescue forces were already on the way. (We were in the rafts for about 45 minutes, no time to even get bored.)

The rescue has a few good stories in itself, but I'll save those for another day. Suffice it to say I owe a debt of gratitude to the crew of COWBOY 22, an MH-53 from Hurlburt Field which happened to be out on an instrument check-ride when the call came for a search and rescue. They, as well as the F-16s who ran the SAR CAP, executed a flawless recovery and there are two happy F-15 pilots to prove it. By the way, if you're wondering what this has to do with "Disco," he was the Board President for the investigation. I'll have to learn to avoid being stationed at the same base as he is!

F-15 Eagle Engaged: The world's most successful jet fighter