Friday, May 10, 2019

Hawker Hunter Mk 58, N343AX: Incident occurred May 09, 2019 at Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport (KPHF), Virginia

Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Richmond, Virginia

Veered off the runway into the grass.

Airborne Tactical Advantage

Date: 09-MAY-19
Time: 14:13:00Z
Regis#: N343AX
Aircraft Make: HAWKER
Aircraft Model: HUNTER MK 58
Event Type: INCIDENT
Highest Injury: NONE
Aircraft Missing: No
Activity: MILITARY
Flight Phase: LANDING (LDG)
Flight Number: 31

James McCabe was working near the Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport Thursday morning as fighter jets were conducting maneuvers on the airstrip.

McCabe — a forester for Newport News Waterworks — was “counting trees” near Harwoods Mill Reservoir as part of the agency’s forest management plan. The jets, he said, were doing staggered “touch-and-goes” — landing and taking off without coming to a full stop.

“One would fly high and not land, and the lower one would come down and touch, and then take off again,” he said.

McCabe took some pictures as they conducted the maneuvers, “and didn’t think much of it.” The operations stopped a bit later on.

“I thought they were taking a break for lunch or something like that,” he said.

But when he saw the news Friday morning about the hard landing at the airport — that a jet skidded off one runway and across a second runway during an emergency landing — McCabe looked again at his camera roll.

“Now it all makes sense,” McCabe said. “It’s kind of hard to fly out of the grass.”

He found several pictures on his camera — moments before the emergency landing — showing the jet with only two of its three wheels down. The other wheel was still tucked under the plane’s right wing.

The registration number on the plane in McCabe’s pictures matched the number on the plane in the grass. The time stamp on the photos also match up, though they are an hour off because McCabe hadn’t adjusted his camera for daylight saving time.

Airport Executive Director Mike Giardino told the Daily Press Thursday that the jet’s pilot declared an emergency before it landed on one of the airport’s two runways at about 10:16 a.m. The jet went off that runway, crossed into an infield area, then skidded across a second runway, too.

The plane came to rest in a grassy area between a taxiway and the second runway, Giardino said. The airport’s fire department responded, but the pilot got out of the plane “on his own” and was not injured.

Airport operations were closed from 10:20 a.m. until just before noon.

One runway reopened at 11:54 a.m., while the second runway reopened at about 2:30 p.m., after debris was removed from the site. Some commercial flights were delayed, and private “general aviation” planes also couldn’t take off or land during that time.

The jet, an MK-58 Hawker Hunter, is owned and operated by Airborne Tactical Advantage (ATAC) — a Newport News-based defense contractor that helps train military pilots and is a division of Textron.

The jets typically play the enemy in training, to include air-to-air combat scenarios. The Hunter, first developed in the 1950s and later upgraded, is a single-seat fighter made by Hawker Aircraft in the United Kingdom and was flown by the British Royal Air Force.

The incident has been reported to the National Transportation Safety Board, Giardino said.

David Dober, ATAC's chief of staff, declined to talk about the training the pilots were doing before the emergency landing. He also would not identify the pilot or speculate on what happened during the incident. “We certainly don’t comment on active investigations, and we’re fully cooperating with the NTSB,” he said.

Terry Williams, an NTSB spokesman in Washington, D.C., said the case is being investigated, with no determination on cause. “We are still very early stages of gathering information,” he said.

Andrew Walton, director of safety at the Liberty University School of Aeronautics, said the pictures McCabe took of the fighter jet before landing “are consistent with a landing gear problem” — most likely caused by “some sort of mechanical failure.”

“Having these photographs is very useful to the investigators who will be looking at this,” Walton said. “You normally have pictures of the aftermath of the emergency” and statements from the pilots, air traffic controllers and others. But seeing the actual position of the three wheels before landing is “very helpful evidence,” he said.

Such photographs “are not unheard of, but not common either,” Walton said.

The wheels on aircraft are controlled by one mechanism, he said.

“There’s one handle or one switch that controls the position,” Walton said. “You’re either selecting them ‘all up’ or ‘all down.’ It’s not like a window on your car where you roll them up or down independently … For whatever reason, one of the three (wheels) did not come down.”

For a pilot to land the plane in such a situation, “You want to land on the (rear) wheel that’s down and keep the other side in the air as long as possible as you decelerate,” Walton said. “Then you have to be prepared for a hard swerve” once the other side touches down.

“You will tend to skid off in the direction of that missing wheel,” he said. “It’s almost impossible — it probably is impossible — to keep the plane on the runway … It takes a lot of skill to safely put the airplane on the ground and maximize the probability that the pilot will walk away.”

But experienced pilots are trained for such scenarios, Walton said, and the probability for survival is high. “Airports are designed to have lots of flat space around the runways, to allow a plane that’s lost directional control to safely decelerate. That’s why you don’t see trees growing in between the runways.”

NEWPORT NEWS, Virginia — An Airborne Tactical Advantage Company (ATAC) jet went off the runway during an emergency landing at Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport on Thursday morning.

An airport official said around 10 a.m. the jet called in with "mechanical issues" and the pilot was forced to land.

The aircraft went into a grassy area.

The runway was closed temporarily, and a couple of flights were canceled due to the closure, the airport official said.

No one was injured.

Officials said the jet had one pilot and is usually contracted out by the military. The jet involved in Thursday's incident had been contracted by the Navy.

According to ATAC's website, the company is "the world’s largest outsourced civilian, tactical airborne training organization ... For the last 20 years, ATAC has trained Navy, Marine, Air Force and Army air-crews, ship-crews and combat controllers in the air-to-ship, air-to-air and air-to-ground arenas."

The incident is being investigated.

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