Pan Am Flight 214 was a scheduled flight of Pan American World Airways from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Baltimore, Maryland, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. On December 8, 1963, the Boeing 707 serving the flight crashed near Elkton, Maryland, while flying from Baltimore to Philadelphia, after being hit by lightning. All 81 occupants of the plane were killed. The crash was Pan Am's first fatal accident with the 707, which it had introduced to its fleet five years earlier.
An investigation by the Civil Aeronautics Board concluded that the cause of the crash was a lightning strike that had ignited fuel vapors in one of the aircraft's fuel tanks, causing an explosion that destroyed one of the wings. The exact manner of ignition was never determined, but the investigation yielded information about how lightning can damage aircraft, leading to new safety regulations. The crash also spawned research into the safety of various types of aviation fuel and into methods of reducing dangerous fuel-tank vapors.
Pan American Flight 214 was a regularly scheduled flight from Isla Verde International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Philadelphia International Airport with a scheduled stopover at Baltimore's Friendship Airport. It operated three times a week as the counterpart to Flight 213, which flew from Philadelphia to San Juan via Baltimore earlier the same day. Flight 214 left San Juan at 4:10 p.m. Eastern time with 140 passengers and eight crew members, and arrived in Baltimore at 7:10 p.m. The crew did not report any maintenance issues or problems during the flight. After 67 passengers disembarked in Baltimore, the aircraft departed at 8:24 p.m. with its remaining 73 passengers for the final leg to Philadelphia International Airport.
As the flight approached Philadelphia, the pilots established contact with air traffic control near Philadelphia at 8:42 p.m. The controller informed the pilots that the airport was experiencing a line of thunderstorms in the vicinity, accompanied by strong winds and turbulence. The controller asked whether the pilots wanted to proceed directly to the airport or to enter a holding pattern to wait for the storm to pass. The crew elected to remain at 5,000 feet in a holding pattern with five other aircraft. The controller told the pilots that the delay would last approximately 30 minutes. There was heavy rain in the holding area, with frequent lightning and gusts of wind up to 50 miles per hour (80 km/h).
At 8:58 p.m., the aircraft exploded. The pilots were able to transmit a final message: "MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY. Clipper 214 out of control. Here we go." Seconds later, the first officer of National Airlines Flight 16, holding 1,000 feet higher in the same holding pattern, radioed, "Clipper 214 is going down in flames." The aircraft crashed at 8:59 p.m. in a corn field east of Elkton, Maryland, near the Delaware Turnpike, setting the rain-soaked field on fire. The aircraft was completely destroyed, and all of the occupants were killed.
The aircraft was the first Pan American jet to crash in the five years since the company had introduced their jet fleet.
A Maryland state trooper who had been patrolling on Route 213 radioed an alert as he drove toward the crash site, east of Elkton near the state line. The trooper was first to arrive at the crash site and later stated that "It wasn’t a large fire. It was several smaller fires. A fuselage with about 8 or 10 window frames was about the only large recognizable piece I could see when I pulled up. It was just a debris field. It didn’t resemble an airplane. The engines were buried in the ground 10- to 15-feet from the force of the impact."
It was soon obvious to firefighters and police officers that little could be done other than to extinguish the fires and to begin collecting bodies. The wreckage was engulfed in intense fires that burned for more than four hours. First responders and police from across the county, along with men from the United States Naval Training Center Bainbridge, assisted with the recovery. They patrolled the area with railroad flares and set up searchlights to define the accident scene and to ensure that the debris and human remains were undisturbed by curious spectators.
Remains of the victims were brought to the National Guard Armory in Philadelphia, where a temporary morgue was created. Relatives came to the armory, but officials ruled out the possibility of visually identifying the victims. It took the state medical examiner nine days to identify all of the victims, using fingerprints, dental records and nearby personal effects. In some cases, the team reconstructed the victims' faces to the extent possible using mannequins.
The main impact crater contained most of the aircraft's fuselage, the left inner wing, the left main gear and the nose gear. Portions of the plane's right wing and fuselage, right main landing gear, horizontal and vertical tail surfaces and two of the engines were found within 360 feet (110 m) of the crater. A trail of debris from the plane extended as far as four miles (6 km) from the point of impact. The complete left-wing tip was found nearly two miles (3 km) from the crash site. Parts of the wreckage ripped a 40-foot-wide (12 m) hole in a country road, shattered windows in a nearby home and spread burning jet fuel across a wide area.
The Civil Aeronautics Board was notified of the accident and was dispatched from Washington, D.C. to conduct an investigation. Witnesses of the crash described hearing the explosion and seeing the plane in flames as it descended. Of the 140 witnesses interviewed, 99 reported seeing an aircraft or a flaming object in the sky. Seven witnesses stated that they had seen lightning strike the aircraft. Seventy-two witnesses said that the ball of fire occurred at the same time as, or immediately after, the lightning strike. Twenty-three witnesses reported that the aircraft exploded after they had seen it ablaze.
The aircraft was a Boeing 707-121 registered with tail number N709PA. Named the Clipper Tradewind, it was the oldest aircraft in the U.S. commercial jet fleet at the time of the crash. It had been delivered to Pan Am on October 27, 1958 and had flown a total of 14,609 hours. It was powered by four Pratt & Whitney JT3C-6 turbojet engines and its estimated value was $3,400,000 (equivalent to $28,700,000 in 2020).
In 1959, the aircraft had been involved in an incident in which the right outboard engine was torn from the wing during a training flight in France. The plane entered a sudden spin during a demonstration of the aircraft's minimum control speed, and the aerodynamic forces caused the engine to break away. The pilot regained control of the aircraft and landed safely in London using the remaining three engines. The detached engine fell into a field on a farm southwest of Paris, where the flight had originated, with no injuries.
The plane carried 73 passengers, who all died in the crash. All the passengers were residents of the United States.
The pilot was George F. Knuth, 45, of Long Island. He had flown for Pan Am for 22 years and had accumulated 17,049 hours of flying experience, including 2,890 in the Boeing 707. He had been involved in another incident in 1949, when as pilot of Pan Am Flight 100, a Lockheed Constellation in flight over Port Washington, New York, a Cessna 140 single-engine airplane crashed into his plane. The two occupants of the Cessna were killed, but Captain Knuth was able to land safely with no injuries to his crew or passengers.
The first officer was John R. Dale, 48, also of Long Island. He had a total of 13,963 hours of flying time, of which 2,681 were in the Boeing 707. The second officer was Paul L. Orringer, age 42, of New Rochelle, New York. He had 10,008 hours of flying experience, including 2,808 in Boeing 707 aircraft. The flight engineer was John R. Kantlehner of Long Island. He had a total flying time of 6,066 hours, including 76 hours in the Boeing 707.
The Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) assigned more than a dozen investigators within an hour of the crash. The CAB team was assisted by investigators from the Boeing Company, Pan American World Airways, the Air Line Pilots Association, Pratt & Whitney, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Aviation Agency. The costs of the CAB's investigations rarely exceeded $10,000, but the agency would spend about $125,000 investigating this crash (equivalent to $1,060,000 in 2020), in addition to the money spent by Boeing, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Pratt & Whitney, and other aircraft-part suppliers during additional investigations.
Initial theories of the cause of the crash focused on the possibility that the plane had experienced severe turbulence in flight that caused a fuel tank or fuel line to rupture, leading to an in-flight fire from leaking fuel. U.S. House Representative Samuel S. Stratton of Schenectady, New York sent a telegram to the FAA urging them to restrict jet operations in turbulent weather, but the FAA responded that it saw no pattern that suggested the need for such restrictions, and Boeing concurred. Other theories included sabotage or lightning, but by nightfall after the first day, investigators had not found evidence of either. There was also some speculation that metal fatigue as a result of the aircraft's 1959 incident could be a factor, but the aircraft had undergone four separate maintenance overhauls since the accident without any issues having been detected.
Investigators rapidly located the flight data recorder, but it was badly damaged in the crash. Built to withstand an impact 100 times as strong as the force of gravity, it had been subjected to a force of 200 times the force of gravity, and its tape appeared to be hopelessly damaged. CAB chairman Alan S. Boyd told reporters shortly after the accident, "It was so compacted there is no way to tell at this time whether we can derive any useful information from it." Eventually, investigators were able to extract data from 95 percent of the tape that had been in the recorder.
The recovery of the wreckage took place over a period of 12 days, and 16 truckloads of the debris were taken to Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C. for investigators to examine and reassemble. Investigators revealed that there was evidence of a fire that had occurred in flight, and one commented that it was nearly certain that there had been an in-flight explosion of some kind. Eyewitness testimony later confirmed that the plane had been burning on its way down to the crash site.
Within days, investigators reported that the crash had apparently been caused by an explosion that had blown off one of the wing tips. The wing tip had been found about three miles (5 km) from the crash site bearing burn marks and bulging from an apparent internal explosive force. Remnants of nine feet (3 m) of the wing tip had been found at various points along the flight path short of the impact crater. Investigators revealed that it was unlikely that rough turbulence had caused the crash because the crews of other aircraft that had been circling in the area reported that the air was relatively smooth at the time. They also said that the plane would have had to dive a considerable distance before aerodynamic forces would have caused it to break up and explode, but it was apparent that the aircraft had caught fire near its cruising altitude of 5,000 feet.
Before this flight, there had been no other known case of lightning causing a plane to crash despite many instances of planes being struck. Investigators found that on average, each airplane is struck by lightning once or twice a year. Scientists and airline-industry representatives vigorously disputed the theory that lightning could have caused the aircraft to explode, calling it improbable. The closest example of such an instance occurred near Milan, Italy in June 1959 when a Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation crashed as a result of static electricity igniting fuel vapor emanating from the fuel vents. Despite the opposition, investigators found multiple lightning strike marks on the left wing tip, and a large area of damage that extended along the rear edge of the wing, leading investigators to believe that lightning was indeed the cause. The CAB launched an urgent research program in an attempt to identify conditions in which fuel vapors in the wings could have been ignited by lightning. Within a week of the crash, the FAA issued an order requiring the installation of static electricity dischargers on the approximately 100 Boeing jet airliners that had not already been so equipped. Aviation-industry representatives were critical of the order, claiming that there was no evidence that the dischargers would have any beneficial effect, as they were not designed to handle the effects of lightning, and they said that the order would create a false impression that the risk of lightning strikes had been resolved.
The CAB conducted a public hearing in Philadelphia in February 1964 as part of its investigation. Experts had still not concluded that lightning had caused the accident, but they were investigating how lightning could have triggered the explosion. The FAA said that it would conduct research to determine the relative safety of the two types of jet fuel used in the United States, both of which were present in the fuel tanks of Flight 214. Criticism of the JP-4 jet fuel that was in the tanks centered around the fact that its vapors can be easily ignited at the low temperatures encountered in flight. JP-4 advocates countered that the fuel was as safe, or safer than, kerosene, the other fuel used in jets at the time.
Pan American conducted a flight test in a Boeing 707 to investigate whether fuel could leak from the tank-venting system during a test flight that attempted to simulate moderate to rough turbulence in flight. The test did not reveal any fuel discharge, but there was evidence that fuel had entered the vent system, collected in the surge tanks and returned to the tanks.(p9) Pan American said that it would test a new system to inject inert gas into the air spaces above the fuel tanks in aircraft in an attempt to reduce the risk of hazardous fuel-air mixtures that could ignite.
On March 3, 1965, the CAB released its final accident report. The investigators concluded that a lightning strike had ignited the fuel-air mixture in the number 1 reserve fuel tank, which had caused an explosive disintegration of the left outer wing, leading to a loss of control. Despite one of the most intensive research efforts in its history, the agency could not identify the exact mechanics of the fuel ignition, concluding that lightning had ignited vapors through an as-yet unknown pathway. The board said, "It is felt that the current state of the art does not permit an extension of test results to unqualified conclusions of all aspects of natural lightning effects. The need for additional research is recognized and additional programming is planned."
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FlightSafety International, a Berkshire Hathaway company
Ron was named the President, FlightSafety Services Corporation (FSSC), in January 2014. FSSC provides turnkey aircrew training systems (ATS) and contractor logistics support (CLS) to its military customers. It includes aircrew training, courseware, advanced technology training devices, computer based training workstations and support for simulators at 18 U.S. military bases. Current programs include the development and fielding of the ATS for the new KC-46 aircraft., CLS for T-1 and T-38 training devices, instruction and CLS for KDAM ATARS (special operations) and the KC-10.
Ron joined the FlightSafety International team as the Director of Military Business Development, FlightSafety Simulation, in October 2011. His responsibilities included finding first-class training and simulation solutions for its military customers. This covered the spectrum from part-task trainers to high fidelity, full flight simulators. He was then named as the Vice President of FSSC in October 2013.
He previously served in the U.S Air Force obtaining the rank of Major General. He commanded the first squadron operating the new C-17, a C-141 operations group and a KC-135 air refueling wing. He also led the Air Force’s center that directed worldwide flights of its fleet of 800 cargo and tanker aircraft – about one takeoff every 90 seconds. Ron’s interagency experience includes international contingency planning as the senior Air Force officer at the Department of State. His Pentagon experience includes planning and budgeting about $30 billion to support Air Force logistics. He also ran the Air Force’s accredited Staff College. Finally, Ron’s Air Force career culminated with leading 17th Air Force which directed all Air Force activities in Africa to include anti-terrorism, anti-piracy and disaster relief operations. Ron has about 4,800 hours as a pilot and instructor flying C-141A/B, C-17A, KC-135R (Boeing 707) and C-21 (Lear 35) aircraft.
His formal education includes a degree in Engineering Mechanics from the U.S. Air Force Academy, a master’s degree in Business Administration from Webster University a degree from Air Command and Staff College and a master’s degree from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. Ron also attended the Kenan-Flagler Business School, University of North Carolina, and the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.
On Friday, December 16, 1960, a United Airlines Douglas DC-8, bound for Idlewild Airport (now John F. Kennedy International Airport) in New York City, collided in midair with a TWA Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation descending into the city's LaGuardia Airport. The Constellation crashed on Miller Field in Staten Island and the DC-8 into Park Slope, Brooklyn, killing all 128 people on the two aircraft and six people on the ground. It was the deadliest aviation disaster in the world at the time. The death toll would not be surpassed until a Lockheed C-130B Hercules was shot down in May 1968, killing 155 people. In terms of commercial aviation, the death toll would not be surpassed until the March 1969 crash of Viasa Flight 742, which crashed on takeoff and killed all 84 people on board the aircraft, as well as 71 people on the ground. The accident became known as the Park Slope plane crash or the Miller Field crash, after the crash sites of each plane respectively. The accident was also the first hull loss and first fatal accident involving a Douglas DC-8.
United Airlines Flight 826, Mainliner Will Rogers, registration N8013U, was a DC-8-11 carrying 84 people from O'Hare International Airport in Chicago to Idlewild Airport (now John F. Kennedy International Airport) in Queens. The crew was Captain Robert Sawyer (age 46), First Officer Robert Fiebing (40), Flight Engineer Richard Pruitt (30), and four stewardesses.
Trans World Airlines Flight 266, Star of Sicily, registration N6907C, was a Super Constellation carrying 44 people from Dayton and Columbus, Ohio, to LaGuardia Airport in Queens. The crew was Captain David Wollam (age 39), First Officer Dean Bowen (32), Flight Engineer LeRoy Rosenthal (30), and two stewardesses. Star of Sicily's sister ship N6902C, Star of the Seine, was destroyed in another mid-air collision with a United Airlines flight in 1956.
At 10:21 A.M. Eastern Time, United 826 advised ARINC radio — which relayed the message to UAL maintenance — that one of its VOR receivers had stopped working. ATC, however, was not told that the aircraft had only one receiver, which made it more difficult for the pilots of flight 826 to identify the Preston intersection, beyond which it had not received clearance.
At 10:25 A.M. Eastern Time, air traffic control issued a revised clearance for the flight to shorten its route to the Preston holding point (near Laurence Harbor, New Jersey) by 12 miles (19 km). That clearance included holding instructions (a standard race-track holding pattern) for UAL Flight 826 when it arrived at the Preston intersection. Flight 826 was expected to reduce its speed before reaching Preston, to a standard holding speed of 210 knots or less. However, the aircraft was estimated to be doing 301 knots when it collided with the TWA plane, several miles beyond that Preston clearance limit.
During the investigation, United claimed the Colts Neck VOR was unreliable (pilots testified on both sides of the issue). ("Preston" was the point where airway V123 — the 050-radial off the Robbinsville VOR — crossed the Solberg 120-degree radial and the Colts Neck 346-degree radial.) However, the CAB final report found no problem with the Colts Neck VOR.
The prevailing conditions were light rain and fog (which had been preceded by snowfall).
According to the DC-8's FDR, the aircraft was 12 miles (19 km) off course and for 81 seconds, had descended at 3,600 feet per minute (18 m/s) while slowing from more than 400 knots to 301 knots at the time of the collision.
One of the starboard engines on the DC-8 hit the Constellation just ahead of its wings, tearing apart that portion of the fuselage. The Constellation entered a dive, with debris continuing to fall as it disintegrated during its spiral to the ground.
The initial impact tore the engine from its pylon on the DC-8. Having lost one engine and a large part of the right-wing, the DC-8 remained airborne for another minute and a half.
The DC-8 crashed into the Park Slope section of Brooklyn at the intersection of Seventh Avenue and Sterling Place (40°40′38″N 73°58′25″W), scattering wreckage and setting fire to ten brownstone apartment buildings, the Pillar of Fire Church, the McCaddin Funeral Home, a Chinese laundry, and a delicatessen. Six people on the ground were killed.
The crash left the remains of the DC-8 pointed southeast towards a large open field at Prospect Park, blocks from its crash site. A student at the school who lived in one of the destroyed apartment buildings said his family survived because they happened to be in the only room of their apartment not destroyed. The crash left a trench covering most of the length of the middle of Sterling Place. Occupants of the school thought a bomb had gone off or that the building's boiler had exploded.
The TWA plane crashed onto the northwest corner of Miller Field, at 40.57°N 74.103°W, with some sections of the aircraft landing in New York Harbor. At least one passenger fell into a tree before the wreckage hit the ground.
There was no radio contact with traffic controllers from either plane after the collision, although LaGuardia had begun tracking an incoming, fast-moving, unidentified plane from Preston toward the LaGuardia "Flatbush" outer marker.
The likely cause of the accident was identified in a report by the US Civil Aeronautics Board.
United Flight 826 proceeded beyond its clearance limit and the confines of the airspace allocated to the flight by Air Traffic Control. A contributing factor was the high rate of speed of the United DC-8 as it approached the Preston intersection, coupled with the change of clearance which reduced the en-route distance along Victor 123 by approximately 11 miles.
The only person to initially survive the crash was an 11-year-old boy from Wilmette, Illinois. He was traveling on Flight 826 unaccompanied as part of his family's plans to spend Christmas in Yonkers with relatives. He was thrown from the plane into a snowbank where his burning clothing was extinguished. Although alive and conscious, he was badly burned and had inhaled burning fuel. He died of pneumonia the next day.
In 2010, on the 50th anniversary of the accident, a memorial to the 134 victims of the two crashes was unveiled in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn. The cemetery is the site of the common grave in which were placed the human remains that could not be identified.
The events of the collision are documented in the 5th season, episode 1, of The Weather Channel documentary Why Planes Crash. The episode is titled "Collision Course" and was first aired in April 2013.
As a result of this accident, the following changes were instituted:
Pilots must report malfunctions of navigation or communication equipment to ATC.
All turbine-powered aircraft must be equipped with Distance Measuring Equipment (DME).
Jet aircraft must slow to holding speed at least 3 minutes before reaching the holding fix.
Aircraft are prohibited from exceeding 250 knots when within 30 nautical miles of a destination airport and below 10,000 feet MSL.
Ivana is the Governor of the African Section a non-profit organization of International Women Pilots called the Ninety-Nines. It is the only and first organization for women pilots established in 1929 by 99 women pilots founded by Amelia Earhart in the USA. Female pilots remain a rarity especially in Africa. The numbers are starting to increase but it is still a minuscule amount. The African Section aims to work with schools, careers and offices to help enthuse girls to look into gaining a career in aviation. Many girls in Africa do not participate significantly or perform well in Science Technology Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects. This situation becomes more pronounced as the level of education increases and a combination of factors, including cultural practices and attitudes, and biased teaching and learning materials, perpetuate the imbalance.Many African countries face significant challenges in educating their youth at all, due to lack of equipment and access to basic amenities like electricity, as well as non-attendance in school. As a result, many youth may be unable to read even after several years of education. The African Section will teach educational sessions to the youth and adults to bolster Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) in Africa under the "Girls Wings For Africa" (GWFA) Project. Working with under privileged children visiting local schools in villages and starting STEM camps will inspire youth and a new generation of youth to reach great heights.
With the global shortage of pilots and shortage of skilled aviation professionals and gender disparity. STEM is needed now more than ever.
"Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world"~ Nelson Mandela - Former President South Africa
Northerly Turning Errors
The center of gravity of the float assembly is located lower than the pivotal point. As the aircraft turns, the force that results from the magnetic dip causes the float assembly to swing in the same direction that the float turns. The result is a false northerly turn indication. Because of this lead of the compass card, or float assembly, a northerly turn should be stopped prior to arrival at the desired heading. This compass error is amplified with the proximity to either magnetic pole.
One rule of thumb to correct for this leading error is to stop the turn 15 degrees plus half of the latitude (i.e., if the aircraft is being operated in a position near 40 degrees latitude, the turn should be stopped 15+20=35 degrees prior to the desired heading).
Southerly Turning Errors
When turning in a southerly direction, the forces are such that the compass float assembly lags rather than leads. The result is a false southerly turn indication. The compass card, or float assembly, should be allowed to pass the desired heading prior to stopping the turn. As with the northerly error, this error is amplified with the proximity to either magnetic pole. To correct this lagging error, the aircraft should be allowed to pass the desired heading prior to stopping the turn. The same rule of 15 degrees plus half of the latitude applies here (i.e.,
if the aircraft is being operated in a position near 30 degrees latitude, the turn should be stopped 15+15+30 degrees after passing the desired heading).
The magnetic dip and the forces of inertia cause magnetic compass errors when accelerating and decelerating on easterly and westerly headings. Because of the pendulous type mounting, the aft end of the compass card is tilted upward when accelerating and downward when decelerating during changes of airspeed. When accelerating on either an easterly or westerly heading, the error appears as a turn indication toward north. When decelerating on either of these headings, the compass indicates a turn toward south. A mnemonic, or memory jogger, for the effect of acceleration error is the word “ANDS” (AccelerationNorth/Deceleration-South) may help you to remember the acceleration error. Acceleration causes an indication toward north; deceleration causes an indication toward south.
Chris Doyle and his wife Maria have been working in Colorado since 2009 doing agricultural aerial application and formed CO Fire Aviation in 2014, they have a 4 year old son, Patrick, and a 2 year old daughter, Sophia.
Chris first started flying lessons at 14 years old has 27 years of aviation experience. He has been a commercial pilot for 22 years, with vast international experience, including SEAT flying in Australia, Indonesia and the United States. He has amassed more than 10,000 accident free hours of which the vast majority has been in the SEAT aircraft.
Chris has FLIR and NVG experience from flying Air Tractor 802’s armed with laser guided weapons in the military environment as a test pilot in the Middle East for 3 years.
He is multi engine instrument rated and is a Certified Flight Instructor for fixed-wing aircraft and also has more than 1,000 hours of commercial rotary wing time. He is an Air Tractor factory certified instructor for the purpose of endorsing new pilots to fly the 802.
As with other programs he has been involved with, he has a passion for research and development of new techniques and methods to progress with the times, and the SEAT program is no exception.
Chris has been responsible for developing company checklists and Training manual. He managed and was the primary Level 1 pilot for our new additional operations base in John Day Oregon in 2016 where he developed company polices on location. He has mentored and overseen the development of 7 Level II pilots of which all have become or gained the experience to become Level I.
Aerial firefighting along with safety have always been his main passions. With this passion and knowledge, he along with partner Kyle Scott formed CO Fire Aviation to combat the increase in wildland fire activity. They are a professional and dedicated aviation company whose sole purpose and focus is to provide Aerial Fire Suppression to any community in need of assistance.
With headquarters located in Des Moines, Iowa, VREF has expanded to Illinois, California, Idaho, Florida, Austria, Switzerland, Australia, and China.
On May 21, 1927 Charles Lindbergh landed in Paris, France after a successful non-stop flight from the United States in the single-engined Spirit of St. Louis. As the aircraft was equipped with very basic instruments, Lindbergh used dead reckoning to navigate.
Dead reckoning in the air is similar to dead reckoning on the sea, but slightly more complicated. The density of the air the aircraft moves through affects its performance as well as winds, weight, and power settings.
The basic formula for DR is Distance = Speed x Time. An aircraft flying at 250 knots airspeed for 2 hours has flown 500 nautical miles through the air. The wind triangle is used to calculate the effects of wind on heading and airspeed to obtain a magnetic heading to steer and the speed over the ground (groundspeed). Printed tables, formulae, or an E6B flight computer are used to calculate the effects of air density on aircraft rate of climb, rate of fuel burn, and airspeed.
A course line is drawn on the aeronautical chart along with estimated positions at fixed intervals (say every ½ hour). Visual observations of ground features are used to obtain fixes. By comparing the fix and the estimated position corrections are made to the aircraft's heading and groundspeed.
Dead reckoning is on the curriculum for VFR (visual flight rules - or basic level) pilots worldwide. It is taught regardless of whether the aircraft has navigation aids such as GPS, ADF and VOR and is an ICAO Requirement. Many flying training schools will prevent a student from using electronic aids until they have mastered dead reckoning.
Inertial navigation systems (INSes), which are nearly universal on more advanced aircraft, use dead reckoning internally. The INS provides reliable navigation capability under virtually any conditions, without the need for external navigation references, although it is still prone to slight errors.
Transcontinental Airway System
In 1923, the United States Congress funded a sequential lighted airway along the transcontinental airmail route. The lighted airway was proposed by National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), and deployed by the Department of Commerce. It was managed by the Bureau of Standards Aeronautical Branch. The first segment built was between Chicago and Cheyenne, Wyoming. It was situated in the middle of the airmail route to enable aircraft to depart from either coast in the daytime, and reach the lighted airway by nightfall. Lighted emergency airfields were also funded along the route every 15–20 miles.
Construction pace was fast, and pilots wishing to become airmail pilots were first exposed to the harsh wintertime work with the crews building the first segments of the lighting system.
By the end of the year, the public anticipated anchored lighted airways across the Atlantic, Pacific, and to China.
The first nighttime airmail flights started on July 1, 1924. By eliminating the transfer of mail to rail cars at night, the coast to coast delivery time for airmail was reduced by two business days. Eventually, there were 284 beacons in service. With a June 1925 deadline, the 2,665 mile lighted airway was completed from New York to San Francisco. In 1927, the lighted airway was complete between New York City and Salt Lake City, Los Angeles to Las Vegas, Los Angeles to San Francisco, New York to Atlanta, and Chicago to Dallas, 4121 miles in total. In 1933, the Transcontinental Airway System totaled 1500 beacons, and 18000 miles.
The lighted Airway Beacons were a substantial navigation aid in an era prior to the development of radio navigation. Their effectiveness was limited by visibility and weather conditions.Beacon 61B on a modern display tower, originally installed on route CAM-8 near Castle Rock, WA
24 inches (610 mm) diameter rotating beacons were mounted on 53-foot (16 m) high towers, and spaced ten miles apart. The spacing was closer in the mountains, and farther apart in the plains. The beacons were five million candlepower, and rotated six times a minute. "Ford beacons" (named after Ford Car headlights) were also used, placing four separate lights at different angles.Air ports used green beacons and airways used red beacons. The beacons flashed identification numbers in Morse code. The sequence was "WUVHRKDBGM", which prompted the mnemonic "When Undertaking Very Hard Routes Keep Directions By Good Methods".Engineers believed the variations of beacon height along hills and valleys would allow pilots to see beacons both above ground fog, and below cloud layers.
Towers were built of numbered angle iron sections with concrete footings. Some facilities used concrete arrows pointing in the direction of towers. In areas where no connection to a power grid was available, a generator was housed in a small building. Some buildings also served as weather stations. Many arrow markings were removed during World War II, to prevent aiding enemy bombers in navigation, while 19 updated beacons still remain in service in Montana.
An automatic direction finder (ADF) is a marine or aircraft radio-navigation instrument that automatically and continuously displays the relative bearing from the ship or aircraft to a suitable radio station. ADF receivers are normally tuned to aviation or marine NDBs (Non-Directional Beacon) operating in the LW band between 190 – 535 kHz. Like RDF (Radio Direction Finder) units, most ADF receivers can also receive medium wave (AM) broadcast stations, though as mentioned, these are less reliable for navigational purposes.
The operator tunes the ADF receiver to the correct frequency and verifies the identity of the beacon by listening to the Morse code signal transmitted by the NDB. On marine ADF receivers, the motorized ferrite-bar antenna atop the unit (or remotely mounted on the masthead) would rotate and lock when reaching the null of the desired station. A centerline on the antenna unit moving atop a compass rose indicated in degrees the bearing of the station. On aviation ADFs, the unit automatically moves a compass-like pointer (RMI) to show the direction of the beacon. The pilot may use this pointer to home directly towards the beacon, or may also use the magnetic compass and calculate the direction from the beacon (the radial) at which their aircraft is located.
Unlike the RDF, the ADF operates without direct intervention, and continuously displays the direction of the tuned beacon. Initially, all ADF receivers, both marine and aircraft versions, contained a rotating loop or ferrite loopstick aerial driven by a motor which was controlled by the receiver. Like the RDF, a sense antenna verified the correct direction from its 180-degree opposite.
More modern aviation ADFs contain a small array of fixed aerials and use electronic sensors to deduce the direction using the strength and phase of the signals from each aerial. The electronic sensors listen for the trough that occurs when the antenna is at right angles to the signal, and provide the heading to the station using a direction indicator. In flight, the ADF's RMI or direction indicator will always point to the broadcast station regardless of aircraft heading. Dip error is introduced, however, when the aircraft is in a banked attitude, as the needle dips down in the direction of the turn. This is the result of the loop itself banking with the aircraft and therefore being at a different angle to the beacon. For ease of visualisation, it can be useful to consider a 90° banked turn, with the wings vertical. The bearing of the beacon as seen from the ADF aerial will now be unrelated to the direction of the aircraft to the beacon.
Very high frequency omni-directional range (VOR) is a type of short-range radio navigation system for aircraft, enabling aircraft with a receiving unit to determine its position and stay on course by receiving radio signals transmitted by a network of fixed ground radio beacons. It uses frequencies in the very high frequency (VHF) band from 108.00 to 117.95 MHz. Developed in the United States beginning in 1937 and deployed by 1946, VOR is the standard air navigational system in the world, used by both commercial and general aviation. In the year 2000 there were about 3,000 VOR stations operating around the world, including 1,033 in the US, reduced to 967 by 2013 (stations are being decommissioned with widespread adoption of GPS).
A VOR ground station uses a phased antenna array to send a highly directional signal that rotates clockwise horizontally (as seen from above) 30 times a second. It also sends a 30 Hz reference signal on a subcarrier timed to be in phase with the directional antenna as the latter passes magnetic north. This reference signal is the same in all directions. The phase difference between the reference signal and the signal amplitude is the bearing from the VOR station to the receiver relative to magnetic north. This line of position is called the VOR "radial". The intersection of radials from two different VOR stations can be used to fix the position of the aircraft, as in earlier radio direction finding (RDF) systems.
VOR stations are fairly short range: the signals are line-of-sight between transmitter and receiver and are useful for up to 200 miles. Each station broadcasts a VHF radio composite signal including the navigation signal, station's identifier and voice, if so equipped. The navigation signal allows the airborne receiving equipment to determine a bearing from the station to the aircraft (direction from the VOR station in relation to Magnetic North). The station's identifier is typically a three-letter string in Morse code. The voice signal, if used, is usually the station name, in-flight recorded advisories, or live flight service broadcasts.
The continuing growth of aviation increases demands on airspace capacity, making area navigation desirable due to its improved operational efficiency.
RNAV systems evolved in a manner similar to conventional ground-based routes and procedures. A specific RNAV system was identified and its performance was evaluated through a combination of analysis and flight testing. For land-based operations, the initial systems used very high frequency omnidirectional radio range (VOR) and distance measuring equipment (DME) for estimating position; for oceanic operations, inertial navigation systems (INS) were employed. Airspace and obstacle clearance criteria were developed based on the performance of available equipment, and specifications for requirements were based on available capabilities. Such prescriptive requirements resulted in delays to the introduction of new RNAV system capabilities and higher costs for maintaining appropriate certification. To avoid such prescriptive specifications of requirements, an alternative method for defining equipment requirements has been introduced. This enables the specification of performance requirements, independent of available equipment capabilities, and is termed performance-based navigation (PBN). Thus, RNAV is now one of the navigation techniques of PBN; currently the only other is required navigation performance (RNP). RNP systems add on-board performance monitoring and alerting to the navigation capabilities of RNAV. As a result of decisions made in the industry in the 1990s, most modern systems are RNP.
Many RNAV systems, while offering very high accuracy and possessing many of the functions provided by RNP systems, are not able to provide assurance of their performance. Recognising this, and to avoid operators incurring unnecessary expense, where the airspace requirement does not necessitate the use of an RNP system, many new as well as existing navigation requirements will continue to specify RNAV rather than RNP systems. It is therefore expected that RNAV and RNP operations will co-exist for many years.
However, RNP systems provide improvements in the integrity of operation, permitting possibly closer route spacing, and can provide sufficient integrity to allow only the RNP systems to be used for navigation in a specific airspace. The use of RNP systems may therefore offer significant safety, operational and efficiency benefits. While RNAV and RNP applications will co-exist for a number of years, it is expected that there will be a gradual transition to RNP applications as the proportion of aircraft equipped with RNP systems increases and the cost of transition reduces.
Inertial navigation is a self-contained navigation technique in which measurements provided by accelerometers and gyroscopes are used to track the position and orientation of an object relative to a known starting point, orientation and velocity. Inertial measurement units (IMUs) typically contain three orthogonal rate-gyroscopes and three orthogonal accelerometers, measuring angular velocity and linear acceleration respectively. By processing signals from these devices it is possible to track the position and orientation of a device.
Inertial navigation is used in a wide range of applications including the navigation of aircraft, tactical and strategic missiles, spacecraft, submarines and ships. It is also embedded in some mobile phones for purposes of mobile phone location and tracking Recent advances in the construction of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) have made it possible to manufacture small and light inertial navigation systems. These advances have widened the range of possible applications to include areas such as human and animal motion capture.
An inertial navigation system includes at least a computer and a platform or module containing accelerometers, gyroscopes, or other motion-sensing devices. The INS is initially provided with its position and velocity from another source (a human operator, a GPS satellite receiver, etc.) accompanied with the initial orientation and thereafter computes its own updated position and velocity by integrating information received from the motion sensors. The advantage of an INS is that it requires no external references in order to determine its position, orientation, or velocity once it has been initialized.
An INS can detect a change in its geographic position (a move east or north, for example), a change in its velocity (speed and direction of movement) and a change in its orientation (rotation about an axis). It does this by measuring the linear acceleration and angular velocity applied to the system. Since it requires no external reference (after initialization), it is immune to jamming and deception.
Inertial navigation systems are used in many different moving objects. However, their cost and complexity place constraints on the environments in which they are practical for use.
Gyroscopes measure the angular velocity of the sensor frame with respect to the inertial reference frame. By using the original orientation of the system in the inertial reference frame as the initial condition and integrating the angular velocity, the system's current orientation is known at all times. This can be thought of as the ability of a blindfolded passenger in a car to feel the car turn left and right or tilt up and down as the car ascends or descends hills. Based on this information alone, the passenger knows what direction the car is facing but not how fast or slow it is moving, or whether it is sliding sideways.
Accelerometers measure the linear acceleration of the moving vehicle in the sensor or body frame, but in directions that can only be measured relative to the moving system (since the accelerometers are fixed to the system and rotate with the system, but are not aware of their own orientation). This can be thought of as the ability of a blindfolded passenger in a car to feel himself pressed back into his seat as the vehicle accelerates forward or pulled forward as it slows down; and feel himself pressed down into his seat as the vehicle accelerates up a hill or rise up out of their seat as the car passes over the crest of a hill and begins to descend. Based on this information alone, he knows how the vehicle is accelerating relative to itself, that is, whether it is accelerating forward, backward, left, right, up (toward the car's ceiling), or down (toward the car's floor) measured relative to the car, but not the direction relative to the Earth, since he did not know what direction the car was facing relative to the Earth when they felt the accelerations.
However, by tracking both the current angular velocity of the system and the current linear acceleration of the system measured relative to the moving system, it is possible to determine the linear acceleration of the system in the inertial reference frame. Performing integration on the inertial accelerations (using the original velocity as the initial conditions) using the correct kinematic equations yields the inertial velocities of the system and integration again (using the original position as the initial condition) yields the inertial position. In our example, if the blindfolded passenger knew how the car was pointed and what its velocity was before he was blindfolded and if he is able to keep track of both how the car has turned and how it has accelerated and decelerated since, then he can accurately know the current orientation, position, and velocity of the car at any time.
Global Positioning System
The Global Positioning System (GPS), originally Navstar GPS, is a satellite-based radionavigation system owned by the United States government and operated by the United States Space Force. It is one of the global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) that provides geolocation and time information to a GPS receiver anywhere on or near the Earth where there is an unobstructed line of sight to four or more GPS satellites. Obstacles such as mountains and buildings block the relatively weak GPS signals.
The GPS does not require the user to transmit any data, and it operates independently of any telephonic or internet reception, though these technologies can enhance the usefulness of the GPS positioning information. The GPS provides critical positioning capabilities to military, civil, and commercial users around the world. The United States government created the system, maintains it, and makes it freely accessible to anyone with a GPS receiver.
The GPS project was started by the U.S. Department of Defense in 1973, with the first prototype spacecraft launched in 1978 and the full constellation of 24 satellites operational in 1993. Originally limited to use by the United States military, civilian use was allowed from the 1980s following an executive order from President Ronald Reagan after the Korean Air Lines Flight 007 incident. Advances in technology and new demands on the existing system have now led to efforts to modernize the GPS and implement the next generation of GPS Block IIIA satellites and Next Generation Operational Control System (OCX). Announcements from Vice President Al Gore and the Clinton Administration in 1998 initiated these changes, which were authorized by the U.S. Congress in 2000.
During the 1990s, GPS quality was degraded by the United States government in a program called "Selective Availability"; this was discontinued on May 1, 2000 by a law signed by President Bill Clinton.
The GPS service is provided by the United States government, which can selectively deny access to the system, as happened to the Indian military in 1999 during the Kargil War, or degrade the service at any time. As a result, several countries have developed or are in the process of setting up other global or regional satellite navigation systems. The Russian Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS) was developed contemporaneously with GPS, but suffered from incomplete coverage of the globe until the mid-2000s. GLONASS can be added to GPS devices, making more satellites available and enabling positions to be fixed more quickly and accurately, to within two meters (6.6 ft). China's BeiDou Navigation Satellite System began global services in 2018, and finished its full deployment in 2020. There are also the European Union Galileo positioning system, and India's NavIC. Japan's Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS) is a GPS satellite-based augmentation system to enhance GPS's accuracy in Asia-Oceania, with satellite navigation independent of GPS scheduled for 2023.
When selective availability was lifted in 2000, GPS had about a five-meter (16 ft) accuracy. GPS receivers that use the L5 band can have much higher accuracy, pinpointing to within 30 centimeters (11.8 in). As of May 2021, 16 GPS satellites are broadcasting L5 signals, and the signals are considered pre-operational, scheduled to reach 24 satellites by approximately 2027.
On 1 July 1972 I was number 4 in Brushy Flight, attacking a target in Kep, North Vietnam. As we exited the target area, our flight was targeted by a Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) from our left 7 o'clock position. This SAM was tracking differently than a typical SA-2. The typical SA-2 traveled in a lead-pursuit flight path, not too difficult to defeat if you can see it. this SAM was different. It was traveling in a lag-pursuit flight path, aiming directly at out flight.
We separated into two sections of two aircraft, about 1000 feet apart, with each wingman flying in close formation with his lead aircraft. As number 4, I flew in formation on the left wing with Brushy 3, the deputy flight lead. I watched the missile track toward our section in my left rear-view mirror. It was heading directly for me. As it was about to hit me, I flinched to the left and was immediately rocked by the sound of the explosion as it hit Brushy 3.
Fortunately, Brushy 3 did not go down. The missile detonated as a proximity burst. His aircraft was leaking fluids, but continued to fly. Because he had lost his utility hydraulic system Brushy 3 could not refuel, so he would have to land at DaNang, South Vietnam, if his fuel supply lasted. I was assigned to escort him to DaNang. Miraculously, his fuel supply lasted, and he landed with an approach-end engagement on runway 17 left while I landed on runway 17 right.
After refueling, I led another F-4 in formation back to Ubon. The reason I led the flight, at low altitude, was because the other aircraft could not pressurize. It had taken a small arms round through the rear canopy, right through the back-seater's heart.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial – The Wall – has panels that list the KIA (Killed In Action) casualties in chronological order of their loss. Panel W1, the last panel, encompasses the date July 30, 1972. My name is not on that panel, because my military Brothers, Sid Fulgham, J.D. Allen and the crew of Purple 28, saved my life.
I was Number Four in Walnut Flight, four F-4s on a strike deep into enemy territory north of Hanoi. The flight was being led by our new squadron commander, Sid Fugham, on his first mission leading a strike over Hanoi, and J.D. was the deputy flight lead, Walnut Three. Enroute to the target, we faced heavy reactions. SAMs (surface-to-air missiles), AAA (anti-aircraft artillery) and MiG calls (enemy aircraft). As we egressed the target area over the Gulf of Tonkin, Lead called for a fuel check, and that was when we all realized that my fuel was significantly below the other airplanes in the flight. In fact, I wouldn’t have enough fuel to make it to the post-strike refueling point.
Sid was out of ideas, and that’s when J.D. went into action. With Sid’s concurrence, J.D. took command of the flight, sent us over to the emergency GUARD frequency, and made contact with the refueling tankers. One of them, Purple 28, volunteered to fly up into enemy territory to meet us. That crew put their airplane, their lives, and their careers on the line to save me.
Back in 1972, navigation was not the GPS precision it is today. The INS (inertial navigation system) position on the F-4 could be off by as much as 10 miles for every hour of operation. The only way to roughly determine our position was radial/DME from a TACAN located on a Navy ship, far away. J.D. asked the tanker for his position from the TACAN, then gave the tanker a heading to meet up with us. Picking the tanker up on radar, J.D. told him when to begin his turn to a heading to match ours, and told him to start a descent. In the meantime, he directed me to start a half-nozzle descent.
My WSO and I were running through the Preparation For Ejection checklist, and I was periodically reporting my fuel state. The last reading I recall seeing was 0 on the tape and 0030 on the counter. About two minutes fuel. With fuel gauge tolerance, perhaps a bit more, perhaps less.
Up until this time I had simply been flying the headings, speeds and altitudes J.D. had assigned. I was pretty much operating on mental autopilot. The next thing I knew, I looked up and saw the refueling boom of the tanker directly above me, flying a "toboggan maneuver". I opened up my refueling door and immediately heard the rush of JP-4 entering my aircraft. And I knew I wouldn’t need to step over the side on this mission.
I think of J.D. and the tanker crew, and silently thank them, every time I hold my wife, my kids, my grandkids. If they hadn’t stepped up to the plate when they did, I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t have made it home. When you pull the ejection handle over shark-infested enemy-controlled water, there are a thousand things that can happen to prevent a happy outcome.
So on this coming July 30th, I want to once again thank my Brothers, the brave tanker crew, Sid Fulgham, and J.D. Allen.
My Last F-4 Flight
In 1973 I was assigned to the 44th Tactical Fighter Squadron, at Kadena Air Base, in Okinawa. The squadron was on long-term TDY to CCK Air Base, in Taiwan. I was going through squadron check-out in the F-4C, and had flown a gunnery mission to Ie Shima bombing range in Okinawa.
For several weeks before July 5th I had been feeling unusually tired. I still ran five miles every day, and put in a lot of hours at the squadron on my additional duties as Life Support Officer, as well as filling in for the Admin Officer, who was TDY. But, naturally, as a self-designated Iron Man, I didn't check in with a flight surgeon.
On this flight, I was feeling really, really weak. During the pitch-out during our arrival back at the base, I was blacking out from two Gs! After we taxied in to park, I couldn't climb out of the airplane by myself, and an ambulance crew took me to the hospital. Turned out I had Mononucleosis.
After I was released from the hospital, I was placed on non-flying duties for several months, and during that time I was reassigned to Wing Headquarters in a desk job. Although I continued to fly after I recovered, it was in the T-39 Sabreliner, not the F-4. So I never had the closure of a "champagne flight" in the F-4.
On June 29, the second day of the counteroffensive, an OV-10 flown by Air Force Capt. Steven L. Bennett had been working through the afternoon in the area south and east of Quang Tri City.
Bennett, 26, was born in Texas but grew up in Lafayette, La. He was commissioned via ROTC in 1968 at the University of Southwestern Louisiana. After pilot training, he had flown B-52s as a copilot at Fairchild AFB, Wash. He also had pulled five months of temporary duty in B-52s at U Tapao in Thailand. After that, he volunteered for a combat tour in OV-10s and had arrived at Da Nang in April 1972.
Bennett’s partner in the backseat of the OV-10 on June 29 was Capt. Michael B. Brown, a Marine Corps airborne artillery observer and also a Texan. Brown, a company commander stationed in Hawaii, had volunteered for a 90-day tour in Vietnam spotting for naval gunners from the backseat of an OV-10. Air Force FACs were not trained in directing the fire of naval guns.
The two had flown together several times before on artillery adjustment missions. They had separate call signs. Bennett’s was “Covey 87.” Brown was “Wolfman 45.”
They took off from Da Nang at about 3 p.m. During the time they were airborne, Brown had been directing fire from the destroyer USS R.B. Anderson and the cruiser USS Newport News, which were about a mile offshore in the Tonkin Gulf. Bennett and Brown had also worked two close air support strikes by Navy fighters.
It was almost time to return to base, but their relief was late taking off from Da Nang, so Bennett and Brown stayed a little longer.
The area in which they were flying that afternoon had been fought over many times before. French military forces, who took heavy casualties here in the 1950s, called the stretch of Route 1 between Quang Tri and Hue the “Street Without Joy.” US airmen called it “SAM-7 Alley.”
SA-7s were thick on the ground there, and they had taken a deadly toll on low-flying airplanes. The SA-7 could be carried by one man. It was similar to the US Redeye. It was fired from the shoulder like a bazooka, and its warhead homed on any source of heat, such as an aircraft engine.
Pilots could outrun or outmaneuver the SA-7—if they saw it in time. At low altitudes, that was seldom possible.
“Before the SA-7, the FACs mostly flew at 1,500 to 4,500 feet,” said William J. Begert, who, in 1972, was a captain and an O-2 pilot at Da Nang. “After the SA-7, it was 9,500 feet minimum. You could sneak an O-2 down to 6,500, but not an OV-10, because the bigger engines on OV-10 generated more heat.”
The FACs sometimes carried flares on their wings and could fire them as decoys when they saw a SA-7 launch. “The problem was reaction time,” Begert said. “You seldom got the flare off before the missile had passed.”
About 6 p.m., Bennett and Brown got an emergency call from “Harmony X-ray,” a US Marine Corps ground artillery spotter with a platoon of South Vietnamese marines a few miles east of Quang Tri City.
The platoon consisted of about two dozen troops. They were at the fork of a creek, with several hundred North Vietnamese Army regulars advancing toward them. The NVA force was supported by big 130 mm guns, firing from 12 miles to the north at Dong Ha, as well as by smaller artillery closer by.
Without help, the South Vietnamese marines would soon be overrun.
Bennett called for tactical air support, but no fighters were available. The guns from Anderson and Newport News were not a solution, either.
“The ships were about a mile offshore, and the friendlies were between the bad guys and the ships,” Brown said. “Naval gunfire shoots flat, and it has a long spread on impact. There was about a 50-50 chance they’d hit the friendlies.”
Bennett decided to attack with the OV-10’s four 7.62 mm guns. That meant he would have to descend from a relatively safe altitude and put his aircraft within range of SA-7s and small-arms fire. Because of the risk, Bennett was required to call for permission first. He did and got approval to go ahead.
Apart from its employment as a FAC aircraft, the OV-10 was rated for a light ground attack role. Its machine guns were loaded with 500 rounds each. The guns were mounted in the aircraft’s sponsons, stubby wings that stuck out like a seal’s flippers from the lower fuselage.
Bennett put the OV-10 into a power dive. The NVA force had been gathering in the trees along the creek bank. As Bennett roared by, the fire from his guns scattered the enemy concentration.
After four strafing passes, the NVA began to retreat, leaving many dead and wounded behind. The OV-10 had taken a few hits in the fuselage from small-arms fire but nothing serious. Bennett decided to continue the attack to keep the NVA from regrouping and to allow the South Vietnamese to move to a more tenable position.
Bennett swept along the creek for a fifth time and pulled out to the northeast. He was at 2,000 feet, banking to turn left, when the SA-7 hit from behind. Neither Bennett nor Brown saw it.
The missile hit the left engine and exploded. The aircraft reeled from the impact. Shrapnel tore holes in the canopy. Much of the left engine was gone. The left landing gear was hanging down like a lame leg, and they were afire.
Bennett needed to jettison the reserve fuel tank and the remaining smoke rockets as soon as he could, but there were South Vietnamese troops everywhere below. He headed for the Tonkin Gulf, hoping to get there and drop the stores before the fire reached the fuel.
As they went, Brown radioed their Mayday to declare the emergency. Over the Gulf, Bennett safely dropped the fuel tank and rocket pods.
The OV-10 was still flyable on one engine, although it could not gain altitude. They turned south, flying at 600 feet. Unless Bennett could reach a friendly airfield for an emergency landing, he and Brown would have to either eject or ditch the airplane in the Gulf of Tonkin.
Every OV-10 pilot knew the danger of ditching. The aircraft had superb visibility because of the “greenhouse”-style expanses of plexiglass canopy in front and on the sides, but that came at the cost of structural strength. It was common knowledge, often discussed in the squadron, that no pilot had ever survived an OV-10 ditching. The cockpit always broke up on impact.
Another OV-10 pilot, escorting Bennett’s aircraft, warned him to eject as the wing was in danger of exploding.
They began preparations to eject. As they did, Brown looked over his shoulder at the spot where his parachute should have been. “What I saw was a hole, about a foot square, from the rocket blast and bits of my parachute shredded up and down the cargo bay,” Brown said. “I told Steve I couldn’t jump.”
Bennett would not eject alone. That would have left Brown in an airplane without a pilot. Besides, the backseater had to eject first. If not, he would be burned severely by the rocket motors on the pilot’s ejection seat as it went out.
Momentarily, there was hope. The fire subsided. Da Nang—the nearest runway that could be foamed down—was only 25 minutes away and they had the fuel to get there. Then, just north of Hue, the fire fanned up again and started to spread. The aircraft was dangerously close to exploding.
They couldn’t make it to Da Nang. Bennett couldn’t eject without killing Brown. That left only one choice: to crash-land in the sea.
Bennett faced a decision, Lt. Col. Gabriel A. Kardong, 20th TASS commander, later wrote in recommending Bennett for the Medal of Honor. “He knew that if he saved his own life by ejecting from his aircraft, Captain Brown would face certain death,” said Kardong. “On the other hand, he realized that if he ditched the aircraft, his odds for survival were slim, due to the characteristics of the aircraft, but Captain Brown could survive. Captain Bennett made the decision to ditch and thereby made the ultimate sacrifice.”
He decided to ditch about a mile off a strip of sand called “Wunder Beach.” Upon touchdown, the dangling landing gear dug in hard.
“When the aircraft struck water, the damaged and extended left landing gear caused the aircraft to swerve left and flip wing over wing and come to rest in a nose down and inverted position, almost totally submerged,” Brown said in a statement attached to the Medal of Honor recommendation.
“After a struggle with my harnesses, I managed to escape to the surface where I took a few deep breaths of air and attempted to dive below the surface in search of the pilot who had not surfaced. Exhaustion and ingestion of fuel and water prevented me from descending below water more than a few feet. I was shortly rescued by an orbiting naval helicopter and taken to the USS Tripoli for treatment.”
Of Bennett, Brown said, “His personal disregard for his own life surely saved mine when he elected not to eject … and save himself in order that I might survive.”
Bennett’s body was recovered the next day. The front cockpit had broken up on impact with the water, and it had been impossible for him to get out. He was taken home to Lafayette, where he is buried.
North Vietnam’s Easter Offensive, battered by airpower, stalled. The South Vietnamese retook Quang Tri City on Sept. 16, 1972. The invasion having failed, Giap was forced to withdraw on all three fronts. It was a costly excursion for North Vietnam, with 100,000 or more of its troops killed and at least half of its tanks and large-caliber artillery pieces having been lost.
The Medal of Honor was awarded posthumously to Steven L. Bennett on Aug. 8, 1974. It was presented in Washington to his wife, Linda, and their daughter Angela, two-and-a- half years old, by Vice President Gerald R. Ford in the name of Congress. (Ford made the presentation because President Nixon announced his resignation that day. Ford was sworn in as President the next day, Aug. 9, 1974.)
The citation accompanying the Medal of Honor recognized “Captain Bennett’s unparalleled concern for his companion, extraordinary heroism, and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty, at the cost of his life.”
Since then, there have been other honors. Navy Sealift Command named a ship MV Steven L. Bennett. Palestine, Tex., where Bennett was born, dedicated the city athletic center to him. Among other facilities named for or dedicated to Bennett were the ROTC building at the University of Southwestern Louisiana, the gymnasium at Kelly AFB, Tex., and a cafeteria at Webb AFB, Tex.
Steven Logan Bennett (April 22, 1946 – June 29, 1972) of Palestine, Texas was a United States Air Force pilot who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for heroism during the Vietnam War on August 8, 1974
Prior to entering the U.S. Air Force, Steven Bennett attended the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now University of Louisiana at Lafayette) in Lafayette, Louisiana; he graduated with a degree in Aerospace Engineering. He was in ROTC and received his private pilot's license in 1965. He entered the Air Force in August 1968, and earned his pilot wings at Webb AFB, Texas in 1969. In 1970, he completed B-52 bomber training course at Castle AFB, CA. He was stationed at Fairchild AFB, Washington. He flew B-52s out of Thailand for almost a year. He then transitioned to become a Forward Air Controller (FAC), and graduated from the FAC and fighter training courses at Cannon AFB, New Mexico, before reporting to Da Nang, Vietnam in April 1972. He had only been in combat for three months before his Medal of Honor mission and had also won the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters. He was also awarded the Purple Heart and the Cheny Award.
His call-sign at DaNang was Covey 87. Bennett had recently turned 26 when he was killed.
Captain Bennett was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. Vice President Gerald Ford presented the decoration to Captain Bennett’s wife, Linda, and daughter, Angela, at the Blair House on August 8, 1974. Bennett is buried in Lafayette Memorial Cemetery at Lafayette, Louisiana. He was survived by his wife and one child. He had two brothers, David and Miles, and three sisters, Kathe, Lynne and Ardra. His mother, Edith Alice Logan Bennett, preceded him in death and his father, Elwin Bennett, died many years later in 2006. His daughter now lives near Dallas, TX with her husband, Paul, and two children, Jake and Elizabeth. His wife, Linda Leveque Bennett Wells, died on July 11, 2011.
Bennett's observer, Mike Brown, and was reunited with Bennett's wife and daughter in 1988. They have since remained close and together have attended numerous dedications in Bennett's honor throughout the United States.
Angela is a lifetime member of the OV-10 Association located at Meacham Air Field in Fort Worth, Texas. They have acquired an OV-10 and painted the names of both Bennett and Mike Brown on the side in memory of their last flight together. Angela was named by her father, who chose Angela Noelle, as in Christmas Angel; she was born near Christmas.
He is the namesake of the ship MV Capt. Steven L. Bennett (T-AK-4296) and his name is engraved on the Vietnam Memorial at Panel 01W - Row 051. There have been numerous other dedications done in his honor. They range from streets being named after him to buildings, including a gymnasium and a cafeteria, a sports arena and VFW posts, and many monuments. He has been mentioned in several military history books.
Medal of Honor citation
The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the MEDAL OF HONOR posthumously to
CAPTAIN STEVEN L. BENNETT
UNITED STATES AIR FORCE
20th Tactical Air Support Squadron, Pacific Air Forces.
Place and date of action: Quang Tri, Republic of Vietnam, June 29, 1972.
For service as set forth in the following
Capt. Bennett was the pilot of a light aircraft flying an artillery adjustment mission along a heavily defended segment of route structure. A large concentration of enemy troops was massing for an attack on a friendly unit. Capt. Bennett requested tactical air support but was advised that none was available. He also requested artillery support but this too was denied due to the close proximity of friendly troops to the target. Capt. Bennett was determined to aid the endangered unit and elected to strafe the hostile positions. After 4 such passes, the enemy force began to retreat. Capt. Bennett continued the attack, but, as he completed his fifth strafing pass, his aircraft was struck by a surface-to-air missile, which severely damaged the left engine and the left main landing gear. As fire spread in the left engine, Capt. Bennett realized that recovery at a friendly airfield was impossible. He instructed his observer to prepare for an ejection, but was informed by the observer that his parachute had been shredded by the force of the impacting missile. Although Capt. Bennett had a good parachute, he knew that if he ejected, the observer would have no chance of survival. With complete disregard for his own life, Capt. Bennett elected to ditch the aircraft into the Gulf of Tonkin, even though he realized that a pilot of this type aircraft had never survived a ditching. The ensuing impact upon the water caused the aircraft to cartwheel and severely damaged the front cockpit, making escape for Capt. Bennett impossible. The observer successfully made his way out of the aircraft and was rescued. Capt. Bennett's unparalleled concern for his companion, extraordinary heroism and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty, at the cost of his life, were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Air Force.