Pilot error blamed for crash of Harrier


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Tough break but at least nobody was hurt 180 flight time doesn't seem like a lot.

Pilot error blamed for crash of Harrier

April 8, 2009 - 8:53 AM
Drew C. Wilson
Havelock News
Pilot error is blamed for the crash of an AV-8B Harrier last year in Carteret County, according to a report on the investigation.
Capt. Ian E. Stephenson ejected from the Cherry Point-based Harrier and walked away from the crash Feb. 13, 2008, at Open Grounds Farm.
The investigation concluded that Stephenson, of Marine Attack Squadron 542, failed to readjust his engine nozzles from the hover-stop position, making the plane incapable of staying in the air.
The $40 million jet and its $1.4 million Lightening Pod targeting system were destroyed in the crash.
According to the report, Stephenson was practicing midair refueling and strike coordination with two other pilots at the time of the crash.
The pilots were returning to Cherry Point. Stephenson wrote in the investigation that he was initially trying to catch the lead aircraft in the group and realized he was coming up too fast, so he slowed the jet down by adjusting the nozzles, which forced the thrust of the aircraft down.
According to the report, Stephenson was at 12,000 feet. When he went to throttle up the aircraft again, it fell farther behind the lead pilot.
“Poppy, I need you to turn around and join on me. I’m having engine trouble,” Stephenson said by radio, according to the report. “I’m at your six, one mile, engine isn’t responding to the throttle. I’m not getting any thrust.”
According to the report, Stephenson tried several corrective measures based on training, including shutting down the engine and using the air blowing through the engine to restart it.
It didn’t work. The plane was falling, and Stephenson pointed the aircraft away from any populated areas as the plane descended.
Stephenson’s wingman advised him to switch to manual fuel, something that had not been tried yet.
“No acceleration,” Stephenson wrote in the investigation. “I reported this to lead and said something like ‘I don’t think this is going to work.’
“I had tried all the emergency procedures that I could think of and I could not figure out what the problem was.”
The lead pilot told Stephenson to try again.
“So I shut down and tried another airstart on manual fuel,” he wrote. “I was getting fairly low, below 5,000 (feet) with a pretty high rate of descent.
“After the second airstart, I still wasn’t getting acceleration from the engine, and I was out of ideas, so I decided to eject.”
Stephenson made one last check to make sure the plane was headed toward the empty field and then pulled the ejection handle.
“After getting under canopy, I saw the jet fly away and impact to my right,” Stephenson wrote. “It was a pretty big fireball.”
Stephenson parachuted safely to the ground and walked aboard Cherry Point rescue helicopter Pedro, which arrived at the crash scene in 10 minutes, according to the report. Stephenson was on duty the next day.
According to the report, the plane went 20 feet into the ground when it crashed. Investigators, with help from the farm manager’s excavator, needed six days to recover all the parts of the jet.
The plane’s data storage unit indicated that the nozzles were in the hover-stop position at the time of the crash.
Stephenson wrote in the report that he thought he had readjusted the nozzles, but considering the crash, could not be absolutely positive that he did.
The investigating officer recommended that Stephenson be returned to flight status after undergoing refresher training at VMAT-203 and “returned to the operational force as soon as possible.”
Stephenson had 180 hours flying the AV-8B.
“The investment that has been made in him should not be thrown away because of this mishap,” the report stated.

Training question

Hi the_13th_redneck
How forgiving
To my untrained eye 180 flight hours doesn't seem like a lot should he have known what to do?
180 hours

I don't just mean only "the_13th_redneck" I don't really know is 180 hours enough time that this pilot should have known how to get out of what happened to him?

Correct me if I'm wrong but I thought USMC, USN, and USAF, pilot get around 225 to 250 hours per year? I assume a little more if a squadron is going to deploy. 180 hours seems like 6 or 7 months worth for a newbie pilot in his first year flying.

How forgiving.
If that happened in these neck of the woods the guy would have been crucified.

I never quite understood that honestly.

If a pilot makes a mistake and crashes his plane why is their a tendency to instantly cashier him? As in anything you improve by learning from mistakes, yes an expensive aircraft was lost but their is no guarantee that a replacement pilot wouldn't make the same mistake. At least Stephenson is going to remember to re-adjust the nozzles next time. What is obvious is that this pilot needs more practice.

Furthermore the AV-8II is a exceptionalyl difficult plane to fly, much more so than a conventional fighter aircraft. Its direct thrust is a difficult thing to master. This is not the first accident with harrier.
Serves as a warning to others.
There are more qualified pilots than planes and plenty who don't make the mistake he made.
This really IS forgiving. He'd have been demoted to a maintenance hangar or worse, a desk job if he was in TuAF.


Nice bird.