RAN S2 Tracker Single Engine Divert MELBOURNE to NZ 1979

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Unread post27 Jun 2020, 12:37

RAN S-2 Single Engine Landing Divert from MELBOURNE to RNZAF Whenuapai NZ
7-21 Sep 1979 RAN Navy News [referring to the event]

"During Phase III of TASMANEX, HMAS MELBOURNE figured in an emergency when one of her Tracker aircraft which had been flying an anti-submarine night patrol was making its final approach for a deck landing. When only half a mile from the Carrier and 300 feet above water in shocking weather conditions, the Tracker reported an impending port engine failure. At this stage the flagship was 50 miles to the North 01 New Zealand encountering 45 knot winds, constant rain squalls and a reduced visibility at times down to less than two miles.

The Tracker with its lour-man crew (LEUT Gary CALDOW, LCDR Peter WILLIAMS, SBLT Greg RYAN, CPO Max POOLE) was ordered to divert to the RNZAF base at WHENUAPAI some 210 miles to the South. With only one engine in service the aircraft climbed to 3000-feet and escorted by another Tracker which had also been on night-flying operations, flew down the New Zealand West Coast keeping an eye out for straight stretches of beach in case of a forced landing.

In shocking weather conditions the Tracker finally made it to the Kiwi base landing with barely five minutes fuel left."


[Peter Williams comment:] "Hmm, Some details differ from my recollection of what I was told about this (well it was 35 years ago), but I think some of those differences are the result of cleaning up the story a bit so as not to frighten the horses. LOL.

Yes, they missed out some of the interesting bits. Here's my recollection of key events (from my point of view):
1. It was just after midnight (according to my log book) and we were at about 300 feet on CCA approach (around about the time where you "look up for the ball" so we probably had the wheels and hook down but I don't remember for sure) when Gary informed me that he was "going round" as he had felt a "kick" in the port rudder. As Gary started the abort I informed the ship that we were going round due to possible problems with our port engine.

2. Almost immediately after Gary increased power to commence the "go round", the port chip detector light lit up, the port oil pressure dropped to zero and the port oil temperature went off the clock so Gary started shutting down the engine. I informed the ship that the possible problem had been upgraded to definite (with a description of the symptoms) and that we were shutting the port engine down. For the uninitiated, the chip detector detects bits of metal in the engine oil and if it lights up it means that the engine is starting to fall apart so you don't muck around if it lights up.

3. The ship immediately came back with "Bingo Whenuapai 140 degrees 100 nautical miles" and, as far as I know (and unsurprisingly), no consideration was given to attempting a single engine night landing on the ship. A quick check on our fuel at this point indicated that we probably had enough to make it (based on 100 nautical miles to go) so having secured the engine and dumped all of our remaining stores (sonobuoys, etc) we set off on 140 degrees.

4. After the post engine failure check list had been completed, I dragged my navbag out from behind my seat to start planning our route. From where we were the direct path to Whenuapai would take us (more or less) down the west coast of North Island. Having determined from the relevant charts that the safety altitude for our route was 6500 feet I informed Gary accordingly and we started climbing. When we got to about 3000 feet Gary reported that we couldn't climb any further as he was starting to loose control of the aircraft so we levelled off at about 2500 feet. Shortly afterwards Gary reported that he didn't think he could hold the pressure on the rudders on his own any longer and asked me to assist him (basically he'd run out of rudder trim, was having to use old fashioned muscle power on the rudders to keep us flying straight and his legs were starting to go). So I put in a big boot full of right rudder which straightened us out and got us under control again. From then on it took two of us on the rudders to keep the aircraft flying straight and level.

5. It was about this time that the ship informed us that there had been a navigational error (didn't effect the ship's navigating officer's promotion to Commander later that year, though) and that it was really 150 nautical miles to Whenuapai. Suddenly, our fuel situation didn't look so good. In the original NATOPS the advice was that the last 100lbs in each tank was unusable but this had been recently changed to 200lbs due to an incident in the USN where an S2 ditched because it (allegedly) ran out of fuel with that much indicated. However it didn't matter much because my calculations showed we'd run out of fuel before we got there even with the 100lbs limit. NATOPS basically said that you had to treat those levels as "empty tanks" and take the appropriate action i.e. ditch or bail out. I didn't fancy bailing out as the survival rate for Tracker bail outs wasn't very high and, in fact, the survival rate for "unintentional ditchings" (code for the pilot flying to low and hitting the water, cold cat shots, wire breaks, etc i.e. crashes) was about 5 times higher than that for bail out. Survival rate for deliberate planned ditchings was very high. (All this stuff goes through your mind at times like this.) Anyway, we decided that we'd have a go at making it to Whenuapai even if it meant breaking the rules.

6. Gary and I discussed how we should go about squeezing the most out of the tanks and decided that the best option was to run on one tank until the engine started to splutter (ignoring the limits) and then switch tanks. The reasoning was that not only did this ensure we got all of the usable fuel out of the first tank it gave us a good idea about how much we could get out of the other tank which would be essential for decision making later in the flight. (It's worth noting here that we couldn't just keep flying until the other engine quit and then do a "dead stick" ditching as the S2E/G models had no battery back up and we would have no instruments which isn't good at night and in instrument flying conditions.) Shortly after this, Jim Campbell (Commander Air on the MELBOURNE) suggested the same plan to us over the radio giving us implicit approval and some confidence that we'd made the right decision.

7. Things were still looking bleak, though. We were on one engine, couldn't make safety altitude, the navigation data we'd been given was dodgy, the only navigation aids in that part of NZ that we were equipped to use were ADF beacons, and we were low on fuel. We were chewing over the problem of getting to Whenuapai without running into any rock filled clouds when, without any prior notification from the ship, we heard the dulcet tones of Alan Oliver (TACCO) telling us that he, Al Videan (Pilot) and their crew had just launched from the ship, had heard we were "having problems" and "wondered if they could be of any help".

8. Problem solved. I said yes, gave them a quick situation report and ordered them to overtake us, get about 1000 yards ahead of us and lead us down the west coast of NZ making sure to keep us over the water (keeps us away from mountains and gives us a ditching option). (In retrospect, I probably should have told them to get behind us and give us directions from there as that would put them in a position to see us if things suddenly turned pear shaped and we had to ditch without warning.) Anyway, shortly afterwards we saw the flashing red anti collision light on their aircraft pass down our starboard side as they overtook us and we fell in behind. It was very comforting to see them there.

9. When the fuel level in the port tank (the one we were using) reached 5lb, Gary decided that was close enough to zero and switched to the starboard tank. We now had a reasonable idea of how much fuel we could squeeze out of a tank and, on the theory that we could get the same amount out of the starboard tank, we would probably make it (remember that, at this stage, position information was dead reckoning using the position the ship had given us as a starting point). N.B. we'd taken the tank down to 5lbs without any hint of problems which makes a 200lb limit look like overkill.

10. Eventually we came into range of Whenuapai's TACAN and finally had some good range information to use in calculating fuel consumption per mile and my calculations now indicated we'd make it but we'd have to go below 100lbs on the starboard tank. As we got closer we contacted Whenuapai approach who informed us that GCA wasn't available yet but they'd rousted out the controller and he was on his way. He eventually showed up and after the usual pleasantries gave us a vector that was about 90 degrees starboard of our direct course to the airfield. I had the approach plates for Whenuapai out and realised that he was going to take us through the full approach pattern for the airfield. I also realised that the extra distance this would entail was more than we could travel on our remaining fuel so I told Gary to hold course, informed the controller that we couldn't do a full approach and needed something that would have us intercept the glide slope about 5 miles out. He replied that he couldn't do that so I asked him if he could do it "advisory" and he replied that he could so we continued on.

11. Meanwhile, while I and the controller were having this discussion, Al Videan had been descending and reported that he had "broken out" at 1250 feet so we got clearance to descend and "broke out" at 1250 feet as well with the airfield in sight. We continued and made an almost uneventful visual approach and landing (with 5lbs in the port tank and 75lbs in the starboard tank). The eventful part occurred as Gary closed the throttle on the starboard engine during round out and he suddenly started yelling "left rudder, left rudder" so I stopped pushing on the right rudder (taking my feet off the rudders completely) enabling Gary to make a smooth touchdown 1 hour and 42 minutes after the engine had quit (according to my log book).

12. As the S2 doesn't have nose wheel steering, the main methods for controlling them on the ground is differential power and braking which is difficult on one engine so we informed the tower that we were shutting down on the runway and would be requiring a tow. Occupying the runway wasn't a problem as there were no other flight operations in progress.

13. The RNZAF had no available accommodation for us to use and the (civilian) GCA controller very kindly put us up at his place off the base. When we went back to the airfield later in the forenoon we were greeted by the sight of several of the squadron's maintenance crew busily changing the engine for one that had been flown in from the ship (along with them) by one of 817's Sea Kings. We were ordered back to the ship on the Sea King and were back in the air at 1100 the next morning on a surface surveillance mission. Whacker Payne (SP) and I can't remember who got to stay ashore with the aircraft and ferry it back to the ship one or two days later after a nice stay in an Auckland Hotel. An impressive effort by the squadron's maintenance personnel in my humble opinion.

As you can see, this incident had its high points and its low points but all was well in the end. [Peter Williams]

Source: http://forum.aussiemodeller.com.au/view ... 10#p103609
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