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Hill pilot safely lands F-16 with gear problems

July 20, 2006 (by SrA Kerry Solan-Johnson) - Capt. Michael Seltzer ran into trouble when one of his three green lights didn't come up after a five hour mission over Iraq.

A 388th FW F-16 jet fighter.

The two green lights staring down Capt. Michael Seltzer were a problem. A third light, which remained dark, indicated trouble: the landing gear at the nose of the captain's F-16 Fighting Falcon was not down and locked into place. Low on fuel after a five-hour mission over Iraq, and flying hot - armed with two bombs - Captain Seltzer did not have a lot of options.

"That's when I began to realize it just wasn't my day," said Captain Seltzer, a 421st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron F-16 pilot from Hill currently deployed to Iraq. The 25-year-old Berkeley, Calif., native ran the checklists for this kind of situation, but to no avail. Lt. Col. Mark Cline, Captain Seltzer's commander and the flight lead for the two-ship formation, who is also currently deployed to Iraq from Hill, now tailed Captain Seltzer as they circled the skies between Baghdad and Balad, hoping for a windfall.

The captain then made an emergency call for a fuel tanker, which would afford him time and options. As luck would have it, a tanker was already in the air, and offered to refuel the F-16s. Typically, every pound of fuel on a tanker is spoken for, but that day, by chance, the tanker could afford to refuel the two F-16s. The refuel bought Captain Seltzer the time he needed to jettison the bombs over Lake TharThar, the largest lake in Southwest Asia that is located approximately 65 miles west of Balad. At that time, a representative from Lockheed Martin in Forth Worth, Texas, was put on the line with Captain Seltzer. They worked through possible fixes to drop the nose gear as the two-ship formation made its way to Lake Thar-Thar.

It was over the lake that Captain Seltzer ran into his second problem; the bomb under his right wing "hung" and would not jettison. "I thought Murphy's Law was in full gear," said Colonel Cline. The captain began to consider the possibility he might have to eject. "Here, that presents a whole other set of problems," he said. After 20 minutes of burning fuel and failed attempts to shed the munition, the captain knew it was time to face the inevitable, and the two F-16s turned home. "I was concerned about him landing and the nose gear collapsing - especially with the live munition," said Colonel Cline. "I prayed that God would get the nose gear down."

As they approached the runway, Col. Cline was told by the flying supervisor in the air control tower to "back off" from Captain Seltzer's jet as he landed because of the hung munition. "The adrenaline was pumping when I was ready to land," Captain Seltzer said. "I knew my landing had to be perfect - this had the potential to be bad." And that is when the pilots believed their prayers were answered. The hydraulic sequence valve, which caused the problem with the nose gear, suddenly functioned correctly, locking the nose gear into place and turning the third green light on.

Maintenance crews later determined that if Captain Seltzer had landed with the gear stuck, it would have collapsed. Faulty release charges were to blame for the hung munition. Captain Seltzer said he was thankful for the tanker crew, which he believes prevented him from possibly crashing. "Whatever happened to make the landing gear finally extend happened in that extra hour the tanker bought me," he said.

Republished with kind permission of Hilltop Times.

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