News | April 1, 2002

Hot Rod Was Here, Too

By Grampaw Pettibone

An HH-46 Sea Knight made an enroute stop for refueling before continuing on to a landing zone, flying at 50 to 200 feet above ground level, to pick up some sea-air-land team members. The aircraft landed at the destination and disembarked a squadron cameraman to videotape the helo making practice approaches to the landing zone. 

The copilot was at the controls. He flew two approaches and was on the third when trouble started. He flew a low-level, high-speed, side-flare approach. In a nose-high attitude the pilot transitioned to a side flare with excessive angle of bank. The Sea Knight rapidly lost airspeed and subsequently also lost lift. Exacerbating the situation was the loss of wind effect and the high ambient temperature.

Settling toward the runway the pilot attempted a recovery. He rapidly increased collective but the engines could not spool up fast enough. This led to rapid rotor rpm decay. The aircraft struck the ground 15 degrees nose up in a 40-degree angle of bank, moving down the runway. The port outboard main gear mount tire skidded 10 feet. The main landing gear scissors broke and the main landing gear tires rotated 90 degrees. The aft rotor blades struck the ground six times.

The engines then spooled up, restoring rotor rpm. The aircraft became airborne, continuing a few feet above the ground for a distance of 100 feet from the initial impact point. The aircraft was flying in a relatively level attitude but with the nose rotated 120 degrees left of the runway heading. The helo was vibrating violently when it fell a few feet to the deck, at which point the auxiliary nose wheel collapsed. Next, the nose struck the ground, the forward rotor blades drooped and two blades impacted the ground. Excessive vibration made securing the engine control levers difficult but the pilots finally secured them after numerous attempts. The rotor system coasted to a stop and the crew egressed unhurt.