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The Time A Tanker Saved A Fighter That Was Falling Apart Over The AtlanticOn the 5th of September, 1983, 4 USAF F-4E Phantom jets were flying over the Atlantic en route to Europe along with the support of a KC-135 known as “North Star.” These five aircraft were part of a larger number of Phantoms and tankers on a routine trans-Atlantic flight. To make the crossing, the Phantoms would need to tank a total of 8 times to fill their thirsty engines. (foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com) More...
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this illustrates (and should remind us all) how an honest story can get twisted up beyond recognition over time. Fascinating!! thanks!!
Wow quite a story, thanks for the facts. Sounds like great airmanship all around.
Very nice.. Thanks for sharing... The media never gets anything right and there facts are not as factual as they should be... Great story, thanks for sharing.
Wow. Simply wow. Who says crisis is not the trigger to ingenuity..... Thank you for sharing and more importantly for your service. Good thinking with good skills tend to produce good outcomes. Thanks again!
Cool! Thanks for the eyewitness details. A remarkable story, indeed.
First to answer some of the response questions I read and clear up some of the facts. Ghost’s WSO was Maj Dan Silva. The article said another name I believe was mentioned as one of the tanker crew. The good/second/#1 engine never overheated. When at low altitude, his jet was not fuel starved. The AOA of the F-4 was never at 45 degrees. It did get behind the power curve. We diverted to Gander. An ejection would not have killed them, but even with a poopy suit, the cold water, exposure and hypothermia would have before they could be rescued.
Now I’ll try to give a quick narrative to fill in the gaps. Remember, this happened 32 years ago. Most of the events are still crystal clear, but some of the minor details may be a little fuzzy. This is my recollection. We were part of a squadron deployment to Ramstein AB. Configuration was 3 external gas tanks, ECM pod, travel pods, captive AIM-9 and 2 TERs. A very heavy and draggy configuration. Just prior to the half way point across the Atlantic, Ghost’s jet suffered an oil leak in the #2 engine. The mission commander directed him to divert to Gander and assigned me to escort him. They also dispatched the spare tanker to rendezvous with us and take us to Gander. Ghost and Dan ran their checklist and shut down the #2 engine. Initially it was windmilling and they started a 250KIAS decent (engine out procedure to find the single engine service ceiling). Eventually the windmilling engine seized due to lack of oil resulting in a “dead wing” and additional drag. When the decent at 250KIAS still didn’t produce a sustainable level off below 10,000ft, he tried AB on the good engine and the asymmetrical thrust produced an uncontrollable roll due to the dead wing. As we later found out from the after action investigation, 250KIAS would not provide a sufficient thrust to sustain the configuration we were in. It needed to be closer to 300KIAS and after this incident the Dash 1 was changed accordingly. As the centerline tank and wing tanks went dry, he jettisoned them to reduce drag and weight while still in a slow 250Kt decent. While all of this was happening, the spare tanker had overflown us and using air to air TACAN and radar, the WSOs found the tanker above and about 35 miles in front of us. My WSO, Pete Raffa, gave the tanker turn and decent directions for a large S turn that rolled them out 3 miles right in front of us. He later told me, “God did that…not me.” We discussed options and decided to refuel me first in case the crippled jet broke the boom. I still had my wing tanks and took a few thousand pounds to enable me to make it to Gander without a tanker at low altitude. That done, the boomer gave the AC directions to back into position to hook up to the crippled jet. Once in position they made contact. They did not pass any gas because the last think the jet needed at that point was more weight. With a manual override on the boom clamp they attempted to “tow” the F-4 to a higher altitude. There were a couple of disconnects as they figured out how much thrust/acceleration was enough to move the jet without breaking contact. Eventually they were able to assist the jet up to about 10,000’ and accelerate to around 300 KIAS. As it ended up, that 300 KIAS was the key. At this point, the F-4 was flyable again and they would not have gotten there without the help of that tanker. The tanker crew did an awesome job making this happen and definitely saves two lives that day. Ghost took enough gas to make it to Gander and once disconnected, they flew on their own. There were some weather, wind and approach issues that further complicated their recovery; but they ended up making an uneventful approach end barrier engagement at Gander. I landed after they cleared the barrier and the tanker landed after me. I hope this answers some of the questions asked and clears up some of the blank spots.