Jet pilot relives drama on two wheels
A ROUTINE training operation turned into an heroic emergency landing for a USAF fighter pilot when the landing gear on his fighter jet failed to open.With only 20 minutes worth of fuel left, Major Skip Pribyldiscovered that only two of the three landing wheels of his single-seater F-15 Eagle had descended as he attempted to land at RAF Lakenheath.
A ROUTINE training operation turned into an heroic emergency landing for a USAF fighter pilot when the landing gear on his fighter jet failed to open.
With only 20 minutes worth of fuel left, Major Skip Pribyldiscovered that only two of the three landing wheels of his single-seater F-15 Eagle had descended as he attempted to land at RAF Lakenheath.
Initially he thought the warning light flashing on his flight deck could just be a malfunction, but a fellow pilot flew alongside and confirmed that only two wheels were down.
Major Pribyl, speaking exclusively to the EADT, described the nightmare scenario which unfolded as he returned from his second mission of the day in deteriorating weather on January 20 this year.
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“Basically there were three options”, said Major Pribyl, 33, known as Spike to colleagues in the USAF 493rd Squadron.
“I could pull up the wheels and land on the flat belly of the plane, I could hook the landing cable, like they use on the aircraft carriers, or I could have flown out to sea and ejected.”
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With the father-of-two from Kansas repeatedly circling and checking his flight systems to see if there was any other way of putting the wheels down, flight control staff rang Boeing, the manufacturers of the £35million aircraft, to see if there was anything they could suggest.
Coincidentally, one of Maj Pribyl's friends, Captain Jason Rudd, was flight supervisor that day, and it was his friendly voice, which helped guide him through the ordeal from the ground.
“It was good to hear a friendly voice, but I didn't have time to be scared, you just go through all the training you have been given and you're too busy to stop and think,” he said.
As he continued to circle in order to waste any excuse fuel and diminish the chances of an explosion it was decided to use the landing line method, whereby the pilot attempts to hook a line across the runway which then supports the plane and stops it sliding over.
Maj Pribyl knew that pilots have been killed while attempting to land with faulty landing gear when their planes have flipped over and split in two, and he said he was close to deciding to eject.
Nevertheless he had practiced just such a landing on flight simulators and pressed on with the manoeuvre.
The waiting firefighters and ground crew anxiously watched as the plane was engulfed in a halo of sparks as it scraped the runway surface, but Maj Pribyl successfully hooked the line and eventually came to rest safely, listing to one side at the end of the runway.
“I was up and flying again the next day, it wasn't until a couple of days later that it sank in that others haven't been so fortunate landing like that and my wife and I have become more regular churchgoers since then.”
While he has been lauded by his colleagues for an heroic and skilful landing, it was they and all the other crew involved in the incident who he wished to thank for their help and support in getting him down safely.
“I couldn't have done it without them,” he said.
An internal inquiry has been held into how the jet malfunctioned, but the results will not be made public.