Yogi Beare! Values of a Blue Angel
by Kenneth Majer, PhD and LCDR Scott A. Beare, USN, (ret.)
In moments of truth you’re put to the test
Has your training truly made you the best?
“KNOCK IT OFF! Knock it off!” I gave the order to my wingman, Doc, to cease our air-to-air dogfight.
“Roger that, Yogi. Knock it off!” Doc replied as he recognized the life-threatening danger I was in. My F/A-18 Hornet was in a violent inverted flat spin and was tumbling wildly toward the desert floor at over 28,000 feet per minute. I had only seconds to live or die. As my airspeed dropped, I released the rudder. It was too late. My Hornet, the world’s most advanced and sophisticated jet fighter, flipped over on its back departing controlled flight. I pulled to the right, the plane flipped to the left. I was upside down and spinning out of control. Contrary to the movies, flat spins are anything but flat.
The plane wrenched, flipped, and jerked so violently that my helmet hit the canopy one instant, G-forces crushed me into my seat the next, or I was jammed sideways, my shoulders painfully hitting the metal edges of the cockpit.
“Knock it off! Knock it off!” I repeated.
“Roger that, Yogi. Thirty thousand feet,” Doc radioed, informing me of our altitude. His job was to stay with me and call out my altitude to prepare me for my last resort if I were unable to right my airplane: eject at 10,000 feet.
My job was to regain controlled flight. An aviator’s mind is spring-loaded with procedures.
There is no time to think or contemplate, only time to act. Immediately I shouted aloud the F/A-18 Spin Recovery Procedures verbatim. My words echoed in the cockpit as I reacted with robot precision.
“Feet off rudder pedals!”
“Speed brake in!”
“Throttles idle, check air speed, altitude, AOA,* yaw rate!”
I checked my instruments. Altitude=26,000 feet; air speed=0; AOA pegged negative; yaw=high. No question about it. I was in an inverted spin.
Inwardly, I became composed. “Throttles idle.” Done. “Rudder opposite.” Full left. Done.“Aileron opposite spin.” Full left. Done. “Spin Recovery Switch to RECOVER.”
I was being thrashed about so violently, yet I was calm enough that I wondered for a moment if I were going unconscious. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the recovery switch with the safety guard cover down. I reached over and flipped the cover up as I heard Doc radio, “Eighteen thousand feet.” A few moments later,
“Thirteen thousand feet.” I reminded myself that the official eject altitude was 10,000 feet.
“Analyze.” I did.
Then, with my nose low, my airspeed began to climb. The plane had begun to recover and I was regaining controlled flight. But suddenly, my airspeed indicator, altimeter, and other instruments went completely blank. The air data input that measures air flow over the skin of the aircraft must have confused the flight control computers, shutting them down.
The plane flipped again. I hit my head hard on the canopy. G-forces crushed me into my seat. I felt like I was on a carnival ride spinning around upside down as well as being socked from side to side.
Doc shouted, “Eight thousand!”
I had fallen through the 10,000-foot eject barrier. This was not good.