My Wing! My Wing!
How one F-15 Eagle managed to defy the laws of aerodynamics and live to tell the tale
It was May 1, 1983, somewhere over the sun-scorched Negev Desert. Two F-15D's and four A-4N Skyhawks twisted and jinked under gut-wrenching Gs, in the throws of a dogfight, no less violent and no less deadly competitive for the fact that it was only a training mission.
One F-15D, number 957, nicknamed 'Markia Shchakim,' sported 5 kill-marks and was used this day for the training of a new pilot in the squadron.
Here’s what the new “recruit” had to say, as it appeared in the publication "Pressure Suit":
At some point I collided with one of the Skyhawks, at first I didn't realize it. I felt a big strike, and I thought we passed through the jet stream of one of the other aircraft. Before I could react, I saw the big fire ball created by the explosion of the Skyhawk.
The radio started to deliver calls saying that the Skyhawk pilot has ejected, and I understood that the fire ball was the Skyhawk, that exploded, and the pilot was ejected automatically. There was a tremendous fuel stream going out of the wing, and I understood it was badly damaged.
The aircraft flew without control in a strange spiral. I re-connected the electric control to the control surfaces, and slowly gained control of the aircraft until I was straight and level again. It was clear to me that I should eject. When I gained control I said, "Hey, wait, don't eject yet!" No warning light was on and the navigation computer worked as usual; I just needed a warning light in my panel to indicate that I missed a wing..." The instructor ordered me to eject.
The wing is a fuel tank, and the fuel indicator showed 0.000 so I assumed that the jet stream sucked all the fuel out of the other tanks. However, I remembered that the valves operate only in one direction, so that I might have enough fuel to get to the nearest airfield and land. I worked like a machine, wasn't scared and didn't worry. All I knew was: as long as the sucker flies, I'm gonna stay inside. I started to decrease the airspeed, but at that point one wing was not enough.
So I went into a spin down and to the right. A second before I decided to eject, I pushed the throttle and lit the afterburner. I gained speed and thus got control of the aircraft again. Next thing I did was lowering the arresting hook.
A few seconds later I touched the runway at 260 knots, about twice the recommended speed, and called the tower to erect the emergency recovery net. The hook was torn away from the fuselage because of the high speed, but I managed to stop 10 meters before the net. I turned back to shake the hand of my instructor, who urged me to eject, and then I saw it for the first time - no wing.
McDonnell Douglas, when contacted by the IAF (Israeli Air Force) and asked for information about the possibility to land an F-15 with one wing, replied that their computer simulations confirmed that the answer was affirmatively “no.” In fact, according to McDonnell Douglas, that particular outcome was virtually and literally aero-dynamically impossible. Until they received the photos of the hapless aircraft(see below)…. Only two months later the same F-15 got a new wing and returned to action.
How could this wounded bird make it back to the nest?
“Driven by the F-15's semi-fly-by-wire system called CAS (Control Augmentation System), horizontal stabilizers can rotate independently from each other giving the aircraft greater flight stability and crisper reactions when maneuvering.” --F15-E.info
In other words: The stabilators move in a coordinated way for roll control, acting in conjunction with the ailerons. That and carrying a lot of extra airspeed is what allowed this seemingly false story to be true after all. Welcome home, Mister Eagle!
To meet the mind-blowingly brave and talented PIC (Pilot in Command) check out this video, entitled Amazing Landing.
Back to Aeronautics