Why Won't This Thing Land?

During my last assignment in Okinawa, we got tasked to take photos (after all, we were flying reconaissance jets) of Iwo Jima. It was a fairly long mission, requiring a few mid-air refuelings, and everything was going well (i.e. we were able to find the island...) until we were about 45 minutes away from home.

We have what is called a Master Caution Light in both cockpits of the jet, and without any prior warning, the thing turned bright red. Checking our instruments, we found out that we were losing our hydraulic pressure. Now, this may not sound too critical, and it really wasn't as long as we were airborne, but it meant that once we touched down on the runway, we wouldn't have any brakes. Even though our jet is fairly small, and we have a drag chute that we pop out after landing, that's not enough to stop the jet on the available runway. Thank God for arresting hooks! For those of you who don't know about arresting hooks, it's a bar with a hook on it that's attached to the back of the jet, under the tail section, and it's used to snag a cable that is strung across the runway in case you don't have any brakes or steering capability. It brings the jet to a fairly quick stop. It's the same system the Navy uses to land jets on it's aircraft carriers, but we Air Force types don't practice that kind of landing very often...

So, there we were, heading home knowing we had to "take the cable". But since we had plenty of time, we were ready for it. We did all the appropriate procedures, notified the tower that we'd be tying up their runway for a while (at least, 'til they could tow us off), and set ourselves up for a long, straight-in approach. As we got closer, we could see all the fire trucks and crash equipment waiting for us (which was a normal response for any aircraft experiencing an inflight emergency), and knew we'd be safely on the ground in a minute or two. Well, we touched down, waiting for the jolt of the hook snagging the cable, but we just kept rolling. We quickly realized that the hook had jumped over the cable, and that we weren't going to stop. Since there was no way to slow down, we pushed the throttles forward and took off again. Guess I wasn't going to get to that cold beer as quickly as I thought I would...

Okay, so we didn't catch the cable like we thought we going to. No big deal. We'll just head back around and do it again, and that's exactly what we did. But you'll never guess what happened...(okay, maybe you can). The hook jumped over the cable AGAIN! Talk about deja vu... By this time, we were getting pretty tired of this (it had been a long mission), and we really wanted to land. So instead of going all the way around again, we told the tower to clear the area of aircraft, and we did sort of a teardrop pattern, eventually coming back to the same runway we were trying to land on, but in the opposite direction. This time, however, things worked like they were supposed to, and we came to a sudden, exhilarating stop. Then, we just had to wait for the rescue equipment and tow truck to come down to us, since they were still planning on us touching down at the other end of the runway, so we shut down the engines and got out.

Next stop I made: The bathroom. By that time, the cold beer could wait, but my bladder couldn't (like I said at the beginning, it was a fairly long mission...)

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