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HistoryGMSRON-2 HistoryHistory

Circa 1959

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "... P2V-5FD Parachute Descent By LtCol Erik G. McMillan, USAF Ret - The following is an aviation event that I believe to be one of the most unique in aviation history, and that I, together with six other crew members, am exceptionally fortunate to have survived. I can't find a single crew member, except for a Mr Tom Watkins, who wasn't on board during the event. I had a graphic artist try to portray the event. Parachute dimension is not to scale . Identifiers were added to depict the BUNO 128342 Cheers..." Contributed by Erik G. McMillan erikmcmillan@cox.net [10OCT2012]

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Note the following aspects pertain to the following narrative:

  • 1. P2V-5FD is the Target Director version of Neptune aircraft types.
  • 2. Firebee Targets are carried and launched by P2V-5FD aircraft.
  • 3. Firebee Targets have a connecter that mates with an aircraft electrical umbilical cord that is located in pylon carriage racks under each wing.
  • 4. The target has two lugs in the dorsal spine (strong back) that attach to two hooks in each pylon carriage rack.
  • 5. The Firebee is released by an onboard electrical command which rotates the hooks from a horizontal to a vertical position, which enables the target to fall free, and fly away from the aircraft on itís own power.
  • 6. The Firebee contains a 70 foot diameter recovery parachute which enables it to sustain a soft impact on the surface upon mission completion.
The year is 1959, a typical Neptune role in a Firebee Target operation includes the following steps: After takeoff, and with targets attached to each wing pylon, the objective is first, to fly to 15,000 feet MSL. Then, a power on descent is started, to enable the target jet engine rotation to increase to a level which will support combustion. After acceptable rotation is obtained, the engine is started. Onboard target checks are conducted, and upon successful completion, the target is released. Radio control commands from the Neptune or FJ-3D aircraft then direct it to a range area where it fulfills the role of itís name for fleet exercises, and training or test operations.

If it survives the assault(s), remaining fuel, if any is dumped, and a recovery parachute is deployed, enabling the target to survive the impact with the water, with minimal, if any damage. Upon water impact, the parachute detaches, and a helicopter crew recovers the target. It is then refurbished, and readied for another operation.

While assigned to USN Guided Missile Service Squadron-2, as a Lt(jg) and piloting P2V-5FD Buno128342, a terrifying event happened on a clear sunny day over the Caribbean Sea. While climbing to release a Firebee target for USN fleet training operations, at 14,000 feet altitude, a flight of two FJ-3D aircraft from the squadron joined us on our starboard wing. Shortly thereafter, the leader transmitted, "crossing starboard to portĒ.

Immediately following the transmission the aircraft snapped violently to the right and rapidly decelerated. My first thought, filled with dismay, was that we had incurred a mid - air collision, and I keyed the intercom to order a bailout. However, I never made the transmission because it was not a collision. The P2V-5FD , with a wing span of 104 feet, was now pulling the 70 feet diameter recovery parachute with the target still attached to the starboard wing pylon.

With near full back, yoke pressure, to slow the descent rate, and hard left bank, to reduce the turn rate, and with full power applied, the Neptune was flying in a near level pitch attitude, and about a 5 degree bank in a very tight, right turn spiral just above stall speed. Except for one crew member, all were strapped in their positions. However, the one crew member who was out of his seat at the moment the parachute deployed, was never able to re-seat himself due to the centrifugal force being experienced during the event.

We flew in a very tight, near dizzying circle as we pulled and spiraled around the relentless hold of the parachute. We seemed to be in a flat spin, except the aircraft had not stalled. Differential power and control combinations were judiciously attempted, but only full power on all engines and near full back pressure on the yoke, to reduce our descent rate, enabled the aircraft to fly as we pulled the parachute. My total effort was engaged in trying to try to fly away from the parachute, nevertheless, we could not maintain altitude, nor reduce the turn rate as we spiraled toward the sea.

I was able to maintain a constant flying airspeed, while the copilot, target controller, and flight engineer used every electrical, radio command, and manual emergency procedure possible, to release the target from the aircraft, to no avail.

The rate of descent was fairly rapid for a Neptune in a near level pitch attitude. I spent much of my time focused on both, the airspeed indicator and altimeter, as I tried to maintain what little, if any aircraft control I had. I was reluctant to start a dive and gain airspeed, for the descent rate was already uncomfortable. I was hopingthe emergency procedures would prevail, but they did not.

All crew members had parachutes, but the pilot, copilot, and flight engineer parachutes were hung on a bulkheads in the compartment aft of the cockpit. I, and the copilot and flight engineer were so busy we had no chance to strap on parachutes, and I had resigned myself to the inevitable. Therefore, all but three crew members, were prepared to bailout. In retrospect, it is unknown, but doubtful, if anyone could have overcome the centrifugal force, to egress the aircraft.

Despite, the dangerous situation I did have a probably unrealistic hopeful thought - the sea state was not high and since we were in a near level flight attitude, and with airspeed just above stall speed, perhaps a ditching could possibly be survived. Thatís all I could hope for as we descended, all too rapidly, toward the sea.

After a spiraling free fall of 10,000 feet, at 4,000 feet altitude, I keyed the intercom switch, intending to order bailout, when the aircraft suddenly deviated from the spiral pattern, by pitching up, and turning left. At last, the flight controls were working. I immediately pushed the yoke forward, and leveled the wings to obtain a safer flying speed and after accelerating to cruise speed I shut down the jet engines, and set reciprocating engine power controls to cruise settings. All was normal again.

Despite a fleet demand for us to release the target on the port wing, our experience of surviving a 10,000 feet spiraling moment of terror had provided enough excitement to last a lifetime. I wanted to set foot on terra firma, and I immediately set a course to NAS Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and landed.

After parking and chocking the Neptune, all crew members walked to the starboard pylon. There, the only thing remaining of the Firebee was an approximate 4í x .5Ď x .25í jagged dorsal spine (strong back) jammed in the carriage hooks. Also observed, were popped rivets in the wing skin adjacent to the pylon interface.

The only thing we could surmise that caused the target structure to fail was that the denser air at lower altitude created more resistance on the parachute which created greater side loading on the target which ultimately caused itís failure. Minutes before, seven crew members had been facing life's final event, but due to the targetís structural failure we were fortunately and suddenly involved in a prolonged future. All of us were profoundly thankful to have survived the terrifying parachute descent that fate had provided us. Note. I've located two people, who are aware of the incident, one was a part-time crew member, the other was a parachute rigger.

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "...I arrived at Rosy Roads, PR in June of 1959 on a sub tender. I reported in to what was then GMSRON-2. The squadron had not been there very long. Before that the squadron had been in Chincotigue, VA and was GMGRU-2. In 1959 the squadron had two P2V-5FDs, two JDs, two HSS helos, numerous FJs, F9F-2s, F9F-6s and KDA RYAN drones. Sometime later, I don't remember exactly, we became FLEET UTILITY SQUADRON EIGHT (FLUTRON-8, may not be spelled correctly) and then we became VU-8. The events I remember most...was an inspection: The squadron collected everyones medals and awards and issued each person an equal amount for uniformity. At the time I think I had one medal, a GE-DUNK medal. However, for that inspection, I had a chest full. We also had a sock inspection where we had to place our foot foward and pull up our trousers. We had at least three crashes that resulted in the death of two young officers and an older LT. Tiller. Webber was killed in a helo crash..." Contributed by GEAROLD O BATSON batson@sccoast.net[26DEC97]

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