This flight student's first attempt to land on an aircraft carrier ended in disaster

Navy pilots like to separate themselves from their Air Force brethren with the fact that they land their jets on the limited (and moving) real estate of an aircraft carrier instead of an 11,000-foot runway. Operating around “The Boat” is a unique skill, and over the years many student Naval Aviators have made it most of the way through flight training only to be tripped up when they tried to land on an aircraft carrier.

One extreme example of this happened on October 29, 1989 as a student pilot made his very first approach to the U.S.S. Lexington (CVT 16). The dramatic footage below — shot from cameras at various places around the flight deck — shows the T-2 Buckeye, which was attached to VT-19, a training squadron based in Meridian, Miss., rolling out of its final turn behind the carrier. The pilot “calls the ball,” telling the Landing Signal Officer standing on a platform on the port side near the stern that he sees the glideslope indicator.

The LSO “rogers” the student pilot’s ball call and says, “You were a little long in the groove; next time I want you to turn sooner,” meaning the student wound up too far behind the carrier during his final 180-degree turn. The student replies with a “roger, sir.”

The LSO then tells the student to “work it on speed,” a command for the student to push his throttles forward, adding power, followed quickly by “a little power, you’re underpowered, power” and then an emphatic “wave it off,” which is an order for the student to push the throttles all the way to full power — while maintaining a steady nose position — and go around to try it again.

The flight student doesn’t respond quickly enough, and instead of simply pushing the throttles forward and climbing out, he pulls the stick back — a bad move. As the LSO says, “come left” (as if the student pilot had any control of his jet at that point), the Buckeye rolls onto its back. Someone transmits, “Eject!”

The pilot initiates ejection well out of the seat’s envelope and is killed an instant before the T-2 hits the island and explodes, which kills four more personnel on the flight deck. As sailors immediately go for fire hoses to suppress the flames, other flight students parked adjacent to the island waiting to take off jettison their canopies before unstrapping and quickly climbing out of their jets and getting away from the fire.

There’s an old aviation saying that goes something like, “flying is not inherently dangerous but very intolerant of errors.” This footage proves that.

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