My Wings Are What??

Any pilot, or ground crew, knows the importance of making sure that each item on a checklist is properly attended to. Unfortunately as professional as one wishes to be, we are all vulnerable to one basic and unavoidable truth…that no matter how experienced, and how attentive we are, mistakes can, and still do happen. There are minor mistakes that one can simply take to try and avoid on their next flight, and then there are the major ones, like forgetting to unfold your wings…

Amazingly, this has happened more than on one occasion, and thankfully, due to the incredible design of the aircraft, and the cool-minded professionalism of the pilots, the aircraft was able to be recovered and the crews left a little wiser 


On January 22, 1968, a young LTJG at Miramar, attached to Navy Fighter Squadron VF-53 was preparing for a night flight in his F8E Crusader. During a hasty departure, and some unforeseen electrical issues that distracted the pilot, causing him to skip an important step in his pre-take-off checks… Once complete, brakes were released, and the Crusader was quickly accelerating down the dark runway. The pilot brought the nose back, rotated, and climbed into the night sky at approximately 170kts. 15 degrees nose up in the climb, the aircraft started heavy buffeting. Applying a slight amount of aileron, the Crusader snapped into a roll at 100AGL. Somehow the pilot managed to recover to a semblance of wings level and carefully brought his F-8 around for an emergency landing. Advising the tower of his control issues, they replied with an unexpected observation…that the wings were still folded! Setting up for a most unusual and hot approach. Gear down, hook up, and leave the folded wings as they were…the F-8 was successfully recovered, but unfortunately, the pilot's undergarments were listed as a complete loss.


May 10th, 1966, Lt Greg Schwalbert of VF-14 launched off a carrier at sea with his aircraft weighing in at over 34,000 lbs in high winds. Immediately after launching in winds of 33 kts over the deck, the pilot became frighteningly, and most painfully aware that his wings were still in the folded position.

After quickly jettisoning his external load, Lt Greg Schwalbert steered towards the safety of the shore that lay over 59km away. The Phantom was successfully recovered at NAAS Leeward Point after a tense 180 kts approach speed and touchdown that would be comparable to a Space Shuttle approach.

Any slower and the aircraft was feared to rapidly depart controlled flight.  The pilot and aircraft survived, but no word on the condition of the pilot’s underwear. Once again, the F-4 is proof that with enough power, even a brick could fly!

In August of 1978, a USAF F-4E 66-0304 of the 57th FIS out of Keflavik, Iceland had just departed, when unfortunately for the crew, the freshly repainted Phantom also had wing lock pins that had been wrongly painted in gray, and not re-painted high visibility red.  Most predictably, and unfortunately, the crew failed to notice the wing lock pins on walk-around, and seconds after taking off, the Phantom's wings folded in mid-flight.  Thankfully, utilizing some superior piloting skills,  managed to bring the jet back for a safe and uneventful recovery to KEF.


Not all asymmetric wing conditions are accidental... During the development and testing of the F-14; The US Navy raised concerns regarding the dangers of asymmetrical wing sweep. A series of flight tests were conducted by Grumman's Chief Test Pilot, Chuck Sewell, who took F-14 #3 up for several trials with the right wing locked in the forward position of 20 degrees, and positioned the left wing at 35, 50, 60 and 68 degrees of sweep in flight.

It was determined that the mighty F-14 could maintain controlled flight, and even be acceptable for carrier landings in a configuration up to as much as 60 degrees.

That is one badass cat!

Although not a folded wing, but certainly bent metal...This Crusader was approaching a heavily pitching carrier deck in adverse weather in the Mediterranean. The F-8's tail impacted the aircraft carrier deck and pancaked the tailpipe.  After an unpleasant bounce and wheelbarrow, the pilot boltered and managed to limp to a base in Italy to a successful and uneventful landing with nothing more than a bent tail and a damaged ego.






  • Tom MacFarlane

    Speaking as a former Plane Captain, Aircrewman, Line Chief, QA Chief, Safety Chief and Flight Deck Coordinator, I find it very troubling that the myriad of personnel on a flight line or deck would not have caught the things that caused these events to occur. The comment that I found the most interesting had to do with the “professionalism” of the crew. If they were so “professional” how did they miss the problem in the first place? I wish I had a dollar for all the potentially catastrophic problems I found in a 30 year career. The “walkaways” turned out as lessons learned. What about the crashes that didn’t? “Kick the tires and Light the Fires” is a good way to get planted.

  • Edward Fleming

    While stationed at NAF Naples Italy I watched a f8U off a carrier come in with wings folded. if I remember the date rite 1959, He did a very wide circle while approaching and made it in OK.

  • Gerald Asher

    Why repeat WHY did you go to such lengths describing the Navy F-4 wing fold incident of May 1966, and go on the illustrate the event with PHOTOS OF A 57TH FIS F-4E TAKEN 12 YEARS LATER OVER KEFLAVIK, ICELAND??? To borrow a phrase, “You’re KILLIN’ ME, Smalls!”

    I was the EOR (End of Runway) crew chief for that even on 1 August 1978; the crew was CAPT Greg Harrison (AC) and CAPT Denny Dolphin (WSO). I have written about the entire episode, and the article has appeared both in the AAHS Journal and the Friends Journal of the NMUSAF.

  • Jay

    Where is the ground crew in all of these situations? I’ve never seen a carrier launch where 15 crewman weren’t staring at the aircraft as it’s preparing to take off.

  • Jay

    Where is the ground crew in all of these situations? I’ve never seen a carrier launch where 15 crewman weren’t staring at the aircraft as it’s preparing to take off.

Leave a comment