Any pilot knows the importance of following a proper flow, and making sure that each item on a checklist is properly attended to. Unfortunately as professional as a pilot 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 still happen. There are minor mistakes that one can simply make a note 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 once, and thankfully, due to the incredible design of the aircraft, and the cool minded professionalism of the pilots, the aircraft were 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 unforseen 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 approximatly 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 pilots 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 launch the pilot became frighteningly 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 59km away. The Phantom was successfully recovered at NAAS Leeward Point. The pilot and aircraft survived, but no word on the condition of the pilot’s underwear…no surprise to many, but once again, the F-4 is proof that with enough power, even a brick could fly!
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 bad ass cat!