- A.N. Other
- Naval Aviation, Ship histories and stories
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Albatross (Shore Establishment), HMAS Melbourne II
- December 2011 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The quick fix was to change the single engine cruise protocol to ensure equal distribution of the time in the feathered position; rotating the feathered engine slightly every ten minutes, and changing operating engines every 30 minutes. All this had to be accomplished while possibly actively tracking a submarine, often at 300 feet on a pitch black night and possibly in bad weather – and no co-pilot to assist! There were many single engine landings, both day and night on board Melbourne, caused almost exclusively by this problem. This was worrying enough without the knowledge in the back of the pilot’s mind that the pieces of metal in the joint oil supply could result in the second engine failing at any time! Many times the pilots missed the wires due to float, deck movement or both – resulting in a BOLTER. However, on 6 June 1958, on completion of a night flare dropping exercise, I again experienced an engine failure – which resulted in a dreaded night BOLTER followed by a successful recovery. Another ‘first’.
It was a very warm night in South East Asia and the sea was relatively flat with only about 10 knots of wind. Having suffered what was now a routine engine failure, I elected to perform a straight in landing. This was probably an error in that it caused difficulties in attaining and holding the correct approach speed, such that the aircraft was approximately 5 knots fast over the round-down and floated over all the arrestor wires. I immediately applied full power to the operating engine and raised the undercarriage but was unable to climb away. The aircraft settled towards the water but held altitude just above the surface in the ground effect. The altimeter was reading zero, and the needle on the Radar Altimeter, calibrated in 10 feet increments, was hovering just above zero – but not even half way to the 10 feet marker. As the aircraft passed down the port side of the Rescue Destroyer stationed on the Starboard Bow of the Carrier, the Port Running Light on the bridge was above the eye level of the crew in the Gannet. After what seemed an eternity, the Radar Altimeter began reading a healthy 50 feet above the water, and raising the flaps was commenced in stages. A very wide, climbing circuit was established, leveling at 1,000 feet down-wind. From there, a normal single-engine landing was completed, followed by several medicinal rums in the sick bay afterwards! This was the first and only successful night bolter and recovery ever in either the RAN or RN. I believe it remains so to this day. My crew comprised Lieut. Evans (Observer) and Obs.1 Hancox (Tel).
Sting in the tail
Getting back to the Gannet peculiarities, the second sting in its tail – which caused many accidents and injuries, including death – was a little thing called the Flight Fine Pitch Stop. Essentially, this was a pin which prevented each propeller from moving into the fully fine position when the throttles were retarded as for landing, unless the landing gear was down and locked. This stop was actuated (inserted) by the landing gear coming up, and removed by it on lowering for landing. When the propellers were allowed the full movement into the full fine position they effectively presented two solid disks to the airflow, causing enormous drag and potential for uncontrollable loss of altitude. Of course this was of little concern when at altitude or when within inches of the ground in the normal landing with the gear down. However, in the single engine configuration, this drag was not at all desirable – so there were two Flight Fine Pitch Stop override switches in the cockpit with which the withdrawal of these pins (one on each propeller) was prevented, either individually or together when the landing gear was lowered. Of course, when attempting a single engine landing, the lack of this drag in the final landing phase (assuming the pilot had remembered to make the FFPSO switches) could result in a float before touchdown. This was of no consequence when landing on a runway – but caused untold difficulties in the final phase of a deck landing! It was invariably this, in association with possible deck movement, which caused the aircraft to float over the wires and BOLTER!