USAF F15 Emergency Landing at MNL

Just before lunch time today, I monitored in my radio’s Manila Tower frequency that a plane is requesting for an emergency landing: requesting for fire, rescue, and medical support. I immediate peeked and waited for the plane to arrive. Was surprised that the plane in distress is a US Air Force F15 fighter plane.

Airport safety authorities rushed to the aircraft, as it halted itself in the middle of the runway (06/24). A problem arised when there is no available tow bar to use so that the plane may pulled out of the active runway. The tower controllers decided to have the plane “pushed” — literally — but based on what I had heard on the radio, they fighter plane pilot won’t allow anyone to touch his plane, as the missles are engaged. Huh?

Thirty minutes after, the runway was back to operations.

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  1. That’s an General Electric F-16, not a McDonnel Douglas F-15. The problem arose :-) because the towbar, which did fit the F-16 nosewheel, was too short for the tow tractor to clear the aircraft’s nose.

    You don’t just push a jet fighter. Most of the surface area is composite carbon graphite, aluminum and fiber composite. Very soft, deformable, fragile. Airplanes are not meant to be pushed — they are meant to fly. The stresses of flight act on very different points on the airframe than where people would normally push.

    For example, the wing spar is incredibly strong to withstand flight stress, but the flight control surfaces or the camber (curve shape) of the wing itself are designed to be lifted by airflow, not pushed by ignorant people.

    When you are flying a jet at Mach 2, or twice the speed of sound, you don’t want any dimples, dents or even the slightest deformities on your control surfaces. At that speed, you could quickly develop unstable flight and lose control, all because some idiot put a dent in your wing’s carefully designed and crafted curve.

    Also, all fighter aircraft fly in combat-ready configurations (they ARE fighter planes), so his missiles were indeed live, ready to be fired and unsafetied. Weapons are rendred completely safe by trained ground crew who service the aircraft after landing. He was doing an unscheduled landing due to a mechanical problem, and so there was no trained and qualified USAF ground crew available to safety his weapons.

    It is relatively common for a missile to fire inadvertently when the electronic connections between the missile and the launch rail are tampered with. Again, some idiot might engage an electronic trigger while pushing the airplane, and a Sidewinder heat-seaking missile could launch off the aircraft — guess where it could go? An airliner nearby? A fuel truck? The NAIA terminal?

    When a pilot experiences a mechanical problem, it is customary to extend to him the utmost courtesy and benefit of the doubt. His life is in danger. He can’t just park the airplane in the air and get out. He has to land, on a runway, somewhere. He does not have total information about the problem — he only has diagnostic information from his cockpit instruments. So he will want to land on the nearest runway, which in this case happened to be NAIA.

    He was then concerned about the live weapons on his aircraft, and about possible damage from ignorant people pushing on it.

    An airport isn’t just a public transportation facility. An airport is also always ready, willing and able to receive an aircraft in distress. That is why every airport in the world maintains a listening watch on 121.5 — the universal distress frequency. Every airport is a potential lifesaver. It performs that duty every time an aircraft in distress comes to it — whether it is a B747, and F-16, or a Cessna 152.

    If the pilot of the F-16 were my son, I would be very grateful to NAIA, and extremely concerned about an idiot pushing on the missiles attached to the airplane.

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