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Video: F/A-18E Flight Deck Disaster Averted

by John Reed on October 5, 2011

Watch the video below to see an F/A-18E Super Hornet narrowly avoid hitting two crewmen who are taking a very badly-timed stroll across a carrier flight deck as the jet comes in for a landing late last month. Luckily, someone alerted the pilot to the oblivious crewmen’s presence on the ship’s landing strip and he was able to wave off his landing.

While some might wonder how those two sailors got in the way of a landing jet, this begs a bigger question; as Steve Trimble asks, how will the Navy deal with situations like this when UAVs become a common presence on flight decks in the coming years?

We’ve all known that researchers have been focusing on getting drones to automatically sense and avoid other aircraft for years now. However, as the Navy moves ahead with the X-47B Unmanned Carrier Air System program, its engineers are also working to ensure that drones can avoid last-minute runway obstructions — just like the Super Hornet driver did.

Last summer, the Navy did at-sea tests of the technology that will allow the X-47 and follow on drones like the UCLASS to hopefully do exactly what the F/A-18E did when those sailors crossed its path.

Here’s a little bit of what we wrote about the Navy’s autonomous drone landing system tech last summer:

“Once he’s on his approach, we actually take control of the aircraft via the systems we have installed as part of the demo and actually the aircraft is controlled by flight [rules] we put in place, all the way down to trap,” said Don Blottenberger,the Navy’s UCAS-D deputy principal program manager during a phone call with reporters this morning. “There is no remote control of the aircraft, there is no pilot control of the aircraft; we’ve given it instructions and it executes those instructions.”

Just to make it clear, Blottenberger added:

“There is no remote control, meaning there is no joystick, there’s no one that’s flying this aircraft from the carrier, we give it commands via the network we have in place … tying-in with existing carrier systems and then the aircraft executes those commands.”

The system, which uses precision-GPS navigation data transmitted over Rockwell Collins’ Tactical Targeting Network Technology (which I thought was defunct), allows the air traffic controllers, air boss and landing signals officer to tell the plane to enter the approach and perform all the necessary adjustments in heading, altitude and speed necessary to perform a trap. In the final phase of the approach, the LSO can even order the jet to wave off using a terminal that has been modified to communicate with an unmanned jet, according to NAVAIR officials.

Click through the jump for the video.

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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

101CECB27 October 5, 2011 at 5:03 pm

Something similar happened on the Ike in 1988/1990 imeframe. I remember the Boss coming over the MC with something to the effect of "Yellow Shirt – grab that man and bring him up here. He almost went to Heaven, now he'll face Hell up here with me!"

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Red Matt October 5, 2011 at 5:04 pm

How do you wave off a UAV? Easy!

Give the guy who waves off the landing a big red button labeled "ABORT" to hit if something goes wrong. This signals the UAV (radio/flashing light/other), and it cancels the landing and tries again.

… the F-18 couldn't sense the crew any better than a UAV could. It's up to the deck crew to look out for these things (and have a system in place to deal with them).

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Kski October 5, 2011 at 6:02 pm

Remember kids. Stop. Look. An Listen. An if you have to duck!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Stan October 5, 2011 at 6:16 pm

Wowser. What a lucky pair of dolts.

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bobbymike October 5, 2011 at 6:52 pm

I suspect they have officially ended their Navy careers. Like Private Santiago in A Few Good Men, these two put peoples lives at risk.

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larry October 5, 2011 at 6:59 pm

We're they just stupid or trying to kill themselves?

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yesjb October 5, 2011 at 7:40 pm

Those guys are lucky the tail hook didn't snag their balls!!

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m-1 October 5, 2011 at 8:51 pm

can you say: "Flag Mast"?

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DennisBuller October 5, 2011 at 9:42 pm

Having done two tours on carriers, this will not ruin their careers.
Mainly since they have probably just started them. You have to remember every cruise starts with a couple thousand teenagers who have never done the job on a ship before.
Plenty of room for error.
I almost went the "wrong way" to get a part on my first cruise.
I just hope the LPO of those folks has his/her paperwork in order for their flight deck training.
That could put a ding in a career……

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Steven October 5, 2011 at 10:10 pm

Precisely. I’m a Navy ATC and these systems aren’t new or revolutionary, and none are difficult to understand, the problem comes in when we give stick ABE’s or Undesignated Airmen a 6 or 4 week school(most fresh from highschool), and expect them to behave like seasoned professionals. These issues happen, what you would be surprised to see is how far we go to avert even the smallest mishaps. Blame no one. Things happen.

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navy259 October 5, 2011 at 10:32 pm

Hope they wore they're brown undies. bet they watch where they are going next time. Lucky.

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Brian October 5, 2011 at 10:33 pm

Saw this on another site – if you look at the video at the beginning you will notice that the deck was already foul when they were walking out there -note the big flashing "F" at the top of the screen. It's not clear if these guys starting to walk out into the landing area caused the deck to go foul in the first place. Also you can see that the A/C was already waived off just as they were starting to walk out – see the flashing "W" in the bottom center of the screen right when the scene switches to the deck camera (that's the view with the cross-hairs).

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Lugo October 7, 2011 at 1:36 am

OK, so if the aircraft has been waved off, it is correct procedure to walk in front of it anyway, and not wait until it has gone past?

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Brett327 October 6, 2011 at 12:01 am

Brian is spot on. It's entirely likely that the fowl deck resulted from something other than what everyone has assumed. In fact, it's possible or likely that the guys going into the LA were going to fix the problem that resulted in a fowl deck in the first place. The fact that there are two guys going into the LA also supports this idea.

Bobby, Larry, M-1: None of you has the slightest clue what you're talking about. STFU.

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Riceball October 6, 2011 at 11:06 am

You sure the fowl deck wasn't the product of some ducks on deck>? Or maybe chickens since ducks would probably result in a water fowl.

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bobbymike October 6, 2011 at 11:18 am

"It's entirely likely" so you are purely speculating as your own words admit and then tell me to STFU, abbreviating fowl language is still fowl language. Show more class.

How about, "Bobby I find your opinion less informed than it should be on this type of forum". Let's start with civility shall we?

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FrankC October 6, 2011 at 4:59 pm

You got called out, and you don't like being shown you are an idiot. Ah, did the bad language hurt your feelings? Get over yourself.

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bobbymike October 7, 2011 at 11:36 am

Oh FrankC no my feeling were not hurt I was just raised outside a trailer park unlike yourself I guess.

I believe in civil discourse something that barely evolved sloped foreheads like yourself don't understand. Did you you notice I did not criticize the comment that my knowledge was not up the the story I just worded a possible response differently?

You see I actually admitted that the premise of the original comment was accurate maybe I don't know enough about carrier deck operations to comment.

But apparently you were unable to comprehend the gist of my response and felt the need to "attack" and show the world that you are the small petty man.

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tiger October 6, 2011 at 10:29 am

Jamie Foxx did a film "Stealth" about a Navy UAV test program that goes rouge. Guess SCI-FI is not so fictional anymore.

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Alex October 6, 2011 at 12:27 pm

UAVs have been out for quite some time. hollywood did't need to put out a movie.

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Riceball October 6, 2011 at 11:09 am

I'm kind of curious, what happened to the LSO's during this incident, wouldn't they noticed the errant crewmen or would they be facing the wrong way to see them until roughly the same time the pilot did. What about the people up in the pri-fly, I would think that they would have seen them.

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tiger October 6, 2011 at 11:26 am

You know how many work a flight deck? You can't have eyes on all of them.

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Riceball October 6, 2011 at 11:44 am

That's true but when a plane is on approach and is just about to trap I don't think that it's SOP to have people wandering around the deck. I don't pretend to know where everybody is stationed when a plane traps but I imagine that it's along the sidelines, so to speak, and anybody walking across the deck from one side to the other should be pretty noticeable.

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EX-helo crewman October 6, 2011 at 12:10 pm

OK. Here's the deal. There is a foul line. When an aircraft is on final everyone is to stay behind the foul line. These 2 did not. The W does not enter the picture until the 2 guys are seen entering the picture. The LSO's are always watching the AC on final. This wave-off was probably initiated by the Air Boss, who owns the flight deck and sits up in Primary flight control (the carrier's version of a tower). There is no audio but I'd bet that is what happened. They just had a case of the stupids.

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CDR M October 6, 2011 at 2:00 pm

The arresting gear officer would've had eyes on these guys (then continuously scan the LA during landing) and as soon as they crossed the foul line, would've released the pickle which then would've shown red lights for a foul deck all over the place while at the same time transmitting on the radio foul deck. The Air Boss most likely saw the LA get fouled at the same time. Only the AGO can give permission for personnel to enter the LA during landing evolutions and I think it's safe to say these guys didn't have that permission.

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Joris Gadellaa October 6, 2011 at 4:13 pm

I had the same experience two times in my life. The first time was when I walked into the glide path of a F-15 when I was watching the aircraft come in at Gilze-Rijen airbase, I think I was 8 years old and i was with my mother, when my motjher and I desided to cross the road, when the warning bells rang to alert that an Aircraft was inbound. But we were already crossing the road. we ran as quickly as we could, and we got blasted by the jets exhaust, we could feel the heat from the exhausts. and it was really hot!

The second time I got sandblasted by a Croatian Mi-8. I was stationed at Divulje for SFOR and a colleague and I decided that we found the perfect spot to take a swim, not knowing the croats were still flying. and then the Hip came in and the down-wash made us eat dirt and small stones. It felt if the helo was landing on top of us.

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Lance October 6, 2011 at 4:43 pm

What a couple of idiots! Didn't your mother tell you look both ways before crossing the carrier deck! LOL

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SpazSinbad October 7, 2011 at 5:08 am

Official LSO 'safetygram' explanation of this incident in PDF:
http://www.hrana.org/documents/PaddlesSafetyGram….

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Yep October 7, 2011 at 8:22 am

And the truth shall set you free!

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Charles Carter February 21, 2012 at 3:49 am

Many moons ago I was flight deck PO for our squadron. We had more props than jets then. Before we went out I gave my plane captains an orientation talk about flight deck procedures and safety. The main thing I emphasized several times was "Keep your head out of your ass and always on a swivel. Things happen fast and the sooner you see them the better chance you have to survive." They were a great crew and I never saw them come close to being hurt. Also they picked up on their jobs so well I didn't have to tell any of them what to do. Dang guys started making me feel unnecessary, —- but proud of them.
.

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Charles Carter February 21, 2012 at 4:02 am

Why couldn't they have a sophisticated motion detector to detect anything above the flight deck and within a certain range, closing and descending and sound some alert.

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