How the heck did he land that plane safely???

Readers are doubtless aware of the mid-air collision a few days ago between a US Marine Corps F-35B strike aircraft and a KC-130J tanker aircraft during air-to-air refueling.  The pilot of the F-35B ejected safely before his aircraft crashed, while the KC-130J’s pilot was able to crash-land in a farm field, saving the lives of all on board.

That landing must have taken extraordinary skill.  Just look at the KC-130J on the ground.  Click the image for a larger view.

Both starboard (right side) propellers have been completely destroyed, and the outer port (left side) propeller has been severely damaged, missing at least one blade and showing damage to at least four more.  The only propeller left intact is the port inner one.  In addition, there’s a fuel leak outboard of the port outer engine, where the underwing tank was formerly located (and presumably ripped off during the collision).  The photograph must have been taken very soon after the crash landing, because fuel is pouring out of the leak in a steady stream.

Given damage that severe to what was probably a heavily laden aircraft, the mind boggles that the pilot was able to crash-land it safely with only one working engine, with so little visible damage from its impact with the ground.  I bet the rest of the crew were lining up to buy him/her beers afterwards!  I won’t be surprised if he/she earns a medal for airmanship, too.

That must have been a pretty sporty, brown-trouser moment for all concerned, in both aircraft.  I’m glad they all made it out alive.



  1. How the heck did a F35 midair screw up the props on the right wing and one prop and fuel tank on the left wing!?!

    Did the fighter jock come back for a second impact?

    The mind boggles.

  2. I'd be willing to bet that damage to either one side or the other was caused during the actual landing, either the F35 took out the props on the right and the tank and prop on the left damaged during landing, or vice versa. So they may have still had three mostly-functional engines until impact.

    Still impressive either way.

    Mark D

  3. Basic flying skills.

    All takeoffs are optional, landing due to gravity
    are mandatory.

    I will leave out all the small details that are
    specific to what your flying.

    Start with to land one must reduce power… ok
    with engines failed that will do nicely.

    All airplanes glide, power is not required other
    than to run hydraulics and they had one good one.

    So while maintaining approach speed 140-160kts
    you descend. Use the first flat looking field and
    at a reasonable approach distance and altitude,
    slow the airplane more, lower gear, reduce what
    power is available, and make contact with ground
    in slightly nose high attitude roll or slide to a stop.

    The trick is gentle as possible contact with ground
    and keeping the plane pointed in a normal direction.
    Once stopped get everyone the hell out and watch from
    a respectful distance should there be fire.

    About the same procedure for a normal landing save
    for off airport. Likely the plane will fly again.

    I have to do that with smaller power aircraft and gliders,
    the procedure is about the same, do not hit anything
    like trees, poles, or wires.


  4. "…the mind boggles that the pilot was able to crash-land it safely with only one working engine…"

    Isn't it more likely that the damage to the other propellers occurred during the (presumably very hard) landing, or from hitting obstructions?

  5. @Shark: If that's the case, why would the pilot have crash-landed the plane? If the engines were intact, wouldn't he/she have returned to base in normal flight?

    No, I have to assume that at least some of the engines were damaged during the collision – probably the starboard wing, judging by how close to the hub the propellers have been broken off. The outer port engine might have hit the ground, along with the underwing fuel tank, because its less-damaged blades indicate a lower-velocity and lower-intensity strike.

    Of course, we may learn more during the official inquiry.

  6. @Peter

    I'd theorize that maybe he was losing fuel so fast that he had to accept any reasonable place to land, but that's just conjecture. Your guess is at least as good as mine. It'll be an interesting report, that's for sure.

    Either way, it's amazing that everyone walked away.

  7. If you can walk away from a landing, it's a good landing. If you use the airplane the next day, it's an outstanding landing.

    Chuck Yeager

    Good landing airmen!

  8. The Herc hit irrigation pipe on landing that took out the outer fuel tank and #4 prop (its the mess in the background). You can see the irrigation pipe below the #3 engine. A hell of an effort getting that bird down whole.

  9. How long will the farmer wait for compensation for having the field and pipe torn up and partly ruined by the the fuel spill, which counts as a hazmat incident.

  10. Chas S. Clifton – There is a family still waiting for payment from The Civil War. Can't remember what it was, horses? saddlery? .gov acknowledges they owe it, but they are not paying it because of the interest due on the outstanding debt.

  11. C-130 was trying to make it to an airfield a few miles away. That aircraft can fly on any two engines, so it's likely that one or both of the port engines were not functioning to spec. A reduction of power to any degree could very well be the cause of the midair collision.

    BTW, radio traffic shows a remarkably calm pilot in the C-130. Some coverage of this incident can be seen on the video channel "blancolirio" on utube. Juan is an airline pilot with military experience in the 130. He does an excellent job of covering aircraft issues, and also with dam failures.

  12. Also, the inner starboard pod thing looks damaged. I think I recall that these contain the refueling equipment.

  13. Two outer pods on each wing are the refueling pods. The two pods between the engines are normal C-130 external fuel tanks. The aircraft lost the two RIGHT engines and had a mangled external right fuel tank, as detailed in the link below. Engines 3 and 4 are those on the right wing.

    Inside the link is a second link which gets you the actual voice radio traffic with Air Traffic Command (ATC).

    The only way I can see that the left wing got mangled is that the wing dipped when contacting the farm (not your normal summary!) and that the irrigation pipe parts caused the refueling pod to detach into the No.1 prop. So aircraft had 2 good engines (same side, never good) when it came down.

    My guess is that the F-35B came up from below and hit both right engines (3 and 4) and the fuel tank between them, all at the same time. That would certainly take apart the fighter. I'm very glad all crew are OK, but the fighter pilot now has some questions to answer. Not sure if blaming the software is going to work. Typical response to an incident like this is to ground the entire fleet of these aircraft until it can be sorted out. Only USMC flies the F-35B, which is the one with vertical landing ability.

  14. Listened to Ben Yalow's link. Replying to Will, from the initial Raider 50 transmissions to the emergency declaration, I hear the change from a normal tone of voice to an "oh shit" tone of voice by the copilot (the copilot normally handles radio communications in a C-130).

    Another observation is that it appears that they did not put the gear down on the C-130 as the gear doors would have been at such an angle that they would have gone up and out if the aircraft sank into the ground. It appears to have just skidded along the ground.

    My overall comment as a former C-130 pilot is that the C-130 crew did a damn good job no matter what the condition of the aircraft. They probably couldn't make the airfield they were shooting for because they couldn't loose the weight of the refueling fuel in the cargo compartment fast enough and therefore had to make an off field landing since performance with two engines out is not all that great at higher weights. I have some "been-there-done-that" tee shirts applicable to this situation.

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