Every once in a while, a copy of the US Air Combat Command’s “Combat Edge” flight safety magazine lands on my desk; today was that day this quarter.
Following on after items about F-4 ops in Vietnam, helicopter maintainers and bird-scarers, the “awards of distinction” section caught my attention with an entry about US Air Force U-2 Dragon Lady pilot Capt Scott Thomson’s startlingly bad day at the office in July 2012.
After taking off from Al Dhafra air base in the United Arab Emirates, “Capt Thomson’s U-2 experienced unprecedented and unique failures of multiple critical aircraft systems,” the report says. These included “degraded primary flight display data, failure of aircraft back-up control interface, failure of primary avionics process, loss of integrated INS/GPS and complete autopilot failure.” Awkward.
Despite being faced with this situation, Thomson managed to land his $300 million aircraft safely (US Air Force file image above), demonstrating what the ACC describes as “decisive actions and outstanding airmanship.”
The USAF earlier this year opted to park its new Block 30 Global Hawks because they reportedly can’t do the job as well as the venerable U-2. I guess the Al Dhafra incident proves that sometimes having a pilot aboard a valuable surveillance asset is a pretty good thing.