T-38 Divert

“BA” is a friend, and is a great Aviator.  I used to love flying with “B” on CT (continuation training) sorties; I learned so much from him.  One afternoon after flying, while sipping a beer “B” shared this story with me.  

When he was an IP at Laughlin AFB, TX one day he got “caught out” by the weather.  It happens.  A fast-moving front came through while he was out in the area and essentially shut down the airfield. Again, it happens.  Because the weather had not been forecasted to fall below minimums when he departed, he did not plan for any “divert fuel,” e.g., a higher Bingo.  So returning to base without the ‘legal’ divert fuel, and with no other options, he attempted an instrument approach into the field.  Laughlin at the time, was ‘just at’ minimums.  Upon reaching the Decision Height (DH) the runway was nowhere in sight so he executed a missed approach.  Now he had ‘very little’ fuel remaining.

With the weather continuing to deteriorate at Laughlin, “B” began a climb and headed toward a divert base, Kelly AFB, TX, some 140 miles away.  He declared an Emergency and he began a “Max Range” climb up into the low 40’s (40,000 feet plus.)  When he leveled off he couldn’t stand burning any more fuel and felt he could that “glide” into Kelly, so he shut off both engines!

Our “glide speed” in the T-38 was 240 knots, plus fuel.  His that day was 240 knots – he hardly had any gas left. As long as there is ’adequate’ airflow through the engines, the engine-driven hydraulic pumps will provide sufficient hydraulic pressure for the flight controls.  Also, at that time, we had DC radios so “B” had communications with Air Traffic Control (ATC).  About 10 miles or so from Kelly he picked up the runway, restarted the engines and landed without further event – with no gas remaining!  One of the engines flamed out while taxing in.

At the time, shutting down both engines in flight was “illegal.”  But what else would you do?  Fly around until both engines quit, then jump out “legally?”  

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