Falling of an Aircraft

An F/A-18C Hornet assigned to the “Death Rattlers” of Marine Strike Fighter Squadron (VMFA) 323 takes off from the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68). (Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Elesia K. Patten)

BY AN JOHN HAMPTON, VFA-195

While assigned to the line division, I found myself tasked with preparing two of our aircraft for an upcoming material control inspection (MCI). This meant I spent most of my time in the hangar bay with Sailors from the corrosion work center working on these jets. The inspection was scheduled for shortly after we returned to Japan from our summer patrol. Although I was not working on the flight deck, I quickly learned that my work environment could be just as dangerous, especially when rushing to complete a routine task.

It was my responsibility to make sure the aircraft was hand-wiped and had clean landing gear. As I was wrapping up my shift for the day, my last task was putting the canopy cover on the aircraft. Prior to doing this, I put on the proper personal protective equipment (PPE), which consisted of my cranial and gloves. After climbing the aircraft ladder, I stood on the aircraft leading edge extension (LEX) to attach the canopy cover. As I reached over the LEX, I realized that the other side of the cover had become tangled. Instead of walking behind the cockpit to the opposite LEX to untangle the cover, I figured I could save time and finish the task by simply reaching across the canopy. As I did this, I stood on my tiptoes to stretch and reach to the far side. Still needing to reach just a little farther, I lifted one foot as I stood on the LEX, lost my balance, and fell from the LEX to the hangar bay floor below.

The LEX on an F/A-18 Super Hornet sits about eight feet above the ground and the hangar bay on an aircraft carrier seldom has open space around a jet. Luckily, I have a background in sports, and I was able to land on all fours with no injuries and only minor embarrassment. Even more fortunate than my landing was the fact that nothing was parked under the LEX. It is rare that there is not some type of support equipment or other hazard in close proximity to aircraft in the hangar bay. Instead of landing on non-skid, I could have landed on something sharp that would have caused serious injury.

The moral of the story is that no matter how easy or routine a task seems, make sure you take the extra time to do it safely. In my case, all I needed to do was take the extra 15 seconds to move to the opposite LEX and untangle the canopy cover. Instead, I rushed to finish my last task of the day. Take the extra minute or two to make sure the job gets done correctly instead of taking a short cut and risking injury to yourself or damage to equipment. Even the simplest tasks that have been done a million times cannot be overlooked. A routine task such as attaching the canopy cover can be just as dangerous as launching a jet on the flight deck in adverse weather conditions if not taking the right precautions.