No HYDS, No Problem

Petty Officer 3rd Class Alexis Rey, from Stratford, Conn., conducts pre-flight checks on an EA-18G Growler. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan Kledzik)

Petty Officer 3rd Class Alexis Rey, from Stratford, Conn., conducts pre-flight checks on an EA-18G Growler. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan Kledzik)


Flying on the first day out of port is typically avoided for a whole host of reasons. However, after many days of transit and upon completion of our first port call of deployment on the lovely island of Guam we were eager to get back into the air. My EWO and I were scheduled for a good-deal, daytime tactical intercept flight. It was a one-hour cycle and the weather was clear except for a thin cloud layer between 2,000 and 5,000 feet MSL.

While executing an abort maneuver during the first intercept, the aircraft was at about 9,000 feet MSL and approximately 450KIAS when we received a master caution with displayed HYD5000, HYD 2A and HYD 2B cautions. My first thought was “this is why we don’t fly the first day out of port”. However, after processing the cautions we immediately called “knock it off” and brought the right throttle back to idle. I initiated a climb and slowed down while we broke out the pocket checklist (PCL) to start working through the problem.

After realizing that the left engine just became our new best friend, we started formulating a game plan for our recovery. Cyclic operations require a few added levels of coordination depending on the severity of the emergency. In the EA-18G Growler, the HYD 2A and 2B systems powers half of the flight controls and all of the systems needed for a normal landing (i.e. landing gear, nose wheel steering, and normal brakes). Due to the quickness with which we received both cautions (no reservoir level sensing (RLS) system indications) we suspected a blown hydraulic line, which meant we also lost our emergency braking and fuel probe extension system.

Once the dust settled from the initial indications, we had our wing man join on us for a visual inspection. Everything looked normal so we began flying a maximum endurance profile to the carrier to conserve fuel (at the time we had 11k, which was well above ladder) and started talking to the ship via J-Voice A to inform them of our emergency and to get our Pri-fly rep in the tower to start coordinating for recovery. This emergency was going to require us to emergency extend the landing gear with no way to raise it once it was down. The good news was that every aircraft carrier in the Navy comes equipped with arresting gear unlike some airfields, so braking wasn’t going to be much of an issue. The bad news was that fuel quickly becomes an issue when the only option is executing a dirty bingo profile. Tanking with the landing gear down was not going to be an option due to the fact that our fuel probe extension and emergency extension relies on hydraulic fluid from the HYD 2B system (now empty). Fortunately for us, we were not operating blue water. The nearest divert (Andersen Air Force Base on Guam) was only about 80 miles away.

The tower representative coordinated with the Air Boss, informing him of the nature of our emergency, the requirement for a tow out of the wires, and our inability to raise the hook. Meanwhile, we verified all steps were completed from the PCL, informed the ship of our plan to come down last for a straight-in approach, ran the dirty bingo numbers, and passed that we would need to stay mid-range on the power in the wires until we were chocked. Tower informed us that they would manually push us out of marshal and clear us to blow down our landing gear at the appropriate time, which enabled us to conserve as much fuel as possible. We flew a standard day straight-in with no issues.

If I were to choose when to have a HYD 2A/2B failure I couldn’t think of a better time. We had lots of fuel, decent weather and a divert airfield close by. The HYD emergency did not require us to shut down the right engine, so we were able to fly a normal approach. The discussion to have in your ready room is two-fold. First, what actions and coordination need to be performed in this situation and with whom? Second, what thought processes, crew resource management, and decision making need to occur in the cockpit with night time, blue water operations, or single engine considerations? Despite all of our coordination there was still confusion on the flight deck about why we were not at idle in the wires and not raising our hook. It only takes one broken link in this long chain of events to turn a well-executed emergency into a SIR.


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