Blue Angels Jet Makes Emergency Landing During Winter Training

The U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, Delta pilots perform the Pitch Up Break maneuver during a practice demonstration for the Tuscaloosa Regional Air Show, April 13, 2018. (U.S. Navy photo/Daniel M. Young)
The U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, Delta pilots perform the Pitch Up Break maneuver during a practice demonstration for the Tuscaloosa Regional Air Show, April 13, 2018. (U.S. Navy photo/Daniel M. Young)

A pilot with the Navy's Blue Angels flight demonstration team was forced to make an emergency landing Tuesday after his F/A-18 Hornet's landing gear did not deploy upon runway approach, officials said.

The pilot, whose name and position on the team are not being disclosed, was conducting a normal training demonstration flight near Naval Air Facility El Centro, California, around 10:30 a.m., said officials with Chief of Naval Air Training (CNATRA). When the pilot realized not all the landing gear were extended as he prepared to land at El Centro, he had to execute emergency landing procedures.

"The front landing gear was down and locked. The right gear at the back was down, and the left was up," CNATRA spokeswoman Lt. Michelle Tucker told Military.com on Wednesday. "When [the plane] touched the ground, the right side did collapse ... it skidded to a stop."

It's not clear what damage the aircraft sustained, Tucker said. She added that the impact on the aircraft was likely lessened by the partial deployment of the rear landing gear.

At no point were ground personnel or spectators in danger, and the pilot himself emerged from the landing uninjured, officials said.

"The pilot landed safely, and did everything he was supposed to do at the time he was supposed to do it," Tucker said.

The mishap is being investigated. Tucker said the Hornet that conducted the emergency landing will be sidelined temporarily to determine what went wrong, but training flights will continue without a pause.

The legacy F/A-18 Hornet flown by the Blue Angels entered service for the Navy in the early 1980s. While the Marine Corps still flies legacy Hornets, with plans to retire the fleet as F-35B Joint Strike Fighters enter service, the Navy has replaced them entirely with F/A-18E/F Super Hornets.

The Blue Angels demonstration team consists of eight aircraft that fly in precision formations at air shows throughout the country. This year, the team is scheduled to conduct 61 flight demos in 32 locations, beginning March 16 with the annual El Centro Air Show.

While the Blue Angels are among the Navy's most elite pilots, the demonstrations are dangerous work. In June 2016, Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss, the Number 6 soloist, was killed in a crash near Smyrna, Tennessee, after a training maneuver went wrong.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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