Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Hellcat crash landing

Featured in the 4 December 1944 edition of Life Magazine were these fairly dramatic Hellcat photos of a burning F6F Hellcat on the USS Cowpens (CVL-25) and show Lt. Wes Magee, in the process of getting a "hotfoot" on 24 November 1943 (the ship along with the TF was conduction operations against Makin atol). It seems that a fuel line was only hand tightened during routine maintenance earlier. Magee was overhead the carrier when the engine "died". The fuel line had allowed all the fuel in the Drop tank to flow out, killing the engine which was feeding on that tank. Switching tanks and noting no fuel in the drop, Magee headed back to the ship. He did not know he was on fire until he was on deck. The magazine captions are reproduced below the images..


Leaking gasoline, Hellcat returns to it's carrier for emergency landing. As the pilot, Lt Magee gets his signal and cuts his throttle, the trailing gas vapors ignite and wrap the belly of the plane in flames. His eyes glued to the deck, pilot Magee is totally unaware that his plane is on fire behind him. Notice that the crewman wear steel helmets indicating that the ship is at general quarters.

In a perfect landing, Lt Magee picks up the arresting wire and comes to a stop, the propeller killing. He still does not know that the Hellcat is on fire. The landing signal officer has left his platform (top right of deck) and is running forward as fast as he can. The plane handlers in the catwalks are breaking out their fire-fighting equipment.


First fire fighters reach the scene. Two are holding "fog applicators" which spray a fine mist of sea water, while an asbestos-clad "hot papa" (bottom) runs forward, adjusting his headgear, ready to rescue the pilot. His elbow out of the cockpit, Magee finally realizes that his plane is burning. The landing signal officer (top right) has now covered about 43 yards of his dash to the scene.


Magee gets out, scurrying along the burning plane's wing. In his understandable haste he has failed to unbuckle his parachute, which drags behind him at the end of it's harness. By now, the hot gasoline flames have started the wooden flight deck smoldering and the firefighters close in. Thirty seconds have passed since the plane landed.


Fire goes out as fog sprays a flame. Foam, which comes out of the hose looking like tooth paste squeezed from a tube, blankets engine. Total time: One minute, 30 seconds. Heat of the blaze has ruinously damaged the plane's stressed metal skin. After being stripped of all useful parts, plane will be turned in for scrap. But firefighter’s swift action has prevented serious damage to the carrier.

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