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June 2005, Archive Story



The following incident took place in Saudi Arabia back in June 1981. At that time, I was privileged to hold the post of Chief Flying Instructor at Dhahran, where we operated the F.53 & T.55 Lightnings.

The weather was fairly standard for Saudi, very hot (100 degrees in the shade), clear skies and a moderate wind. The aircraft involved was a T.55, tail no. 1316, probably better known to readers as 713. A new course of Saudi students had nearly completed their ground school training and were looking forward to their first taste of the 'Real Thing'. This particular sortie was always known as the 'Instructor's Benefit Ride', since the student was assigned to the RHS and simply had to sit back and enjoy the ride while the instructor demonstrated the flight envelope of the aircraft.

The briefing covered a re-heat take-off and climb to 36,000ft; turn performance in cold and hot power; a supersonic dash to around 1.5 Mach; high rate descent to 2,000ft; low speed handling, ie. below 200kts with the undercarriage lowered; level acceleration at 2,000ft to 600kts pulling into a re-heat, near-vertical climb, aiming to level at 36,000ft followed by a standard recovery to base for a couple of circuits and a landing.

Initially, all went to plan, the student being duly impressed. We had just entered the vertical climb following the maximum-rate low-level acceleration when the Re-Heat 1 fire warning light came on, red lights flashing and the clangers ringing out loud and clear. Both re-heats were immediately cancelled and No.1 engine closed down with No.2 at idle as we levelled at about 22,000ft. Full emergency drills were completed and a Mayday call to Dhahran was acknowledged, including the fact that we were some 80 miles SSW of base.

During the preceding few minutes, my student had calmly opened his emergency flip card and asked if all the necessary actions had been taken. We then went through them again to make sure that nothing had. been omitted. Needless to say, nothing had. The student then asked what we should do. My response was 'Do Not Panic'.

Our recovery continued towards Dhahran in a slow glide, maintaining sufficient power to keep the AC supplies on-line. At around 8,000ft the Re-Heat warning light was still on and an ejection was looking ever more likely. Some 9 minutes (it seemed more like 9 hours) after the fire warning illuminated, it finally went out. We were now over the Gulf on a straight-in approach with some 45 miles to go to touchdown. The flying controls continued to function normally and I therefore decided that a landing was possible, though we were both ready to eject should the controls show any sign of stiffening.

A high approach path was set up to give a little more height advantage should the situation deteriorate. With eight miles still to go, I lowered the undercarriage and started the final approach. At this moment, the main flight instruments began to fail, not a good sign. AC power was lost and we were close to flying on the proverbial wing and a prayer. At three miles, the standby instruments also started to fail, and just before touchdown all the e1ectrics had quit. We vacated the aircraft at the end of the runway with the assistance of the ground crew and fire department.

On inspection, the rear end of the aircraft was still burning, molten metal dripping on to the hardstanding (I still own an engraved key fob made from one of the droplets). The plane was declared Cat 3+. Some 182 days later, I flew 1316 (713) again on an Air Test following a near total rebuild. Two sorties, a total of 1hr 30min, proved the aircraft to be fully serviceable again, a credit to our engineers.

My student, who by now was operational on Lightnings at another Saudi air base, had a repeat experience in a F.53, a Re-Heat 1 fire plus all the rest. He landed successfully, and when I spoke to him over the phone and asked him about it he said 'Sir, I Did Not Panic'.

Looking back, I guess the actual emergency only lasted some 20 minutes, but it seemed like a month. As for my student, I think he learned his lesson well.

Brian P Carroll

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