LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. --
When an F-16 Fighting Falcon flight control stick stopped responding to a student pilot’s input while in flight, it was up to the instructor pilot to get the aircraft, the student and himself home safely.
Capt. George Normandin, 56th Fighter Wing Command Post chief, met the challenge by taking control of the crippled jet and guiding it to a safe landing at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., March 25. For his decisive action during the in-flight emergency, Normandin earned an Aviation Safety Well Done Award Sept. 2. Brig. Gen. Scott Pleus, 56th FW commander, presented the award and credited Normandin with averting a potential disaster.
During the training mission, the student had been flying in the front of the aircraft with Normandin in the backseat on a transition course training mission.
“Pilots who have gone on to other jobs and return to flying status at Luke must go through a transition course,” said Normandin, who grew up around airplanes watching his father work as an American Airlines mechanic. “I was teaching him how to do patterns, takeoffs, landings and different nose-high recovery maneuvers.”
Normandin watched from the rear cockpit as the student pulled the nose of the F-16 up and rolled over. The student then pulled the nose 45 degrees below the horizon, leveled the wings and waited for his airspeed to build before pulling the aircraft back to level flight.
That’s when things went wrong.
“The student was not recovering the aircraft,” Normandin said. “Altitude was decreasing and airspeed was increasing. I heard the student say something I didn’t understand, but I knew by the tone of his voice something was wrong.”
Normandin took control of the aircraft from the back and recovered to level flight. At the time he recovered the aircraft, it was losing altitude and the airspeed was increasing through 450 knots-calibrated airspeed or approximately 520 mph. Now out of harm’s way, he looked to find out what was causing the problem.
The student explained that he couldn’t pull the nose up.
Normandin gave him back control of the aircraft.
“He tried pulling up on the stick again,” Normandin said. “He sounded like he was straining lifting weights because of how much force he was using to try and move the control stick. I asked him to turn left, and he did it without a problem. I asked him to turn right, but he couldn’t.”
Normandin began troubleshooting.
With no malfunctions registering on caution and warning panels and with nothing abnormal found on the outside of the aircraft, Normandin assessed the problem to be a mechanical failure with the front control stick.
At this point, he coordinated a plan with the supervisor of flying and the 310th Fighter Squadron operations supervisor and flew the aircraft home, landing it from the back seat. Normandin, who credited his ability to keep his composure and recover the aircraft with learning from many “great flight instructors,” found out later a nut had jammed in the control stick, causing the malfunction.
According to Air Education and Training Command’s Flight Safety Division, had Normandin not been in the backseat of the aircraft that day, the student would have been forced to eject, endangering him and those on the ground.