RMAF F/A-18D incident in LIMA 2019

LIMA’19  :  Story behind the fiery Hornet (M45-06), Pacman & Crawler

Emergency Incident during Day#1 of LIMA’19

March 26th, 2019 – the first day of LIMA’19 saw an exciting display by various RMAF(Royal Malaysian Air Force) assets at the morning opening ceremony.  Flight demonstration by teams from Indonesia, India, Russia, USA, Singapore and Malaysia started around mid-day at Langkawi’s Padang Matsirat airport. 

Just after 2pm, a single RMAF F/A-18D Hornet (tail number M45-06), piloted by MAJ Goh Keng Loong (吴建龙) & Weapon System Officer MAJ Mohd Izhar Mohd Tarmizi, lined up on the runway to begin the Hornet solo demonstration routine.  As MAJ Goh, callsign “Pacman”, pushed the throttles forward to begin his takeoff roll, the two General Electric F-404 afterburning turbofan engines on the F/A-18D Hornet roared to accelerate the fighter jet down the runway.  Pacman retracted the landing gears to clean up the Hornet, and was preparing for a high-alpha vertical climb when a loud “BANG” was heard.  The entire aircraft shuddered with a sudden lost of trust, along with an orange fireball bursting out of the left engine nozzle.  The Hornet’s altitude was so low that flame from the left engine floated down to the dry grass next to the runway, starting a small fire on the ground.

Grass Fire after the take off

Pacman reacted instinctively to regain flight control of the aircraft, climbing his stricken jet out of the danger zone around the airfield where spectators gathered to watch the airshow.  MAJ Mohd Izhar, callsign “Crawler”, ran through the pocket checklist for handling the emergency from the back seat.  The team made a successful single-engine recovery, brought the Hornet back to the flightline without further incident.

Pacman and Crawler with F/A-18D( M45-06) after the incident

Recollecting the the day’s event to AirwingSpotter after the incident, Pacman credited the entire team for saving the fighter jet from a potential disaster.  “… big trust in everyone to bring the jet safely home everytime” !

At the pre-flight brief, Pacman established mutual understanding with Crawler that “… If ‘anything happen’, he will eject first, while I will try to steer the jet clear from the crowd (possibly crash at sea)”.  Fortunately, there was no need to eject as the pair was able to regain control of the stricken jet, with Pacman focusing on flying and Crawler running through the emergency checklist.  Pacman said the “R.I.P.”(Recognise , Immediate Action , Pocket Checklist) process has been most useful in handling any unforeseen events.

During the initial phase of the incident, the controllers in the tower were also invaluable at eyeballing for any external fire or damage to the aircraft as the aircraft orbited the designated area to dump fuel before landing.  When Pacman informed the tower that “emergency is under control”, they also ensured the fighter jet had all landing gears lowered during the landing approach.  RMAF ground crews, SAR(Search & Rescue) team and fire fighters were standing by to assist the pair as they brought the F/A-18D back to the flightline.

Pacman acknowledged that there was also an element of luck as the jet was still in a shallow-angle climb after takeoff when the incident happened.  It could have been worst if the lost of engine trust occurred at high-angle-of-attack(AOA) and low altitude.

Pacman has great faith and confidence in flying the F/A-18D … “Hornet is a very sexy aircraft  … every pilot talks to the plane, like his girlfriend, during the pre-flight check and post-flight walk around”.  Looking back at the incident of the day, LIMA’19 was the first time he brought his wife, Alyze Ting, and seven years old son, Ezra, to watch him fly on the opening day.  The same F/A-18D (M45-06) performed flawlessly in three earlier practice/rehearsal flights before the incident … “perhaps my jet was jealous (of my wife)”, he said jokingly.

Flying after the incident

Pacman is a seasoned aviator, having logged almost 1,900 flight hours on the F/A-18D.  He joined the air force in 1998.  After completing flight training on Aermacchi MB-339, he transited to fly the F/A-18D Hornet since 2007.  Recounting his early years of flying, his callsign was “Nippon”.  He took on the new callsign “Pacman”  after executing four consecutive “gun-kills” in air-to-air engagement !

Pacman is also no stranger to air display at LIMA.  In 2011, he was part of the initial RMAF team to train with ex-Red Arrow pilots in UK.  During LIMA’11, LIMA’13 and LIMA’15, he flew the Extra EA-300L with Kris Sakti (RMAF aerobatic display team).  In LIMA’17 and LIMA’19, Pacman flew the F/A-18D.  He is proud to ‘fly the flag of his country’, to showcase the professionalism and capabilities of the RMAF … “Airshow is also the place where flyers all around the world come together to build lasting friendship”.

“All aviator has a passion for flying”.  Two days after the incident, Pacman & Crawler were back flying their beloved jet to woo the airshow crowd.  They continued to performed the solo flight routine, completing the final show on March 30th using another F/A-18D (M45-07).

Post LIMA’19 recovery

Post flight inspection shown that the F/A-18D (tail number M45-06) left engine suffered a turbine failure, possibly due to ingestion of foreign object(s).

The damaged engine was replaced at the end of the airshow. 

Pacman and Crawler with F/A-18D (M45-07) end of the last solo demo LIMA 19

All five F/A-18D that participated in LIMA’19 flew out on March 31st, back to their home base at TUDM Butterworth.  Pacman and Crawler flew home on Hornet (M45-04). 

Article by Lau Chee Nam

Photograph by Lau Chee Nam and Lee Chin Beng

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