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Wed, Jan 03, 2018

When Everything Went Wrong, This F-16 Pilot Did Everything Right

Captain Jonathan Morgan Said He Was 'Just Doing My Job'

Imagine you’re an F-16 pilot, and your plane goes into catastrophic failure minutes after takeoff, right over heavily populated Washington, D.C. That’s a nightmare scenario one D.C. Air National Guard pilot went through last spring – one that ended with the best possible outcome and earned him an unexpected award.

Capt. Jonathan Morgan was honored in early December with the Flying Safety Award and the Meritorious Service Medal.

“I was just doing my job,” he said. “Anyone else in that position would have done the same thing.”

So what, exactly, happened? Captain Morgan – yes, he knows the irony of his name, and he loves it – went through the details with us.

On April 5, Morgan and three other F-16 pilots took off from Joint Base Andrews on a training mission to Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. But as soon as he got airborne, things started to go wrong.

“I see uncontrolled acceleration in my jet,” Morgan said. As he was troubleshooting that, a much bigger problem arose – his engine gave out. And since the F-16 only has one, as Morgan said, that was a “game changer.” He let the other pilots in formation know what was happening and immediately turned back toward Andrews, scouting the ground for emergency places to land if needed, despite the area’s heavy population. “Almost every day we go over an emergency before we fly, and we have emergency procedure simulators that we work on every month just to keep us sharp,” Morgan said.

That came in handy. One of the critical action procedures was to drop his external fuel tanks to lighten the plane so he could glide further. But since he was over Old Town Alexandria, he decided to wait a few seconds so no one below would be affected. Instead, he dropped the tanks in the Potomac River.

Before he had a chance to breathe a sigh of relief over that, though, one of his fellow pilots gave him more bad news. “I have a giant flame coming out of the back end of my aircraft,” Morgan said. “So, I had uncontrolled acceleration, my engine gave out on me, and now I’m being told that I’m on fire.”

Thankfully, the skies were clear that day, giving Morgan a clear view of Andrews in the distance. He realized he wasn’t going to make it there, so his mindset quickly switched from landing safely to ejecting. “I’m looking for any uninhabited land where I can put this jet to cause the least amount of harm to people on the ground,” Morgan said. “I fortunately find a big open field, so I point the jet to that field, and at about 1,500 feet … I eject.

“It felt like half a second. It’s a 14G explosion out of a jet. The canopy explodes off, and then the seat with the rockets underneath takes you up,” he said.

Before Morgan knew it, his parachute had opened, and he started looking for his jet, which crashed in a wooded area in Clinton, Maryland, not far from the field he had spotted. “I felt like I landed like a bag of rocks,” he said, thinking he was going to break his legs. “But I was unscathed. I didn’t have a scratch on me. I couldn’t believe it.”

Within a minute, neighbors came to check on him, as did the U.S. Park Police and the 1st Helicopter Squadron from Andrews, which coincidentally had a flight surgeon on board who was able to evaluate him. “After the emergencies happened, you could not have scripted it any better. Everything worked … It was incredible,” Morgan said. “I was very fortunate.”

So what caused that kind of catastrophic failure? An investigation revealed that when the engine was assembled, a small ring and pin were forgotten. “I’m not kidding – [the pin] couldn’t have been more than 2 inches long,” Morgan said.

So eight months later, it was a complete surprise for Morgan to learn he was earning an award for his actions. “I was very thankful to have the other three pilots by my side while it was all happening,” he said, also giving a shout-out to the community for its support and the crew that made sure all of his equipment functioned that day.

Great work to Morgan and the entire crew behind his successful unsuccessful flight!

(Source: DOD Live. Images provided)

FMI: www.dodlive.mil

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