Written by Bill Collins


Office with the Fishes

The first thing I saw that morning was Len Eisener walking around the office in his stocking feet. The next thing I noticed was the wet footprints on the carpet, followed by recognition that he was dripping water from the rest of his clothes. Without a coat, tie askew, and hair plastered to his head, Len wore the forlorn look of a pup who’s been thrown in the lake and barely managed to make it back to shore.

Which wasn’t too far from the truth.

Earlier that morning, Len had boarded the company airplane along with president Sol Love, two pilots, and several crates. The crates contained our proposal to the U.S. Navy for building and producing a carrier version of the F-16 fighter jet. Everyone was on the way to Washington, D.C., to deliver the proposal to the government for evaluation.

The Grand Prairie winds that morning blew from the south, so the two pilots lined up the nose of the company Falcon jet toward Mountain Creek Lake, at the end of the main runway at NAS Dallas. Advancing the throttles and releasing the brakes, the Falcon gained speed on it’s takeoff roll. But there was a problem with the flaps, not noticed until well into the takeoff. Unable to rotate and leave the ground, the pilots tried to stop the aircraft before they ran out of runway.

Too late! The Falcon used the last of the runway, speeded past the overrun, and plowed into the lake.

Mountain Creek Lake was formed by damming up a small creek, and like many artificial Texas lakes, it is muddy in the extreme. So muddy, in fact, that it’s sometimes difficult to define an actual bottom. The entrained sediment just gets denser as you go deeper. So as the Falcon came to a stop in the lake and began to settle, it wasn’t possible to predict just how far down it would sink.

This was of immediate and intense concern to the two pilots, since the cockpit door was sprung by the crash and they were effectively trapped in their seats as the waters rose. Len and Sol, in the back of the airplane, were able to open the passenger door. Discarding their shoes and coats, they made their way outside and swam to safety on the nearby shore.

The Falcon flight crew was lucky that day. The airplane settled until the density of the water counteracted the weight of the aircraft. The sinking stopped just as the water reached the pilots chins. Almost before the waves subsided the crash and rescue crews were on the scene. In the end, the soggy proposal and damaged aircraft were salvaged from the lake, and all the people on the flight were survivors.

This was a better fate than the proposal had. The Navy rejected our proposal for a navalized F-16, and instead selected the Northrop design, which ultimately became the F-18.