XF6U-1 Pirate - Flight Test Incident
Paul Thayerís Dead Stick Landing

At the time of this incident in 1949 Paul Thayer was Voughtís Chief Experimental Flight Test Pilot. He become President of the Vought Corporation in 1961, President of LTV Aerospace Corporation in 1965, Chairman and CEO of LTV Aerospace Corporation in 1970 and was appointed Assistant Secretary of Defense in 1983.

The story, told by Paul Thayer:

On this  occasion, the flight plan called for  a maximum  speed run, (V max), with afterburner on, at 12,000 feet just to see how fast it would go in level flight at that altitude.  I got out to about 30 miles to the east of the air field at Patuxent Naval Air Test Center, turned around, pushed the throttle to wide open with afterburner on and accelerated to V max. About the time I got there, the engine exploded.

It was later determined that the main bearing failed, seized the main shaft and all the turbine blades, and guts of the engine, flew through the engine case and then through the fuselage. This debris cut some of the control cables, knocked out the hydraulic system and disabled the air speed indicator. I still had limited control of the airplane and communication with the tower.

At that point I was several miles east of the field at 12,000 feet and decelerating at a pretty good rate. I thought I might be able to make it to the field so I called the tower and said, ďIf I get over the field at 2,000 feet, Iíll make a dead-stick landing otherwise Iíll eject.Ē  I got over the field at a little better than 2,000 feet but I really needed to know my airspeed to make the landing.

There was a friend of mine in the air in a F8F who saw me coming in and knew my problem based on overhearing the conversation between me and the tower. He volunteered to fly on my wing and call off my air speed. He got on my wing and I got fairly close to lining up with the long run way running east and west but I had too much airspeed so I tried, with this friend of mine still on my wing calling off air speed, to make a turn away from that runway and back into another runway running northeast/southwest.

I wanted to touch down about half way down the runway. I left the landing gear up because I didnít have any brakes and I would have just rolled forever if I had the gear down. I made a good belly landing, skidded off the end of the runway, and ended up about 100 feet from the 18th hole of the golf course adjacent to the field, which startled the hell out of a foursome that was just getting on the green. I was unhurt, the airplane was a strike and beyond repair.

So as soon as I got to a phone I called my wife, Margery, who was back in Fort Worth at the time, pregnant with our daughter Brynn., I called her and said, ďHoney, I just wanted you to know that I cracked up one of Uncle Samís airplanes but Iím ok. ďIf  you hear about it on the radio or TV, (Iím not even sure if we had TV, this occurred in 1949), donít worry, I havenít got a scratch, Iím ok.Ē

She said (which most women who hear the story donít quite understand), ďwell honey, I think thatís good experience for you because the next time you have an emergency in the air you may know better how to handle it.Ē That statement kind of took me back a little bit. I expected to get some real sympathy but I got zero, and rightly so, because being married to an experimental test pilot she had to steel herself against having any emotions to overtake her normal set of emotions because she knew that someday she might get a call that I had been hurt.  So she decided that she wasnít going to let this affect her normal way of life, which was a great way to look at it.

More F6U:

Flight Test
Flight Test Incident - Paul Thayerís Dead Stick Landing
Production Flight Test Incident