Little Known Fact: F-15C Eagles “take the cable” when CE tests emergency arresting system

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jefferson Thompson
  • 173rd Fighter Wing

A 173rd Fighter Wing F-15 Eagle drops into the pattern over Kingsley Field making its final approach in what promises to be a very dramatic and unusual landing, March 7, 2019.

This aircraft is performing a test of the system designed to help a damaged aircraft make a safe landing, a critical emergency system called a barrier arrestor. The very first indicator that anything is amiss is the tail hook extended toward the ground, extending below the landing gear wheels, as the aircraft settles toward the surface.

It’s rare to see an F-15C with a tail hook like a Navy aircraft, but today it descended—tail hook deployed—and after touching down caught the arresting cable and came to a very rapid stop.

“He hit it at 138 knots, his weight was 32,500 lbs. and we stopped him in 971 feet,” said Staff Sgt. Eduardo Calderon, who is the sole certifier at Kingsley Field for barrier arresting system.  He adds that it is exactly what the system is designed to do, and that it could withstand far greater forces than that, repeatedly.

The basic set up consists of a cable attached at either end with a flat nylon webbing “tape”, which is wound onto large, metal drums housed in underground, bunker-like rooms located on either side of the runway. When the cable is engaged these drums function as brakes allowing the cable to spool out, slowing the aircraft, but not so quickly as to injure the pilot or damage the airframe.

“When the system hasn’t been engaged in 12 months we conduct an engagement,” said Calderon. “What we are looking for is that both units are very close to each other, they should allow the nylon webbing tape to play out an a nearly identical rate.”

Other parts of the system include a system which raises the cable just above the runway surface when an aircraft is making an emergency landing and two four-cylinder gas motors needed to retract the cable following its use.

He went on to say that this engagement was unusual.

“Typically a certification engagement happens with the aircraft on the ground, but the way he took it was just like a real-world scenario, right after he touched down,” said Calderon. “You don’t get to experience that very often.”

After the engagement he and a group of firefighters, who also fall under 173rd Civil Engineering Squadron, reset the system for the next engagement. It may be a year away when the next test is due, but if it’s before that in an actual emergency Calderon has ensured the system is ready.