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Marine Harrier pilot sticks incredible landing on tiny bench at sea

Jun. 27, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
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A new video from the amphibious assault ship Bataan shows a Marine AV-8B Harrier pilot executing the precision landing of a lifetime after his aircraft malfunctioned in mid-flight.

The video, released this month by the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, includes footage of the landing, in which the Harrier, attached to the squadron VMM-263 (reinforced) lands with its nose on a cloth stool when the front landing gear stopped working.

The incredible video shows the nose of the jet bouncing up and down on the small platform as the aircraft completes its landing, completely unharmed.

The pilot, Marine Capt. William Mahoney, describes what happened in his own words, saying his June 7 adventure started out as a routine flight day.

“As I was climbing away from the deck I realized I had a gear malfunction, so I immediately pulled the power back, slowed the aircraft back down so I wouldn’t overspeed the landing gear, and then went above the ship at about 2,000 feet,” he said.

He started communicating with another jet pilot in the tower, telling him the situation and them doing a close flyby so the tower could get a visual on his problem. Eventually the officer in the tower gave him a solution: an “amazing invention” similar to a cloth stool that would support the nose as the Harrier landed. The plan depended, though, on Mahoney being able to land in exactly the same location he always did.

There was one more problem: Mahoney couldn’t see the stool.

“I looked for it, I remember looking for it. I remember thinking, ‘oh, boy. This is going to get interesting,” he said. “So I go to idle. I remember my main gear hitting and all of a sudden my nose dropping. And it dropped more than I expected to, but at that point I was along for the ride.”

Mahoney said he doesn’t remember feeling the nose bounde wildly as relief washed over him.

“I didn’t realize how much I was shaking till I got out of the aircraft,” he said.

As he watched the footage later on, he said, he was also amazed to see that the flight deck was empty as his Harrier approached, the crew taking shelter in case something bad happened. When the jet landed, the crew swarmed the aircraft, shaking Mahoney’s hand and congratulating him.

“We pride ourselves on landing on the ship perfectly like this, in the same spot every time, and doing the same thing over and over again,” he said. “But there’s no way to train to land in this kind of situation.”

The Harrier has the unique ability to do a vertical “hover” take-off and landing, which allowed Mahoney to execute his precision maneuver.

The Bataan, one of three ships in the amphibious ready group on which the Marines and sailors with the 26th MEU are deployed, is currently located in the Mediterranean Sea in anticipation of possible crisis response missions. Its deployment in the 6th Fleet area of operations began earlier this year.

We’ve reached out to the 22nd MEU for more information on this incredible landing.

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