An F/A-18C Hornet assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 113 was conducting a routine training exercise when its engine caught fire on Monday. The pilot executed a single-engine landing aboard the USS Carl Vinson, and flight deck personnel extinguished the blaze within seconds. No one was injured.
The crew noticed the fire as the jet’s pilot flew past flight deck during a touch-and-go landing—when the pilot approaches the flight deck for a normal landing, touches the wheels down and then takes off again, rather than dropping its hook and coming to a stop.
It is unclear whether the pilot reported the fire before that point or if he dumped any fuel before landing. The details of his communication with the flight deck and the cause of the fire are part of an ongoing investigation, which is being conducted by an aircraft mishap board.
“The pilot realized the aircraft was on fire, turned around, and successfully landed,” the Navy reported.
Upon landing, flames ignited around the fuselage. “The engine fire appeared to spread to the frame,” the Navy told reporters on Thursday.
The carrier’s Crash and Salvage Team instantly sprang to action, containing the fire within seconds. Moments later, they threw a ladder up to the cockpit, opened the canopy and rescued the pilot.
According to accounts from those on deck, the pilot was extracted within five to 10 seconds of landing.
After they pulled the pilot out, the team closed the canopy and continued to fight the blaze with a water-based, film-forming foam. The immediate concern was that the fire would spread, causing further damage to the aircraft and ship and putting the crew at risk, Navy officials reported.
“We’re running into a fire to put it out before it explodes,” Chief Petty Officer Benjamin Bilyeu said. “We wanted to contain it in the engine department and did not want it to spread to the fuel tanks. If it did, it would’ve been much bigger than it was.”
Four other aircraft were in the air at the time of the mishap. Those planes were “safely diverted,” and “they all returned to the carrier later that day,” said Lt. Cmdr. Erik Reynolds, spokesman for the Vinson.
The team was also able to salvage the plane. “Although the aircraft was damaged, it survived,” Reynolds reported.
Most of the damage was in the engine and rear of the plane, but the crew has already used other parts of the aircraft for flight operations this week, according to the Navy.
Navy officials praised the quick actions of the crew.
"You can drill day-in and day-out, but when the event happens, to actually see the training being as effective as it was, that was incredible and made me proud to be a sailor on the Vinson,” said Bilyeu, leading chief petty officer of Crash and Salvage.
“It’s just amazing when you finally get to use these skills that you’ve been practicing for a long time,” Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael Flosi added.
The Vinson’s commanding officer, Capt. Bruce Lindsey, acknowledged the pilot's performance during a potentially hazardous situation.
"The pilot executed his emergency procedures flawlessly and made an excellent landing under very difficult circumstances," Lindsey said in a press release. "His smart headwork in the cockpit is a testament to his superb training and prevented the loss of the aircraft at sea."
The mishap is the aboard an aircraft carrier in the last month. On March 30, an F/A-18C Hornet caught fire aboard the USS John C. Stennis. Part of the engine exploded, injuring 11 people. Four of them were airlifted to Naval Medical Center San Diego.
The Vinson is based in Coronado and on Nov. 30. The ship is currently on a routine deployment in the U.S. Fifth Fleet area of the Persian Gulf, as part of Operation Enduring Freedom and New Dawn.
To date, aircraft aboard the Vinson have flown more than 1,060 sorties in support of troops on the ground in Afghanistan.