We have all heard the stories about how perilous trapping aboard an aircraft carrier can be for those who wear the “Wings of Gold,” be they Navy or Marine Corps. While the objective is the “perfect” three-wire trap, the number of things that can go wrong is eye-watering.

We all love the Tomcat. One simply cannot deny everything amazing about The Big Fighter with its sexy lines, the ridiculous amount of thrust in the D-model with its new General Electric F110 motors, and the expanded ability to lay waste to whatever air or ground targets it encountered–thanks to the LANTIRN targeting pod. A formidable, multi-role platform, this twin-tailed icon of American ingenuity will always have a special place in our hearts.

But for all the awesome she embodied, the Turkey was a temperamental girl and when things got bad, she melted down in spectacular fashion: flat spins caused by asymmetric thrust after engine failure; engines eating themselves at the Mach; and low-altitude stalls behind the boat resulting in jets cartwheeling into the ocean. All gut-wrenching to watch.

One thing I hadn’t seen until recently is what happens when an F-14 lands on the boat, successfully traps, and the tailhook breaks free from the airframe.

Check this out:

The post-incident investigation revealed the cleaning method being used at the time–which involved the use of sodium hydroxide, better known as lye–actually caused corrosion in the steel fittings securing the tailhook to the airframe. When the F-14 landed, the nose came down and the aircraft started to decelerate–standard; however, the hook snapped completely off the jet and things got really exciting, really fast.

Here’s what it looked like from the camera on the ship’s island:

I wasn’t there. I wasn’t sitting in the pilot’s seat. I didn’t see what he saw or feel what he felt. I’ve never called the ball or taken a trap aboard an aircraft carrier. Even so, there are a couple things I notice about the second angle that definitely make my mind wander.

We can see the aircraft as it drops below the angled portion of the flight deck for a moment and it appears as though the jet has enough smash and, thanks to the massive lifting body provided by the Tomcat’s design, it is still actually flying.

Wait. What?!

Look again, ladies and gentlemen. At the time the Radar Intercept Officer ejects out of the aircraft, very clearly the pilot had selected full afterburner and applied aft stick pressure to get the nose up and away from the water. After the second rocket motor fires and the pilot’s seat clears the cockpit, we can see the F-14 is actually settled into a stable, somewhat-nose-high attitude with the wings rolling level after the controls neutralize with the pilot’s departure. The Turkey rockets away from the water, still in max AB, attempting to achieve a low earth orbit…without its crew.

Certainly a pretty scary scenario and a tragic loss of the aircraft, but the most important part is both the pilot and RIO were safely recovered and sustained only minor injuries.

If any of you current (Hubcap) or former (Paco) tailhookers have any thoughts or opinions on what happened here, we’d love to hear them!