The video of a Cherry Point Marine pilot landing his AV-8B Harrier jet without a front landing gear has gone viral and has been picked up by national news organizations.
Capt. William Mahoney, currently assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263 (reinforced) as part of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, made the landing aboard the USS Bataan on June 7. The Marine Corps released video of the landing as well as an interview with Mahoney last week.
The video was put on YouTube as well as a Marine Corps website and soon got picked up nationally, with “CBS This Morning” airing it on Monday, along with other news organizations throughout the country.
During the interview on the video, Mahoney describes the start of the day as nothing more than routine.
“There was nothing crazy about it,” he said.
Mahoney said shortly after take-off from the ship, he put the nose gear up and realized something had gone wrong. He tried to put the nose gear back down and then flew past the ship, receiving confirmation from personnel on the ship that the nose gear of the Harrier had not come back down.
“At this point, it’s trying to figure out how to get it back on the deck safely with only three landing gears,” Mahoney said.
The pilot said the crew on the ship brought out what he described as a stool that was specifically built to handle landings of Harriers without nose gears. The stool is built high enough so that when the Harrier’s other three wheels hit the ground, the nose will land on the stool, thus avoiding any potential damage to the front of the jet and ensuring the safety of the pilot.
Mahoney said that pilots train on hitting the same spot on the ship every time they land.
“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.”
Mahoney said he had to approach the landing as if it was normal.
“I come in, and at this point, I’ve kind of forgotten that I don’t have a nose gear,” Mahoney said. “I was just focused on landing. That’s what I decided I had to do.”
Still, he admits to some uneasy moments when he approached the ship.
“I can’t see the stool,” he said. “I don’t even know it’s there. I didn’t see it coming over the end of the ship. I looked for it. I remember looking for it and thinking ‘oh boy. This is going to get interesting.’”
Mahoney positioned the Harrier over the marks on the flight deck and descended.
“I remember my main gear hitting and then all of a sudden my nose dropping,” Mahoney said. “It dropped more than I expected, but at that point, I was along for the ride.”
Mahoney said he didn’t realize how much the front of the Harrier bounced off the stool when it landed, but it quickly settled down for a safe landing.
“I had to sit there for a minute and remember how to shut the jet off and everything,” Mahoney said. “It was a pretty big relief. I didn’t realize how much I was shaking until I got out of the aircraft.”
Mahoney said there was one aspect of the landing that he had not realized took place until watching the video.
“The most interesting part, looking back at the video and watching the video, is I didn’t realize that nobody was on the flight deck when I came over to land in case something went wrong or went bad,” he said. “That was neat having everyone come out and congratulating me and stuff. It was a little overwhelming at first for a moment. I just wanted to catch my breath.”