News Search


Luke Airman averts potential disaster

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Luther Mitchell Jr.
  • 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Capt. George Normandin, 56th Fighter Wing Command Post chief, received the Aviation Safety Well Done Award Sept. 2 for his decisive action during a training mission where he averted a potential disaster. Brig. Gen. Scott Pleus, 56th FW commander, presented the award in wing headquarters.

Normandin has always loved being around planes since he was a child. He grew up watching his father work as an American Airlines mechanic. This love would lead him to join the Air Force, commission as a pilot and train to fly different aircraft.

What he didn't know is that one day he would need to draw on his many years of experience as a pilot to help him prevent a potentially deadly situation during a training mission in the skies above Luke Air Force Base.

It was early spring, and Normandin was flying in the backseat with a student pilot on a transition course training mission.

"Pilots that have gone on to other jobs and return to flying status at Luke must go through a transition course," Normandin said. "He was in the front seat, and I was in the backseat teaching him how to do patterns, takeoffs, landings and different nose-high recovery maneuvers."

Normandin watched from the rear cockpit as the transition-course student pulled the nose of the F-16 up, rolled over, pulled the nose 45 degrees below the horizon, leveled the wings and waited for his airspeed to build before pulling the aircraft back to level flight.

That's when things went wrong.

"The student was not recovering the aircraft," Normandin said. "Altitude was decreasing and airspeed was increasing. I heard the student say something I didn't understand, but I knew by the tone of his voice something was wrong."

Normandin took control of the aircraft from the back and recovered to level flight. At the time the aircraft was recovered, it was losing altitude and the airspeed was increasing through 450 knots-calibrated airspeed or approximately 520 miles per hour. Now out of harm's way, he looked to find out what was causing the problem.

"I couldn't pull the nose up," the student said.

Normandin gave him back control of the aircraft.

"He tried pulling up on the stick again," Normandin said. "He sounded like he was straining lifting weights because of how much force he was using to try and move the control stick. I asked him to turn left, and he did it without a problem. I asked him to turn right, but he couldn't."

While something was definitely wrong on the inside, Normandin began troubleshooting. With no malfunctions registering on caution and warning panels, and with nothing abnormal found on the outside of the aircraft, Normandin assessed the problem to be a mechanical failure with the front control stick.

At this point, he coordinated a plan with the supervisor of flying and the 310th Fighter Squadron operations supervisor and flew the aircraft home, landing it from the back seat. He found out later a nut had gotten stuck in the control stick preventing it from operating correctly to the right.

Had Normandin not been in the backseat of the aircraft that day, the student would have been forced to eject, endangering him and those on the ground.

Normandin credited having worked with and learning from many great flight instructors throughout his Air Force career for his ability to keep his composure and recover the aircraft resulting in saving the F-16.