A routine flight became anything but for one Marine earlier this month, after the landing gear on his Harrier jet failed shortly after takeoff, forcing the pilot to make a YouTube-worthy improvised landing.
Captain William Mahoney knew he had a problem almost immediately after taking off in his AV-8B aircraft from the U.S.S. Bataan amphibious assault ship in the Mediterranean on June 7.
After doing a control tower flyby at 300 feet to try and diagnose the problem, personnel aboard the ship confirmed Mahoney’s front landing gear had failed, and that he would be unable to make a conventional landing.
“The ship had this amazing invention that was… basically a stool, that was built specifically for this reason,” Mahoney said in a video documenting the incident released by the military.
The pilot had little choice but to land the approximately 46-foot-long, 31,000-pound Harrier vertically on the stool fixed to the ship’s deck, which he couldn’t even see.
“I can’t see the stool,” Mahoney said recalling his thoughts at the time. “I don’t even know it’s there. I remember looking for it and thinking, ‘Oh boy, this is going to get interesting.'”
The pilot slowly lowered the jet to 20 feet above the deck, where he was cleared for landing.
“It dropped more than I expected,” Mahoney explained as the aircraft’s nose bounces violently on the stool during the jet’s final decent, stopping to rest perfectly on target.
“I had to sit there for a minute, and remember how to shut the jet off… it was a pretty big relief,” Mahoney said, describing his nerves at the time. “I didn’t realize how much I was shaking until I got out of the aircraft.”
The flight deck — which was completely empty during the dangerous landing — immediately filled with crew congratulating Mahoney on the daring feat.
“We pride ourselves at landing on the ship perfectly like this in the same spot every time, and doing the same thing over and over again. But there’s no way to train to land in this kind of situation.”