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The Alert 5 F-14 Tomcat Backfires

as it takes off of
the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk, CV-63
I need your help, what caused this fireball from the afterburner?

Look at the fireball coming out of this f14 tomcat

 Photo by C. Jeff Dyrek

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When this F-14 Tomcat took off, there was a large bang and a fireball backfires out of the exhaust.



   Working on Military Fighter Aircraft for 24 years, I have seen this many times.  This is undoubtedly a fire ball coming from the accumulation of fuel in the fuel vent system. One of the answers on your website is 100% accurate. Other type of Fighter Aircraft do the exact same thing. It is harmless and some aircraft have been modified to prevent this occurrence, however the modification is not 100% successful.

 Chief Smith, Active Duty, USAF

 Mark Platt : 
  The explanation is simple. After the Tomcat has been fueled (usually topped off) it will sit for awhile waiting for the next hop. As the fuel begins to warm up inside the bladder(s), it will expand. The fuel bladders can only hold so much fuel. The Tomcat has a large fuel vent pipe near the pivot point of the tail hook. I am very familiar with it, 0009912ALT="F-14 Tomcat 1/48 Metal Body Airplane Kit, jet fighter photo" HSPACE=10 VSPACE=10 BORDER=2 height=168 width=332 align=RIGHT>because I've smacked my head on the damn thing many times. Just ask any Plane Captain who's worked around F-14's. Anyway, This vent pipe is notorious for leaking (venting) fuel on the deck. It is not uncommon to see a five gallon bucket under the belly near the tail hook area to catch venting fuel. I have seen this fire behind the Tomcat on many cat shots, especially on a hot day in the South Pacific. The Tomcat in your photo is near the end of the cat shot. The after burners are lit. As the aircraft blast's off forward, residual fuel in the aforementioned vent system momentarily dumps out. The Jet-A gets into the heat of the exhaust (very hot) and flashes very quickly, creating a momentary fire. I too was on the Kitty Hawk in 77-78 with VF-114. What a blast.... 

 From Animal112: 
 It's a compressor stall caused by a change of airflow into the engine.

From Supulveda:
that fireball is result of corrosion (salt spray) in afterburner spray
 rings. pressurized fuel builds up in the ring, breaks away the corrosion and dumps on the deck in the form of the fireball you photographed

AO2 James Floyd
 I was there, don't you remember that the water always had a flavor of JP (jet fuel) Blue Ops, naval aviation showing how the military handles its jet airplanesbecause they always kept either water or jet fuel in the tanks to maintain ballast well, there was enough of a flammable mixture of JP in the water they were boiling for the steam for the catapult that the  AB on the F-14 ignited it. This was not a first occurrence I have seen it more than once on different ships, it happened a lot with F-4's hope I cleared your mystery. AO2 James Floyd -- VA-94 TAD AIMD this cruise in reference.

 A CURRENT F-14 GUY 6-24-99

The explanation of a corrosive/salt buildup is a definite possibility, along with (more likely) an afterburner blow-out. This only means the AB blew out momentarily, and then relit-- the buildup of fuel in the spraybars / nozzle during the moment the AB was not lit caused the 'puff.' While certainly not common, this is not unheard of. The AB usually relights itself, or is relit by the pilot cycling the throttle (s) out of AB and back again.

ex-AMS2 "Country"
The fireball could have been caused by ingesting a foreign object, called FOD.

 Steven Hesley
In regards to your mystery detonation on the F14 cat shot, I would have to rule out compressor surge. This is normally caused by disruption of air flow into the compressor and on take-off most often by strong cross winds. Judging from the waves and cat steam it appears the bow was pretty much into the wind eliminating the crosswind problem. Top Guns covring the f14, f15, f18 and f16 military jet fighters

If you'll notice the fireball is definitely below the horizontal axis of the port engine. This would seem to rule out any kind of a backfire. Engines don't throw curve balls. I would conclude that the cat steam ignition theory is the correct explanation in this case. Notice how the flame appears closer to the deck than the engine, and appears to follow the convection of the escaping steam and engine exhaust. 

  DSN 786-5717 

CPOMEA RN Wayne Clancy 
concerning the 'cough' from the F14 on page  '.. /photos /CV63_F14_6.html' I can absolutely 100%  rule out any such nonsense as JP in the steam. No matter what water was  stored in what tank, boiler feed water is purer than pure, normally  better than 1ppm of dissolved solids contamination and certainly never  any JP. That's the standard for the Royal Navy and I can assure you that  American fleet carriers will be just as high a standard, in fact if  there was enough JP in the feed water to burn, the fireball would have come along time before from the boiler room and now there wouldn't even  be a deck to fly from. 

 From a gas turbine point of view, if the aircraft successfully took  off and flew its op then I'd go for an AB related problem. If the plane  crashed in a fiery heap, I'd go for a catastrophic component failure  (FOD damage?), compressor surge or stall serious enough to affect  combustion during the rather sensitive manooeuvre of take off is  doubtful in a well designed modern engine and intake system.  ex CPOMEA RN Wayne Clancy 

As you can see, there is a little conflict of information here. To tell you the truth, the more technical the explanation, the more I believe it. If anyone has any more information,
Please let me know at the bottom of this page

C. Jeff Dyrek, webmaster

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