On a clear day back in 1998, Veteran Marine Corps pilot Lieutenant Colonel Peter E. Young was just above 14,000 feet while at the controls of his AV-8B Harrier II fighter jet when disaster struck– the jet’s single engine suddenly quit. Young tried twice to restart the engine, with no success. Radioing his wingman, as the sophisticated attack jet fell below 10,000 feet, Young called out “I’m losing control of this thing… I’ve got zero hydraulics, I’ve got nothing. I’m getting out of this thing… get out of my way!”
As the jet passed below the 7,500 foot level still high above the California Desert, Lieutenant Colonel Young pulled the ejection handle. But as his ejection seat shot out of the plane’s cockpit, the seat also malfunctioned, rotating out of position. As Young’s parachute deployed above him, the harness straps twisted violently against his helmet, killing the 42 year old lieutenant colonel and father of two instantly by breaking his neck. The aircraft that an entire Marine Corps squadron had dubbed the “widowmaker” had just created another widow.
The term “widowmaker” refers to someone, or something, that makes widows. In this fascinating text, noted technology author Ed Jones takes a look at a collection of vehicles- mostly military- that have or had a high tendency of killing their occupants, thereby creating widows in the process. The challenge of the Harrier “jump jet,” as well as another aircraft heavily relied on by the US Marine Corps- the developmental problem-plagued V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, are chronicled, as are past famous (or ‘infamous’) widowmakers such as the Lockheed F104 Starfighter and the World War II-era Martin Bomber. And possibly the most infamous ‘widowmaker’ in the entire arsenal of the former Soviet Union, the K19 nuclear attack submarine, is given extensive coverage.
Jones has researched the background stories behind each entry in this collection of widowmakers, and collected the fascinating details about why each of these vehicles falls in the “widowmaker” class. Fans of military vehicles in particular, and everyone who finds interest in new vehicles with “fatal flaws” early in the production process will find this book to be a very entertaining read.