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'Badass Pilot': Crash Landing and Rebuilding a Harrier Jet

Episode 2: How Art Nalls reacts when things don't go as planned

After 18 months of work, former U.S. military pilot Art Nalls and his crew have rebuilt his dream plane, the British Royal Navy Sea Harrier, back into a flightworthy jet. Now it’s time for a flight test.

As a chase plane films the British military “jump jet,” Nalls takes off from a small airport and runs the plane through its paces.

“The plane was flying absolutely perfectly. Everything was going according to plan — all of the temperatures were right, all the RPMs were right — and all of the sudden, I got a red master caution light,” he recalls. "I looked down and I had an amber light for my hydraulic pressure.”

The pressure was failing. No hydraulic pressure would have a catastrophic effect on the plane’s controls. Then Nalls realizes the plane’s landing gear is stuck in a partially descended position.

“I didn’t know if the airplane would hover, I didn’t know what my skills were and I’ve got about 15 minutes of fuel on board to figure all this out,” he says. He hovers the plane over an emergency landing location — the jet is capable of vertical takeoff and landing — and he tries to ease it down. The plane drops violently and the nose gear collapses.

Episode 2 of this series focuses on what happens next. It also introduces Nalls’ crew, which maintains the Harrier and the Czech L-39 military jet also owned by Nalls Aviation. They call themselves “Team Shar” and have over 150 years of experience — which, when dealing with a plane as touchy as the Harrier, comes in particularly handy. With a big air show on the horizon and an FAA inspection pending, the skill of the crew is put to the test.

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