THE URGE TO K ILL
I have a great deal of respect, or at least, tolerance for Air
Force maintenance personnel. Actually, anyone who is skilled with
his or her hands has my respect, being "dumb from the neck down"
myself. For the most part, they are young enlisted troops expected
to do the job of someone wearing several stripes more. There aren't
enough of them mainly because they only get paid a fraction of
their civilian counterparts, so they usually work 12 hours or
more a shift. Often they are called upon to maintain aircraft
that would make the Confederate Air Force look like "Buck Rogers."
(No offense intended to the CAF.)
there is one time I lost my cool. It's a good thing that I was
separated from the maintenance supervisor who signed off the last
inspection by 1500 miles of ocean. Otherwise I'd be a permanent
resident of Ft. Leavenworth. I'm not sure I'd even like to drive
through the town.
all happened on an exercise where we were shuttling Marines and
supplies from Agana, Guam to Tinian (just north of Guam). In fact
we were landing on the very runway used by the "Enola Gay." The
emphasis of the exercise was to complete as many shuttles as possible.
The flying time between the two islands was only 20 minutes. The
key to the whole exercise was to have a rapid unload at Tinian
to keep aircraft from "stacking up". Aircraft were launched from
Guam every 20 minutes.
much that's still usable at the airfield at Tinian. All that's
still remains clear of the encroaching jungle is the runway itself
and part of the taxiway at the end.
We were the
third aircraft in. Aircraft #1 brought in two forklifts, some
portable radios, some Air Force ALCE personnel and some Marines.
Aircraft #2 brought in some more Marines, more vehicles, and other
"general supplies." Our airplane was strictly cargo on pallets.
(Pay attention, this will begin to take on the proportions of
the farmer - goat - wolf - cabbage problem).
All was normal,
as I had approached the airfield. The second aircraft was already
airborne and turning out of traffic as I "entered" the pattern.
During my tour in the South Pacific I practiced a lot of "unconventional"
everything from making one 360 degree turn from 16,000 feet while
staying within 1 mile of the airfield to a 150 mile straight in.
When you fly over water, and the traffic consists of one or two
aircraft a week, you can get away with such stuff. (Big Iron on
a VFR Flight Plan). In this case, I did a descending 45-degree
entry in the direction of traffic to a point where downwind should
have met base causing me to execute a sweeping 135-degree turn
hitting a pothole on the runway, landing was normal, as was the
rollout. Due to the angle at which the taxiway met the runway,
I had to do slightly more than a 90 degree turn to get to the
taxiway. About halfway into the turn, I hear a "clunk", the nose
wheel steering is wrenched from my hand, and I sustained a bruise
on my hand from the "suicide knob" as the steering wheel whipped
around. However, that wasn't my immediate concern. I momentarily
lost control of the aircraft, as it was swinging right rather
rapidly. I put the brakes on and stopped in mid turn. According
to the flight manual, this is a definite no-no. In C-130's, you
can pound the gear as much as you want up and down, but never,
never, put sidewards stress on them.
I was doing
about 2 or 3 knots at the time. Luckily I wasn't doing a high
speed turn off. Luckier still, I wasn't on landing rollout. Ground
looping a C-130 and high speed taxiing through the jungle are
two items also not recommended by the flight manual. I put the
engines into "whisper prop mode" (low speed ground idle) and sent
the engineer out to take a look. He was back in within seconds
screaming, "Shut the system off! Shut the system off!". Before
I could ask "What system?" he was climbing up the co-pilot's back
and swatting at hydraulic switches.
When he had
gotten to the nose wheel well, he noticed what looked like a lot
of dust hanging in the air. Before he got close enough to really
get a look at it, he recognized it for what it was. It was vaporized
hydraulic fluid. Vaporized hydraulic fluid is explosive, caustic,
and toxic (fatal if inhaled). It also means that somewhere in
the wheel well, there was a ruptured line pushing a pin holed
sized stream of 300-degrees centigrade hydraulic fluid under 3000+
PSI. It's not exactly a laser beam, but close. I agreed with the
engineer's decision to "Shut the system off".
dust (or hydraulic fluid) settled, the engineer was able to get
in to take a closer look. It seems that there are two "plates"
for the nose wheel steering that are supposed to be bolted together.
They weren't. Furthermore, there was no evidence that they ever
were bolted together. It seems we made our taxi out at Agana on
"friction" holding the pieces together. Apparently hitting the
pothole was enough to "break loose the rust". The over travel
allowed by the broken plates crimped a hydraulic line. Before
you condemn the engineer, these plates are not on his checklist.
Furthermore, unless pulled asunder, they aren't likely to be noticed.
Nonetheless, I will bet that's one engineer who will go out of
his way to check them on all of his future preflight inspections;
checklist or no.
It was nice
to have such a rapid diagnosis of the problem, however, I still
had a crippled airplane on the runway with another C-130 now about
15 minutes out and more stacking up out of Agana.
What we decided
to do was unload the aircraft on the runway to reduce the weight
as much as possible. We then attached one end of a tiedown strap
to the lower portion of the nose wheel steering yoke. The other
end was attached to 15 Marines. By pulling on the strap, they
could manually position the nose wheel, and steer the C-130 from
outside. In an effort that resembled Pharaoh's troops building
the pyramids, we managed to get the aircraft off the runway. I
saw a photograph of the event showing a C-130 with a bunch of
guys "towing" it. The aircraft was moving under its own power
but it doesn't look that way from the picture. My squadron mates
gave me good ribbing about my unique approach to energy conservation.
runway clear, the exercise continued on schedule. We hopped the
next aircraft back home, closed the flight plan, and left the
derelict there. I don't know what happened to it. I assume that
contrary to my commander's original orders, "Push the @ &%#& thing
into the ocean," another aircrew eventually retrieved it.