Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Nose Gear

   Tricycle landing gear, two mains and a nose gear, came into service in the 1940's.  That's when concrete runways became common.  Grass runways have potholes and soft spots that can catch a nose wheel and snap the nose gear clean off.   Planes designed to land on grass fields had tailwheels. 
   The major attraction of a nose gear is you can use the brakes as hard as you please without standing the aircraft on it's nose.  For pilots who have coped with short runways, wet and slippery runways, obstructions in the runway, and who have landed a bit long, the ability to use the brakes good and hard is compelling. 
  Of course, as happened to Southwest at LaGuardia the other day, the nose gear can fail.  Something like that happened back in the 436 Military Airlift Wing in the late 1960's.  A C-141 jet transport, returning to Dover AFB from a mission reported that the nose gear would not go down.  They had plenty of fuel, and so they circled the field while radioing the tower for advice.  On the ground, the Technical Orders for the C141 were hastily consulted, and there was an emergency procedure to lower the nose gear.  On the C141 the gear was held retracted in the wheel well with a hook.  The crew was directed to go into the main cargo hold, take up some floor panels and gain access to the nose wheel well.  Then with a long pry bar, the hook could be levered back and the gear would go down.  The crew found the pry bar, got into the wheel well, and started fumbling around with the hook.  Unfortunately, in real life things didn't work as neatly as the tech order directions said they would.  The damn hook just would not let go.  After a lot of fumbling in the dark, and a lot of bad language, something went wrong.  The pry bar slipped out of someone's sweaty hands, and fell, fell clean out of the aircraft.  And that was the only pry bar on board. 
   So there was nothing left to do but foam the runway and bring her in.  The pilot used elevator to keep the nose up as long as possible.  The plane slowed to about a jogger's pace before the nose plunked onto the concrete.  We were standing by with jacks, a dolly, and a Coleman tractor and had the plane off the runway in under an hour. 
  Damage was surprisingly light.  Just a scuffed up patch on the bottom of the fuselage, less than two feet across.  The sheet metal shop had it fixed good as new in a couple of days. 

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