Monday, September 15, 2008

For want of a nail...

The midsized jet had arrived the night before. It had diverted from where its passengers would be waiting because of a NOTAMed closure.

So now it was early Sunday morning. The jet crew in their epaulets stood out from the usual bluejeaned airport bums, and while they weren't aloof, they were busy with ice and coffee and fuel.

My student and I walked out to the 172. The air was dead calm; the only clouds were contrails high above. The cool fall air was just right, especially after the heat of the summer. This was to be the student's third flight, and we did a careful preflight. We talked softly. There was no wind, no noise, nothing moved.

A buzz in the distance became a helicopter. Our radio was off, so we just watched it fly past at 100 feet or so. "Who's doing a practice approach?", I wondered. It did not look familiar. It flew along the runway, getting louder, and I marvelled again at the Doppler shift as it passed. It was the same type that my wife and I rode in a spectacular aerial tour of Hawai'i many years ago.

Passing even with the jet, it made a left turn. My eye followed its path, and I could see the jet crew running toward the plane. "They must be afraid of the rotorwash," I thought, but they just stood by the airstair door and watched. The helicopter passed in front of the jet, turned left again, and settled in a circular cloud of dust. The crew stood and watched.

The helicopter shut down and a long line of passengers walked over to the jet, dropping their luggage at the hell-hole. There was a lot. The crew pitched the bags into the hell-hole (were those golf clubs?), got in, and fired up.

"November blah-blah-blah [they've blocked their callsign, so I'll respect their privacy], cleared to the [someplace really nice] airport via as filed blah-blah-blah."

And they were gone.

But not for long.

"Tower, [midsized jet], we need to return."

They couldn't get the gear up. Too much of a wet print to continue.

So they taxied to the ramp and called a mechanic, not from the FBO. A quick inspection found that the nose gear had been turned too far in one direction, bending something. This is pretty common; many airplanes have red stripes on the nose gear that mark the travel limits. The King Air has a neat system of vertically aligned circles made from a softer metal; if the circles aren't lined up, the gear was turned too far.

I don't know what the midsized jet had, but the line crew turned the wheels too far, and the flight crew didn't catch it, and the passengers had to cool their heels before heading to someplace really nice where you would like to be right now.

Let's split the blame 50-50. I just want to be sure that the next time my 50 happens I catch it before takeoff.

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