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Hangar flying in a bar can save your life.

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Hangar flying in a bar can save your life.

Old 14th Jul 2015, 18:06
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Hangar flying in a bar can save your life.

The orginal post has disappeared, so here it is again.

I was a part time pilot for a company that had a Convair 300 and a MU-2. The company had previously owned a Howard 350 that I had flown co-pilot on, which was replaced by the Convair. It was that Howard 350 that was in the story on how to start a really cold soaked big radial engine, which I have posted in this forum.

There was an early morning flight on the Convair and I had been scheduled to be on the flight, but another trip had come up on the MU-2 and I had been pulled off the Convair. Which pleased me, as I would get to build up more turbine time and I could get an extra hour of sleep.

When Tony*, the chief pilot, and Rick**, the other part time pilot, took off in the Convair it was just before sunrise and before the tower opened, remember this later. They were headed northeast to Michigan, deadhead, to pick up the owner's family, it was a big family. After leaving about 3,000 feet in the climb it was SOP for one of us to leave the cockpit and go back into the cabin to check that all the caps were still on, fuel/oil and to make sure there was no unusual oil leaks. Then to go to the galley and get a couple of cups of coffee.

Personally I always figured the real reason for this after takeoff/climb inspection was to get a cup of coffee for Tony, the chief pilot. Well, not on this flight, as it rapidly turned out, the after takeoff/climb inspection was vitality more important. They had taken off just as the sun was coming up and as they headed northeast bound the daylight increased. So by the time Rick got up, did the external inspection, got the two cups of coffee and returned to the cockpit, it was nearly daylight on a beautiful clear VMC day.

After Rick gave Tony his coffee and got back into his seat, he asked Tony, 'When did those dents on the leading edge of the right wing happen, I didn't notice them in the dark when I did the pre-flight?' Tony looked over at Rick and asked. 'Dents, what dents?' Rick replied that there were dents along the leading edge of the right wing and now that he thought about it, the color of the right leading edge looked darker than the left, but he wasn't sure because it was not quite full daylight when he looked at them.

At that point Tony put his coffee cup in the cup holder, got out of his seat and went back to the cabin. He came back a minute or two later, got back into his seat, reduced power and started a slow left turn. He looked at Rick telling him to declare an emergency and that they were returning to the airport. Rick complied as ordered and when ATC asked what the nature of the emergency was, Rick looked at Tony with a WELL? expression on his face. Tony told him to tell ATC that they had possible structural damage.

Possible structural damage ! Well that got Rick's attention, he related to me as he was telling me what had happened in the cockpit that day. So now Rick's eyes are as big as cup saucers as he relays the message to ATC while staring at Tony. Then ATC asked them if they would like vectors to the closest airport or to airports with longer runways. Now Tony holds a hand up, indicating to Rick that he would talk to ATC. Tony tells ATC that none of the close airports are long enough to land the aircraft with flaps up, that the departure airport was the closest that had a long enough runway to land with no flaps and that he did not want to be in the air one minute longer than they had to be.

Well WTF had not been invented back then, so Rick just said 'What the fu<k is going on?' and Tony told him this story.

After the company decided to sell the Howard 350 and buy a Convair, Tony was going around looking at Convairs that were for sale. One night when he was staying at a hotel near an airport that he had looked at a Convair that was for sale, he was sitting at the bar in the hotel bar. As he was sitting there he struck up a conversation with a guy that was sitting near him. As they talked it turned out that the man he was talking to was an American Airlines captain that was also staying in the hotel. While they were talking, about aircraft of course, Tony told him that he was looking at piston powered Convairs and inquired if he had any experience in the Convair or knew much about them.

It turned out that this pilot he was talking to not only was familiar with Convairs, his first position at American was as a co-pilot on Convairs. So he started telling Tony the ins and outs about flying Convairs. Then he told Tony about something that was very important to know and to watch out for in the Convair. There was a American Airlines Convair that after takeoff they noticed that one of the leading edges had what looked like dents, had turned a dark brown and that there were streaks of what looked like smoke stains aft of the leading edge. Suspecting that they had a fire, however, there was no evidence that there was fire at the time. So they declared an emergency and headed for the closest airport. Everything was looking fine as they were on final until they put down full flaps.

As soon as the flaps came down, the damaged wing failed and departed from the aircraft. Then the aircraft rolled inverted and crashed short of the runway killing all onboard.

Now at this point I'm a little hazy about the events leading to the damage that caused the American accident and Tony’s incident, as this happened so long ago, so if I recall what happened in error, any old Convair drivers that are around, please feel free to correct me.

The wing de-ice on the Convair was by diverting exhaust air from the engines. A valve opened in the augmenter exhaust tubes that diverted the exhaust to the wings. Either some sort of device controlled the exhaust temperature or just the size of the valve to prevent overheated air going to the leading edges.

What had happened these two times was that the exhaust manifold had failed, collapsing and forcing all of the engine exhaust to flow to the wings through the wing deice tubing. Causing an intensive high overheat condition/fire, which burned the skin in the back of the nacelle and into the wing skin outboard of the engine/gear nacelle, including seriously damaging the outer wing spars. As soon as the power was reduced from max takeoff power, the fire went out.

The damage was so severe to the wing, that in the case of the American accident, when full flaps were extended, the stress on the wing caused wing separation and the crash.

Well Tony recalled this story he had heard from that American Airline’s captain in that bar that night and as soon as he gone back to the cabin and looked at the wing, he suspected that they had the same thing happened to them. So after relating the story to Rick, on their way back to the airport, he briefed Rick on the landing.

They would make a flap ups approach and landing. They would keep the gear up until very short final and until they were very low over the approach end of the runway. If he (Tony) felt anything unusual as the gear extended, he would pull the power off and land right then and there with partial gear extended. That way he felt that if the wing did fail, they had a fighting chance of hitting the ground somewhat upright and survive crash. He hoped.

And that is exactly what they did. I was watching. They came in over the end of the runway at about 10 feet as the gear was extending. It looked like they landed as soon as they had three green lights. They rolled to the end of the runway, with Tony using moderate braking and no reverse thrust, Tony was worried that the reverse thrust could cause the wing to fail. He told me later that he would have felt like an idiot if he did everything right over the approach end of the runway, then by doing something silly like using the reversers and die in a fireball at the other end of the runway, he’d feel pretty foolish.

They used all of the runway of course and then pulled off on the taxiway, where they stopped and shut down. As the fire trucks were surrounding the aircraft, Rick lowered the forward airstairs and the two of them left the aircraft. I arrived about the same time they were under the right wing/gear area. As I was walking to where they were I saw Rick run over to the grass and throw up. After looking at what happened to the wing and gear area, I understood why he did.

Just after the right main gear, there was a hole burned into that area that one could fit a large size office chair into, the fire had continued to burn most of the lower skin next to the nacelle and into the wing and severely burned and damaged the wing spars. A report later by a structural engineer stated that he really did not understand how the wing remained attached, as badly as the spars were damaged. I think Rick threw up again when he read that. I know I damn near did.

If the tower had been open at the time they took off, early that morning in the dark, there would have been an excellent chance that controllers would have seen the fire before they left the ground. Controllers looked out the window of the tower back in those days.

So, the moral of the story is; hang around airport bars, you might save your life.

*/** Both Tony and Rick have gone west now.

* Tony was killed in Alaska flying a DC-4.

** Rick later went to work for a major cargo airline, became a DC-10 captain and died in an non-avaition related incident.
con-pilot is offline  
Old 14th Jul 2015, 21:02
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Incredible story...

Controllers still look out of the window, by the way.
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Old 17th Jul 2015, 19:14
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Awesome story.
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Old 20th Aug 2015, 14:20
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The moral of this story is that you don't have time to make all the mistakes or collect all the experiences yourself...so...listening to others tell their stories is rarely time wasted!
Lou Scannon is offline  

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