Accidents and Close Calls Discussion on accidents, close calls, and other unplanned aviation events, so we can learn from them, and be better pilots ourselves.

Landing a DC9 on ice.

Old 9th Aug 2015, 17:28
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Landing a DC9 on ice.

1980 was my first year of real winter operations where I was allowed to land on a contaminated runway myself.

It was my third legacy carrier having graduated from “THE” prestige flying school in 1971 and going straight into one of the most shambolic Anglo-Saxon companies of all time. The accident rate says it all and it was to be a long haul to unlearn many of the bad habits that I picked up.

The site of my fifth or sixth close encounter with the maker was Gothenburg Landvetter and I had around 2000 hours jet time.
Runway 03 had a displaced threshold due to a large lump of forest covered granite were a mate of mine famously tried to skim the tree tops in a Trident to wind up the skipper in a pissing contest revolving around paperwork and saving trees.

Beyond the other end was a cliff, which according to goggle, has been landscaped. The over run features twice in the story as we had just managed to kill 14 pax in Athens and like many accident reports, then and now, there are various versions of what actually happened.
Whilst the Greeks said it was a long landing by the German co pilot and the braking philosophy (and sentenced them to 2 years prison) …the company blamed the Greeks for the large amount of rubber contamination as well as the First officer whilst the rest of the FO’s ex Starfighter mates said it would have been alright if the skipper had braked as soon as they had landed. They added that he had a high rank in the Swiss military.

Having been party to the destruction of FDR and CVR recordings in a sub culture of never admit anything, destroy the evidence which extended to some management in both of my former employers as well as the many in the “old boys club” (including the authority) I guessed where the truth lay.
It wasn't difficult.

What this accident did was give power to the so called “Gay Mafia” who pushed that the perpetrators of any accident had to leave the aircraft by the furthest door – fair do – but unfortunately it didn’t stop there.

What didn’t change was the braking procedure.

When I joined the company not only did I treble my disposable income but everything – bar the language – was head and shoulders above my previous employers with the exception of what a FO was allowed to do or rather not allowed to do.
This was taxi, take off, clean up and use the brakes. But I got to fly more than 50% of the legs and learnt to handle a jet far better than any operator that I know of.

My limits were Cat 1, landing configuration SELECTED by 400ft and don’t break any of the SOPs.
In practice if the cloud base was below 500ft I elected to do a monitored approach and “normally” I selected land flap at 500ft whilst spooling the engines out of flight idle.
Glide approaches and landings had been banned the year before. YES Glide approaches.

I must confess that initially I couldn’t be @rsed to monitor the captains departure route nor his taxing at our home base but after one of the locals got pulled up by radar and another asked me to call ground for a “follow me” (so that his mates wouldn’t know it was he) I reverted to watching like a hawk.

There is another part to the prelude and that was the training…a week in real Irish weather base training at Shannon followed by 100 sectors with a SFO line training and a 5 day, 20+ sectors final check.
It was at Shannon after a failed attempt at a “Wet runway positive touchdown” that I discovered that what I had always thought was correct – slamming a jet into the runway at high speed does nothing to stop aquaplaning and that I could get a really good, short landing by using a “non standard” landing technique.

Now our contamination SOPs were more stringent that my old employer such that there were a couple of occasions where we couldn’t operate out of our home base whereas my old mates could. These were based on our experiences and it was quite common to get a car, drive out to the runway and have a look (or skid) ourselves before deciding to “have a go”.

What our manuals didn’t always cover was how the runway was treated and in this case the skipper explained to me that the Swedes sprayed the runway with hot sand and because of the extremely low temperatures (as urea crystals wouldn’t be effective). He also mentioned that it was like landing on a dry runway.

So after getting the ATIS I made a comprehensive briefing and trundled on down – at MMO/VMO of course.
We had to start to reduce speed early (normally around 5,000ft) because we were following an Air France Bus. I suppose we must have landed three minutes after him;
I used my standard landing technique; start smoothly taking off power around 25 ft early (50ft ish); winding on nose up stabilizer using the electric toggle switch whilst easing the stick forward; a late flare and as the gear is about to hit the runway shove the stick forward; as the automatic ground spoilers extend heave back on the stick to stop the nose gear smacking into the runway and not forget to land the nose smoothly.
"like a babies bottom".

Many of you might think this is fantasy as do those who say you can’t land a heavy jet by eyeball – but it ain’t and there were guys on the Trident who also used the technique – the different being the stretched DC9s would run out of elevator and it’s all about rotating the gear around the CofG along with landing with minimum energy.

So I put it down at 300m, lowered the nose, the skipper called “My controls- reverse idle”.
Now I won’t tell you exactly what went through my brain but I decided that rather than 1.2 EPR that 1.4 would be more appropriate.
Reverse idle was 1.2-1.4 EPR although because of our excellent grease monkeys 1.2 was easy to select.

The Pratt and Witney JT8D-7 is a twin spool, low bypass gas turbine built like the proverbial brick built #####. The engine pressure ratio probes are located at stage 1 - in front of the fan and stage 7 – rear of the turbine; hence the ratio gives one the amount of thrust the engine is producing. EPR 2.0 is roughly take off power and 1.6-1.8 (IIRC) is normal reverse.

So we were trundling relatively slowly towards the last high speed exit when the skipper applied the brakes – or rather tried to.
The call went along the lines of “I’ve got no brakes…..reverse…full reverse…emergency reverse”.
By the time he had got the last bit out I had already “white knuckle reverse” selected and had checked the hydraulic gauges and pump switches next to my knee (just in case we had forgotten them at TOD).
The engines accelerated and as they spooled up past 1.9 EPR they sucked in volumes of hot air and promptly began to surge.
I never had an engine failure when operating although I experienced three as a pax nor had I ever heard any engine have a compressor stall – let alone Ĺ a dozen. - The noise and vibrations were far worse with the latter.

Situated around 100ft behind me they shook the airframe and my @rse – I slowly moved the thrust levers forward until the surging stopped…we should have cancelled it by 60 knots but with my impending demise a few hundred meters further on the engines/ SOPs/ my career was of little interest.

Just as I had decided that full right rudder would possible save my @rse and the skipper would come off worse and sooner than moi the airframe juddered, I was thrown forward against my straps and we stopped.

I selected forward thrust without command, the skipper taxied to the ramp whilst I told tower about the (non existent) BA.

The engineer had a nights work peering down the borescope.

What had happened is Air France had used loads of reverse which had melted the top surface of the ice…the sand had sunk and the water had refrozen leaving a layer of black ice.

It wasn’t to be my last “adventure” as a FO; our braking procedure never changed and like many skippers who have “incidents” this one had some more although the only one I can remember is where he feigned radio failure going into Tripoli having had landing clearance cancelled because Ghadaffi’s exec jet was on approach. He was arrested, lied to the tower controllers about being freed by the military governor on the telephone, refused to return when ATC found out and flew at extremely high speed out of Libyan airspace.
He wasn’t shot down as you would have heard about it but it did take diplomatic shenanigans to get the route reinstated.
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Old 9th Aug 2015, 19:05
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Good stories, keep them coming.
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