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Monday, September 16, 2013

Damage - Narrow Squeak in Seattle pt3

The brilliant white Douglas DC-8 aircraft dominated my dazzled vision as I entered the bright main hangar area
Her damaged areas were quite apparent from what was removed from the structure at this point

Back on the tail
The left horizontal stabilizer leading edge was removed

On the left wing
The inboard leading edge was off and on sawhorses in front of the number two engine
All the internal access panels removed
With much of the fuel plumbing displaced

A left wing leading edge section between the number one and two engines was also off and on a pallet on the floor

On both the number one and number two engine pylons
The pylon skirts were removed
As were the cowl hinge assemblies
Though I could see the sheetmetal guys had the new ones laid out on the work tables
Almost ready to be installed

As a the symbolic culprits of this whole mess
There were four overhauled cowlings in the corner of the hanger
Two for each left side engine
Sitting atop special wood two by four cradles upon oak pallet bases
Freshly shipped in from the home maintenance base

Sitting there
They were a silent reminder of what had happened almost two weeks ago now

The old DC-8 had been on the cargo ramp at the North end of the airport
Minding its own business as it were
Being loaded with pallets of freight
Swallowing an almost impossible seeming amount of cargo
Proving its worth daily to the fleet despite its thirty plus years of age

Maintenance personnel were doing their daily inspections
Checking everything out
Adding fluids here and there
Checking some serial numbered components on the left side engines for the Records Department

With one man under the butterflied open cowlings of the number one and two engine
Being tailed by another guy with a clipboarded list of parts
The number verification didn’t take long

The two guys lowered both sets of cowl doors
But then realized they didn’t have the right wrench with them to close the levered latch assemblies at the bottom of the cowls
One went to get the wrench
The other stepped away from the plane to have a cigarette

Then the lunch wagon came around
And all the maintenance people mobbed the truck buying their food

Meanwhile
The loaders finished loading up the airplane
The flight crew did a quick walkaround

Finding nothing out of place
The flight crew saddled up and called for the pushback crew
Who reluctantly cut their lunch short to attend to the start and push of the fully loaded DC-8

With all four engines turning
The plane pushed back and turned loose for taxi
And the two maintenance guys came back from lunch
One with a wrench in his hand
As they both watched the airplane taxi away from the cargo ramp

Lazy human nature being what it is
They both assumed that someone else had latched the cowlings down
Otherwise surely the flight crew would have caught it on their pre-flight walkaround

Right?
Right!

The heavy DC-8 lined up at the end of the runway
Throttles pushed to takeoff power
And after a fairly long roll it leapt into the air

Everything seemed perfectly normal
Nothing out of the ordinary on the cockpit gauges
No reason to look out the side windows at the engines

Until Seattle tower called the aircraft
Asking if everything was all right

“Yes, everything is five by five tower
Why do you ask?”
Was the puzzled response from the crew

“Well DC-8 Heavy, it appears you’ve left a significant amount of debris behind on our runway
You might want to turn around and come back”

Sure enough
Both the number one and two engine cowls had flapped wide open on the takeoff roll
Eventually bending backwards and breaking away from the engine pylons
Ripping the hinges off the structure
Tearing the pylon skirts
Puncturing the wing and tail leading edges on their way by at high speed

The DC-8 had to dump fuel and return to the airport
Where it landed safely

The four shiny new engine cowls sat in their corner upon their wooden thrones
A reminder of what could happen when you make simple mistakes
Telling a tale of much worse things that could have happened