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Monday, December 16, 2013

Five Inches

No lessons were learned
The night I decided I only needed five inches
The night I threw caution to the winds of Seattle
The night my right wing gear jack shit the bed

And it had all started so innocently
With the simple replacement of the left main landing gear truck leveler

That was almost a month ago
An event that I hadn’t even been here for
But I was left on the hook for the operational check
A check that involved jacking the aircraft and performing a gear retraction test

It had come up sort of abruptly during my daily chat with maintenance control
Almost as if they had forgotten about it as well
One of those
“Oh and by the way”
Types of jobs

So now after five o’clock
After all the day shift had cleared out
I pushed the three heavy jacks into position

One at the nose
One at each inboard wing jacking point

I figured I’d do all the prep work myself
As there was only a skeleton crew on second shift
And they were all the way across the airport at the main office

No sense dragging them all the way over here until everything was ready

The jacks now in position
I started pumping them up one by one
Until each one was seated gently in the jack pad

It was then that I remembered a time a few years before
When a jack had failed to work for us
And no matter how much you pumped the handle
The jack would not go up

I decided to test these three jacks before I went any further

The nose jack wiggled slightly as I jacked it up a couple inches
Extending the nose strut slightly as the jack took some of the weight of the aircraft

Nose jack:  Check

I pumped the left wing jack a similar distance
Just barely taking the weight of the plane
Enough to ensure that the seals of the jack weren’t blown out

Left wing jack:  Check

My hand slipped onto the smooth bare metal shaft of the right wing jack handle
The steel slightly discolored from everyone touching it
With chipped yellow paint desperately hanging on further down the handle

I pumped it a dozen times
And was rewarded with a shower of red hydraulic fluid
Causing my optimism for the night’s job crashed into a pessimistic heap

I wiped off my arm where the fluid had made me into a red sticky mess
And throwing the rag into the trash barrel
I stomped back to the desk at the nose of the aircraft
Flopping my full weight down in the old black swivel chair
I spun it around and regarded the broken jack beneath the right wing
While my fingers picked idly at the peeling vinyl on the armrests

Five inches
That’s all I needed under the main tires

With five inches of clearance
The main landing gear would safely retract without touching the ground

Some of my fingers gave up on the armrest and scratched my head instead
My mouth twisted unconsciously as my inner voice pointed out

“You know;
Only the left gear has to be retract tested”

And a twisted plan started to take shape in my head
All alone after dinner hours
In that old condemned hangar in Seattle