Thursday, October 23, 2014

On Single Engine Commercial Flying

 As I’ve belabored before, there is a certain amount of energy available in every flight condition. The idea is to learn how to manipulate this energy so you get what you want when and where you want it. All this to say that it works in Phantoms and it works in Boeing 737’s.

OK Lt Fuzz, the Phantom Phyler, the wife and baby boy are hungry, so you’re an airline pilot now. You’ve got nearly twice the weight (up to 115K pounds), not so much thrust to push that weight around with two of the PW JT8-Ds. You help to pilot the thing closest in this business to what you have been flying - the Boeing 737-200. They don’t shoot at you any more.


Let’s picture a take-off from good ole sea-level Los Angeles International. A warm summer day and the people want, no, they need to get to ‘Vegas. You pack them in - all hundred or so of them - three flight attendants (“stewardesses”, in those days) and even a TWA pilot in the cockpit, trying to get home on the jump seat. Maybe a 100K pounds or so. LAX says your cleared to go on Runway 25R, you run the throttles up, holding the brakes ‘til the engines are spooled up real good, then start the roll. What sometimes seems like a few minutes later, who ever isn’t flying calls out “eighty knots”. Well that’s good, time to let the rudder control the steering and keep on accelerating. Now there’s something called a “V-1” speed. It’s that speed at which an engine can fail and you can safely  continue with the take off and expect a controllable airplane. If there is an engine failure at any speed below V-1, you abort the take off and theoretically you stop before the end of the runway. Somebody figured this all out for various temperatures, pressure elevations and gross weights. He, by the way, has never been in an airplane and probably has a seat belt on his chair in a basement office somewhere.

On this previously pleasant day, at a speed just below “V-1”, about a hundred fifteen or so, the mighty Pratt and Whitney, twin spooled engine of the millennia, number two, on the right side, quit. Not to worry, we stopped without incident, and even taxied back to the gate area. Those were the days when you could taxi all the way back to the gate on one ground control, AND miracle of miracles (by today’s standards), the gate would still be open! We were still within limitations for brake use and heat build up so there wasn’t really anything wrong except it was better to use both engines all of the time, if available. The CSRs and Flight Attendants got the people off the plane. Some transferred to the next flight to Las Vegas (there was one about every thirty minutes at times), some left the airport, never to return, and others simply waited for us (probably sensing extraordinary expertise in the flight crew). The mechanics were soon swarming over the engine. Cowls were opened, wrenches grasped, discussions held, supervisors paced looking at their watches and management types administrated. The whole thing was over in a hour or less and the lead mechanic assured us that some gizmo had been found to be out of adjustment (probably a clerical error) and he personally had brought it back into tolerance. The engine was fixed and the airplane was cleared to go.

The people got back on, some new, some who had been with us on the first attempt, the jump seating TWA guy, the three ladies flying with us and the brave pilots. We had been topped off in fuel and there wasn’t any weather to consider - everything was a good as it gets. Cleared to go. Running down the runway in our newly certified-as-safe Boeing 737-200, eighty knots goes by and the engines are humming, V-1, rotate, V-2 (the target safe flying airspeed), and we’re airborne. One hundred and ten or so people on their way to newfound riches, home and one step closer to finishing another work day. At about fifty feet in the air the number two engine, still on the right side, quits.

This, as you’ll easily imagine, is more of a problem. Grossed out in weight, now under powered somewhat, we perform the procedures we’d been trained to do. The airplane performs well and the although I think it was straining, the one engine transport gains altitude and we turn north to a down wind at Los Angeles International. The tower yells over the radio, “Where do you guys think you’re going?” and I simply state we’re going to land. They say you can’t do that! I say watch me. Anyway, after some explanation (once safely on downwind with fifteen hundred feet of altitude), those good guys in the tower cleared out of our way all the big boys coming in from New York, Honolulu, Paris, ‘Vegas, of course, and all of the other places they came from, here to Los Angeles. Probably a thousand passengers got a ten-minute delay in their flights that day.

One hundred ten souls on our flight received a watershed moment - “Should I ever fly again?” The little Boeing that could, did. Throw a significant amount of left rudder trim. Use max power on the good engine. We flew downwind and made a reasonable base and final. We put her down on 24R, cleared the runway without incident and released the emergency crews. We actually taxied to the ramps again.

The mechanics were soon swarming over the engine. Cowls were opened, wrenches grasped, discussions held, supervisors paced,looking at the watches, shaking their heads this time and management types administrated. This time, a higher level of management was noticed and the mechanics seemed somehow more mature. The bottom line is, that there was small piece of plastic bag inside one of the pitot lines leading to the fuel control mechanism and at a certain speed or pressure differential, or something, it signaled that the engine had been turned off, and fuel was no longer required.Therefore, the fuel distribution to that engine ceased. Once the plastic bag part was found and removed I guess the engine worked fine. We got a new airplane.


The hundred or so folks on their way to ‘Vegas? Well we got them there three hours late. Some shaking their heads, others having fun relating the experience, still others never doubting their system for riches at “twenty-one”. They all deplaned in the desert city. Most thanked us, as is the polite thing to do, others just got off as if nothing had happened. The TWA guy? He was just thankful that he was a jump seater and not the pilot - paperwork, you know.

5 comments:

juvat said...

Great Story Dave.
And the first mechanic?

OldAFSarge said...

FOD, the relentless enemy of ALL aircraft.

That first mechanic. Good question Juvat. Former maintainers want to know.

virgil xenophon said...

Just another day in the life, right? Little did the huddled masses know...lol

"Stewardesses?" I always thought it was "stewardii" LOL.

I once had a "stewardii" in the courtyard at Pat O'brien's in the French Quarter once tell/lecture me (not knowing I was a rated creature of the air) about how truly safe flying was...while all the time I was thinking about how once a 50 cent grommet failed in the fuel line and...well, mild heart palpitation time. At least we had good 'ole MK-H7 ejection seats, right?,,,,still, nice to make the field again...no sweat GI, right? Swore I'd never knowingly fly in an ac w.o. an ejection seat, lol. (See that twin that augured in on t.o. after losing an engine in Kansas today? I'd never own a twin unless it was a center-line thrust like the good 'ole O-2..)

The best...e-mail to follow...

virgil xenophon said...

*** "former" rated creature of the air...lol

Dave's Daily Day Dream said...
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