Monday, March 18, 2013

I Had One of Those But the Wheels Fell Off

I've had people accuse me of not liking the Dash-8 but the accusation is false. They can look a little ungainly because of their high wing and long gear legs, but why would I disrespect a versatile Canadian-made turboprop? I love Dash-8s. I'd love to be flying one right now. You manufacture over a thousand of any kind of airplane and have all kinds of people fly it in all weather all over the world, and the wheels are going to come off of a few. Sometimes literally.

For me this story started with me failing to immediately recognize that this Air Canada Facebook post was a spoof, on a humour/satire site. I could understand pilots making light of a situation in which everything ended well but usually that kind of black humour doesn't extend to the social media and marketing people. It appears that a couple of months ago a Q400 departed North Bay, landed at Toronto's Pearson International Airport, and then as it was taxiing in the right front nosewheel departed the aircraft. Reporters quote the Air Canada Jazz spokesperson as saying that the right wheel "loosened," but it must have rolled away quite noticeably, seeing as the airport scrambled emergency vehicles. All the landing gear wheels on that airplane are in pairs, two wheels on each of the three gear legs, so the airplane didn't collapse or become uncontrollable.

While looking for more information on that particular incident, I found a slightly similar report wherein a Q400 had a right inboard axle failure while taxiing out in Frankfurt. The wheel stayed attached and the flight was completed successfully, with no one realizing the issue until ATC reported sparks from the wheel area on landing. This sort of thing does happen. Airplanes hold together through all kinds of malfunctions and from the inside we can't see what they are or or not doing. I would say that every week I hear ATC or another pilot report seeing something they thought was anomalous about another airplane. Often it's nothing, like the crew who mistook a B737 gravel kit for a gear door malfunction, but pilots usually appreciate the lookout.

This one is a British Q400 in which ... oh the British are the funniest:

A number of passengers seated on the right side of the aircraft noticed sparks emanating from the right inboard wheel area during the takeoff roll and saw the right inboard wheel fall from the aircraft as the landing gear retracted. They did not inform the cabin crew at this point.

Now I know about the stiff upper lip thing, and I appreciate that people don't want to look stupid by appearing alarmed at something that is normal, but a wheel fell off the airplane! How dense or properly British do you need to not report this as an abnormal situation? Intoxicated passengers with a grade-four education and living in a part of the world where people continue to drive trucks after one of the wheels falls off were not shy about informing me of much lesser aircraft anomalies.

Finally we have a video of the wheel falling off a Q400 during landing in Buffalo. You can stop watching after the scene cut. The rest is unrelated incidents.

I had a wheel almost depart from an airplane I was flying once, a long time ago when I logged my flights in a little ten-line-per-page logbook and paid for fuel myself. I'm sure some of you have seen this story from me before, but others haven't, and maybe you can be amused if my recollections have changed. The small single-engine airplane had had maintenance affecting the nosewheel before I borrowed it, and I will take responsibility for probably missing an improperly secured cotter pin on my initial preflight. I flew an hour or so to visit someone and then the airplane sat in the snow there for a few days. Most of my preflight time before flying home went into digging it out of the snow and making sure the control surfaces were clean, so it's possible the pin was actually missing by that time and I still missed it. It was a very windy day and the runway and taxiway surfaces were rough, so I didn't notice anything wrong on the taxi out. At the end of a bumpy flight home I landed carefully in a strong crosswind. I remember being very proud of my gentle touchdown, and that taxiing back to parking in a strong crosswind was dicey. I pulled around tail to the parking spot, shut down and got out to push it back by hand. And then I saw that the nosewheel was not straight in the forks but tilted sideways, just wedged in there by something between friction and magic. Part of the axle was sticking out the side. So yeah. The wheels can come off. I'm not taking a position on the relative contribution made by design, maintenance, and pilots.

The blog title is wrong though: I never have flown the Dash-8 and while I've flown its baby cousin the DHC6, our fleet wasn't equipped with wheels at all, so even if there are landing gear similarities, I can't relate. More knowledgeable readers are welcome to correct or enhance anything here.


LocalFlightEast said...

a couple of years ago I'm fairly sure there were a spate of gear collapses on Dash 8s, I think maybe it was SAS who had a particularly bad time of it. It ended up being a maintanence issue I think.
I remmebr because the local NIMBYS around YTZ were using the "shock horror, unsafe planes landing over the city won't someone please think of the children" argument in the latest battle gainst the airport

You are right, us brits wouldn't dream of making a fuss. It is not the first time that something like this has happened. During the Kegworth air disaster some of the passengers picked up on the fact that the crew had seemingly shut down the wrong engine. I dont think that info was ever communicated to them.

Anonymous said...

The link to the British report doesn't work for me, but I foundthis link, which does.