Hey, Jonboy! First flight in the TA-4 – How do you like it so far?
“Taco,” a SERGRAD (ed.- a recently winged pilot retained as an IP rather than sent to the fleet straightaway) was the instructor in the back. We took off with me in control for my first front seat hop and there was a thump when the gear came up, but I didn’t know if it was a normal thump or excessive.
We went out to the working area to run through the training items and when we reached the part where I was supposed to simulate coming into the break (ed. – a hard, airspeed dissapating turn to downwind) and then dirty up downwind, the nose gear position indicator stayed barber-poled (ed – an “unsafe / not down and locked” indication).
When I raised the gear the barber-pole immediately disappeared while the main gear took some time to come up. We were sharing the working area with another TA-4 from VT-7 so we joined up and he passed me the lead so he could check us out. The nose gear door was open and the strut was visible inside the wheel well, but wasn’t coming out or moving at all when we cycled the gear.
We went through the NATOPS check list and informed base of the problem.
We burned down all the fuel in the dual drop tanks and then proceeded to burn down the fuel in the wing tank. The base crew stripped the short field arresting gear wire from the east west off duty runway while we circled overhead.
With two drop tanks, one on each wing, the NATOPS procedure was to land with the gear up, flaps down and as you can see in the picture, speed brakes open, after all the wing fuel was used to minimize the potential for fire.
Because of the modification to add a back seat to the A-4 frame, the fuselage tank in the TA-4J doesn’t hold a lot of fuel, so once the wing tank is empty, you have a relatively short time period available to land.
TACO did the landing from the back seat. He flared prior to landing and held the aircraft off for a little bit and then settled to the runway.
I had a front row seat for the landing and can still remember watching the big white stripes sliding under the nose of the jet. It reminded me of the beginning of the TV show “The Fugitive.” For a moment I was a little worried that the probe would catch one of the expansion joints and we would pole vault over, but we slowed down pretty quickly.
The drop tanks collapsed, first one and then the other and that is why we ended up just a little sideways and off centerline.
TACO shut the engine down on touchdown so once we stopped the engine was spooling down and we realized we had to unlock and open the canopy before the engine stopped turning or we would not have any hydraulic pressure.
It was a funny feeling stepping out over the side of the cockpit onto the runway. Of course the emergency crews were driving up as we were standing there, and Taco was bouncing up and down with the adrenaline rush. The corpsmen trundled us into the ambulance and off we went to the medical facility for the post mishap examinations.
I called my wife from there to let her know there had been a problem at the field and that I was all right. I was worried she would hear something about me being in a mishap from someone and get worried not knowing what happened.
It turned out that the bolt connecting the shrink link to the strut had snapped from a fatigue crack. It is impossible to see on preflight.
The nose gear strut on the Skyhawk retracts with the wheel going toward the front of the plane and the top of the strut hinged toward the back of the wheel well. As the strut is pulled up, there is a separate connecting rod called the shrink link that compresses’ the strut, pulling the wheel end aft and making the strut shorter as it comes up so it fits in the wheel well.
The bolt that snapped is located right next to the tire.
So the nose gear came all the way up into the wheel well and then the bolt broke and the strut extended straight forward into the bulkhead. They had to drain the hydraulic fluid and vent the gas from the strut and still had to use a breaker bar to pry the nose gear out of the wheel well.
One funny thing about this is that the aircraft sustained much more damage from the wheel strut extending into the forward pressure bulkhead than from the wheels up landing.
A little paint and body work and two new drop tanks would have had this “727″ back in the air. But with the bulkhead damaged, the aircraft could not maintain cabin pressure. This jet became a hangar queen for a few months until that was fixed.
Most of the “interesting” flights I’ve had have been first flights of some sort.
I told you about the first fleet squadron flight on the carrier during workups when the aircraft started rolling backwards toward the side of the boat before the engine was started.
I’ll have to tell you about my first hop in the the A-7E when the pitot tube feed came off halfway down the runway during take off.
Wooo Hooo!!! Lot’s of fun.”
Any landing you can walk away from. Nice work, Jonboy.