The %#@*# Nose Gear Won’t Retract!

Posted December 18, 2003

By Keith Horton

"Keith", my wife Liz called to me out in the back yard, "the Maintenance Coordinator is on the phone and wants to talk to you." Well, I thought to myself as I shut off the lawn mower and made my way into the house, there's probably a problem somewhere on the airline.

This was back in the mid-70s and the Maintenance Coordinator was located in TWA's Kansas City maintenance headquarters at the Overhaul Base. He was in an office that was linked by telephone and teletype all across the airline’s world-wide operations, and he and a group of four or five others were closely in touch with any maintenance or operational problems concerning our fleet of nearly two hundred airplanes. I was the manager of an engineering group at that time, and we were often called at home to provide problem-solving technical assistance along with guidance in determining if an airplane was airworthy.

"This is Seth", the Coordinator greeted me, "There is a problem with plane (he gave me the identifying plane number which I recognized as being a Constellation). After take off out of Boston the nose landing gear did not retract. The captain of that flight is on the radio, and is patched in on our telephone and would like to talk to you."

The captain then related that on take off from Boston he heard a loud "clunk" from the area of the nose landing gear just below him, and that the nose gear would neither retract nor extend. On fly-by past the control tower at Boston, the people there reported that the nose gear was hanging down at about a forty-five degree angle

I instantly knew that there had been a failure of the nose gear retract cylinder. We had been finding cracks in the end where the actuating cylinder attaches to the landing gear, and we had instituted checks for such cracks on all of the affected airplanes along with re-rigging of the actuating cylinder. Those checks had not yet been completed on the entire fleet, but I was surprised that the crack problem had progressed so far that apparently the actuator attachment piece had failed.

Flight Operations people were now patched into this conversation, and after my assessment it was obvious that the captain should be prepared to make a landing with no nose landing gear in place. After further discussion it was decided that the best place for the landing would be at JFK, as the landing could be made there on a runway that would be covered with fire-retardant foam. All these discussions took at least forty minutes to an hour before the flight started heading toward New York. While enroute, the captain asked that I remain on the telephone in case some other technical problem might arise.

So that left me sitting there in my kitchen with the telephone at my ear for another half-hour. In the meantime, some engineering supervisors wanted to get involved but couldn't get in on the line, so my wife had been running next door to use the neighbor's phone to tell them what was going on.

The landing at JFK was successful and there were no injuries to anyone on board, although I can imagine there were quite a few worries. Damage to the airplane was minimal and about what we expected, and the airplane was repaired and returned to service. In the meantime the fleet-wide inspections of the nose landing gear actuating cylinders and remedial actions were accelerated.

And as I recall (much to my neighbor’s relief), there also were some improvements made to the coordinator’s telephone connection system.

Keith Horton (1941-1983) served in Maintenance/Tech Services - Engineering and Field Maintenance, Kansas City.

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