A Smooth Landing
The flight into the Tri-cities area was uneventful, and the weather was good on this bright sunny day in 1967. Aboard the Piedmont Airlines FH227 A/C was a seasoned captain, (who shall remain nameless) a young airman in the right seat (called a copilot in those days - before they invented the politically correct term “first officer”), an Avionics supervisor riding jump seat and a half cabin of passengers.
The Avionics person was W. E. (Bill) Sebastian known also as “Sebo.” Riding jump seat on the FH227 A/C had become a “second“ job function of Sebo’s since Piedmont had put the new plane into revenue service. This new A/C was the most advanced and sophisticated A/C that Piedmont had flown, and in fact was probably more modern and fully equipped than most any of the other Airlines, including the “big boys.” Sebo was riding jump seat several days a month, to document any avionic squawks for troubleshooting, and to explain the Avionics systems to the pilots...many of which had never flown with such hi-tech Avionics systems.
To understand the following incidents and actions fully, one must be familiar with the “jump seat” configuration on the FH-227. This A/C had a small cockpit and very little room for a jump seat. However, regulations require all aircraft used in “airline service” to have jump seats for check pilots and/or FAA inspectors. The captain and copilot seats backed up to the circuit breaker panels and the only place for the jump seat was just inside the cockpit. The cockpit door served as the seat “back,” with the “seat” wedged between the circuit breaker panels. When riding jump seat on the FH-227, the “rider” was almost “shoulder to shoulder” with the two pilots (just slightly aft) and very aware of the actions taking place in the cockpit.
Although the weather on this day was very good, the captain instructed the copilot to make an instrument approach. Making the “practice” Instrument approaches were routine when Sebo was on board, as he could observe any system abnormalities and answer any pilot questions about the new ”hi-tech” Autopilot and Flight Director approach systems.
The rest of this story...in Sebo’s own words:
“As we started the approach, I thought...this must be this copilot’s first flight. I had to show him how to program the Flight Director. Then, when the captain told him to turn off the Autopilot, and fly the Flight Director “manually”, things got kinda hairy. As soon as the copilot turned off the Autopilot, he started “chasing” the Flight Director command bars, (resulting in not staying on the localizer or the glide path tracks). Also, he failed to set the MDA (minimum decision altitude) on the radio altimeter.
Concerned that the copilot would lose confidence in the systems...and maybe make a rash action, I made up a little white lie. I said to the captain “I believe the field ILS (instrument landing system) is screwed up and maybe we ought to break off the ILS (Flight Director) approach and complete the approach manually.”
Agreeing, the captain told the copilot to forget the Flight Director and land the A/C visually. As the approach continued, the captain began reading the “final before landing” checklist. Although somewhat apprehensive at the beginning of the approach, I now felt relaxed, and settled back for a routine landing.
The copilot made the initial touchdown on the mains (landing gear), and after “greasing” it on, he gently eased the A/C onto the nose wheel. While reaching for the guarded prop switches, the captain took control of the A/C and pulled the throttles back. So far the run out and slowing down process was routine. All my earlier concerns were gone ... I was really impressed with the co-pilot’s very smooth landing.
Suddenly all h--l broke loose... the captain was screaming.. We’ve had it, da--, !#?&...you name it. Any curse words that seemed to indicate that we were in deep doop were exclaimed. Those loudly exclaimed “expressions” by the captain jolted me into a state of terror. Now to increase my horror, the A/C was angling off the runway toward the grassy median strip...one wheel was almost in the grass. The captain was jerking at the throttles, reaching to switches on the “pedestal” panel, and “seemingly” trying to steer the A/C with the nose wheel small “steering wheel” on the left console....all the while screaming and cursing!
My thoughts were racing at the speed of light...what was happening? The copilot had made a superb landing, avoiding the sometimes hard jolt (as was common on this A/C) as the A/C transferred its momentum and weight shift to the nose gear.
Strange as it may seem, at that instant, I could see my father talking to me. In the past months I had told him all about the FAA mandatory test flights necessary to certify the A/C and how we had gone to extremes to prove the airworthiness. He told me one day, ‘Son, I worry about you...they’re gonna scrape you off a mountain side if you’re not careful.’
The next instant I thought, no dad, I’ll beat the odds today if I can just get out of this A/C before it crashes and burns. My next thoughts were to unbuckle and get out of the jump seat and get the cockpit door open. Now get to the large cargo door...could I get it open? Wasn’t there some safety interlock to prevent it being opened...until they threw the prop brake switches? I wondered if I got the cargo door up could I jump out and not get hit by the prop? If my brain had been a computer hard drive...it would have crashed. Looking back, its hard to believe that the human mind can think of so many things in such a short span, as all of this “thinking” only covered a few micro seconds of actual time. Contrary to other people reporting that their lives flashed before their eyes during times of great stress or danger, my only thoughts were how could I save my “rear end.”
But, before I could start my evasive actions to survive this “terrible crash” and unsnap my seatbelt, the nightmare quickly ended. After steering the A/C back to the middle of the runway, the captain picked up the mike and began talking to the FAA control tower and to the Piedmont operations office in a matter of fact manner. Once that radio contact was completed, he instructed the copilot to begin reading the after landing checklist while taxing toward the terminal. Being an experienced jump seat rider, I knew not to speak while the A/C was taxing into position and the completion of the check list was going on. (I’m not sure I could speak ...even if I had tried.)
Once the passengers deplaned, the captain, copilot and I left the A/C and went into the operations office. Finally, after wandering through the terminal and heading back to the A/C, I asked the captain, “What was that all about, back there during the landing?”
“Oh, I missed the prop switches at touchdown,” answered the captain.
“But why all the commotion?” I asked.
“Thought we had blown both engines...because of the TGT indication when the prop switches are not thrown properly,” the captain replied.
(Leaving the technical stuff to the experts) an “over simplified” technical review of this A/C follows:
By nature of its design, This Aircraft has certain characteristics that require specific procedures. The FH27 Rolls Royce engines have Ground Fine Pitch propellers. The system has a solenoid operated stop in the prop hub that limits minimum blade angles (Ground Fine Pitch) for Flight Operation. With this fine pitch, the blades have no “bite” and would be disastrous in Flight.
After touchdown, the pilot activates “switches” to select Ground Fine and this action removes the pitch lock and allows the prop to assume a Zero blade angle (Ground Fine) to reduce the load on the engine. This Zero angle also produces some aerodynamic drag to help slow the aircraft after touchdown. In many cases, the Pilot will increase the RPM (add power by increasing throttle) after selecting Ground Fine to increase the drag to further reduce the ground speed.
Failure to select Ground Fine Pitch (leaving the blades in a coarse angle) would bog the engine down and quickly over temp the engines. Increasing the RPM (to increase drag) while in the coarse angle would greatly increase the possibility of overheating the engines.
As was the case in this landing, the switches were not activated and the “Ground Fine” position was locked out - resulting in excessive heat. This excessive heat was reflected as TGT (Turbine Gas Temperature) indication (increasing dramatically) on the cockpit engine gauges. If this condition is not corrected quickly, (which the captain did) he would have probably destroyed the engines.
“What made us veer off the runway,” I asked?
“We didn’t veer off, I was steering us off the runway, thinking we had lost both engines,” the captain replied. Consequently, we would be stuck on the runway,
and I didn’t want the runway to be closed to other A/C,”
Completely dumbfounded, I thought silently...gee!...what a dedicated pilot...or what a darn fool!
I believe I remember having a headache late into the night!”
W. E. Sebastian - March 14, 2000 firstname.lastname@example.org