Pull in the Anchor, Will Ya?

by Phil Rowe

We started engines and completed the remainder of the checklist prior to taxi-out. The crew chief, standing at the nose of our sleek supersonic B-58, held up four streamers indicating that the two main gear, nose gear and bomb pod safety pins were removed. Then he signaled to his assistants to remove the wheel chocks. Finally, he waved us forward as we started to taxi from the parking area.

My pilot pushed the throttles forward to start us rolling, then applied the brakes to make sure they worked. Everything seemed proper, so he again applied power and we rolled out towards the runway.

At the #1 line-up position, near the end of the runway, our crew chief made his final final checks. We again did the flight control systems checks. Everything was normal, and in traditional fashion the crew chief saluted upon completing his final walk-around. We were ready for take-off.

The tower cleared us to take the active runway. We moved into position, ready to roar down 12,500 feet of runway for our 8000 foot take-off roll. We'd achieve 195 miles per hour before lifting the nose skyward.

At Rotate Speed, my pilot gently pulled back on the stick. Smoothly and swiftly we became airborne, accelerating rapidly. Our four jet engines were in full after-burner as we roared off into the clear winter sky.

Shortly after lift-off we completed the After Take-Off Checklist and continued our climb-out on course. We planned to accelerate and climb until reaching Mach 0.91 and then hold that speed on reaching cruise altitude.

But, the bird didn't want to get up to speed. Our fuel flow was 30 percent higher than normal, and still we couldn't achieve our target Mach number. We were barely at Mach 0.80. Something was wrong.

We became quite concerned. From my aft station, I monitored the fuel system. Fuel consumption was alarmingly high. We checked and double-checked everything to find the problem. We notified Air Traffic Control that we would not be continuing on our planned route. We elected to orbit over our base while trying to figure out the problem.

In the busy period immediately following take-off, my pilot failed to catch the cues of our landing gear position indicators. When he moved the landing gear lever to the UP position, the gear started up, the green lights for Wheels Down went out normally. Somehow, he didn't notice that the gear position indicators showed only the intermediate position, between down and up. Our right main gear was somewhere in between down and retracted.

That explained our inability to accelerate. The partially extended gear created extraordinary drag and slowed our climb dramatically. It felt like the anchor was still down.

Now we had a more serious concern. Could we get the gear down again to make a safe landing? If not, we faced a messy touchdown.

I notified the Command Post of our problem and gave them our assessment of where things stood. They decided to divert another plane, then practicing take-offs and landings in the area, to look us over and check the status of our landing gear.

Soon the other plane was along side. Its pilot advised thatour right main gear was only partly retracted. The nose gear and other main gear appeared to be fully retracted. That confirmed our suspicions.

While the other pilot watched, we attempted to fully lower our gear, while staying at slow cruise speed, below the maximum allowed for gear-extended flight. With a sigh of relief, my pilot declared that he had a fully down and locked indication for all three gear. The chase pilot confirmed the full-down wheels.

We then dumped fuel, to achieve a light landing weight, and began our approach to the runway. Everything seemed okay. We made an uneventful touchdown. In fact, my pilot made an exceptionally smooth landing.

When reaching the end of the runway, we taxied clear. Our anxious crew chief was there to make another check of his airplane. All was not normal, except a pin was still stuck in the socket of the right main gear. Though my pilot had been shown four streamers, they really only held three pins. One streamer had become detached from the fourth pin and it was still in the right main gear.

We were lucky that nothing more serious happened than a very embarrassed crew chief. If that remaining pin had bent or deformed the socket, we might have had a very messy landing.

The lesson for all is :

Don't merely check for streamers.... Check for pins!