Sunday, May 08, 2005

My long, interesting Saturday

Yesterday was day two of an overnight trip to Billings. We had a 5:15AM (mountain time) show time for a 6AM departure from Billings to Seattle, followed by SEA-GEG-SEA-GEG-SEA-GEG, followed by a deadhead to Portland. I woke up tired and wasn't at all looking forward to what looked like a long, hard day.

After we landed in Spokane on our fourth leg, a ramper came onto the airplane and informed us that our left outboard brake appeared to be smoking. Chuck (the captain) and I took a look; sure enough, there was some residual smoke even though we could remember no hard braking on the previous landing. We had maintenance take a look at it, & they said it looked perfectly fine, and sent us on our way.

After landing in Seattle, Chuck checked the brake out; no smoke this time. We loaded up and pushed back for our departure ontime, which I was really hoping for so I would make the tight connection for my deadhead to Portland. As we began taxiing, it felt like the brake was grabbing, but then it smoothed out and we completed the Before Takeoff checklist.

We were close to the departure end of the runway when the FA's called. "The passengers are freaking out back here, the wheel is smoking again...really good this time. One of them is a pilot and he says it's definately abnormal." Crap. So much for making that deadhead. We contacted maintenance control & they agreed that a return to gate was prudent. We were met there by several trucks from the airport fire department. They requested that we deplane everyone immediately so they could hose down the hot brake & tire assembly. As I stepped outside, I looked aghast at the outboard left main tire: it was flat, with the fuse plugs blown, and sitting on the rim at a crazy angle. Skydrol hydraulic fluid was pooled under the airplane.

As he got off, a jetBlue pilot who had originally warned the FA's about the smoke pulled me aside and told me that he saw several large peices of brake depart the airplane as we were taxiing back. I called ground control & told them that; soon, airport ops brought back several six-inch long peices of metal formerly belonging to the brake assembly. It had essentially disintegrated, and in the processed it had heated the tire hot enough to blow the fuse plugs.

I'm glad that the jetBlue pilot and other passengers said something, because my airplane has no sensor that warns of brake or tire overtemp. After takeoff, the hot brake could've started a tire/wheelwell fire, or the assembly could've come apart on landing in Spokane. Or the tire could've blown on takeoff, causing a high-speed abort. You always hear about hilarious passenger warnings (somebody seated right next to the prop will warn about "a thumping sound!") but in this case observant pax were a great help.

We were able to take another plane to Spokane, although I had to take a later deadhead and didn't get to Portland until 7PM. As an aside, my mom and two siblings are here, visiting on their way back from Kwigillingok, Alaska. Today we went to the coast & took mom out for seafood for mother's day.