• Delays

    So, on we go to some delays that I have known. We can start with one that I myself created! One fine morning, while doing my walk around inspection as flight engineer on one of those first-flights-of-the-day that we were often so obsessed with getting out on time, I was inspecting the tires of my shiny Boeing 727. It was always my wont to inspect the tires closely, since they were and are a very important portion of the collection of parts known as the airplane. Any damage to tires that is sufficient to be noticed is worthy of close examination, and this includes the small pebbles and shards of detritus that are often pressed against the tire surface as it rolls over the tarmac. I always took care to brush such things off the tire, lest they possibly come off on their own during takeoff and fly into one of the engines.


    On this day I saw what appeared to be a small pebble, about half the diameter of a dime, adhering to the surface of one of the main gear tires. As I attempted to brush it off by hand, I was surprised to notice that it did not budge; in fact, it resisted all of my efforts to dislodge it. Closer examination (my eyesight was perfect back then!) revealed that it was not of mineral origin, but rather metal; and it appeared to have penetrated the tire to a significant depth. This was now out of my league, as far as an immediate fix was concerned, so I called maintenance and the ensuing delay began. The mechanic immediately confirmed my suspicion that this metallic bit was only the tip of the iceberg. They began to change the tire, and when they had finished and managed to extract the offending bit of FOD (Foreign Object Damage) I was informed that what I had detected was a 5 inch bolt that had completely penetrated the tire, with only a small pebble-like remnant visible on the outside. It had apparently been there for at least one previous flight! Attention to detail paid off that day, but we were delayed some 30 minutes in the process.

    Delays - long and distinguished

    Fast forward many years, to the apex of my career in the left seat. We were bound for Rome one evening, and the lineup for takeoff was, as Goose in Top Gun might have said, "long and distinguished!" So long, in fact, that we would be able to shut down an engine while waiting, since we would be stationary for at least 30 minutes, and possibly more. But to our great surprise, the selected engine would not shut down! Now ordinarily this sort of dedication might be applauded - the little airplane that could, with engines that just would not quit. But the inability to shut down an engine is indicative of serious problems within it; and what might possibly ensue should we actually need to shut it down, perhaps for a fire or other failure?

    We had immediate recourse to maintenance, via radio, who offered various ideas to get the engine stopped, none of which worked and one of which, pulling the fire handle, I declined to do lest we might not get it started again to taxi back to the gate (we were well overweight for single engine taxi). By this time I was determined to get the airplane inspected more closely and get the problem definitively fixed. So I imparted to Ground Control the sad news that we had to return, only to be told that since we were nowhere near an intersecting taxiway from which we could escape the conga line, it would be a good hour before our part of the gaggle might begin moving enough to get us headed home.

    The Conga Line

    And so it was. Once we got to the gate, it turned out to be a matter of replacing a stuck fuel valve, which was a 30 minute job, and then we joined the conga line again. By now, of course, most of the line had long since taken off, so our delay was relatively minor, but we were over 3 hours late compared to our original schedule. There are never winds sufficient to overcome a three hour delay, and so it was that we were three hours late arriving in Rome. It was one of the stranger situations I ever encountered - the inability to shut down an engine.

    Tags: delays

    1. allanj12's Avatar
      allanj12 -
      Thanks for sharing the reminiscences, Tony. They brought back one or two shudders of my own travels!
    1. jgmustang's Avatar
      jgmustang -
      Amtrak might take longer, but it is a lot more fun.
    1. dbauder's Avatar
      dbauder -
      Tony, thanks for the anecdotes. As a retired Captain, I believe every one, been there done that, to an extent. I created my own delay one day. I was to take off from Tampa Florida (KTPA) one January morning and there was some frost on the wings. I asked the Agent what deicing was available and she laughed. She said the Captain the previous morning parked uphill on the crossover bridge (not on the actual bridge). Therefore, we were facing west and the wings were fully facing the sun in the east. It only took twenty minutes to 'defrost'.
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