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(moved/edited) Mechanical problems 737s on Arctic coast


Mission, TX
When assigned to bush operations for Wien, I always made it a practice to observe landings and departures of our aircraft no matter what size they were. Probably more so for just wishing I was sitting in the left seat. A guy can dream you know. This probably came from my pilot training with the J-3s and the PA-18.

On this inbound 737 flight to Barrow one winter it was no different. It looked like a normal landing and taxi back. As she left the runway after a 180 degree turnaround on the runway and onto an angled taxiway, the aircraft was headed more or less toward our terminal. I noticed the outboard tire assembly on the right main truck was leaning over at maybe 60 degrees or so. Since it didn't seem to be wobbling and the tire was holding the same degree of lean, I did not try to stop the taxi. Once parked at our terminal, I went over to look and what I had seen was true so I went over to an area where the Captain could see me and I pointed to the gear and motioned him down. Needless to say, one of the crew would have came down anyway for the normal walkaround but I asked for the Captain first on this one.

There was a little smoke (or steam) from the right gear area.

It was unbelievable what we found.

The tire and rim assembly had almost entirely came off the axle, the threads were all screwed up, all the brake disks were pulled apart but all still on the axle but unusable. Needless to say, the brake on that wheel assembly would not work but there was no sign of hydraulic oil leakage thank goodness. A brake fire at Barrow could have been disastrous. Keep in mind that Barrow was the furthermost north commercial jet aircraft airport in Continental US and absolutely no fire equipment. At least we had plenty of the good old ABC blue fire extinguishers close by and everyone had been trained never to use a red extinguisher on a brake fire. All we would need is to have a break assembly explode from CO2 powder.
The Captain immediately went inside and called our dispatcher in Anchorage and reported the problem. They scrounged up another 737 in the middle of the night and crew to fly to Barrow and complete the trip and bring in mechanics to take it all apart and to find out what all would be needed. They also brought in a full load of cargo and mail so it was a paying trip also and they took all of our passengers out.

Durring the entire repair process, the APU was left running to keep heat in the aircraft so it wouldn't freeze up. If I recall right, and I might be wrong here, the cockpit crew stayed with the aircraft but the flight attendants went out on the repair flight because we knew it would be a ferry flight out.

What they found was that no grease had been applied to the outer bearing when the wheel assembly had been removed and reinstalled for normal maintenance 4 cycles prior to the landing at Barrow. The bearing got so hot it seized to the washer which froze to the locking ring which broke off the retainer catch and than that seized to the wheel nut and spun it off. That allowed the wheel assemble to have a head of it's own but at least it stayed on the truck.

Maintenance knew they were going to have to replace the gear yoke but for a ferry flight, they decided to just rethread the axle, remove the breaking assembly and put it back together and only run with 50% brakes back to Anchorage, after all, a 10,000 foot runway and an empty aircraft with minimum fuel. I forget just how long it took but suspect about 2 or 3 days before it headed to Anchorage where it sat until we could get in a new gear yoke flown in from Boeing. A main gear yoke is not an item an airline our size would normally have in inventory. If I recall right at that time, a 737 gear yoke cost about $180,000. Expensive grease job. The name of the mechanic was never released to most of management so I have no idea who screwed up. Since no one seemed to leave the maintenance work force, I suspect he/she was not fired. Don't worry folks, he/she probably is not pulling wrenches any more due to age.

As a side note, it became interesting for us in Barrow. A wide open 737, APU running with heat and electrical power, no one on board and a town with a bunch of kids that would do anything for fun in 24 hour darkness and it does not take a key to really screw up a Boeing aircraft. Between my wife and I, we kept constant watch on that aircraft over night while it was there. She and I had done that with up to 3 737s overnight one time. At that time in the bush, there was no airport security at all. It was up to the airline to provide their own security. It was always gratifying to me when some of my employees would stop by and offer to pull a few hours so we could get some rest. That is really an aviation team and I never forgot their offers when they needed something special.

Fuel leak problem 737 at Prudhoe Bay, Deadhorse airport.

On this inbound flight, landing looked normal until the engines were shut down at the terminal. Usually on our 737s, there was always a little (two tablespoons) fuel dumped from a drain on every shutdown but this time, it was like gallons.

Again, I pointed toward an engine and motioned for the Captain to come down. I told him what I had seen so the three of us went over to the right engine and opened up the cawling which is not normally done on a quick turnaround in the bush. As the door swung down, maybe 5 gals of jet fuel dropped on the ramp and even that much was hard to see in the snow and have always wondered had I not seen it happen if the crew would have caught it in the snow. At this point, I could have been fined thousands of dollars in addition to the fine to Wien for not reporting a fuel spill on the North Slope. I was lucky maybe? Of course, but Wien was the only airline those around us could fly out on. As I recall, I had my employees rush in with shovels to move the jet fuel contaminated snow away before the airport manager stopped by. When the fuel fell, I looked at the Captain and as I recall, his face went white as a sheet. Later he sent the first officer topside to spin the engine up but without ignition engaged. I suspect the Captain may have repeated "no ignition" several times to the first officer, I know I would have. Even hand propping a J-3, I always made it a point of asking twice if the ignition was off even with my CFI. Immediately we saw where the fuel was coming from on the 737 so the captain signaled me to cut it so I motioned the first officer to shut it down. The main high pressure fuel pump was leaking. Later it was found that a $.50 "O" ring had failed. Woops, in aviation, a $.50 "O" ring costs $150 or more. (an example: the outside wheel bearing on a C-46 is the exact same thing as the bearing on Mack trucks of the 50s and 60s only for the truck, it is like $50 and for the C-46, it is over $800. Both carry the exact same part numbers except the letter A is added for the C-46)
Had conditions been just right in flight or even on the ground actually, it would have taken almost nothing to light it off. My personal opinion is that because of the cold temperatures at the Deadhorse Airport in the winter and the fact that the engine had been at idle durring decent and taxi in, the temps had gone down so possibility of fire was really reduced.

Again, another 737 was scrounged up with crew and a load of cargo and mechanic were flown to Deadhorse and than we loaded up all the passengers and off they go. Replacing a high pressure fuel pump on the P&W engines we were using was no big problem even though it was outside in the windy cold winter time and in the dark. As I have often said, it was our mechanics that were the real heroes that kept our airline flying.

Hey Ernie,

Back online. Any luck with those pictures? I give up trying to post, I even broke the cardinal bush pilot rule and read the instructions Sure tried to get a few more today, but the weather and dispatch was not giving a inch for the cause.
This week I promise something, soon, honest.

Re: Hello

mghallen said:
Hey Ernie,

Back online. Any luck with those pictures? I give up trying to post, I even broke the cardinal bush pilot rule and read the instructions Sure tried to get a few more today, but the weather and dispatch was not giving a inch for the cause.
This week I promise something, soon, honest.

I haven't uploaded them yet Mike. Shortly. When I get it done, I will post a link to them on my Dahl Creek story so you will get an alert when they are there. Also, I will send you a seperate e-mail.
Not to worry about the new photos. If and when you can do it, I will really appreciate it.