Mar 14, 2007

When Takeoffs Go Bad...

Log Entry 1976 - B727 Second Officer - KLAX - RWY 24 L

“GooseAir One, abort the takeoff, there’s a truck on the runway. Abort the takeoff!” We didn’t need to hear it twice. At the word, ‘abort,' Captain Gregg slammed the B727 thrust levers closed, yanked the ground spoiler lever back and began stomping on both brakes as hard as he could. First Officer Erwing yanked the reverse thrust levers to the vertical detents. Amber lights illuminated on the panel and he called “Reverse deployed.” Then Captain Gregg took over the levers and hauled fully back on all three. Or at least he tried.

Maybe it was because he was accustomed to just two reversers on the DC-9. Maybe he hadn’t adequately adjusted his grip to the longer throw of these Boeing levers. Or maybe in the darkness of the late night his hand just slipped. For whatever reason, engine three reverser stayed at idle while one and two suddenly flared to full negative thrust. I watched helplessly from the Second Oficer’s seat as FO Erwing fumbled along with Captain Gregg, to re-establish symmetrical thrust.

Meanwhile with Captain Gregg distracted, the imbalanced thrust tugged the ponderous ‘twenty-seven’ into a swerve towards the left side runway lights which were blurring past our windows. We heard a sickening screech from our nosewheel as the captain tried to compensate with the rudder pedals. Books and flight bags and everything else not tied down began tumbling and crashing to the floor. We felt more than heard the rumbling and shaking as our left main wheels wandered off the concrete.

Our landing light beams swept over the dark gray pavement revealing scattered tire marks and painted runway lines. They seemed to swirl past the first officer’s window now as the aircraft yawed wildly to the right while we kept skidding off the left edge of the pavement further into the "grass". An old driving school lesson arose from side B of that eight-track in my head; "steer into the skid." Too late.

The airplane finally shuddered to a halt off the left side of the runway heading ninety degrees across it. We all sat there in stunned silence.

All of us that is except the instructor. “Well, that was a heck of a ride,” he chuckled as he reached forward and began pushing levers and controls back into the neutral position then quickly tapped commands into his control box.

“Thank God for flight simulators.”

The visual system flashed blank for a moment, then swooped us back into our original takeoff starting point at the button of the runway.

“Set the parking brake for a second Captain. We'll reconfigure and try that again.”

So went my introduction to rejected takeoffs in an airliner. The instructor was right. It was a heck of a ride. I was shocked by the deceleration rate of this 200,000 lb. (90,000 kg.) aircraft. Albeit, simulated, but the point of simulation after all, is to give an accurate representation of the event. I had literally been hanging by my seatbelt as my shoes scrabbled to find grip on the metal floor. My pen and fuel log and other items had skidded off the work table and now we retrieved them from behind the rudder pedals. Even my headset had almost fallen off but I'd just managed to grab it. It all happened so fast.

We went on to perfect the rejected takeoff maneuver for the Boeing 727. The rest of our conversion training course was thankfully much more routine.

Sometimes rejected (i.e. aborted) takeoffs go wrong in reality as well:


ChtroumfReacteur said...

Is there a reason why the simulation was out of LAX instead of say your home base?

Aluwings said...

Like many airlines, GooseAir routinely rents simulator time from other companies to handle times of increased demand. And they also sell their own extra simulator time when it occurs.

In this case we were being trained in a Continental Airlines facility. For financial reasons, each company equips their simulators with those airports that are of most interest to their own operation - in this case LAX.

Chris said...

You had me going there for a minute!

Aluwings said...

Sorry Chris. I know it was a little 'gimmicky' ... but it's surprising how much the simulator can get the adrenaline flowing. And with the increasing fidelity of the newest models, it's getting more and more convincing. It's common to see people flinching and ducking at simulated bird strikes for example. (no pun intended...)