Air Stair Millionaires

ac 727Air Stair Millionaires
By Sam Longo AME A&P
Boeings B727 “Whisperjet” was a watershed aircraft, introduced after its tried and true B707. With strong sales, over 1800 were manufactured between 1963 and 1984.The Company incorporated many innovative concepts into its winning design. With three Pratt and Whitney JT8D’s adorning its tail and its APU nestled neatly between the main gear wheel wells, the trailing end of the fuselage allowed room for the first retractable aft “air stair”. The airline operators loved the design allowing passenger to board without the aid of additional airport equipment, especially handy at smaller airports. In fact, during the early 1970’s a number of very entrepreneurial, gutsy passengers made the 727 their unequivocal aircraft of choice!
On November 24, 1971, in Portland Oregon, one such passenger, Dan Cooper was the last person to purchase a ticket on Flight 305 bound for Seattle Washington. Before he paid his $20 for the one way ticket he asked the agent to confirm that the Northwest Orient flight was flying a Boeing 727. With no other luggage he grabbed his briefcase and climbed aboard. It was a light load with 36 passengers and 6 crew members, so he settled himself into one of the aft seats closest to the rear door.
Once airborne he passed the flight attendant a note indicating that he had a bomb in his briefcase and was high jacking the aircraft. He demanded $200,000.00, two parachutes and a refueling truck ready to meet them in Seattle. In exchange he would release all passengers. The aircraft circled for a few hours while the FBI and Northwest Orient scrambled to meet his requests. The plane landed, the money and parachutes were supplied and the passengers released. After refueling, he kept one Flight Attendant and three Flight Crew members on board. The plane then departed south, destination Mexico.
Using the inflight interphone, he gave the pilots specific flight instructions, 15 degrees of flap, with gear down, maintaining 10,000 feet, without pressurizing the cabin. This made for a very slow airspeed (approx. 120 MPH) and high rate of fuel burn. After a quick lesson from the flight attendant on how to operate the aft air stair, he sent her forward to the cockpit. At around 8pm, somewhere over the wilds of Washington State, the flight crew saw the aft air stair “open light” illuminate. With the money tied around his waist (1.16 million in 2014 dollars) he jumped into the cold (-57 degree C) stormy night sky and vanished forever. The legend of D.B. Cooper had begun, and with it the floodgates of 727 “skyjacking” was opened wide.
The following April, Richard McCoy Jr. a former Army Green Beret, successfully sky-jacked a United 727 and bailed out over Utah with $500,000 in ransom money. He was arrested two days later after landing safely. With the new “Air Piracy” laws freshly minted he just missed the death penalty and got 45 years in prison. After escaping from prison three years later he was killed in a gun battle with authorities.
In all, a total of 15 “copycat” hijackings similar to Cooper’s were attempted with varying degrees of success in 1972 alone. All were killed or captured except for D.B. Cooper. The other 16 hijackings in that year were almost all diversions to Cuba.
The Cooper incident and others like it that year marked the beginning of baggage and carry on checks, thus ending the carefree aircraft boarding some of us may still remember. In 1973 the FAA made searching bags and passengers mandatory. In addition, the FAA required all Boeing 727’s to be retro-fitted with a “weather vane” type device that would not allow the door to open in flight, subsequently named the “Cooper vane”.
As for the legend of D.B. Cooper, despite an exhaustive investigation the case remains the only unsolved sky piracy case in aviation history. Only two pieces of concrete evidence were ever found in the large potential drop zone. In 1978 a hunter found a placard containing instructions for lowering the aft air stairs of a 727 near Castle Rock, Washington. Then in February of 1980 an eight-year-old boy, Brian Ingram, uncovered three packets of partially decomposed money in the sand banks of the Columbia River, 14 km downstream of Vancouver, Washington. These packets of $20 bills had the serial numbers verifying them as Cooper’s ransom money, totalling $5,800.00.
Even young Brian never quite became a millionaire. In 1986 after lengthy negotiations the recovered bills were divided between Ingram and Northwest Orient’s insurer. In 2008 Brian Ingram sold fifteen of his bills at auction for $37,000. The Northwest Orient 727 “N467US” changed hands a few times and was unceremoniously scrapped in 1996 for parts in a Memphis boneyard.
As for Mr. Cooper, his fate remains a mystery. Did he perish that dark, stormy night in 1971 or is there a very old man in a rocking chair somewhere reading this column, quietly praising the qualities of Boeings 727 with a wry, wrinkled smile on his wind weathered face?
For more published writing by Sam Longo go to http://www.samlongo.com

Whirling Wonders

IMG_0107Whirling Wonders
By Sam Longo AME A&P
I vividly recall my first class in Propeller Theory. Mr. Urch, our stalwart Aircraft Maintenance Professor posed a seemingly simple technical question to our group. “What is the purpose of the propeller?” All the keeners raised their hands and one responded with the appropriate response “to provide thrust, Sir.” Wrong, bellowed our wise instructor; “Its function is to keep the pilot cool… just watch him sweat if it ever stops!”
Perspiring pilots aside, the aircraft propeller is a complex whirling wonder that has evolved over the history of aviation to match and enhance the improvements in engines and airframes. Early attempts at propeller construction were crudely twisted metal akin to lawn mower blades bent to angles based more on whim and luck than science.
The Wright brothers figured out early on after testing wings in their makeshift wind tunnel, that propellers must follow the same concepts as airfoils. They were greatly disappointed to find very little concrete scientific data even when they researched marine propellers and so the seemingly black art of propeller design began.
With a wing or airfoil, efficient lift requires a somewhat narrow angle of attack (the angle in which the leading edge meets the airflow). This optimum angle can be controlled by the pitch inputs the pilot chooses with his control column. Too much angle and the wing stalls destroying the lift and potentially the aircraft! Propellers however live in a much more complex combination and variation of airflows. Simply put, the speed of the rotating propeller blade creates one angle of attack and the forward speed of the aircraft creates another variable angle. The resultant vector angle is constantly changing with engine speed and aircraft speed.
Add to all this that blade tip speeds must be kept to subsonic speeds requiring a constraining check of blade length and max rpm. This in turn requires relatively low prop rpm (max 2500, give or take) and/or multiple shorter blades and the whole scenario becomes an engineering whirling dervish!
The bottom line is that even a modern well engineered wooden or metal, fixed-pitch-propeller is a compromise by its very design. Ideally an aircraft would like a finer pitch for take-off and climb and a coarser pitch for cruise flight. Once the pioneers figured this out many weird and wonderful moveable pitch propellers began to appear, some more successful than others.
Hamilton Standards solution was simple and elegant. Their two position counterweight propellers were a revolution. Engine oil pressure drove the blades to fine pitch and counterweights drove the blades to coarse pitch. By controlling the oil flow to the propeller via a selector valve the pilot now had the best of both worlds. Add to this the ability to fine tune the high and low pitch stops within the counterweights and it was propeller bliss.
The Second World War was a watershed for aviation design. The large radials and high horsepower V-12 engines required a more sophisticated solution to greater thrust and faster aircraft speeds. The Constant Speed propeller was the next logical step. By using a governor to sense engine rpm the prop could now maintain a large variation of blade angles constantly changing to optimise aircraft performance. In essence it was akin to moving from a car with a two speed manual transmission to one with a modern CVT.
Again Hamilton Standard produced the state of the art Hydromatic Propeller. Using a governor with boosted oil pressure working against the constant of engine oil pressure within its instantly recognized metal dome, it was reliable and efficient with the added benefit of feathering the propeller in flight. A feature that saved many air crews lives while returning from bombing runs with damaged aircraft and engines out of service.
The Hydromatic became the propeller of choice when hostilities ended and the golden age of piston powered airliners began and flourished. Its roots and concepts soldier on today with state of the art composite blade propellers mated to modern turbo prop aircraft. While high bypass turbine engines reign supreme at high altitudes for long transcontinental flights, turbine driven propeller aircraft still rule the low to medium altitude skies. They are also more efficient at slowing an aircraft on landing roll with the use of reverse pitch, another modern propeller enhancement that greatly improves STOL performance.
Propeller technology continues to improve. Just as in the latest airframes, modern composite materials are making them lighter, quieter and more efficient. Evolution is a wonderful thing, which brings to mind another propeller memory from my early days at Nordair.
As a young apprentice mechanic, I was getting an FH227 ready for departure at a gate at Dorval Airport. Its Rolls Royce Dart engines and large Dowty Rotol propellers were notoriously noisy as many regular passengers knew. The ear-bleeding, high pitched whine of the props at takeoff rpm could be quite uncomfortable. As the passengers filed past me on the open tarmac one of them begged to purchase my ear defenders. Unfortunately for him, I declined.
Fast forward to today, as a modern Bombardier Q-400 climbs skyward from Toronto’s Island Airport, its passengers are barely aware of the rubber band-quiet composite propellers churning away just outside their window. A testament to how good they have become and yet another technology that modern travellers quietly take for granted.
For more published writing by Sam Longo go to http://www.samlongo.com

Latest column from AMU Magazine

Record Radial Reflections

By Sam Longo — January 24, 2014

Record Radial Reflections

Radial aircraft engines have been droning through the skies since the dawn of powered flight. Despite new technologies that eclipse their early designs, they continue to serve. Two of these engines in particular stand out as milestone motors, forever ensconced in the history of aviation.

In the pre-dawn of July 25, 1909 Louis Blériot readied his fragile monoplane for flight, and after adjusting his helmet and goggles, he tied his crutches to the fuselage, necessary after recent flying misadventures. His mechanic pulled the prop through and the fragile three-cylinder Anzani engine sputtered to life. A small dog barking angrily ran into the whirling six-foot propeller and was killed instantly. Many witnesses felt this to be a bad omen for the precarious flight.

Before his final takeoff roll, the engine was liberally doused with castor oil and his mechanic reminded him to manually pump every three minutes to maintain the pressure. With 17 litres of fuel on board and no navigational instruments he was airborne at 4:41 a.m., just as the sun was breaking the horizon.

Alessandro Anzani was a former Italian bicycle racer who manufactured twin cylinder motorcycles before venturing into aircraft engines. His three-cylinder experimental model in the Blériot monoplane was prone to overheating. Its 206 cubic inches produced 24.5 horsepower at 1600 rpm. Part of the overheating problem was due to the fact that only the top part of the cylinders had cooling fins, and this very nearly ended Mr. Bleriot’s record-breaking flight. Fortunately, a cooling rain shower saved him from a wet uncertain fate. The 22-mile trip from Calais to Dover was successfully completed in 38 minutes. Many joke that this was the longest any Anzani three-cylinder engine has ever run without catastrophic failure. However in reality, it was considered a state-of-the art engine at the time, and with continuous improvements, remained popular with light aircraft for another 20 years. To put this flight in perspective, it must be remembered that it took place a mere five years after the Wright brothers first coaxed a heavier than air machine skyward for that infamous short hop at Kitty Hawk. Fast forward another 18 years to May 1927 when still another young man decided to tempt fate by crossing a slightly larger body of water. Charles Lindbergh chose his aircraft and engine combination carefully. The Ryan NYP (New York – Paris) was purposely designed for the trans-Atlantic crossing and the engine was a Wright Whirlwind J5 radial.

The Whirlwind was an evolutionary engine. Charles L. Lawrance built his first decent aircraft engine as a three-cylinder radial producing approximately 60 hp. His next development took nine of these same cylinder assemblies and arranged them on a common crankcase to produce the J1 in 1921, a 180-hp radial that would eventually evolve into the Wright Whirlwind.

A merger between Wright and Lawrance produced needed capital to hire more engineers. Samuel D. Heron was at the absolute forefront of air-cooled cylinder design when he was brought on board to improve the efficiency of the J1. His new cylinder head improved breathing and cooling, subsequently boosting overall power, and the J5 Whirlwind was born. At the time it was considered to be the most powerful and reliable radial engine that money could buy.

Mr. Lindbergh had seen the 220-hp engine perform in the Bellanca Columbia, an aircraft specifically designed to showcase the new engine, and that combination was his initial choice for the Atlantic crossing. The owner of the Bellanca, Charles Levine, refused to sell the aircraft, causing Lindbergh to seek out the fledgling Ryan Company to build a plane to his specifications. However, there was never any doubt about which engine would pull “The Spirit of St. Louis” aloft, and it was subsequently designed around the venerable Whirlwind J5. The early J5s of that era were designed with rocker arms that required greasing at regular flight intervals. A close inspection of photographs taken of the engine installed in the Ryan NYP reveals one of Lindbergh’s necessary modifications. The rocker arm covers have white cylindrical objects attached to their exterior. These were specially designed spring-loaded grease reservoirs for feeding lubrication throughout the long flight. Subsequent models of the J5 eventually incorporated pressure-lubricated rocker arms.

After 33.5 cold, lonely hours Lindbergh’s wheels touched down in France on May 21, 1927. That successful flight proved to be of huge significance in the popularity and further development of all radial engines. During the golden age of the piston aircraft, nearly every major manufacturer produced varied models of this tried and true engine design. Its excellent power-to-weight ratio and small crankshaft still lend itself to certain areas of aviation that require quick throttle response and compact simplicity. It often remains the piston engine of choice with crop dusters and floatplane operators worldwide for those same inherent qualities.

They may be greasy, leaky, and bordering on environmental incorrectness with their billowing blue smoke on start-up and raucous racket on takeoff, but like the pioneers that chose them, radial engines have earned our respect for their ability to perform. It is a wonderful thing to realize that in our microchip, touchscreen, throwaway world, old round engines can still occasionally rule the sky!

 

Murphy’s Mayhem, AMU Chronicles, JUNE/JULY 2013

Murphy’s Mayhem

By Sam Longo AME A&P

Most of us in the aviation maintenance world are well aware of Murphy’s Law. Its boiled down reality simply states that; “Anything that can possibly go wrong, usually does, often with catastrophic results” As aircraft maintainers we must be aware that Murphy’s Law lies dormant in every task we undertake.

For those not previously acquainted with the history, it is generally believed that Murphy’s Law was named after Major Edward A. Murphy Jr. an American Aerospace Engineer while working for the US Air Force Institute of Technology. In 1949 he was working as a R&D Officer at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where he was deeply involved with testing G-force effects on pilots using ground based rocket sleds (USAF project MX981). Major Murphy had designed transducers for the sledge to accurately measure the g-forces, but after Dr. John Paul Stapp was subjected to a very high-g test it was discovered that a technician had wired the transducers backwards and therefore no readings were recorded. After this intense ride Dr. Stapp was not impressed and it is this faux pas that caused Major Murphy to coin the famous phrase; “If there are two or more ways to do something and one of those results in a catastrophe, then someone will do it that way”. The rest, along with all the variations and misquotes, is history.

A good example of this phenomenon occurred to me in the winter of 1977. I had returned to Toronto and landed a job at DeHavilland in Downsview. Despite the many trials and tribulations inherent in working for an aircraft manufacturer, this tale involved a Murphy’s Law- winter nightmare with a 1974 MGB sports car.

I had rented a room in a large house at the base of Dufferin St. in Toronto and consequently my previously pampered MG was relegated to the horrors of common street parking. Early one Monday morning after a heavy snowfall it refused to start. After clearing and popping open the “bonnet” I discovered that someone who had parked in front of me had inadvertently filled the engine bay with snow, likely while clearing their own car. After much digging and fooling around without satisfaction I caught the bus for the long ride up Dufferin Street vowing to re-attack the situation after work that evening.

When I returned the weather had worsened but undaunted in darkness with an extension cord running across the street I continued my quest for internal combustion by the glow of a trouble light. Now the cars battery was getting low from the incessant cranking and cold temps so I took it inside and charged it for the night. Next morning it was another Public Transit extravaganza the length of Dufferin Street.

Tuesday night saw me out in the street once again, now with a freshly charged battery, but still no joy. I decided to remove and inspect the distributor cap. Murphy’s Law seized the opportunity and my cold numb fingers allowed one of the distributor clips to ricochet into the snow covered road below, never to be seen again, despite hours of searching. Another bus ride on Wednesday with a detour on the way home to a British Leyland dealer to purchase a new clip, resulting in an order being placed for pick-up the next day. A few more bus rides and the weekend arrived, the sun shone and the MG was running once again. I quietly cursed Murphy and smiled every time I passed a bus.

The second Murphy’s tale resulted in an outcome that was much more serious than numb fingers and a bruised ego. A young but experienced pilot was looking to buy a float plane and made arrangements to do a visual pre-purchase inspection on a very cold winter night. The aircraft in question was in a cold storage hangar for the winter. As part of his discovery he decided to pull the prop through to get a sense of how good the compression was. He diligently checked that the magnetos were switched off and placed a plank across the floats for secure footing. Unfortunately when he pulled on the prop the engine kicked over and struck him with a fatal blow.

When the investigation began the TC Inspector was baffled. The mag switches were off and the p-leads were properly connected. Both magnetos were grounded and harmless. How could this have happened? Digging a little deeper he checked the facts of the date the catastrophe took place. It had been an exceptionally cold night. Being ever vigilant he took both magnetos and cooled them both to the same temperature they were exposed to on that fateful night. The results revealed a poorly soldered connection to the p-lead inside the one of the magnetos creating an open circuit.  That particular magneto was now live, but only in super-cold temperatures.

The two lessons to be learned here are obvious. On the lighter side of things, never expect a British Sports car to get you to work on a regular basis, but if you must, always carry tools and transit fare.

On the serious side, never, ever trust a propeller. Always treat it as if it were live and poised to kill, for your own safety and preservation. Remember, in the aviation business, the mayhem created by Murphy’s Law has no conscience or prejudice. Be cognisant that the results of your actions could just as easily end as a funny story or fatal one. Vigilance and professionalism is our only known defence!

For more published work by Sam Longo go to http://www.samlongo.com          

           

 

 

Slide Rule Revelation, AMU Chronicles, AUG/SEPT 2013

Slide Rule Revelation

By Sam Longo AME A&P

High School can be an intimidating and overwhelming experience of course selections and future directions, but sometimes with a little luck and intuition you stumble down the ideal path.

I am still not sure what possessed me to check off the box for Advanced Electronics on my Grade 11 electives sheet.  Perhaps because my father had been a Television and Radio repairman or possibly because I had excelled and enjoyed two previous years of wiring mock houses in Electrical Class 1 & 2.

The mere fact that Advanced Electronics was even offered was due to a lucky break on my part. I was attending a brand new High School that opened at the start of my Grade 11 year, right in my neighbourhood.  Stephen Leacock Collegiate was bristling with all manner of high tech options, even boasting a state of the art Television Production Studio.

It was clear from day one in Mr. Pfisterer’s class that Advanced Electronics would be a challenging learning experience. Our Austrian born teacher was a stern task master expecting nothing short of excellence from each of his students. Of course we all thought he was a bit of a crazy old codger.  He was incredibly fit from a lifetime of skiing and often impressed us by walking on his hands around the classroom to relieve his boredom. Being a tech class, in those days, meant that there were no females in the group which was probably a good thing, as he felt it necessary to provide sexual analogies to every theory he taught. Always followed by his perceived reality that for young men of our age group it would be the only way we would remember anything.

Besides building basic circuit boards from schematics and learning the resistor color code (Bad boys rape our young girls etc.) we all worked hard on our theoretical and practical assignments as the weeks progressed. Our class was always slotted in the last periods of the day and there were never any early departures. In fact he would often select a small group of volunteers to hang around after class to help him get his car started. He drove an ageing VW Carmen Ghia coupe with a high compression Porsche motor shoe-horned into the rear engine compartment. As his diligent pit crew, we would push him down the parking lot precluding the ear shattering bump start and his subsequent flamboyant hand waving departure.

His other pet peeve (or passion) was the intrinsic value of mastering the art of the slide rule. Of course for those of you weaned on modern calculators (or smart phone apps) the slide rule was the hot ticket for all manner of math calculations back in the days before lithium-ion batteries and touch screens. Our Austrian commandant drilled us mercilessly until each one of us could glean complex mathematical solutions from our wondrous sliding sticks. Unbeknownst to me it would be a valuable skill in waiting.

After High School, a year of unloading trucks for Hudson Bay Company gave me the necessary capital and added incentive to enroll in Centennial Colleges Aviation Technician program in 1974. Of the two entrance tests required, my Math results were a marginal pass resulting in a consultation with the resident math teacher. He advised that I delay my start in the program and take a semester of math upgrading for fear that I might not make it through his course. My cocky 20-year-old-smart-ass response was that if he was a good teacher I would be fine. Waiting any longer to get into the course was not an option and because I had actually passed, albeit marginally, he had no recourse but to let me continue.

 My rather cheeky comment to him about being a good teacher was based on my sordid past math history. I had either excelled or failed miserably depending, it seemed, solely on the quality of my instructors and so the stage was set for my jubilant upcoming triumph or catastrophic defeat.

In a rather miraculous twist of fate, more than half of the Aviation math program was based on the intricate secrets of the slide rule. Mr. Pfisterer would have been proud as I “slid” my way to a final mark in the high eighties while simultaneously becoming the ace-slide rule-mentor to many of my confused and floundering classmates.

This “Slide Rule Revelation” was an interesting lesson from my fledgling ascent into aviation maintenance and subsequent teaching career. Learning new things and acquiring knowledge is always a good investment. That pastime is paramount to future growth in any field of endeavour. Never reject learning on the basis of the adage; “I will never use that” because the reality is, you just might. In fact in extreme cases as with the previous tale it might very well make the difference between success and failure.

That old slide rule now collects dust on a shelf in my office. Its usefulness is now eclipsed by so many modern electronic devices. Still, I cannot bring myself to discard it. For sentimental reasons it has become my talisman, denoting the discovery and delights of lifelong learning.

For more published articles by Sam Longo go to www.samlongo.com