Wheels Up and Locked

A cushy trip to Ramey goes sour when hydraulic catastrophe forces a wheels up at England AFB.
Phil Dunn, Ed Hull

One fine day in 1968, my navigator and to be brother-in-law Ed Hull and I were bound for Ramey AFB, Puerto Rico from Albuquerque (Kirtland AFB) when during a routine cockpit check I noticed that the hydraulic pressure had fallen to zero (the gauge is near my left knee - 3rd picture). A check of the emergency hydraulic system (a hand pump) revealed that there was no back pressure in that system. This meant that several aircraft systems would no longer operate: landing gear uplock release, landing gear extension, flaps, speed brakes, rudder boost - this airplane was no longer equipped with bombay doors which had been hydraulic. The basic flight controls (elevator, ailerons, rudder) were mechanical, so basic flight was sustainable - as should have been obvious since we were tooling along at 33,000 feet or so with two good J65 engines.

The Front Office

Sunset was approaching as we diverted towards England AFB Louisiana having declared an emergency and discussed our options: bail out or land the airplane on its belly. In just about every retractable gear airplane in the world the landing gear can be lowered by freefall or by some kind of mechanical intervention. This was not a design feature on this airplane - one of the first jet powered airplanes in the world having been designed and built in the early 1950s. It took hydraulic pressure to release the gear door uplock.

The hydraulic gauge is above the landing gear handle - which is the one with a white wheel. Just above the T-handle marked PULL. (This handle is for emergency gear extension. I don't recall just what it was supposed to do (blow down bottle?), but obviously it did not help.) The needle is pointing to zero pressure. By the way, you know what the funnel shaped device to the right of the gear handle is.

There was no way to dump fuel from the airplane. The fuel is carried in the wings and fuselage. So the landing would have to be made with whatever fuel is on board. We could have flown around burning fuel until the airplane was a lot lighter (and thus able to land slower), but by then it would have been dark out and I thought it best to land during daylight hours. You will notice all the pictures are taken at night. But we actually landed the airplane in daylight.
Postflight inspection revealed a ruptured hydraulic line in the old bomb door actuater line - abandoned. The line had been cut and terminated after a 90 degree bend in it. This meant that it spent hours cycling and bending the line until it finally failed of metal fatigue.
The plane was temp-skinned the next day and flown back to Kirtland by Col. Durden, Chief Maint Off. I don't think it was ever flown again. As I recall it was classified as an incident and not an accident - an important distinction at the time. Thinking back, the skin being worn off also wore off some of the ribs. This would have weakend the integrity of the aircraft. It is luck it did not crash on takeoff back to ABQ.

There was some controversy about holding on to the canopy. Procedures dictate jettisoning it prior to wheels up landing. I thought it would be best to hang on to it for several reasons including a higher speed landing and the possibility of injury from ages of dirt hitting us both as the canopy departed in flight. Lt. Col. "Reddog" Campbell (58th Ops) concurred; so we left it on but with Ed spring-loaded to jettison it if things got crazy in flight. It was, of course a problem to raise it after landing (it is hydraulic) which we did manually after we disconnected the gas-firing actuators. It was very heavy. We had help from the fire department and a trusty ax. Later our CO took exception to this decision (a fire would have been impossible to escape) and a couple of stanboard types (it flys great and quiet with no canopy).

The main problem I encountered trying to land this thing with no speed brakes, no flaps, no gear was how to slow it down. It took 3 passes to get down to what I considered a safe final approach speed at our weight and land it flat enough so it would not stall or pancake. I figured (remembering many years back now) around 180 kts. on final made sense. On the third approach all was calm (no wind) and things looked right. I was able to slide it on and now remember the weird feeling of landing below normal altitude. Shut down the engines with throttle and shutoffs and killed electrics. Pictures show the result.

One point Touchdown ~ 180 Kts