We were ferrying a dash-61 (That’s the big, short-range DC-8) from Jeddah to Karachi with only the cabin crew in the back. My first officer, Bill was dating Jane, the senior stewardess. I knew he wanted to impress her with his flying ability, so I gave him the leg. He was the same copilot I’d had a problem with in the DC-9, however that was over two years ago; we’d both matured in our profession. He was an excellent pilot, I had confidence in him. The nearly five-hour flight from Saudi Arabia was mostly uneventful. Receiving the airport conditions we learned of light rain and that we’d be landing on the runway the opposite of our inbound heading. This meant having to fly past the airport, to execute a full instrument approach in the other direction, which cost money and time.
“Dave, how about we do a contact approach and get this turkey on the ground?”
“Let’s stay with approach control until we see how the field looks. If we’ve got a good view of the runway from our downwind position, I won’t mind.”
We were cleared to descend to three thousand feet; Bill had called for flaps, twenty-three and the Approach Checklist. I had visual contact with the runway through the light rain. I waited until we’d passed the runway before canceling our instrument approach and advising control we would be proceeding visually.
“Roger Overseas National 8-6-8 you are cleared the visual approach, contact Karachi tower now on one-one-eight point seven.”
Bill also heard the transmission on his headset. “Gear down, Landing checklist,” he requested as I reached for the gear handle and turned the dial on the VHF to the tower frequency.
“Karachi tower Overseas National 8-6-8 downwind for landing.”
“Roger Overseas National you are cleared to land, altimeter two-niner-niner-zero. Runway wet.”
Al, the engineer and I were finishing the checklist when Bill called for flaps thirty-five and racked the big plane into a forty-degree left bank to the base leg. Bill was showing off, playing fighter pilot for Jane. I didn’t mind, the plane was empty, it was fun breaking away from the usual conservative way we flew. He rolled the wings level ninety-degrees to the runway heading when I noticed something wrong; the control wheel was almost vertical!
“You’ve got it!” Bill suddenly said, relinquishing the plane to me.
I had to hold almost full right aileron to hold the plane level. “Al, what’s wrong back there?”
After a quick scan of his panel the engineer said, “Dave, it looks like you’ve lost the spoiler pump – there’s zero pressure on the gauge. I think you’ve got a floating spoiler.”
The spoilers on the DC-8 serve two functions: primarily they are for ground use canceling the lift on the wing, acting as giant air brakes after the landing touchdown. Secondarily, they assist the ailerons when the landing gear has been extended and the pilot calls for a larger input by racking the control wheel beyond eight degrees. During approach the Flight Spoiler Pump provides pressure to accomplish this, while the regular hydraulic system handles the ground function. Failure of the spoiler pump meant a panel or panels, had failed to lock down in the fair position after Bill made the steep-banked turn and were floating, causing the plane to want to roll to the left. I had to hold opposite aileron to counter the abnormality.
This was a maneuver I’d never practiced in the simulator, so while I’d read about the problem, I had never experienced it. My first inclination was to want to fly the plane around the pattern at sufficient altitude to diagnose the issue and discuss with the crew a proper procedure before continuing with the landing. However, it was most difficult to maintain level flight, I was concerned that if, for some-reason, the other spoiler panels became loose, there would not be enough power to keep the plane flying, or the landing speeds would have to be increased to the point where I might run out of runway. It was not a good spot to be in.
I decided to go ahead with the landing, relying on my skill to get the bird down before anything else happened. “Okay, let’s go for it. Bill ring for Jane, and Al, tell her to make sure everybody is fastened in tight – it might be a rough landing. Bill when I command it, I want you to manually pull the spoiler handle if it doesn’t deploy normally.”
“Shall I notify the tower?” Bill asked.
“What for? They’ll want us to circle around so they can get equipment in position. I’m afraid if we screw around too long something else might go wrong. If something happens on landing, you make sure you call the tower for help.” I didn’t trust the Pakistanis to be able to do anything right – except to get in our way.
After the turn to final I noticed the more we slowed down, the more the plane wanted to bank to the left. We were a good twenty-five knots too fast. Slowing down meant I would run out of aileron control and the plane would roll to the left during flair-out before touching the runway. “I’m going to keep her speed up until we get in closer. Be ready for full flaps and the spoilers when I give the order.”
“Rog,” was Bill’s response. “One thousand feet, lookin’ good except for speed.”
“Two hundred – one hun…”
I countered the ballooning tendency with the elevators thanking God I’d flown DC-4s and knew how to manage last-minute corrections as I brought the four throttles to idle. The landing lights reflected a shining runway slick with water. Would the main landing gear spin-up thereby shifting the systems into the ground mode, or hydroplane, thus remaining in the flight configuration? Spin-up meant the ground spoilers would deploy normally; hydroplane meant Bill had better be fast with pulling the lever back. The plane touched down on both main gears just as I reached the maximum limit of the control wheel. “Spoilers!” I barked.
Bill was reaching for the handle when spin-up occurred, driving it back into his open grasp. He held the lever in the full back position as I pulled all four engines into reverse. Ever so gently I lowered the nose onto the center line of the runway; the roar of the engines confirmed Al’s calm announcement of, “buckets deployed, all four in reverse.”
“Eighty knots” Bill called out. I simultaneously reduced the power on the engines to prevent any compressor stalls and eased off on the brakes. We’d made it.
Jane said the girls didn’t think it was any different from other landings they’d experienced. While Bill entertained the stewardesses with stories of his exploits in Vietnam I ruined a shirt assisting Al in changing the spoiler pump from a spare we carried in the flyaway kit. Jane saw to it Al and I had hot coffee as a cold drizzle started falling. When Al and I finished and were cleaning up in the cabin, Bill informed me I’d screwed up; landing with full flaps instead of flaps 35, as was called-for in the operations manual. He was right, I’d drawn a blank in the couple of minutes I had to react; so fire me, I thought.
We got about three hours rest in the cabin before loading up two-hundred-fifty Paki-pilgrims bound for Jeddah and the religious experience of their lifetime. The thought crossed my mind if the Hajji’s wanted a real religious experience, they should ride around for a while in the cockpit of one of ONA’s planes.
Bill left Overseas National Airways shortly after the Karachi experience to become a disc jockey in New York. He later quit that position to drive a cab. From there he disappeared; a charming guy who seemed to never find his niche. Perhaps the combination of helicopters, the war, and the Marines, filled him with too many demons to manage. There is a limit.