T-Tail Gusyer



George Levanduski



It was a warm, beautiful spring day, with the coldness of the ocean water pushing a clean refreshing breeze inland from the east, in contrast to the usual poison-air land-source directions. Parked aircraft were receiving a mild tailwind, and every crew chief had the cockpit side windows open to take advantage of the pleasant conditions. The date and tail number involved were not recorded.

My task, now that the aircraft had returned with a defect that was identified just prior to its departure on a mission, was to remove and replace a spoiler asymmetry detector switch located in front of the outer flaps. However, the switch was not exposed for access with the flaps retracted. Moreover, a hydraulics mechanic had gone up into the T-tail to start a stipulated modification (time compliance tech order) on the elevator hydraulic pack, disallowing any use of the No. 3 system pumps. I sent the crew chief on an interior climbing mission to request reversal of the work if practical so that I could use the pumps for a one-time running of the flaps. He came back with the request granted, provided there would be absolutely no further activation of the pumps afterwards.

Shortly after turning on the pumps, I heard a single distant metallic bang, but did not realize its possible significance. As I lowered the flaps, I noticed some occasional wisps of what appeared to be white smoke drifting by, sometimes increasing disturbingly. I stuck my head out the copilot's window and looked back, but did not see anything revealing despite some thorough scrutinizing around ground level, and was about to dismiss the incident, when more smoke appeared. A look upwards revealed a shocking sight.

A huge, gushing geyser was blasting straight up out of the top of the T-tail, going more than 30 feet above the T-tail, with the top curling over the aircraft and producing a fine mist. It was truly awesome, much like the real Old Faithful. I rushed to turn off the pumps, causing the geyser to collapse, and sent the crew chief back up to determine any rescue needs while I followed part way below to stay within voice communication reach.

Fortunately, the hydraulics man was OK. When the unfortunate man came down from the T-tail, it was obvious that he was thoroughly soaked from head to toe. He had forgotten about a threaded plug that was screwed in by only a few threads. When the plug gave way to the pressure build-up, it shot out like a bullet, hitting the side of the vertical stabilizer from within. The powerful and dangerous high-pressure jet of escaping fluid barred his exit route, holding him prisoner, forcing him to wait and endure until cessation. It might have been even more oppressive if the top hatch wasn't open. His firmest comment was, That's it, I'm not doing anymore favors like that for anyone.

Partial payback came about 20 years later when I was assisting a subordinate who was above me on top of a liquid-filled transformer outside of some college dormitories, adding fluid from a 5-gallon can. An unfavorable wobble sloshed fluid all over the front of my shirt.

George Levanduski, Tsgt, Reserves-Civil Service


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