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VW-1 C-121J landing with unlocked nose wheel

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Old January 17th 04, 08:34 PM
Mel Davidow LT USNR Ret
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Default VW-1 C-121J landing with unlocked nose wheel

Here is some interesting history of VW-1 that was reported in a
GrampaPettibone article in Naval Aviation News.. I am trying to
contact anyone who was on the plane or involved in anyway with this
Mel Davidow, LT USNR (Ret)===========

In 1964 a C-121J Super Constellation was en route from Agana, Guam, to
Japan with passengers aboard. The first landing was scheduled at
Tachikawa AFB, Japan. The copilot was in the left seat, with the
squadron CO in the right seat. The CO planned for the lieutenant, an
experienced pilot, to make the approach and landing at Tachikawa.

The flight was routine. The landing gear was extended during descent
for landing to expedite the descent; a little later, the gear was
raised. The Super Connie was subsequently cleared for radar vectors to
a ground controlled approach final. On intercepting the glide path,
the wheels were lowered but the cockpit instrument indicated the nose
wheel was not locked down. It was visual flight rules and the field
was in sight. The skipper cycled the gear but the unsafe indication
remained, so the plane waved off.

The radioman alerted the passengers there would be a delay in landing.
The crew labored to get the nose wheel down, but the emergency system
failed to lock the nose wheel in place. Recycling the gear didn't
work, either. The CO told the copilot to concentrate on flying the
aircraft while he supervised emergency procedures.

Next, after depressurizing the aircraft and vectoring over water for
safety purposes the flight engineer, with a safety line secured to
him, tried to reach the nose wheel with a pole to push it into locked
position. It wasn't long enough, so a second and third pole were
spliced together, but this effort also failed.

The skipper decided to proceed to NAS Atsugi, Japan, and asked the
Atsugi tower to assemble key people to assist in troubleshooting the
problem. En route, the crew tried to hand pump the nose wheel down,
but they were unable to achieve enough pressure to do so. A second
squadron aircraft in the vicinity joined up and confirmed the nose
gear was in a trail position. Sensing the passengers' concern, the
third pilot on board calmly briefed the passengers on what was
happening. Keeping them informed alleviated their anxiety.

Next, the crew put the C-121J in a series of dives, attempting to rock
the nose wheel into locked position. A tech rep arrived in the tower
and recommended the crew secure all hydraulic pumps, slow the
aircraft, then turn the pumps back on simultaneously, shifting the
crossover valve to the emergency position. The theory was that the
sudden surge of pressure might be enough to lock the gear down. This
also failed.

After an hour and a half of troubleshooting, the CO requested that the
runway be foamed for landing. It was decided to shift weight, in this
case people, to move the center of gravity aft. The pilots would land
on the main mounts and hold the nose up as long as possible. At
touchdown, selected military personnel seated forward would walk (not
run) aft to help keep the tail down and the nose off the ground. The
tower had recommended a gear-up landing but the skipper rejected that
option. He felt the crew could land and keep the nose wheel off the
deck until forward speed fell off to about 50 knots.

The squadron's flight surgeon went from seat to seat briefing
individuals on holding their heads down for the landing. An enlisted
man was positioned in a seat beside each child and tasked with the
safety of that child. Fifteen enlisted personnel volunteered for the
forward seats. The CO recognized the risks in having people moving aft
when the main mounts were firmly on the runway. He also knew that the
flight engineer and radioman faced a special hazard, because at their
positions near the nose gear they were subject to injury if the plan
didn't work.

In the approach, the cockpit crew suddenly smelled something burning.
The skipper called for an immediate landing. The burning odor faded
but the flight was committed to land. The copilot was at the controls
and expertly guided the transport to a firm, but not hard, touchdown
at the 1,500-foot mark at 95 knots. He kept the nose high which lifted
the C-121J momentarily a foot or so back into the sky. Both pilots
held the yoke full aft and the copilot rolled in full back tab. The
aircraft landed on centerline and slowed rapidly, and the personnel
seated forward began moving aft. Rudder control was effective until
the tail began to drag on the runway, grinding away the lower rudders.
At 30 knots the pilots employed brakes to counter swerving motion. The
tail stayed down and just as it looked like the Super Connie was going
off the runway, it drew to a halt, resting on the main mounts and the

Rescue personnel immediately swarmed around the transport and assisted
passengers in disembarking. Crash crew personnel came on board to keep
the weight in the tail. No one was hurt. The C-121J sustained minor

Grampaw Pettibone says:
Although this event happened years ago, the teamwork, cool thinking
and professional flying demonstrated by this aircrew was first-rate
and stands as a model for today's Naval Aviation personnel.

Courtesy of Cdr. Ralph Dannettell, Jr., USN (Ret.), who experienced
this "happy landing" on 3 May 1964 when he was CO of Early Warning
Squadron 1.

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