Since we have been talking about the 727, thought I’d share a tale.
Can’t remember the date, maybe in the late 80’s, but I do remember both the crew with me and that it was dark (a lot of early life at FedEx was in the dark, daytime ops didn’t kick in for a looong time) and we were flying a 727, going to Milwaukee. Odd that I can remember the faces of both people with me and the airport, but names no longer quickly come to mind.
Anyway, MKE was the enroute stop on the way to Planet Memphis, as we called the center of all FedEx ops at the time. Today the center of FedEx ops is Memphis, Oakland, Anchorage, somewhere in Europe, Sewark (OK, Newark), and somewhere in China, but on this night we were on the way from Chicago to MKE for more cargo, and then on to MEM.
The First Officer was flying the leg into MKE and I was the Captain. I was an instructor in the airplane, did lots of simulator training and flew the line every other month or so to keep current in line ops. You know, I was a schoolhouse weenie. Was supposed to be on top of everything all the time. Uh huh.
The approach was no big deal, a clear and beautiful night with lots of stars. We asked for and got a visual approach, we could see the runway from about 10 miles out. Piece of cake.
The F/O did a nice job setting up for the visual, saving fuel as we descended and holding off on flaps and gear until just the right moment. With the checklists completed we arrived at 500′ with the jet stabilized, the power set, and on speed. Piece of cake. I said that already…
Passed over the numbers exactly where we should be, by the book, with maybe a bit extra airspeed. Then the F/O started the flare, a wee bit early for my taste.
Combine that with a bit of extra airspeed and the 727 would “float.” Go on and on down the runway without touching down, eating up concrete that you really would like to use for stopping.
It didn’t help that the F/O was holding the nose up, holding the nose up, waiting for a soft landing.
From my perspective the remaining runway was diminishing, it didn’t take long for me to say, “Put it down.”
Now, in my mind, “Put it down” means let’s forget about the soft landing thing and get the gear on the pavement. An easy way to do that in the ’27 was to simply roll to the left or right and put a wheel on the deck, which activates the weight on wheels switch, which deploys the spoilers on the wing (big panels that pop up and kill all the lift on the wing) and voila! you are on the ground to stay.
Only this message didn’t register with the F/O, who continued to gently coax the yoke back and await the soft touchdown.
Which wasn’t happening. I became a little bit antsy, about two thirds of the runway remained, but it was only going to be half the runway in a few seconds.
Again I said it, more forcefully this time: “PUT IT DOWN.”
Same results, no discernible change in what the yoke and the F/O were doing other than holding the airplane off the runway for what seemed forever.
I couldn’t wait any longer, I announced loudly, “I have the airplane!” and grabbed the yoke, fully intending to put one set of wheels down and bring the jet to a halt. The F/O quickly acknowledged with “Your airplane” and let go of the yoke.
Dear reader, what happened in the next second after I put my hands on the yoke and owned the landing was not a pretty thing. I put my hands on the yoke at the exact same moment the airspeed and the lift available and the number of Bernoulli’s holding the wings up became less than the pull of gravity on the machine.
We landed. We hit the deck. We whacked the pavement. The airplane made all the noises of a full garbage truck dropped from 20 feet or so. The impact traveled up the fuselage to the cockpit and it was an occasion for the involuntary “Ooof!” to come out, which it did. From me. If we’d had passengers instead of freight cans they would have been pummeled with baggage from overhead bins popping open. The impact wasn’t enough to call it a hard landing but had all the earmarks of a lousy landing. A really lousy landing. And it was all mine.
I could not believe my timing was so good and my judgement was so bad. Rats.
We came to a halt before the runway ended, thank goodness, and did the after landing checklist. We taxied to the ramp in silence. I know what I was thinking, no telling what the F/O and the Flight Engineer were thinking. We pulled into parking and shut down the engines, it was dead quiet except for the clicking of various switches as we turned off what needed to be off while the airplane was reloaded.
The Flight Engineer completed his tasks at his position, announced that the shut down checklist was complete, then took out his flashlight from his nav bag and stood up to leave and do his normal walk around inspection before we blocked out again.
Before he walked out the cockpit door he turned and looked at me and the First Officer, and without a smile he said:
“I’m going to go look for survivors.”