By lex, on May 4th, 2011
So, a 0900 take-off was the plan for Sunday morning, and I was interested in seeing what detritus was left parked on the ramp when we blasted off, for it was fashionable amongst the T-34B set to pooh-pooh the reliability of the Yaks and Nanjangs, made as they were by slave labor, practically, and the T-34 being a proud product from the descendants of one Walter Beech, whose legacy of making goodly gear with an eye towards quality withstood his sad demise.
But a 0900 launch amongst the fly-in crowd has a very different meaning than a 0900 launch in the fleet. Among the latter it means the catapult firing on the stroke of two bells of the morning watch, while in the former it means that you show up at the airport at 0830, take the tent down in a desultory way, and scratch where it itches until breakfast time, maybe 0915 or so. If you made the mistake of rising early and getting your own breakfast, it means watching while others engage in the gustatory act, drinking cup after cup of coffee and glancing at your watch, the one of which will advance your take-off time by not one whit while the other will fill you some regret – and that ain’t all – when you finally do get airborne half the morning later.
I was offered the chance to pilot the ship from the front seat, an opportunity I accepted with a deferential, “Hell, yes!” I was walked through the checklist, bundled in, cranked her up and set to taxiing, only the beastie, she wouldn’t budge. I’d removed the tiedown chains myself, and seen hizzoner pull the chocks, so it was all summat of a mystery to me, and at 2000 RPM there was obviously much amiss. The owner climbed out and took a look around, equally befuddled, for were neither chained nor chocked and at 2000 revs ‘twould have taken a mighty force indeed to hold us fast.
I shut her down and reluctantly clambered down, which is where the troubleshooting began in earnest. Turned out the left wheel brake was fully engaged, malgre the fact that there was no one up in the cockpit for to stand on the pedals. It being Sunday, A&Ps were thin on the ramp, and the owner went hunting for a hammer maybe, or maybe a screwdriver for to loosen up the pads while I nourished private reservations.
It wouldn’t do, of course and we were stuck sweating in the sun even as the last of the “unreliable” communist built trainers blasted off into the sky, with laughter in their hearts, leaving us behind to commiserate and the next morning promising to bring work sufficient to the evil therein, and ourselves not there to do it.
Hizzoner promised me that he hadn’t overworked the brakes on the last flight, and I verified that the parking brake was off, so I gave up on the notion that maybe they had become overheated and fused, or that we had committed some buffoonery. A purely mechanical issue should have been resolved by thwacking away with a hammer or prising away with the screwdriver, which left us – to my mind anyway – with a bad master cylinder or maybe a stuck actuator.
I found the bleed nipple and talked the owner into bleeding the brakes while I pumped on them from the front seat: No joy, the brake remained rigidly locked. I jumped back down while cell phone calls were made, and stood there scratching my head for lack of anything better to do. Which is when I had a kind of inspiration. I jumped into the back while the owner bled the brakes again, pumping away on the binders until I felt the left one release. Eureka! etc, and off we’d go. Except I thought it useful to try it from the front seat to isolate the master cylinder from the actuator.
Which is where she locked up again.
Back in the back seat, a bit more bleeding and once again the brakes released. We made a deal that braking would be done from the aft cockpit, and I would fly from the front with my feet on deck, and off the brakes. Which was, I’ll admit, summat of a questionable decision. Should the brake become locked on take-off – or worse – on landing, it’d be a wild ride in a valuable 1960s-era trainer. Had it been a Navy jet, there wouldn’t even have been a decision to make. Get someone qualified here to sort it out. Those days are behind me I guess, for now anyway. And no, FedEx hasn’t called.
All went well in the event, and the airplane climbed out briskly most of the way to 9,500 feet, which was sufficient to get us over the Tejon Pass. The T-34B handles well, the controls are well balanced and the Garmin 396 GPS made avoiding the Los Angeles Class B a trivial task. We leaned her out to maybe 13 gallons per hour, and saw groundspeeds of up to 180 knots, which – being sufficiently separated from my former life – seemed almost a thrilling pace. Almost.
She’s no Cessna 172, and so I saw no truckers passing us on the highway.
Our let down to Gillespie was uneventful, and I took her into the break. The owner took the machine on final for the landing, for which fact I was actually grateful. I was relieved from the stress of inadvertently tapping a brake to straighten her on on the rollout, which could have gotten exciting if the brake had locked again. And absolved of responsibility should we end up taking a trip through the weeds.
We brought her back to the owner’s hangar, and shoved her back inside – no mean feat for such a heavy aircraft. The owner was practically begging me to join the partnership, and in faith I’m giving it some consideration. One of these days.
Oh, and the brakes? They worked fine after we’d stuffed her back in the hangar.
There’s just no knowing.