August 10, 2012
By Larry Brown
Performing a rolling formation takeoff in an F-15 was always fun, but we really didn’t do them very often. Instead we held brakes on the runway while running our engines to 80 percent power, checked all our gauges, and then released brakes together on the lead’s head nod, and started the takeoff roll.
During one of these runups, my right wheel was creeping forward slightly while my left brake held fine, causing the jet to rotate a little to the left. I thought that I needed to get back into the weight room. My first reaction was to add more leg pressure to the brakes. I was able to get the brakes locked and stopped the rolling. The engine runup and takeoff went fine after that.
At the end of the mission I landed second behind my flight lead, performing a normal landing and aerobrake on the 8,000-foot runway. I lowered the nosewheel and as soon as I applied brakes, my “master caution” warning light came on with an associated “anti-skid” light.
I lowered my tail hook for a possible cable engagement with the arresting cable near the departure end of the runway. I also switched the anti-skid system to the backup mode and was able to slow the jet to around 30 knots. At that point, due to the high idle thrust, I couldn’t get any slower so I switched the anti-skid system off completely and was able to slow carefully to taxi speed. I also raised the tail hook.
During the rollout with the tail hook down I was making quite a shower of sparks on the runway, which of course got the attention of the tower controller. With the cable already in place he did not bother me with a radio call until he saw that I had slowed almost to a stop and raised my hook. Our home base only had one runway so I didn’t want to close it down. When I said that I would taxi clear and then stop and shut down in the hammerhead, my flight lead wisely told me to stop where I was on the runway, with the arresting cable still in front of me.
As the maintenance folks were arriving I felt the brake pedals slowly get soft and fall forward. Then I started rolling forward. I dropped the hook again as they skidded the pickup truck to a stop next to me. The first guy out grabbed some chocks and put them in front of my left tire. The only problem was he grabbed the chocks for the truck, so I hopped right over them like a speed bump. The driver found the much larger airplane chocks and used them to bring me to a stop. The runway was shut down after all.
It turns out that one of the brake plugs in the right wheel assembly failed. It was leaking slightly on engine runup, and then during rollout it failed completely and I lost all brake fluid. During the engine runup, I didn’t give a lot of thought to the slightly rolling right wheel. Ultimately, though, things in airplanes that seem out of the ordinary often are. You just may not get the feedback right away. Being prepared for the unexpected, and remembering those odd grunts and groans your airplane might make, will help you troubleshoot and safely recover your airplane when it finally decides to get sick.
Larry Brown of Colorado Springs, Colo., is a retired Air Force F-15 pilot who is using the lessons he learned as a fighter pilot as a GA pilot in his Cessna P210. Brown, who has 2,600 hours total time during his 32 years of flying, also was an instructor pilot and flight examiner in the Air Force T-38 and instructor pilot in the T-52, the military’s version of GA’s Diamond DA40. See previous installments of “Fly like a fighter.”
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