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Maintenance Flight

Maintenance Flight


Gary Verver (2002)


Well.... it was a typical night at NAF China Lake, still in the 100's, the line was secure with nothing scheduled. So nothing to do except decide if I could stand 4 more hours of Roller Derby on the TV, or if I was going to climb up on the line shack roof and cut the antenna to preserve what was left of my sanity. However the Roller Derby fans got a reprieve when flight ops called and told me to get a "DRUT" ready to roll. Seems there was an A4 driver stranded in Vegas with a busted Scooter and the squadron called us to see if we would ferry the needed part over to Nellis.
Ops told me that Dave was my pilot and he'd be down as soon as Maint. had the part ready to go. After looking around it seemed as if I was the only one of the crew that was "trained" on the old TF-10, which meant I knew how to get the securing gear off, and most importantly that it burned 115/145 AvGas (I also was 'trained' on the USAF XB-70, but that's a different TINS tale). So I trekked out to the DRUT (think we took the one with the Scooter nose), pulled the intake & exhaust covers, removed the wing braces and other securing gear, checked the fuel, oil, hydraulic, LOX etc. and did a quick walk around to look for leaks etc. No obvious problems, so went back to the Line Shack to find the Yellowsheet so Dave could see if anything serious had been logged. About that time Dave showed up and I gave him the Yellowsheet book and told him the DRUT was ready to roll, i.e. there was air in the tires.
After looking through the Yellowsheet book Dave asked who was going with him, and we said we didn't have anyone in the duty section that was a qualified flight crew member. Dave said okay, how about you coming along as I need someone to work the radio (the DRUT was configured like the A-6, side by side and the pilot had the flight controls and the right side had the radar, radio etc.). Told him I didn't have a helmet or oxygen mask, but that didn't deter Dave. He said look around and see if you can find a helmet and a mask that fits. Well I found a helmet and a mask that sort of fit and figured I also might as well borrow someone's flight suit and with a little luck the guys at Nellis would take me for a pilot and I wouldn't have to refuel it in Nellis. All I would need to say was "AvGas", and the way you usually found out it was full when you fueled it at night was when you got a face full.
Off we went. A pretty uneventful flight and a gorgeous approach to Nellis as we came in right over the Las Vegas strip, and then a not so normal landing as the nose wheel damper malfunctioned and the instrument panel started shaking like a cheap Belly Dancer at the Go-Go club. So bad you couldn't read any of the gauges. Putting on the brakes made things worse, but eventually we got it slowed down enough to exit the runway and taxi to the Visitor Line.
Dave went to Ops with the part and I stood 'guard' so nobody gave us a fatal dose of JP when they refueled us, and gave the nose gear a close look. Dave came back from Ops and asked how the nose wheel looked and I told him it was still on the plane, still had tread, nothing was cracked; but that I couldn't fix a bad snubber and it was probably going to do the same thing when we took off. Dave said okay lets go home and we climbed up top, lowered ourselves through the top hatch, fired it up and called the tower for clearance. Dave told them that we had a slight nose wheel problem and he wanted the runway with the arresting gear just in case. Me, I'm revisiting the emergency exit procedures as I'm not too excited about the possibility of the nose gear failing and the DRUT sliding down the runway making sparks while were sitting on top of several hundred gallons of 115/145.
Anyway, the tower told us which runway had the gear rigged, gave us taxi clearance and off we went looking for the runway. Dave asked if I saw the runway and I told him I didn't. After milling about smartly for awhile, Dave said look out the top hatch and see if you see a runway. So I unhooked and stood up and poked my head out of the hatch and told Dave all I saw was a bunch of lights. Some were white, some were blue, and no discernable pattern to any of them (I wear glasses these days, but still have depth perception problems at night). Eventually we "found" a runway and Dave lined up and asked for takeoff clearance. The tower said it was okay with them, but if we wanted the arresting gear option we were on the wrong end of the runway. Dave said it was okay, that we had changed our mind. I'm thinking, "stick your head out the hatch for 30 seconds and missed that meeting".
Away we went and sure enough the plane started shaking like crazy again and you couldn't read any of the instruments because they were just one big blur. Dave seemed unconcerned and applied a little back pressure on the stick. Once the nose rotated he could read the instruments and we got airborne and had an uneventful flight back to China Lake. However, Dave must have been a mind-reader as he told the China Lake tower we had nose wheel trouble and declared an emergency. We landed, same results, and led a parade of crash trucks and rescue squad vehicles back to the line. Dave downed the plane, which I thought was a good idea. About one flight late, but still a good idea.
I didn't fly much after that as the only multi-seat jets that we had were an A-3D, which had the same clever escape hatch as the DRUT, but with 3 people trying to get out of it instead of two. The other was a Phantom that spent most of its time in the hangar as it had a habit of doing uncommanded rudder rolls at low altitude when power was reduced.
Dave left China Lake and went out on the Intrepid where he died September 23rd, 1968 when his A-4E Skyhawk (152091) lost electrical power and went off the port side of the USS Intrepid during recovery. All went well until the last few seconds before touchdown when he started to bank to the left, the nose dropped and he crashed into the LSO's platform before plunging into the sea. LCDR Dave Callahan is on panel 43W, line 068 of the Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington D.C.
gv



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