Preface: This story begins with mention of the Rudy Patrick Seed Company which existed in antiquity near the Kansas City, Missouri “Downtown” airport (MKC). So what did a feed and seed company have to do with aviation? As it turns out, the main connection was the visual proximity of Rudy’s establishment to MKC. This airport was a big deal for Trans World Airlines (TWA), but MKC had major limitations. It was handy to downtown but was always threatened by the waters of the mighty Missouri River and the inability to expand the real estate into a jet-age airport complex. By 1972, the regional powers-that-be had directed and completed a modern, new airport farther west on higher ground – the Kansas City International Airport (MCI). The old airport still exists as the Charles B Wheeler Downtown Airport, but the Rudy Patrick Seed Company does not.
The Rudy Patrick Seed Company Navaid. For the purpose and theme of my story, the Rudy Patrick Seed Company (RPSC) is coincidental to the overall adventures of a particular day in 1968. I was a Flight Engineer on a Boeing B-727 and regularly flew a route from the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) to the Kansas City Downtown Airport (MKC) to the Philadelphia International Airport (PHL). If approaching and landing to the north, the RPSC grain elevator elicited verbal crew comments which confirmed correctness (or not) of the visual track and glideslope. The structure had large, high contrast black and white lettering which eliminated any ambiguity about regional identity. We were a United Airlines crew and thus, interlopers at Kansas City. But we had figured out how to use that visual waypoint almost as well as any TWA crew.
The Short Field Landing. On this particular day, Captain Jones announced he would make a short field landing while landing north at MKC. As Flight Engineer, this meant that I would produce a data card with using 40 degrees of flaps. I calculated a final approach speed of perhaps 105 knots.
Our B-727s had come factory-equipped with nosewheel brakes which seemingly added to the short-field “panache” of the airplane. The airplane was capable of astonishingly short landing rolls given all the stopping aids like spoilers, reversing, and wheel brakes all around. The wings had a fantastic array of leading edge devices, plus triple-slotted trailing edge flaps that extended to 40 degrees which resulted in very low final approach speeds.
Most airport runways were lengthy and never required aggressive braking, but MKC beckoned to our Captain on that particular day. And so it was. I remember that the RPSC sign flashed past my field of view at the right place and right height. We did touch down firmly and the braking was heavy. The midfield stop and turnoff was very impressive. The cabin crew and a few deplaning passengers had some comments about the quick stop. Captain Jones mentioned to me to check the brakes during my enroute walkaround while he would make a terminal visit to check weather and flight plan. I knew not to touch the brakes since they would be hot. In fact, the main wheels were warm but the nosewheel brake setup seemed quite unused.
The Uniform Occurrence. Back in the cockpit, I was biding my time with the copilot. Aircraft boarding was done by airstairs at door 1 left so everyone entered through our field-of-view exiting the terminal and queuing-up at the boarding stairs. As the passengers sprinkled out of the terminal, we noticed that our Captain Jones was trailing the queue and had a grumpy look on his face. We also noticed he wasn’t wearing his necktie. Wearing the necktie was strict protocol and custom while in public view. Captain Jones was carrying the new flight plan along with a plastic bag.
The copilot and I were soon in tears of laughter as Captain Jones told the story of visiting the rest room and then noticing his hecktie had slipped into the very urinal he was using. (Clip-on ties were the rage at the time.)
Flight to Philadelphia. Enroute from MKC to PHL, the copilot and I would occasionally start giggling or laughing out loud at the thought of someone dropping his own necktie in the urinal. Otherwise, the flight continued normally until approaching PHL when we noticed various indications of low hydraulic pressure in our “A” hydraulic system. Something about flap extension had caused a loss of pressure and quantity.
While Captain Jones and ATC worked out some delay vectors, the copilot and I ripped into the flight manual to accomplish procedures which dealt with manually extending the landing gear with a crank and using backup flap extension methods. This was all fairly athletic on my part since each of the three landing gear manual extension systems were individual receivers hidden under three little doors on the cockpit floor. Each of the three were literally cranked towards extension one at a time.
The hand crank itself was pulled from its storage position on the bulkhead. Cranking in one direction undid the uplatch causing free-fall of the gear assembly, and cranking the other direction moved the downlatch into position. It was reassuring to feel the gear fall into position: one, two, three. Three green lights, hooray!
The actual landing was uneventful, but it was clumsy to get to the gate without nosewheel steering. We waited for a tow vehicle. One of us found a spare necktie in our suitcase so Captain Jones could dress himself for public appearance during deplaning of passengers at the terminal. Passengers had accolades for our crew since they were relieved to be alive after a “scary” landing. As per procedure, they had been briefed by cabin crew for a potential emergency landing and evacuation.
The Deadhead Non-Journey. The good cheer for a safe arrival was halted when a gate agent told us (the flight crew) to grab our bags and hustle to a certain Allegheny Airlines gate for a deadhead flight to New York. This was a crew reassignment due to our mechanical problem. We would lay over in the Big Apple and resume our flying in a different B-727. Our flight bags and suitcases (before wheels) were schlepped yonder and we arrived breathlessly at their gate to late-board a twin-engine turboprop. Off we went but everyone on that airplane was highly surprised when, just after lift-off, an engine failed and the propeller went into auto feather. The airplane slewed and pilots put it back onto the runway apparently with considerable length remaining. That airborne rejected takeoff would have been a no-no in a B-727 but was obviously ok for this airplane.
Back at the Allegheny gate, we deplaned after offering the Allegheny crew some accolades since we were glad to be alive after a “scary” takeoff. Captain Jones was soon conferring by pay phone with our crew schedulers. Their plan was for us to hang around while Allegheny replaced the flight to New York. To his credit, Captain Jones called a halt to this discussion. We were now a very fatigued flight crew.
We did stay in Philadelphia after all and had a good debriefing over some drinks. The chat was centered on flying coast to coast and experiencing two mechanical failures in transport category airplanes that day. All this was preceded by one necktie failure with resulting loss of dignity.
Footnote: To flesh out my story, I needed to use several modern resources to awaken my dim memories. So it is that I give credit to Google, Wikipedia, old TWA friend Gary Shreiner, and United colleague Randy Phillips (for B727 exterior shot).