OK, so here it is, "The DC-8 That Got Away". I must admit that I am a little reluctant to post this story after the "warm" reception my last one received, but here goes. I will, however, preface this story by saying that this experience came from my first job in aviation when I was quite wet behind the ears and in no way should be a reflection on my present employer. I will also try to be a little more detailed in my account to prevent any confusion.
I was working for a small cargo operation out of Smyrna, TN (who shall remain nameless) that flew 707's and DC-8's. They leased an old C-130 hangar at the Tennessee National Guard base there in which to perform their maintenance. Anyway, they had three or four DC-8's (I believe they were ex-Air Canada birds) parked out on the tarmac far away from the hangar that were awaiting cargo door mods. The powers that be decided that they were parked too far apart and needed to be moved closer to one another in order to conserve ramp space. So one of the leads, instructed a bunch of us mechanics to grab a pushback and towbar and help him move the planes.
When we got out to the aircraft, we hooked up to one of the planes and got ready to move it. I expected that the lead would have one of us ride the brakes, but he didn't. His reasoning was that the brake pressure had long since bled away and we didn't have a GPU handy (or APU onboard) to restore hydraulic pressure with the aux pump. Knowing what I know now, this was a huge mistake. Even if there wasn't any brake pressure (which should have been restored before the aircraft was ever moved), the brake accumulators might have had enough pressure in them to apply brakes if needed and, failing that, there was always the emergency air brake bottle --- but I didn't know that at the time. I wanted to question his judgment, but decided against it because he seemed like he knew what he was doing and here I was this new guy starting his very first A&P job and afraid to "rock the boat". No one else questioned him either.
So we hooked up to the plane with the pushback facing away from the plane, pulled the chocks and towed it forward (probably a plane length or more). I was walking the right wing. We stopped and the lead wanted the pushback driver to push the plane backwards and squeeze it in tighter next to the other aircraft. The two of them decided it would be easier to unhook the pushback and turn it around (so it would be facing the plane), so a couple of us chocked the tires and another guy disconnected the towbar from the pushback.
Now in order for this to make sense, I have to describe the chocks. They were the same size and triangular shape as your average hard rubber chock, but they were made out of square steel stock (probably an inch in diameter) welded together. I have never seen any other chocks like this since and probably for good reason, because as soon as the plane was disconnected from the pushback, it started to roll away with no one in it. Those chocks just slid ineffectively behind the tires. Eventually, the chocks were pushed completely aside as the plane started to pick up momentum. I ran and picked up a chock (as did the guy on the left side) and threw it behind the main landing gear wheels, but the plane just shot it aside at about shin level. We kept trying to throw the chocks behind the wheels, but the plane kept spitting them out like a hockey player spitting teeth. The poor guy holding the towbar managed to steer the aircraft away from the other planes as the rest of us ran alongside trying to figure out a way to stop this runaway plane. But we didn't stop it; it stopped itself.
You see, when we moved the aircraft, we must have parked it on the edge of a slight depression not discernible to the naked eye. Once it reached the other side of the depression, it slowed, stopped and then started to come back at us. Before it could gain any speed, I quickly threw a chock in front of one of the mains, which the plane promptly crushed, sending one of the metal bars into the tread but not far enough to puncture the tire. But at least the plane was stopped. If it had gone much farther, it would have gone off the edge of the tarmac.
Before we headed back to the hangar, the lead told us that we didn't need to tell anyone about what had happened. No one did.
Patrick Bateman is my hero.