And the Wheel on the Plane Goes...

Written by Walt Rhodes
Thursday, May 29, 2014

Walt RhodesJumping down from the float, I began the pre-flight inspection of N758 last Sunday. The late spring had delayed our start of the survey, we had completed only one day of surveying, and were anxious to get going on this fine morning. The forecast was for a beautiful day of flying.

A pre-flight is a habitual ritual like a morning cup of coffee. I worked my way around the plane like I have done many times before. Screws were in place, wires were tight, all looked good and I was almost finished. One of the last items to be checked was the main landing gear on the right-hand side of the plane. Crap, the sight I saw was worse than a Tim Horton’s, the Canadian version of Dunkin Donuts, that had run out of java at 7:00 a.m. The axle was not centered in the wheel.

A closer look revealed the outer wheel bearing had ruptured, so the wheel on the plane wouldn’t go around and around, at least not smoothly. Immediately, I recalled recent landings and taxiing for anything unusual and nothing came to mind. It was time to start the logistical tap dance of assessing damage, acquiring parts, and making repairs, and it’s Sunday morning in a small, northern community.

As luck would have it, an employee of one of the air carriers that operates in Saskatchewan had taken a leisure drive and ended up at the airport. We chatted, and the next thing you know, my observer and I were watching the company’s parts manger, who luckily happened to be working that day, perform wizardry on the keyboard and locate a new wheel assembly in British Columbia before lunch. Three cargo flights later it would arrive the next day. There is no FedEx in the bush.

A small general aviation shop at the airport agreed to do the work. On Monday the weather was too windy to safely jack up the plane to remove the wheel assembly. After removing the damaged wheel on Tuesday morning, a check of the others on the same side indicated that those bearings may be shot as well. Removal of the inner main wheel on the same side revealed why the one had failed and why the others were on their way. All of the bearings had been inadequately greased when they were replaced during an inspection last fall. Another set of logistics to locate more parts was needed as the entire landing gear needed rebuilding. After four days, the plane was back together in time to have to sit for another day due to bad weather.

The legacy of this survey is not lost on the Canadian people that work at the airports where we operate. They have seen us come and go for over 50 years, and combined with their hospitality and recognition of the value of aviation, they often go out of their way to get airplanes moving again. My observer and I figured it was only appropriate that we got them a dozen Tim Horton’s donuts to say thanks and so that they would have something to go with their morning coffee.

An off-centered axle is never a good thing to find during a pre-flight inspection.

An off-centered axle is never a good thing to find during a pre-flight inspection. Photo by Walt Rhodes, USFWS

Work begins on removing the damaged wheel and ultimately a complete rebuild of the landing gear.

Work begins on removing the damaged wheel and ultimately a complete rebuild of the landing gear. Photo by Walt Rhodes, USFWS

Dripping brake fluid gives the illusion that N758 is bleeding from the damage.

Dripping brake fluid gives the illusion that N758 is bleeding from the damage. Photo by Walt Rhodes, USFWS

Mild axle damage from the ruptured wheel bearing scrapping on the axle.  The float manufacturer confirmed that mild sanding would repair the area.

Mild axle damage from the ruptured wheel bearing scrapping on the axle. The float manufacturer confirmed that mild sanding would repair the area. Photo by Walt Rhodes, USFWS

Removal of the inner wheel assembly revealed a lack of grease was the probable cause of the bearing failure on the outer wheel.

Removal of the inner wheel assembly revealed a lack of grease was the probable cause of the bearing failure on the outer wheel. Photo by Walt Rhodes, USFWS