Whitesburg KY
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The hydraulic leak

It was 1956 and I had been in the Air Force for six months, and was a jet engine mechanic, stationed at McGee-Tyson Air Force Base in Maryville, Tenn.

I was still curious about aircraft and flying. I was working on the engine of the F986D Fighter.

A plane was towed into the hangar, and people had been working on the radar. At lunch one day, I finished my sandwich and walked over to that plane. I climbed up on the wing and looked into the cockpit.

Behind the cockpit was a panel, and beside it was printed “Hydraulic Tank”. I was curious. What does it look like inside a hydraulic tank?

So I proceeded to open the cap and see. I turned the handle and about half a gallon of hydraulic fluid gushed out and ran down the inside of the aircraft.

I quickly put the cap back on, closed the panel, and went outside to contemplate on what I should do next. I decided it would be best for me to just keep my mouth shut.

The aircraft was parked right beside the jet engine shop. The crew chief came back from lunch and immediately saw all that hydraulic fluid on the hanger floor under it. He went running and came back with two maintenance supervisors. They called the squadron commander.

Soon there were lots of people around and under that plane, talking and gesturing and looking through technical manuals.

That afternoon I was part of the crew that pulled the engine out. Part of it was covered with red hydraulic fluid, and there was lots of fluid in the bottom of the aircraft. I didn’t say a word, and acted as if I didn’t know a thing about what had happened.

That plane sat in the hangar for over six months. They jacked it up and let the wheels up and down. They put pressure on the hydraulic system and found no leaks.

We had to take off the parts of the engine with fluid on them, clean the fluid off, put them back on and take the engine to the test stand and run it up and check for leaks. There were no leaks.

No one had seen me on that aircraft so I wasn’t a suspect. Something terrible was wrong with that hydraulic system, and the aircraft was grounded.

They called in a North American Aircraft technician from the factory. He stayed two weeks, testing every line and every hydraulic system on that plane. Nothing wrong was found. They changed all the hydraulic lines.

I watched this with a straight face. After all, what does a jet engine mechanic have to do with the aircraft hydraulic systems?

The next time I was on top of one of our aircraft, I noticed that printed on the panel was this: “Press button to release the pressure before removing this cap.”

Finally, they declared the airplane to be ready for a test flight and it checked out okay. I wonder how much money the Air Force spent “fixing” that plane.

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