Fire On the Ground

Synopsis: After landing, the failure of a brake system part caused a hydraulic leak and subsequent fire, made worse by an aircraft design deficiency.

The crew made an uneventful PAR approach at MCAS 29-Palms.

During landing rollout, the engineer noticed the failure of #2 Hydraulic system. The crew brought the aircraft to a stop on the runway and selected "Emergency Brakes". With normal gear indications and pressure on #3 hydraulic system, the crew decided to clear the runway before shutting down the engines. As they cleared the runway, #3 Hydraulic system failed.

The pilot used reverse thrust to stop the aircraft. The scanner deplaned to pin the gear and was met by members of the base fire department, who told him the aircraft was on fire and to evacuate the aircraft. The crew quickly completed the "Fire on the Ground" emergency checklist and evacuated the plane without injury. The base fire department extinguished the fire, but not before it had caused substantial damage to the aircraft.

Because they had flown a PAR, the crew was still on approach control frequency and had not switched to tower frequency, before the loss of the #2 Hydraulic system. They did not hear the urgent warnings from the tower about the fire in the landing gear on "Guard", because neither pilot was monitoring the frequency. The engineer, who was monitoring guard, was distracted fay the emergency, and also failed to hear the tower's warnings.

Investigators found that a brake swivel, on the right landing gear, had separated, spraying #2 Hydraulic system fluid on the brake and starting a fire. As designed, the fluid stopped automatically when the hydraulic fuse set after 20 cubic inches (approximately 11 ounces) of fluid had sprayed out of the swivel. Under the brake system design at the time, the emergency brake system was not fuse protected. While the fire would have gone out almost immediately, after the #2 Hydraulic system fuse set, the selecting of "Emergency Brakes" dumped the full pressurized fluid of #3 Hydraulic System on to the fire, greatly intensifying it.

As a result of this incident the brake design was modified to fuse protect both Normal and Emergency brake systems.

Steve Quiqley added the following information about this incident in a message posted on the message board:

The tail number of the aircraft was 67-0007 and the incident occurred at 29 Palms. This was just one of many accidents and incidents affecting this series (67-00xx). The accident board could not find the cause of the fire initially, so after a day or two a fire propagation expert arrived from Wright-Patterson. He went into the wheel well, looked up, looked down and moved a piece of melted metal with a pencil and there was the source of the leak. He spent about 15 seconds in the wheel well, if that. --- Steve Quigley

Bob Wicke sent me an email on 9/30/2004 with the following :

Some updated info on the fire on the ground from the brake failure. It happened at 29 Palms MCAS in California. I know because I was there serving my mandatory tour as a SOF for the ALCE just after my AC upgrade in the summer of 1976. I was on duty that day when the aircraft taxied in and switched to emergency brakes and ignited a huge fire. I jumped into the aircraft that was parked just in front of the burning bird and told that crew to start two engines and taxi farther away so we wouldn't lose two C-141s. Fortunately, the fire was extinguished, but not before it had done major damage to the left wheel pod and the left wing root area, which was melted down to the spars from the heat. It was stuck on the ground for many months while the Lockheed engineers beefed it up for a flight to depot to be fixed. I have some pictures of the end result at home in one of my albums, which I will scan and email to you also. ---- Lt Col (Ret) Bob Wicke

Photo Source: Bob Wicke

Russell A. Gray, one of the Flight Engineers on this aircraft, sent me an email in January 2005 with the following comments :

I'd like to clarify some points to the story. The Crew operating the aircraft that day was assigned to the 15th MAS and I was was performing Scanner duties. We had departed Norton AFB enroute to MCAS Cherry Point, with a stop at Twenty Nine Palms MCEAF. We were ferrying sufficient fuel for our flight from Twenty Nine Palms to MCAS Cherry Point. Lockheed engineers later determined this may have saved the aircraft, that and quick action by the Marine Firefighters.

After an uneventful landing utilizing max reverse and minimum braking, we cleared the runway and taxied to the ramp. We parked behind another Starlifter and began running the appropriate checklists. JD Harston was at the panel. When the AC gave me clearance to depart the aircraft, I opened the door and attempted to hand the Crew Chief the gear pins and noticed he was several yards off to the left of the nose pointing at the left wheel well.

I turned and saw the entire wheel well engulfed in flames. I notified the rest of the crew of the emergency and they evacuated the aircraft with the the three pilots and engineer exiting out the crew entrance door and the two loadmasters exiting out the troop doors.

The accident investigation board determined that the cause of the accident was that the #5 brake swivel separated from the brake when emergency brakes was selected depleting the #3 system on the hot brake. It was also discovered that during taxi in there was a hydraulic leak coming from the left gear and may have contributed the the incident. If you would like any further details please don't hesitate the ask.

Russell A. Gray MSgt (Ret.)

The photos below are of the aftermath of the fire. These are Air Force photos submitted to the site by Bill Weeper.

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