A tale from my father’s time

When you get a new worker, one of the things that happens in pretty much every job in the US, and probably the world, is that you test the new guy. You send them for some flight line or some roof levelers or some such item. Lotsa laughs, reminds the new guy he’s NEW, and gives you a feel for how they deal with things when they’re not going well before it gets important.

Now back when my father started working for the airlines, several were still using tail wheeled aircraft. Planes like the DC-3, if you’re needing a reference. Anyway, when a new stewardess came on board, one of the games to play went thusly. Shortly after take-off, the co-pilot would get the stewardess’s attention and tell her there was a small problem and they needed her help. Something like,

“The tail wheel didn’t retract.”
“When we took off, the main wheels came up, but the tail wheel is still hanging. We need you to raise it.”
“Oh, not a big deal. It happens enough we’ve put in a temporary fix till the mechanics get the work done. If you go to the back and open the maintenance door you’ll see a rope. Just grab it and pull hard and steady till it stops. That’ll take care of it.”

The rope was there. It was coiled, and when fully pulled it brought the stewardess to the cockpit door. You can picture it, if you will – this woman (and it was almost always a woman, thus ‘stewardess’) pulling this thick rope (and it was always thick, not a clothesline), dragging it up the aisle between the passengers, slowly realizing with each step that she’s been had. You see, the tail wheels didn’t retract on most of the aircraft of the time. She was pulling a rope that was tied to a brace, and the only thing that happened was the stewardess got embarrassed.

But sometimes things go wrong. That happened to our fine crew one flight. They’d sent their stewardess back and it was taking a bit longer than they expected. They were laughing at what to do about it when the stewardess knocked on the door, came into the cockpit, and swiftly shut the door. Instead of a rope she had a bundled tarp and a worried look.

“I didn’t think I pulled that hard,” she said as she unwrapped the bundle. There, in her arms, was a tail wheel assembly. The mounting block where the bolts fastened were rusted and had broken open.
The pilot blanched. He decided it wouldn’t interfere with the flight so he didn’t need to divert, but as he approached his destination he called in a possible problem. Then he landed, and THEN he pulled off an amazing display of professional talent. He kept the tail up, balancing on the two main wheels, while he taxied to the gate. He reached the gate, braced for the crunch, and let the tail drop.

It bounced.

Not crashed. Bounced on its tail wheel.

You see, practical jokes get passed around. And some new stewardesses have worked for other not only experience with other companies but have boyfriends who are airline pilots and who laugh at the jokes played. And between our stewardess and her boyfriend, and armed with the knowledge that our particular crew had gotten in a rut with their particular practical joke, they’d gotten hold of an old tail wheel assembly and prepared it and the story.


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