It used to be the one thing that distinguished humans from other animals: Our ability to make and use tools.
That was until videos appeared online of dogs opening doors with things other than their paws and birds dropping oyster shells on parking lots that a week earlier had been sandlots. Okay, so we’re not the only animals that use tools, but we still fashion better tools than other animals.
A G200 flight crew experienced a rudder hard-over after a rudder trim adjustment knob detached from the post during flight. They filed a NASA report after using a Leatherman to save the day.
The preflight cockpit checks included full rudder deflection both left and right without incident. The crew departed, and shortly into the climb, the pilot reached over to adjust the rudder trim. That’s when the trim selector knob came off. He placed the knob back on the rudder trim post.
The co-pilot wrote, “We decided to not make any more rudder trim corrections for the remainder of the flight and determined that it was logical to continue the flight under normal operations.”
At the time of their initial descent, Approach cleared the crew out of 15,000′, direct to their arrival waypoint and down to 8,000′. The pilot commanded the autopilot to descend the aircraft.
“I felt a sudden and rapid yaw from the airplane. It was at this time that I knew there was a problem,” wrote the co-pilot.
Apparently, the pilot had forgotten their agreement and instinctively reached for the rudder trim. The jet was now descending at 300 knots, in a full skid. Fortunately, the passengers were seated, but the cabin attendant was not. She slammed into the flight deck door jamb.
The pilot disconnected the autopilot and kicked full left rudder, trying to re-coordinate the airplane. Unable to center the rudder on his own, he instructed his co-pilot to apply as much left rudder pressure as possible, too, without success. Simultaneously, the co-pilot attempted to center the rudder with the trim knob. The knob merely spun on the post.
The pilot notified ATC of the uncommanded rudder trim problem. He instructed the co-pilot to pull the rudder trim circuit breakers.
“I decided to abandon the knob and reach for a small Leatherman multi-tool when it was decided that was our best option for repair,” he wrote.
Using the Leatherman, he successfully centered the rudder, and the crew regained more coordinated flight. They continued to their destination and made a successful landing.
Most of us will never pilot an aircraft with a lavatory on board, but this was such an ingenious use of a Leatherman that I thought it worth sharing. Hopefully this report might inspire us GA pilots should a similar situation occur.
The lavatory smoke detector sounded on a B-777 not long after departure from Japan’s Narita Airport. A flight attendant confronted the guilty passenger, who refused to give up his cigarette and return to his seat. When the flight attendant exited the lavatory to seek more assistance, the passenger closed and locked the lavatory door.
Flight attendants have lock override capability for just such situations, but the stubborn passenger kept his hand on the lock from the inside, preventing the flight attendant, the purser, and even the captain from gaining access. Finally, the flight attendant had an idea. “I used my Leatherman tool to take the lavatory door off its hinges,” she wrote.
Once the passenger was removed from the lav and placed back in his seat, the crew determined him to be drunk and disorderly. The flight returned to Narita, where he was deplaned.
A DC-8 cargo flight crew filed a NASA report after the airplane’s supplemental oxygen system suffered a minor blowout somewhere in its tubing. This flight had two working pilots, one pilot jump seating, and a courier on board. The crew attempted to shut off the passenger O2 regulator, to no avail. Because their aircraft was configured with passenger seats on the flight deck, passenger supplemental oxygen was tied to flight crew supplemental oxygen.
The captain faced a dilemma. He knew an inoperative supplemental oxygen system meant he couldn’t legally maintain their cruising altitude. But the crew had also calculated that the fuel burn to descend and maintain a lower cruising altitude of 10,000′ would prevent them from making their destination.
He compromised. He notified ATC of the problem. He also requested and got a descent to a lower cruise altitude while instructing the jump seater to find the leak. The jump seater determined that the leak was in the common line from which both flight crew and passenger O2 bottles flowed.
“We were able to clamp the hose near the hold from where the oxygen was leaking with a Leatherman pliers held in place by tape from the first aid kit,” wrote the captain.
He concluded his report with the observation on the importance of being creative “and using materials at hand that can keep a situation safe rather than deteriorating into a more hazardous situation.”
A mechanic submitted a NASA report after an incident involving his Leatherman and an Airbus 319. He was completing a graveyard shift and had finished writing in the log of an airplane he’d just serviced. The mechanic decided to go back and check the oil level on the plane’s #2 engine. He cracked two quarts of oil with his Leatherman and emptied them into the engine. He remembered gathering the empty cans and his tool kit from the engine inlet before heading to the hangar to stow his gear.
“That’s when I noticed I misplaced my Leatherman tool,” he wrote.
The mechanic searched the hangar. Unable to find it, he returned to the plane.
“When I couldn’t find my Leatherman, I remembered being in front of the engine. So I went to check it out, and the plane was pushed away. That’s when I thought the worst.”
He commenced a foreign object debris (FOD) search on the tarmac where the jet had been. He asked his lead mechanic to radio the person taxiing the airplane on the off chance he’d left his Leatherman on the flight deck. The mechanic taxiing the aircraft reported no tool on the flight deck. The mechanic then requested a ride to the gate where the A319 was being taxied. During the drive, he spotted it.
“I saw my Leatherman on the alleyway. The tool was in pieces. I picked up what I could and then continued to the gate.”
What he found there was not good. The #2 engine had suffered inlet and fan blade damage.
The mechanic concluded that he had become complacent and therefore did not communicate fully with his colleagues. He felt if he had the situation might have been avoided. He determined that going forward, he would maintain constant communication with everybody on the crew and that he would also ask his colleagues to double-check, just to be safe.
An EMB135 captain submitted a NASA report because of a mechanic’s forgotten Leatherman tool. Maintenance had come aboard the parked jet to fix a broken fastener on the stall protection panel. The captain saw the mechanic remove a small bit, a rivet tool, and a Leatherman from his tool kit and place them on the power quadrant.
“While taxiing out to Runway 13, we heard a clunking sound coming from the rudder pedal area every time we made a turn. We told ATC we needed to return to the gate,” he wrote.
The mechanics met them at the gate. Thirty minutes later, they were still unable to find the source of the problem, so Dispatch had them swap planes.
The first officer did an “idiot check” of the flight deck floor — to confirm they hadn’t forgotten any of their personal items.
“I noticed a shiny object behind the captain’s right rudder pedal, and when I looked closer, it was the mechanic’s Leatherman,” he wrote.
The final story is of an MD-80 pilot whose Leatherman was confiscated by TSA. Flight crews are required by the FAA to have certain tools in their flight bags at all times. Many choose the Leatherman multi-tool as it covers all required items in one easy unit. At the same time, TSA prohibits pliers, screw drivers and certain cutting implements on board aircraft.
This pilot submitted his NASA report because TSA had confiscated his beloved Leatherman.
“It is an FAA requirement to have during flight a cutting tool for removing the flex handcuffs carried by all flight crew members,” and his Leatherman multi-tool fit that bill. Except it was confiscated, which put him in violation of FAA rules.
He wrote the NASA report in hopes that the FAA would become acutely aware of the conundrum in the two agencies’ conflicting regulations and resolve the issue. As a former crew member, I too have firsthand experience losing my beloved Leatherman to TSA. I feel his pain.