One day in the 1980s, I was discussing problems discovered during testing with our quality assurance engineer, Len. He had been a test engineer for the US Air Force years earlier. He related this story to me:
He had just received a C-130 back from a total refit. They powered it up and were putting it through a full flight control system check prior to its test flight. Len noticed that the elevators (rear control surfaces) were “twitching” down. He noted that it was hard to describe it any other way. They would start to go down and then return to level flight position after about a two-second interval. No one seemed concerned about it, but Len was convinced that this was not normal.
Of course, the wire harnesses had been through continuity check, and all of the systems on the aircraft had been checked and passed. Yet Len was still not convinced. On a whim, he reached up into the wheel well and pushed the “Gear Up” switch (this switch is aptly named, since it is actuated when the landing gear is fully stowed). The elevators went fully down and stayed that way as long as the switch was pressed.
Now he had plenty of believers. If the aircraft had taken off, it would have been fine until the landing gear was stowed. Then it would have pitched nose down, straight into the ground! Naturally, they scheduled a full tear down of the Flight Control System wiring. After many hours at this task, they discovered that a semicircular cliver of aluminum was lodged in one of the large mating connector plugs.
It was likely a remnant of the punching out of a bulkhead connector panel hole to a slightly larger size (it was less than a 1/16 of an inch wide). This effectively caused a massive, although intermittent, short circuit in the wire harness.
This entry was submitted by Dwight Bues and edited by Rob Spiegel.
Dwight Bues is a Georgia Tech Computer Engineer with 30 years' experience in computer hardware, software, and systems and interface design.
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