Airframe Chapter 9

Something had happened to that wing, causing it to be repaired, sometime in the past.

But what?

She still had more work to do.

And very little time to do it.


12:30 P.M.

If the part was bad, where had it come from? She needed maintenance records, and they hadn't arrived yet. Where was Richman? Back in her office, she flipped through a stack of telexes. All the FSRs around the world were asking for information about the N-22. One from the Right Service Rep in Madrid was typical.




She sighed. What the FSR was reporting was entirely predictable. The JAA was the Joint Aviation Authorities, the European equivalent of the FAA. Recently, American manufacturers had had a good deal of difficulty with it. The JAA was flexing new regulatory muscles, and the agency had many bureaucrats who didn't clearly distinguish between negotiated trade advantage and airworthiness issues. For some time now, the JAA had been making special efforts to force the American manufacturers to use European jet engines. The Americans had resisted, so it was logical that the JAA would take advantage of the rotor burst in Miami to put greater pressure on Norton, by withholding certification.

But in the end, it was a political problem, not her area. She went to the next telex:



Casey had been hoping for an interview with the injured first officer sooner than that. She wanted to know why he was in the back of the plane, and not in the cockpit. But it seemed an answer to that question would have to wait until the end of the week.

She came to the next telex, and stared in astonishment.




A smart move by the carrier, she thought. Since they didn't want to grant crew interviews, they had decided to provide everything else, in an apparent display of cooperation.

Norma came into her office. "Records from LAX are corning in now," she said. "And Hong Kong already delivered."

"I see that. Have you got the storage address?"

"Right here." She handed her a slip of paper, and Casey typed it into the terminal behind her desk. There was a delay for the call to the mainframe, and then a screen flashed up.

MAINT REC N-22 / FUSE 271 / FR 098/443/HB09

DD 5/14   AS 6/19 MOD 8/12




"All right," she said. She went to work.

It was the better part of an hour before Casey had her answers. But at the end of mat time, she had a good picture of what had happened to the slats locking pin on the Transpacific aircraft.

On November 10 of the previous year, on a flight from Bombay to Melbourne, the Transpacific aircraft had experienced a problem with radio communications. The pilot made an unscheduled stop on the island of Java, in Indonesia. There, the radio was repaired without difficulty (a blown circuit panel was changed out), and Javanese ground crews refueled the plane for the continuing flight to Melbourne.

After the aircraft landed in Melbourne, Australian ground crews noted that the right wing was damaged.

Thank you, Amos.

The wing was damaged.

Mechanics in Melbourne noted that the fuel coupling was bent on the right wing, and the adjacent slats locking pin was slightly damaged. This was thought to have been caused by ground personnel in Java during the previous fueling stop.

The fuel line couplings on the N-22 were located on the underside of the wing, just behind the leading edge. An inexperienced ground person had used the wrong power lift truck for the N-22 and had jammed the platform railing into the fuel hose while the hose was hooked into the wing. This bent the hose bracket into the wing coupler, bent the coupler plate, and damaged the nearby slats pin.

Slats locking pins were an infrequent change item, and Melbourne repair station did not have one in stock. Rather than delay the aircraft in Australia, it was decided to allow the plane to continue to Singapore and change the part there. However, a sharp-eyed maintenance person in Singapore noticed that the paper on their replacement locking pin appeared suspect. Maintenance crews were uncertain whether the replacement pin was genuine or not.

Since the part already in place functioned normally, Singapore elected not to replace it, and the aircraft was sent on to Hong Kong, the home terminal for Transpacific, where a genuine replacement part was assured. Hong Kong Repair Station - fully aware they were located in a world center for counterfeiting - took special precautions to insure their spare aviation parts were genuine. They ordered parts directly from the original equipment manufacturers in the United States. On November 13 of the previous year, a brand-new slats locking pin was installed on the aircraft.

Paper for the part appeared to be proper; a photocopy came up on Casey's screen. The part had come from Hoffman Metal Works in Montclair, California - Norton's original supplier. But Casey knew the paper was fake, because the part itself was fake. She would run it down later, and find out where the part had actually come from.

But right now, the only question was the one Amos had posed:

Were other parts replaced, as well?

Sitting at her terminal, Casey scrolled through the maintenance summary records for Hong Kong Repair Station for November 13, to find what else had been done to the aircraft mat day.

It was slow going; she had to look at photocopies of maintenance cards, with scrawled handwritten notations after each checkbox. But eventually she found a list of work that had been done on the wing.

There were three notations.

CHG RT LDLT FZ-7. Change the right landing light fuse 7.

CHG RT SLTS LK PIN. Change the right slats locking pin.

CK ASS EQ PKG. Check the associated equipment package. This was followed by a mechanic's notation NRML. Meaning it was checked and normal.

The associated equipment package was a maintenance sub-grouping of related parts that had to be checked whenever a faulty part was detected. For example, if seals on the right fuel lines were found to be worn, it was standard practice to check' seals on the left side as well, since they were part of the associated equipment package.

Changing the slats locking pin had triggered a maintenance check of associated equipment.

But which equipment?

She knew the associated equipment packages were specified by Norton. But she couldn't pull up the list on her office computer. To do that, she would have to go back to the terminal on the floor.

She pushed away from her desk.

BLD6 64

2:40 P.M.

Building 64 was nearly deserted, the widebody line seemingly abandoned between shifts. There was a one-hour delay between first and second shifts, because it took that long for the parking lots to clear. First shift ended at 2:30 P.M. Second shift started at 3:30.

This was the time that Jerry Jenkins had said she should examine the records because there wouldn't be an audience. She had to admit he was right. There was nobody around now.

Casey went directly to the parts cage, looking for Jenkins, but he wasn't there. She saw the QA section manager, and asked where Jerry Jenkins was.

"Jerry? He went home," the manager said.


"Said he wasn't feeling good."

Casey frowned. Jenkins shouldn't have left until after five. She went to the terminal to bring up the information herself.

Typing at the keyboard, she soon had called up the database of associated maintenance packages. She keyed in RT SLATS LK PIN and got the answer she was looking for.

RT SLATS ERV TRK (22  / RW / 2-5455  / SLS)

RT SLATS LVR (22  / RW / 2-5769  / SLS)

RT SLATS HVD ACT (22  / RW / 2-7334  / SLS)

RT SLATS PSTN (22  / RW / 2-3444  / SLS)

RT SLATS FD CPLNG (22  / RW / 2-3445  / SLC)

RT PRX SNSR  (22  / RW / 4-0212  / PRC)

RT PRX SNSR CPLNG (22  / RW / 4-0445  / PRC)

RT PRX SNSR PLT  (22  / RW / 4-0343  / PRC)

RT PRX SNSR WC (22  / RW / 4-0102  / PRW)

It made sense. The associated parts package consisted of the other five elements of the slats drive track: the track, the lever, the hydraulic actuator, the piston, the forward coupling.

In addition, the list instructed mechanics to check the nearby proximity sensor, its coupling, cover plate, and wiring.

She knew Doherty had already inspected the drive track. If Amos was right, they ought to look very carefully at that proximity sensor. She didn't think anybody had done that yet.

The proximity sensor. It was located deep in the wing. Difficult to get to. Difficult to inspect.

Could that have caused a problem?

Yes, she thought, it was possible.

She shut down the terminal and crossed the plant floor, heading back to her office. She needed to call Ron Smith, to tell him to check the sensor. She walked beneath deserted aircraft toward the open doors at the north end of the building.

As she neared the doors, she saw two men enter the hangar. They were silhouetted against the midday sunlight, but she could see that one wore a red checked shirt. And the other had on a baseball cap.

Casey turned to ask the QA floor manager to call Security. But he was gone; the wire cage stood empty. Casey looked around, and suddenly realized the floor was deserted. She saw no one except an elderly black woman at the far end of the building, pushing a broom. The woman was half a mile away.

Casey looked at her watch. It would be another fifteen minutes before people started showing up.

The two men were walking toward her.

Casey turned and started to walk away from them, heading back the way she had come. She could handle this, she thought.

Calmly, she opened her purse, pulled out her cell phone to call Security.

But the phone didn't work. She didn't get a signal. She realized she was in the center of the building, which was hung with copper mesh along the ceiling to block extraneous radio transmissions while the aircraft systems were being tested.

She wouldn't be able to use her cell phone until she reached the other side of the building.

Half a mile away.

She walked faster. Her shoes clicked on the concrete. The sound seemed to echo through the building. Could she really be alone here? Of course not. There were several hundred people in the building with her, right now. It was just that she couldn't see them. They were inside the airplanes, or standing behind the big tools around the planes. Hundreds of people, all around her. Any minute, she'd see some of them.

She glanced over her shoulder.

The men were gaining on her.

She picked up her pace, almost starting to jog, unsteady in her low heels. And she suddenly thought, This is ridiculous. I'm an executive of Norton Aircraft and I am running through this plant in the middle of the day.

She slowed to a normal walk.

She took a deep breath.

She glanced back: the men were closer now.

Should she confront them? No, she thought. Not unless other people were around.

She walked faster.

To her left was a parts staging area. Ordinarily, there would be dozens of men inside there, fetching parts kits, working the bins. But now the cage was empty. .


She looked over her shoulder. The men were fifty yards behind, and closing.

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She knew that if she started to scream, a dozen mechanics would suddenly appear. The goons would slip away, vanishing behind tools and scaffolding, and she'd look like a fool. She'd never live it down. The girl who lost it that day on the floor.

She wouldn't scream.


Where the hell were the fire alarms? The medic alert alarms? The hazardous materials alarms? She knew they were scattered all over the building. She'd spent years working in this building. She ought to be able to remember where they were located.

She could hit one and say it was an accident...

But she saw no alarms.

The men were now thirty yards behind. If they broke into a run, they'd reach her in a few seconds. But they were being cautious - apparently they, too, expected to see people at any moment.

But she saw nobody.

On her right, she saw a forest of blue beams - the big industrial jigs that held the fuselage barrels in place, while they were riveted together. The last place she might hide.

I'm an executive of Norton Aircraft. And it's -

The hell with it.

She turned right, ducking among the beams, scrambling through them. She passed staircases and hanging lamps. She heard the men behind her shout in surprise, and start to follow. But by then she was moving in near darkness through the girders. Moving fast.

Casey knew her way around here. She moved quickly, with assurance, always glancing up, hoping to see someone above. Usually there were twenty or thirty men at each position on the scaffolding overhead, joining the barrels in a glare of fluorescent light. Now she saw nobody.

Behind her, she heard the men grunt, heard them bang into the crossbeams, swearing.

She started to run, dodging low-hanging beams, jumping over cables and boxes, and then suddenly she came out into a clearing. Station fourteen: a plane stood on its landing gear, high above the floor. And higher still, all around the tail, she saw the hanging gardens, rising sixty feet into the air.

She looked up at the widebody, and she saw the silhouette of someone inside. Someone in the window.

Someone inside the plane.

Finally! Casey climbed the stairs to the plane, her feet clanging on the steel steps. She went two stones up, then paused to look. High above her, in the hanging gardens, she saw three burly mechanics in hard hats. They were only ten feet below the ceiling, working on the topmost hinge of the rudder; she heard the quick, sputtering buzz of power tools.

She looked down and saw the two men following her on the floor below. They broke clear of the forest of blue jigs, looked up, saw her, and started after her.

She continued up.

She reached the aft door of the plane, and ran inside. The unfinished widebody was huge and empty, a succession of dully gleaming curved arcs, like the belly of a metal whale. Halfway down, she saw a solitary Asian woman, attaching silver insulation blankets to the walls. The woman looked at Casey timidly.

"Is anybody else working here?" she said.

The woman shook her head, No. She looked frightened, as if she'd been caught doing something wrong.

Casey turned, ran back out the door.

Down below, she saw the men just one level beneath her.

She turned and ran up the stairs.

Into the hanging gardens.

The metal staircase had been ten feet wide when she started. Now it narrowed to two feet in width. And it was steeper, more like a ladder climbing into the air, surrounded by a dizzying crosswork of scaffolding. Power lines hung down like jungle vines on all sides; her shoulders banged into metal junction boxes as she scrambled higher. The staircase swayed beneath her feet. It turned abruptly at right angles every ten steps or so. Casey was now forty feet above the ground, looking down on the broad crown of the fuselage. And up at the tail, rising above her.

She was high up, and suddenly flooded with panic. Looking up at the men working on the rudder above, she shouted: "Hey! Hey!"

They ignored her.

Below, she saw the other two men pursuing her, their bodies intermittently visible through the scaffolding as they climbed.

"Hey! Hey!"

But the men still ignored her. Continuing upward, she saw why they had not responded. They were wearing audiopads, black plastic cups like earmuffs, over their ears.

They couldn't hear anything through them.

She climbed.

Fifty feet above the floor, the stairs abruptly angled right, around the black horizontal surface of the elevators, protruding from the vertical tail. The elevators obscured her view-of the men above. Casey worked her way around the elevators; the surfaces were black because they were made of composite resin, and she remembered she must not touch them with her bare hands.

She wanted to grab on to them; the stairs up here were not constructed for running. They swayed wildly and her feet slipped off the steps; she clutched at the railing with sweaty hands as she slid five feet down, before coming to a stop.

She continued upward.

She could no longer see the floor below; it was obscured by the layers of scaffolding beneath her. She couldn't see if the second shift had arrived or not.

She continued up.

As she went higher, she began to feel the thick, hot air trapped beneath the roof of Building 64. She remembered what they called this high perch: the sweatbox.

Working her way upward, she finally reached the elevators. As she continued above them, the stairs angled back now, close to the broad, flat, vertical surface of the tail, blocking her view of the men working on the other side. She no longer wanted to look down; she saw the wooden beams of the ceiling above her. Only five more feet ... one more turn of the stairs ... coming around the rudder ... and then she would be -

She stopped, stared.

The men were gone.

She looked down and saw the three yellow hard hats beneath her. They were on a motorized lift, descending to the factory floor.

"Hey! Hey!"

The hard hats did not look up.

Casey looked back, hearing the clang of the two men still racing up the stairs toward her. She could feel the vibration of their footsteps. She knew they were close.

And she had nowhere to go.

Directly ahead of her, the stairs ended in a metal platform, four feet square, set alongside the rudder. There was a railing around the platform, and nothing beyond.

She was sixty feet up in the air on a tiny platform astride the huge expanse of the widebody tail.

The men were coming.

And she had nowhere to go.

She should never have started to climb, she thought. She should have stayed on the ground. Now she had no choice.

Casey swung her foot over the platform railing. She reached for the scaffolding, gripped it. The metal was warm in the high air. She swung her other leg over.

And then she began to climb down the outside of the scaffolding, reaching for handholds, working her way down.

Almost immediately Casey realized her mistake. The scaffolding was constructed of X-angled girders. Wherever she grabbed, her hands slid down, jamming her fingers into the crossjoint with searing pain. Her feet slipped along the angled surfaces. The scaffolding bars were sharp edged, difficult to hold. After only a few moments of climbing, she was gasping for air. She hooked her arms through the bars, bending her elbows, and caught her breath.

She did not look down.

Looking to her left, she saw the two men on the small high platform. The man in the red shirt, and the man in the baseball cap. They were standing there, staring at her, trying to decide what to do. She was about five feet below them, on the outside of the girders, hanging on.

She saw one of the men pull on a pair of heavy work gloves.

She realized she had to get moving again. Carefully, she unhooked her arms, and started down. Five feet. Another five feet. Now she was level with the horizontal elevators, which she could see through the crisscrossed girders.

But the girders were shaking.

Looking up, she saw the man in the red shirt climbing down after her. He was strong, and moved quickly. She knew he would reach her in just a few moments.

The second man was climbing back down the stairs, pausing now and again to peer at her through the girders.

The man in the red shirt was only about ten feet above her.

Casey went down.

Her arms burned. Her breath came in ragged gasps. The scaffolding was greasy in unexpected places; her hands kept slipping. She felt the man above her, descending toward her. Looking up she saw his big orange work boots. Heavy crepe soles.

In a few moments he would be stomping on her fingers.

As Casey continued to scramble down, something banged against her left shoulder. She looked back and saw a power cable, dangling from the ceiling. It was about two inches thick, covered in gray plastic insulation. How much weight would it support?

Above her, the man was descending.

The hell with it.

She reached out, tugged at the cable. It held firm. She looked up, saw no junction boxes above her. She pulled the cable close, wrapping her arm around it. Then her legs. Just as the man's boots came down, she released the scaffolding and swung out on the cable.

And began to slide.

She tried to go hand over hand, but her arms were too weak. She slid, hands burning.

She was going down fast.

She couldn't control it.

The pain from the friction was intense. She went ten feet, another ten feet. She lost track. Her feet slammed into a junction box and she stopped, swinging in the air. She lowered her legs around the junction box, gripped the cable between her feet, let her body weight go down -

She felt the cable pull away.

A shower of sparks flared from the box, and emergency alarms began to sound loudly throughout the building. The cable was swinging back and forth. She heard shouts from below. Looking down, she realized with a shock that she was only about seven or eight feet above the floor. Hands were reaching up to her. People shouting.

She let go, and fell.

She was surprised how quickly she recovered, getting right to her feet, embarrassed, brushing herself off. "I'm fine," she kept saying to the people around her. "I'm fine. Really." The paramedics ran over; she waved them away. "I'm fine."

By now the workers on the floor had seen her badge, seen the blue stripe, and were confused - why was an executive hanging from the gardens? They were hesitant, stepping away a little, unsure what to do.

"I'm fine. Everything is fine. Really. Just ... go on with what you're doing."

The paramedics protested, but she pushed through the crowd, moving away, until suddenly Kenny Burne was at her side, his arm around her shoulder.

"What the hell is going on?"

"Nothing," she said.

"This is no time to be on the floor, Casey. Remember?"

"Yeah, I remember," she said.

She let Kenny walk her out of the building, into the afternoon sun. She squinted in the glare. The huge parking lot was now filled with cars for the second shift. Sunlight glinting off row after row of windshields.

Kenny turned to her. "You want to be more careful, Casey. You know what I mean?"

"Yeah," she said. "I do."

She looked down at her clothes. There was a big streak of grease running across her blouse and skirt.

Bume said, "You got a change of clothes here?"

"No. I have to go home."

"I better drive you," Burne said.

She was about to protest, but didn't. "Thanks, Kenny," she said.


6:00 P.M.

John Marder looked up from behind his desk. "I heard there was a little upset in 64. What was that about?"

"Nothing. I was checking something."

He nodded. "I don't want you on the floor alone, Casey. Not after that nonsense with the crane today. If you need to go down there, have Richman or one of the engineers go with you."

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