We got the issue solved with the guy in 23B (see last post) and roared into a brilliant Virginia afternoon. The sleek, beautiful and magnificent creature they blandly and with empty imaginations call the “757” dutifully responded to my every touch, slipping along in the upper flight levels at 475 True. After a quick stop in New Orleans we pointed the Boeing toward Los Angeles and chased the setting sun. I sat mesmerized by the colors out ahead of us, the star-studded blackness overhead pushing the orange glow into a diminishing horizon.
Then Mike's comment gave me a minor jolt. “Look at that fuel imbalance.”
I looked up at the overhead panel. The left tank had fallen a thousand pounds lower than the right. I checked that the crossfeed valves were closed. They were. I stared a while at it and looked at Mike. He shrugged. I looked back at the sunset, now bothered.
I looked back at it. Now 1,100 pounds lower. “Leak?” Mike said.
Possibly. A slow one maybe; yet any leak in the engine nacelle could be serious—if that's where it is. I yawned. “Let's keep an eye on it.” The book says we don't have to get out checklists and start praying until the imbalance reaches 2,000 pounds.
With a few more miles of Texas behind us I noticed Mike's eyebrows lift toward the gauges. Mine followed suit. Now 1,400 pounds. Mike peered across at me. “Want to start balancing?”
"Yeah." I reached for the pump switches. Then I saw it.
“AAAUUUGGGGHHH!” Big dummy! “Look at that!”
I pointed at a green light that read APU ON. I had forgotten to shut the APU down after engine start. It had sat back there in the tail running contentedly for two hours, sucking fuel from the left tank and wondering what the heck we wanted it to do. I shut it off. Mike chuckled.
Then a ding—a call from the back. They've got no water. “None?” I bark into the handset. None, she said. We had no water pressure in any of the ship's galley and lavatory water faucets—seven of them. I asked what the quantity gauge read. She told me 44 galons. I didn't know if that was normal or not. Mike affirmed it was.
What to do? We had four hours of flying ahead of us and 184 people who needed water. And we didn't have a checklist to cover that situation.
We sent a message to our maintenance center. They asked the quantity. We told them. For the next 30 minutes messages went back and forth between us and them, punctuated with calls back to the flight attendants asking them for this and that and to do this and that. Nothing worked.
Then the maintenance guy asked me to recycle the water quantity gage circuit breaker—but they added that I will have to use “captain's authority” to do it because it is not a standard procedure. I sent a message back to them that I would not touch that circuit breaker with a 39 ½ foot pole. We would have to do without water.
Recently one of our captains recycled a breaker, for a minor problem, at maintenance's request—a seemingly simple and proper thing to do. But when the FAA found out about it they filed deviation against him for not making an emergency landing at the nearest airport. That's what must be done when ever “captain's emergency authority” is evoked.
I resolved not to fall into that trap for the sake of some running water. Then in the midst of all this busy-work I heard Mike say, “Uh oh!”
I saw him point at a warning light that read, LT HYD QTY. We looked at our hydraulic quantity gauges. The left was rapidly falling toward zero. Now, we were looking at a genuine emergency landing. I immediately thought about where we would go. Houston was off our left wing, 90 miles. Houston, it would be. Mike reached for the emergency checklist.
I was about to ask for a clearance direct to Houston when the quantity returned to normal and the warning light went out. We looked at each other with the raised eyebrows of puzzled men. Oh well. Gage problem, obviously.
Another ding from then back; another message from maintenance. The water problem was beginning to annoy me. I issued a decree. We would worry with it no more. I told them to put water bottles and Handiwipes in the bathrooms.
The message printer stopped. The dings from the back stopped. The hydraulic quantity never moved a whisker the rest of the night. The fuel stayed in balance and the man in 23B was another hemisphere away.
We began looking froward to the long layover ahead and upon getting there entering into a discussion of a great American patriot: Samuel Adams.
This guy was our problem.
Beak to Beak