A Paper Clip and a Skilled Pilot
April 30th, 1966. Two pilots of the United States Airforce just boarded their North American XB-70 Valkyrie, the prototype version of a nuclear-armed strategic bomber that was never built in the end.
The plane took off from Edwards Airforce Base in California. Everything seemed to be just fine, but when the pilots wanted to retract the landing gear, they noticed a hydraulical issue in their system. The nose landing gear couldn’t fully retract, and it was stuck right against the doors of the gear compartment which caused the tires to rupture.
The pilots tried to fix their hydraulical system to get the nose gear back in position to land their damaged airplane. But when their electrical backup system failed as well, they knew they were in trouble. However, giving up was no option for them so they tried some hard Touch and Go maneuvers, hoping that this would force the nose gear out of its suboptimal position. That wouldn’t work either.
There were only two built airplanes of the XB-70 model, and each one of them cost around 750 million US Dollars. They had a tough call to make. Getting out of the airplane and let it crash to save themselves, or try to land it to save the aircraft, but risking their lives in the process.
Luckily, they had enough fuel onboard to just circle for a while over the airport. In the meantime, engineers on the ground started to look for the problem that caused the electrical backup system to fail. And they found it: A circuit breaker has been crossed and the circuit interrupted. The instruction of the technicians, to the crew by radio, is simple: short-circuit.
All right, only with what? That’s when one of the pilots sees his briefcase. He opens it and finds, next to stacks of paper and documents, a small binder paperclip. That must do it. He slips on a leather glove, looks for the distribution box, finds it, bridges the system - and indeed: The nose gear locks in. Done.
With a landing speed of around 180kts, the crew got their aircraft on final approach. It was going to be a difficult landing, as the broken hydraulical system also meant that they were only going to have reduced power on the breaks as well. But thanks to the skills of the pilot, the plane got on the ground safely. 39-cent office supplies saved the $750 million plane.
Sadly, six weeks after the safe landing, the very same XB-70 collided with an F-104 Starfighter during a formation flight and crashed in the Californian desert where one of the pilots was killed on impact.
Source (both pictures and info):
Flugrevue (Patrick Zwerger, 11.07.2019) German
More in English: Inverse