The crew of a US Airways Express Dash-8 that was forced to land at the Philadelphia International Airport with its nose wheel landing gear retracted on the morning of 16 November had earlier heard a "creaking and grinding noise" when taxiing out of the Lehigh Valley International Airport, say US National Transportation Safety Board investigators.
In a preliminary report on the incident, the NTSB says the pilot and first officer of Flight 4551 continued with the flight to Philadelphia as they felt "this was a 'normal' noise." After takeoff, pilots reported that the nose gear took about "three or four seconds longer to retract than the main landing gear" but that the remainder of the flight was uneventful until they received a red warning light upon nose gear extension prior to landing at Philadelphia.
After unsuccessful attempts to lower the nose gear in the air at Philadelphia, the pilots performed a nose gear-up landing on a foam-coated Runway 27L in the presence of airport rescue and fire fighting teams. Investigators say the aircraft skidded for 525ft along the runway once the nose touched down. The 35 passengers and three crew members then deplaned via the cabin door and were bussed to the terminal. Damage was largely limited to opened nose wheel landing gear doors.
After lifting the nose of the aircraft using inflatable airbags, an FAA inspector found that the nose wheel was "canted at an angle, wedging it into the nose wheel well," the report states.
Mechanics used a pry bar to push the wheel into its normal position, after which the gear dropped freely and locked into the down position. The links on top of the steering column were found to have been "broken and pushed upward and the nose wheel over steering pin was still intact," the report states.
NTSB has retrieved the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder along with parts of the nose gear for further analysis.