They say there are only two kinds of
retractable-gear pilots: those who have
landed gear-up, and those who will. This
tongue-in-cheek comment reminds us that
unintended gear-up landings are easier to
commit than we might realize. When situations occur that distract us from our normal
routine, it’s easy to end the flight with an
unplanned “short-field landing.”
Checklists are the first line of defense
against gear-up landings, but routines can
help as well. If we’re in the routine of always
putting the gear down at the same point in a
flight, then we’re less likely to miss or forget
that step. If we use landing gear extension as
a tool for controlling the aircraft, we’re even
less likely to forget.
For instrument pilots, the landing gear is
often used as a tool to initiate descent on an
approach. For example, many pilots will
slow the plane down to an approach speed in
level flight, and then extend the landing gear
to initiate a descent. In most light aircraft,
the landing gear adds just enough drag to
depart level flight and start down a standard
3-degree glide slope without touching the
throttle. Even on a non-precision approach,
many instrument pilots will configure the
airplane for level flight, and then extend the
gear to initiate a descent.
For other pilots, the standard procedure
is to extend the landing gear on the downwind leg as they complete their pre-landing
checklist. Keep in mind that at busier airports (towered or non-towered), distractions
can abound once we’ve entered the pattern,
and the prospects of distraction are heightened. For that reason, we might consider
completing the pre-landing check before
entering the pattern.
Checklists are the first line
of defense against gear-up
landings, but routines can
help as well.
Regardless of the specific procedures we
apply, we should give ourselves at least two or
three chances to get the gear down. The pre-landing check is an obvious necessity, but a
pre-landing, over-the-fence reminder could
be the ticket to saving the day. If we make it a
habit to always check fuel and gear on final,
we increase the odds of a safe arrival.
While distractions and incomplete pre-landing checklists are a common cause of
gear-up landings, Murphy’s Law often
comes into play. Any number of events and
conditions, including electrical problems,
mechanical failures, and even environmental
conditions such as frozen slush, can conspire against gear extension.
Consider the case of a Lancair 360 pilot
who was attempting to land at Felts Field
(SFF) in Spokane, Washington, one morning
this past July. According to the NTSB report,
the pilot had experienced an electrical problem and wasn’t certain whether his gear was
down and locked. On short final, the tower
told him to “go around” because another
aircraft was on the active runway.
Still uncertain about his gear as he came
around the patch a second time, the Lancair
pilot opted for a low approach “to feel if the
gear would touch the runway.” Not feeling it
touch, he made a second go-around.
Murphy’s Law was now in full force. The
electrical system had now completely failed,
and without a radio, the pilot had no way to
communicate with the tower or get further
assistance. The mechanical situation was
deteriorating as well. For some reason, the
aircraft tended to bank left at high power, so
the pilot was forced to fly the pattern with
reduced power and could climb to only 500
feet above ground level. He approached the
runway for a third time, now at low power
and low airspeed. The aircraft stalled on
short final and slammed into the ground
about 100 feet short of the runway.
Fortunately, the pilot suffered only minor
injuries, but the aircraft sustained substan-
tial damage. The cause of the accident is still
DEALING WITH LANDING GEAR EMERGENCIES
So what do we do when the gear won’t work
right? The answer depends on the situation,
so let’s look at a few scenarios and see how
they might play out.
Time, altitude, and fuel permitting, the
first thing to do is troubleshoot the system,
beginning with the circuit breakers for the
gear motor. If that doesn’t solve the problem,
get out the checklist and follow the emergency landing gear extension procedure. If
the aircraft is equipped with mirrors that
allow you to see the gear, take a good, hard
look. Finally, if you can’t resolve the problem
yourself, get on the radio and get some help.
Try contacting a local fixed base operator or
maintenance facility where a knowledgeable
mechanic may be able to provide additional
insight and input.
Once we’ve come to the realization that
the gear isn’t going to work, we have to make
some tough choices. Let’s say for example
that we can get only one of the main gear
down, plus the nose wheel. Do we attempt a
landing with the two gear down and locked,
1. Make a thorough preflight inspection of the aircraft’s landing gear system.
Look for leaking actuators, improperly rigged mechanisms, bent doors and
rods, rub marks, and other signs that point to potential problems.
2. When operating in cold temperatures with wet, snowy, or slushy runway
conditions, delay bringing up the gear or cycle the gear up, down, and then
up again. This can help remove moisture, snow, and slush accumulations that
can freeze the gear in the up position.
3. Tap on the brakes before bringing the gear up to stop the wheels from
rotating before they enter the gear wells. For tight-fitting gear wells,
this can sometimes prevent the gear from jamming.
SEVEN Steps to Avoid Gear-Up Landings
4. A mirror installed on the strut of a high-wing aircraft can help us
get a look at the gear when its status is in question.
5. Back up the before-landing checklist with a quick over-the-fence gear check.
A memory jogger such as “Mixture, prop, gear locked!” can be a handy reminder.
6. If a gear problem develops, go to the checklist and follow the emergency
landing gear extension procedures. Get help from a passenger or use the
autopilot or wing-leveler to help with the workload.
7. If the emergency landing gear extension procedures don’t resolve the
problem, get on the radio and ask for help from a mechanic or