Thursday, June 20, 2013

Gear Down And Locked ?

Gear down and locked? I certainly hope so. If not you are headed for an LGRA (landing gear related accident). According to the FAA, they occur about six to seven times per week. These accidents almost all are done by general aviation pilots.  Interestingly according to the same author *, high timers rather than neophytes outnumber the perpetrators. Before I go into the ramifications of landing gear-up, I must point out that the majority are caused by pilot error and not mechanical failure.
Perhaps the worst thing about forgetting to put the gear down is damage that occurs to the plane and the high cost to repair it. Some examples of cost are as follows*:
                                 What insurer pays                                  Pilot owner pays
              Single engine 1990 -$40,000-65,000                     $16,000 -25,000
               Multi-engine   1990 -$80,000-145,000                 $26,000-44,000
Pretty expensive isn't it?

Of course, in addition to a bruised ego and a drained bank account, there is the loss of being able to fly your plane and the potential large increase in insurance premiums, if at all still available. Finally, the plane loses market value as it was damaged.

So how can one avoid the costly mistake of a LGRA? There really are two cases. The first is under VFR (visual flight rules) or good weather, with the pilot arriving at an airport and making a landing without the need of electronic guidance, e.g. landing at the local small airport. Usually a pilot would enter a standard traffic pattern consisting of a downwind leg, then on to a base leg and then turn onto final and land. At each of the above segments, in addition to other pre-landing checks such as proper fuel tank etc., say to yourself gear down as you manually move the gear lever to the gear lowering position. Verify that the green gear down light or lights have lit. On the base and final legs also verbally acknowledge that the gear are down and locked. I used to say “three in the green”, meaning that all three wheels were down and locked. Again on final, check three in the green and even just before touchdown once more.

The second case, as mentioned above is when making an instrument approach in bad weather. It is really almost easier to NOT forget the gear lowering procedure here. As part of an instrument landing there is always a final fix which indicates the point one has to start the descent to the runway. At this point normally the gear are lowered to facilitate descent. Again as in VFR, acknowledge that the gear are down and locked (three in the green). Do this again before touchdown.

Sounds easy doesn’t it? Well during my 40 plus years of flying I never crunched down on the fuselage, but did come close just once. I was taking a recurrent check ride in a twin. We were finishing up a simulated engine out landing about to touch down when the instructor yelled into his intercom “aren’t you going to put the gear down?”. I gulped and started to reach for the gear lever but was stopped by the instructor and told to “go around”, a safer procedure in that circumstance. After that I went back to saying “three in the green” and verifying that in fact the gear were down.

There are other errors a pilot can make. For example after landing and in a hurry to raise the flaps, one might accidentally move the gear lever into the up position rather than the flap lever**. Nothing would happen if the “squat switch” is functioning. But if it is not the gear will retract and your plane is on its belly.

Well you get the idea. An ounce of prevention, in this case four magic words, will help keep one from a belly landing. Just say it: Gear Down And Locked or Three In The Green.
Happy and Safe Landings.

*What a Gear-Up Costs –by John Doolittle, owner of Sutton James Insurance in Hartford,Conn.

**The gear lever is shaped as a wheel and the flap lever wedge shaped resembling its name. This of course is to help the pilot differentiate the two without looking.