Glideslope intercept, gear down.
Hmm…the indicator shows the barber pole, not the pretty green gear down indication. The Gear Down annunciator is dark, too. Hmm…this isn’t good.
Move the handle back to the up position, and try again.
Still no joy.
Landing gear circuit breakers? Nope: all look just fine. Okay, let’s try cycling the breakers and trying again.
Same thing. The landing gear just stayed up, in their cozy gear wells.
“Approach, 2FR has a gear problem. Going missed.”
“2FR roger, climb and maintain 4,000, fly the missed approach procedure. Say intentions.”
Darn, darn, darn. Things were looking great on this solo instrument proficiency flight. The clouds were cooperating (i.e., they were there), there were just enough bumps in the clouds to keep me from being bored, I was on centerline and glidepath, airspeed and power were just where I wanted them. This was looking to be a good exercise.
Then, it became an even better exercise.
There was no instructor aboard playing games with me. This wasn’t a simulator. This was the real thing: in the soup, in the bumps, with a bona fide landing gear problem.
“2FR, radar vectors, please, to Palo Alto.”
“Mooney 2FR, are you declaring?”
“2FR, negative at this time.” Why not declare the emergency? It wasn’t yet. I didn’t feel I needed priority treatment. I had a plan: climb, get someplace out of people’s hair (airports aren’t such places, especially when someone else wants to get in), slow below the 140 knot gear extension speed, and go through the checklist for manual gear extension.
“Mooney 2FR, roger, turn left heading 150, climb and maintain 5,000. Proceed direct Woodside when able.”
“2FR, left to 150, 5,000, direct Woodside.”
I made the turn, got the climb going, and got the navigation set up. While leveling off, I decreased the power to stabilize at about 130 knots.
Even if the gear stayed stuck in the wells—certainly possible, but I guessed that to be unlikely, and the manual extension procedure likely to be effective—an intentional gear up landing isn’t a major emergency. Keep your wits about you and you’ll scrape the belly, bend the propeller, and maybe break the engine (at least, the engine will need to be torn down for inspection: engines don’t like going from, say, 800 rpm to 0 rpm when forced to do that by the propeller!). Keep your wits about you, make a good landing, and you might skid around a bit, but you’re not going to cartwheel or do flips or explode into a ball of flaming av gas. You’ll clog the runway for a while until someone can come haul your airplane off the runway, but that’s about it.
Things got a bit busy in here, what with the turn and the climb and the navigation and the leveling off and a frequency change. I realized that some of that might have been eliminated if I’d declared an emergency. Short of that, I could always have told the controller to stand by, or asked for something different, or said “unable.” I wasn’t yet really at task saturation, though, but did recognize that the workload was—momentarily, I hoped—rather high.
With the checklist on the seat beside me, I went through the items.
- Airspeed: 140 KIAS or less.
- Landing gear actuator circuit breaker: PULL.
- Gear switch: DOWN.
- Manual extension mechanism: UNLATCH.
- Gear extension T-handle: PULL SLOWLY 1-2″ to engage the clutch.
- T-handle: PULL AND RETURN 12-20 times, until GEAR DOWN indicators are seen.
- Gear down indicators: CHECK.
- Manual extension mechanism: STOW.
- Landing gear actuator circuit breaker: RESET.
I was glad I had only one interruption here from the controller (a frequency change, just after I’d pulled the circuit breaker). I acknowledged, thanked the controller for her help, and contacted the next controller. That exchange was pretty routine. I returned to the checklist. Sure enough, the gear came down after 16 pulls of that handle. At least, the indicators showed the gear was down, and the airplane flew as if the gear was down. Through this all, I had the autopilot engaged, and I was monitoring it. Good way to shed workload. (I had been hand-flying the approach, for the practice. George [the autopilot] took over after I was established on that 150° heading.)
“Approach, 2FR, landing gear indicates down. I’ll continue to Palo Alto with the gear down.”
“2FR, roger. This will be radar vectors DOCAL” (for the instrument approach to Palo Alto).
After some maneuvering, “Mooney 2FR is 2 miles from DOCAL, cross DOCAL at 4,500, cleared GPS 31 approach.”
“Mooney 2FR, DOCAL at 4,500, cleared GPS 31 Palo Alto.”
Down the approach I went, no problems. Not long after I broke out beneath the clouds, NorCal Approach told me to contact Palo Alto Tower. I thanked the controller for his assistance, as I had his predecessor in the previous sector.
“Palo Alto Tower, Mooney 2FR, inbound on the GPS 31. Landing gear appears down. I’d like to make a low approach and have you visually check the gear, then come around to land.”
“Mooney 2FR, Palo Alto Tower. That’s approved: cleared low approach, then circle north for landing.”
“2FR, clear low approach, then I’ll fly a normal pattern to land.”
I flew at 75 knots about 50′ off the runway, and tower reported that the gear appeared down. Doing a go-around from 50′ and 75 knots when already in level flight is pretty straightforward, but still not trivial: I just kept flying the airplane they way I’d been taught, the way I’d trained, the way I’d flown for 30-some years. Except this time, I left the gear down during the climb-out! During that climb-out, tower cleared me to land, informing me I was #1.
Right downwind abeam, where I’d usually lower the gear, I found myself with nothing to do. Well, nothing other than to fly the airplane, and ensure I was ready for the approach—complete with a soft field landing, touching down gently just in case something was wrong with the gear.
Right downwind, 800′, about 120 knots, at the 45° point, I reduced power to 1700 rpm, let the speed decay, then brought in approach flaps (15°). Turn base. Everything looks good, turn final.
Full flaps, retrim. A touch high: speed brakes out. On airspeed, on centerline, on glidepath, slight left crosswind, corrected, aligned with the runway. Speed brakes stowed. On centerline, on glidepath, airspeed looks good, runway alignment good. Flare, keep a touch of power in. Ease down, ease down, a gentle SQUEAK-SQUEAK! Leave everything alone, keep the nose up, nose up, now fly the nose onto the runway. Gentle braking, roll it out to the end.
“Mooney 2FR, turn left on Echo, Ground 125.0 when clear.” The only acknowledge I gave immediately was a click of the mic: I was too busy. Tower could wait. Then, when I’d slowed nicely, still tracking straight and approaching the left turn onto taxiway Echo, “2FR, left on Echo, then to Ground.”
After clearing the runway, I paused a moment, then got the airplane ready to taxi. When I was ready, I called Ground. While taxiing to the hangar, I called, “Ground, 2FR, my thanks to everyone in the cab for your help today.” “2FR, roger, I’ll relay that.”
I’ll call the shop tomorrow and get them to look at the gear. My uneducated guess: a broken micro-switch, broken wire, or dead gear motor.
Thank you, Rick, Ann, Barbara, Heather, and Peter. Your good instruction helped make this a simple thing to bring to successful completion, and helped me fly the best soft-field landing I’d ever flown.