I never thought I would actually get into an emergency situation, never. Then, in a matter of seconds my flight turned into an emergency. Luckily my training kicked into high gear, and in the end, me and my instructor got on the ground safely. A lot of people keep asking me how I was feeling what went through my head and how we handled the situation. Let’s go through the whole flight, step into my mind as I take you through everything that I’ve learned.
The flight was just going to be take-offs and landings for me to practice from the right-seat, since I am working on getting my CFI rating. After two uneventful take-offs and landings I got abeam the numbers of runway 10L at North Perry, put the gear down, and noticed that I didn’t have a nose gear down indication. Which is fine, if you have a taildragger airplane that is.
I overflew the runway while Frank, my instructor, changed the light bulbs of the landing indicator lights, maybe the nose gear light was the problem? Or did a circuit breaker pop out? We decided to go to the practice area to run the checklist. However, we did not notify the tower of a problem yet, since we still needed to figure out what the exact problem was.
"We we’re committed to landing with the nose gear partially down.”
At the practice area, I ran through the checklist and did the radios while Frank took over the controls. We tried extending the gear with the emergency gear extension, and maneuvering the plane in such a way to try to knock the nose gear down. After all of this, we still didn’t know if our gear was down, to verify we headed back to North Perry and did a fly by so the tower could have a look at our gear. We knew it was going to be an interesting morning when we heard the following from tower; “Your nose gear doesn’t seem to be extended”. To which Frank also said to me in the cockpit. “I also have to take a leak!”. Here we are, flying away from the airport to troubleshoot the gear again with not one, but two emergencies.
We notified tower that we were going to fly back to the practice area troubleshoot the gear again and that we would stay in touch with them. Now that we knew what the exact problem was we could troubleshoot it better. At the practice area we circled over the grass strip, a common reference point. We followed the checklist again and did more maneuvers to try to knock the gear down. In the meantime we also got on the radio with our mechanic who gave us some more tips to try out, there was a helicopter who helped us out too, which, afterwards, turned out to be the evening news.
After about 20 minutes of trying to get the nose gear down again we decided to do some bounce landings, maybe we could knock it down like that, right?
Now, during this whole process I was so focussed on working together with Frank to try to get the gear down. I was feeling calm, and my head was in the cockpit and ahead of the plane too. Before all of this I researched a lot of videos on nose-gear up landings, and in general; they all ended well. The most dangerous part of this whole situation were the 2 bounce landings we did actually.
Why is that? Well, let’s think about it. When you commit to a landing, you have commited to it and you know what the outcome is going to be. With these bounce landings, if Frank made a small mistake during touchdown, we would’ve had a split-second to react to it. Luckily they both went smooth, too smooth actually! Frank greased both of the landings so we didn’t get a lot of force on the nose gear. Now we we’re committed to an emergency with the nose gear partially deployed.
Me securing things in the back
We got in touch with North Perry tower and told them that we were extending our downwind so I could secure things in the back, our flight bags, and double checking if everything is secure. I unlatched the door and slid my seat to the most rearward position so Frank could exit faster too. In the meantime the whole airport was officially shut-down for our emergency, there were a couple of helicopters filming, firetrucks and ambulances were waiting for us.
I secured everything in the back. We coordinated that I would turn off all electronics upon cutoff (to turn off the engine) when we were committed to the landing.
About 400 feet above the runway Frank cut the fuel off. I turned off the electronics and we we’re now committed. Slowly we approached the runway, not making a sound, just gliding through the air. In my mind, I already had a feeling that it was going to be fine. I went through the procedures in my head. Everything was looking smooth, our propeller was windmilling which was something I didn’t quite expect to happen actually.
Just before touchdown
Frank touched down smoothly on the maingear, and brought the nose down. As soon as the prop hit the ground we started sliding to the left of the runway. I opened the door while we were sliding on the runway for a quick getaway. When we came to a complete stop the cushion got thrown out, yes guys, it was a cushion, not a flightbag common to popular belief. I gave Frank a hand so we could exit faster. Which we did, and well, the rest is history.
Not a flight bag, but a cushion
I find it quite funny that we got so much attention for an emergency like this. Because, remember; these type of emergencies happen due to the fact that General Aviation is so big here in the US. Frank and I worked together well. Of all the possible outcomes this was definitely the best one. Frank really greased the landing.
The media attention we got was out of proportion in my opinion. It was largely due to Frank kissing the ground, that we were over all the local news media, people magazine posted about us and we even were on the Daily Mail in the UK. Yes, I’m talking about the United Kingdom, in Europe, our english speaking, tea drinking, fish and chips eating brothers & sisters. I think we would’ve made the headlines across the globe if I dropped to my knees after exiting the plane, ripped open my shirt, lighted a flare and screamed towards the heavens that i’m so happy to be alive. Let’s not do that though, ever.
Anyway, how about we take a look at some things I learned by being in this situation, worst case scenario if you ever get yourself in a situation like this could help you out; learn, adapt and overcome guys.
Coordinate with Rescue Operations
Funny thing, a couple of weeks earlier another plane at our airport had the same problem. I saw the videos and they also handled the situation really well, due to them I knew we would have a high chance of getting unhurt and making it to the ground safely.
They had a multi-engine airplane and because of their high speed slid off at the end of the runway. Luckily nobody got hurt there! Because of their incident the ambulance and fire trucks were waiting at the end of the runway. However, we stopped skidding on the runway after approximately 400ft of the 3240ft runway. In case something bad would’ve happened it would’ve taken a little time for them to reach us. Not long, but in a dangerous situation seconds can be the difference between life and death. If you ever get in a situation like this, give a heads up to first responders so they could be in the best possible position to help you out.
Don’t take too long
During the debriefing with the head of flight operations at our school, he came with some great tips too. “In cases like this, don’t take too long to get on the ground”. Why? Your mind is racing, you are thinking, calculating and doing many things. The last thing you want is to be exhausted in a situation like that, if you are, the likelihood of making errors or mistakes becomes greater. Don’t rush, go through your checklist and do the things you have to do, there is always time to do it right in controlled emergencies. However, don’t wait hours to get on the ground either.
Controlled & uncontrolled emergencies
One of the reasons I felt calm and ahead of the plane was that we knew what the problem was, how to handle it and we had plenty of fuel left to troubleshoot. We were in a controlled emergency. In my opinion a controlled emergency is when you can and have the time to coordinate with rescue ops, ATC and others of your plan of action. So, if you have the time to do this, and mentally prepare yourself for the situation; you are in a controlled emergency.
I actually feel more confident flying since I had this incident. And it further cemented the fact that I am on the right path. I love flying for a career, and to share my knowledge on the subject.
If you have any questions, comments or feedback on whatever, feel free to post them in the comments below. I’ll be sure to get back to you.
Grease those landings, rely on your training and be safe up there.