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FLYING LESSONS reader Nigel Thompson generously sent this account of a near gear-up landing.  His lessons learned are valid for all pilots of retractable gear airplanes. 



Near Gear Up

Nigel Thompson


I got as close to the ground yesterday as I ever want to with the gear up (Bonanza V35B).

As usual it was a combination of internal and external issues.

I was somewhat tired, having returned from a week in Japan the previous afternoon. The weather was perfect VMC, I just went out for a general proficiency flight in the local area.

After some steep turns in both directions, and a practice forced landing at a nearby grass strip I decided to return to the field configured for slow flight. I have a Roberston-converted Bonanza with full span flaps and spoilers for roll control, so slow flight with flaps at 15° is a bit different and a fair bit slower than in a standard V-tail. Did some turns at 65 KIAS, then decided to enter the pattern on a standard 45° entry for runway 36 at around 75~80 knots, still with flaps 15°. This is for me an abnormal configuration for pattern entry. Consequently the speeds looked right for gear down, although it wasn't.

About 2.5 miles out from the downwind entry point a locally based experimental comes past my left hand side quite close and slightly higher. I didn't see him in advance (I don't think he saw me either). Whilst thinking about this lookout failure and scanning the skies carefully just prior to joining downwind a Cessna 172 calls left cross wind for 36. I finally get visual contact and find him actually turning downwind, inside me and lower. We have a noise abatement departure off 36 which requires a straight climb for about 3 miles, so this is an abnormal place for a cross wind to downwind turn.

I slow up a bit more and tuck in behind him, while watching carefully for spacing and other traffic.

He flies a nice tight base, but seems from my vantage point to get very low on final, so I continue to watch him as I turn final. I like to keep high on the approach and use little or no power (we are surrounded by buildings). At about 300 ft I go full flap and about 70 knots, thinking to myself I'll show him a nice short field landing without dragging it over the fence as he is taxiing back.

Not sure how high, I pull the throttle to idle and the gear horn goes off. At more or less the same moment the aircraft who landed ahead of me calls "gear up, go around" to me on Unicom. As I acknowledge I am already adding a bit of power to arrest the descent and dropping the gear. I land a little longer than planned and curse myself for stupidity, as well wondering why I didn’t go around.

The gear horn would have saved me, but that's really a last resort.

So what to learn from this:

Maintain Standard Operating Practice at all times (otherwise it isn’t SOP!). I normally enter the pattern flaps up and 120 knots or thereabouts, and drop the gear midfield with my hand on the switch until I get three greens. Flaps as required on final, with another gear check at 500 ft.

Don't fly, even in perfect VMC, when jet lagged (it's a different sort of tired, at least for me).

Recognise the risk associated with distraction, and attention capture.

I have at least 2000 hours of retractable time, maybe 2500. Only twice have I come close to a gear up, and both times it started with a non-standard pattern entry configuration (the previous time, some years ago, was practicing engine failures on takeoff solo in no wind conditions, taking off and landing back on the reciprocal runway. Gear horn saved me again.)

Oh well, we live and learn, preferably based on someone else's experience.


Fly Safe.




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