Ready To Land?

Preparing to land is also a mental process requiring more than just configuring the aircraft.


Years ago, when I was still just a student trying to figure out a Cessna 150, I managed to convince a CFI to sign me off for soloing a Cherokee 140. It was bigger, had a low wing (not that theres anything wrong with that) and four seats. At the time, it seemed like a 727. At this point in my training, I also had been signed off for solo flights to and from a couple of nearby non-towered airports.

Soon, I decided to go fly the thing around the local area. Hearing this, the FBO asked me to visit one of those nearby airports to drop off some small items. I willingly agreed, loaded the stuff and launched uneventfully. Soon, as I cruised toward my destination, it dawned on me: I had never landed a 727/Cherokee 140 by myself. Since Im still around to write about it, its obvious it all worked out. I remembered my training, ran the checklist and spent most of my time in the pattern ensuring the airplane was ready to land. Would that we all paid as much attention to readying the airplane to land as we do simply moving various switches and levers.

Its easy to break down to their most basic elements the various actions needed to safely and reliably get an airplane into the air and back down again. Ive often told non-pilots asking “what it takes” to fly an airplane that if they can drive a stick-shift car, theyll be able to handle the motor skills required. In the same breath, I add that simple manipulation of the controls is only one element of what comprises a safe, successful pilot.

But too often, thats the way pilots think about aviating, as a series of unrelated tasks. I would suggest those who dont see the larger picture of what theyre doing and why have totally missed the point.

Call it what you will-the Zen of aviation, perhaps-but focusing on the individual tasks involved in flying an aircraft without putting them into their proper relationship as elements of a much larger, more important and complicated endeavor prevents us from mastering it. Put another way, well never achieve the perfection we should be seeking without greater understanding of how all those individual tasks fit and flow together.


On May 17, 2008, at about 1645 Pacific time, a de Havilland DHC-2 MK I (Beaver) amphibian nosed over following a wheels-down landing on Lake Chelan, near Stehekin, Washington. The airplane sustained substantial damage. The airline transport pilot and two passengers received minor injuries; the other two passengers died. The airplane was operated as a Part 135 on-demand air taxi flight.

It was a warm, bumpy day, and the airplanes aftermarket gear warning system sounded a couple of times. In response, the experienced pilot silenced its warnings by pulling a dedicated circuit breaker. Along the way, the pilot noted the airplane seemed to be slower than normal, something he attributed to the warm day and heavy loading.

Upon reaching the destination, the pilot noted the wind had died down and prepared for a glassy water landing. He set up a 150 to 200 fpm descent. The next thing he knew, there was water in the cockpit. The airplane came to rest inverted and suspended by its floats. Witnesses reported seeing the landing gear wheels protruding.


The floats remained attached at all fittings with the exception of the aft right fitting. No punctures or damage was observed to the floats. The landing gear wheels were observed in the down and locked position, and the landing gear selector handle was found in the down position. The water rudders were found in the down (water) position, as was its selector lever.

The airplane was equipped with a landing gear position advisory system designed to alert its crew when it slowed for landing. An annunciator light would blink and one of the following audible messages would be generated: “gear is up for water landing,” “gear is down for runway landing” or “check gear.” These advisories continued until the pilot canceled them by pressing the annunciator light.

Subsequently, a gear retraction/extension test was performed. The airplane was placed on jacks and a serviceable battery was connected. When the landing gear handle was placed in the UP position, all four landing gear wheels retracted. When the gear handle was placed in the DOWN position, all four landing gear wheels extended and locked in the down position; all four of the green position lights illuminated.

The pilot reported that the day of the accident was his 19th consecutive duty day, including office duty and flight duty. He felt the lack of days off during the previous 19 days was a contributing factor. When asked what would have prevented the accident, the pilot stated consistency in using the checklist.

Probable Cause

The National Transportation Safety Board determined the probable cause of this accident to include: “The pilots failure to retract the landing gear wheels prior to performing a water landing. Contributing to the accident were the pilots disabling of the landing gear warning/advisory system and possible fatigue due to his work schedule.”

Theres nothing to argue here with the NTSBs probable cause finding, and wed agree the pilot was fatigued. Couple that fatigue with what for all intent and purpose was a “milk run” hed made before-to the same destination and with the same passengers-and its easy to see how the pilot might not have been at his best, and how this accident occurred. By all accounts, this was an accomplished aviator with plenty of experience in many different kinds of airplanes who earned a number of ratings and certificates along the way. That two tragically died marks the first time weve seen a landing gear-related mishap result in a fatality.

Yes, there are two kinds of pilots when it comes to landing gear. There also are two other kinds of pilots: Those who are on top of things and those who are along for the ride. Especially toward the end of a long day after a string of other long days, its easy to see how this pilot got complacent with checklists and ignored signs the gear never got retracted after taking off from pavement: the relatively low airspeed and intermittent gear-warning system activations.

But the larger problem is the pilots failure to understand those warning signs and properly prepare both himself and the airplane for the landing. He performed most of the tasks necessary to land but never stopped to consider the larger picture: Were both he and the airplane prepared for the landing?


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