Three Green, Please


The mission was to transport myself and my wife from the Northeast U.S. to Florida for the holidays. My chosen platform was a well-worn Piper Arrow II rented from a local flying club. This particular airplane wasn’t my first choice, but it beat walking or taking the airlines. After a long week of work and travel planning, we launched late in the afternoon on a Friday and I put the heading indicator on “S.”

As I maneuvered to land at our planned fuel stop, I placed the landing gear handle in the down position at the appropriate time. As part of my pre-landing routine, I completed the cockpit flow and ran through the items on the instrument panel’s printed checklist. All was well until I got to the part about checking for three green lights on the landing gear. I had none.

The landing gear indicator lights on Arrows of that vintage are tied into the instrument panel’s dimming rheostat, which I knew. I adjusted the thumbwheel to its brightest setting but still didn’t have three green. Then I recycled the gear, listening for the system’s normal noises and the reassuring “thunk” as each of the three legs swung down into their locking position. All was as it should have been, except for those pesky landing-gear lights.

The Arrow series is equipped with a landing-gear safety system, which uses a pitot tube-like mast on the fuselage to sense engine power and automatically lower the gear if the pilot is about to land gear-up. To override the system and extend the gear when normal methods don’t work, the pilot slides a console-mounted lever down to its stop. Doing so releases hydraulic pressure and allows the gear to free-fall into the down-and-locked position. I deployed that system, manually extending the gear. No change.

“Well,” I thought to myself, “the handle is down, I heard the gear thunk into place and I’ve engaged the manual extension system. I’ve done all I can.” So I landed. Gingerly. The gear indeed was down and locked, and the landing was otherwise uneventful.

I wasn’t happy, though, and asked a mechanic to check the system while I took a nap in the FBO’s lounge. Unfortunately, he wasn’t overly familiar with the Arrow’s systems and could only determine the lighting rheostat dimmed the landing gear lights. (That only cost me $100). We never could figure out the problem, which presented itself again before I could return the airplane. I presume someone down the line fixed it.

But I shouldn’t have landed without good indications from the landing gear. I could have flown by a nearby control tower to get a second opinion, or performed more troubleshooting. It worked out, that time, but I don’t want to join the club of pilots who have landed gear-up. Next time, I’ll do more troubleshooting and get a second opinion.


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