Sage Advice From Mac?'Don't Forget the Wheels'

It's one of the most common results of the proverbial "short circuit between the headphones."

When we decided to include a weekly Flying Tip in every Flying eNewsletter, Editor-in-Chief Mac McClellan pointed out that FAA accident/incident reports almost always include one or more gear-up landings every week. His advice to me was, "Every week, tell 'em to remember to put the gear down."

Well, here we are with Flying Tip No. 52 -- representing a year's worth of weekly advice -- and I'm finally getting around to it. Mac is quite right. I check the FAA report every day, and it's a rare week that doesn't include at least one accidental landing executed without benefit of the rubber bumpers. Sometimes several in one day. There is a video on YouTube (click here), shot from inside the cabin, of a Cessna pilot doing the unthinkable -- horn blaring and all. Most of "those who have" (as distinguished by the old saw from the other kind of retractable-gear pilot -- "those who will") can recite the sequence of events that led to their distraction at the moment they usually lowered the gear.

Though I remain among "those who will," I have scared myself. Once, I was flying a practice nonprecision approach to my home airport. It was VFR, but weather was moving in. I was also listening on the advisory frequency for a fellow pilot who I knew was inbound behind me, both of us having left from the same airport. I was concerned that he might get caught in the advancing storm (lame excuse No. 1). The recommended method for descending to MDA on a non-P approach in a Bonanza is to lower the gear -- which I did on passing the final approach fix 4.2 miles from the airport. Then, when I entered the pattern, I must have flipped the old-style 'piano key' switch at the spot in the pattern where I usually lower the gear. It doesn't help that the early Bonanza piano key gear switch looks pretty much like all the other switches in the row. When the gear is down, the switch lines up flush with all the others that are not activated. When the gear is retracted, the switch sticks up separate from all the others in 'activated' posture. I clearly remember that in my distracted mind, I felt I was 'activating' the gear by flipping the switch to its 'up' position (even lamer excuse No. 2). My first GUMP check caught the miscue as I turned base -- about the same time the horn sounded and a friend, who was waiting to take off, transmitted, "Uhhh, Mark??" before he saw the wheels coming down.

Samuel Hynes, the World War II Marine flying cadet I referenced in last week's tip, is one of "those who have." In his book Flights of Passage, he described the night flight, his confused entry into the pattern, the odd appearance of the runway lights -- and, of course, the distraction of blaring horn, shouting voices and flashing lights from the tower. In its wisdom, the Marine Corps sent him to a Navy psychiatrist for evaluation. Realizing that a formal report would have washed Hynes out of the program, the doctor smiled and told him, "Mah professional advice to you, cadet, is -- put your goddamn wheels down. Dismissed."