By Leah Read, NTSB Senior Air Safety Investigator
“N555$$, call the tower. N555$$ call the tower…your gear isn’t down!”
As a newly minted certified flight instructor (CFI) in the early 90s, I loved reading the latest addition of Flight Training magazine. I’ll never forget reading a funny quip about a pilot who was on final approach to land at a controlled airport and forgot to extend his landing gear. The control tower tried to contact the pilot numerous times to warn him, but he never responded and landed gear up. Once the pilot realized what happened and came to a stop on the runway, he called the tower and learned that the tower had tried to contact him several times. The pilot responded, “Sorry, I didn’t hear you because there was a horn going off in the cockpit!” To this day, whenever I fly a retractable gear airplane, I always think of that story. I’ve only had one gear-up landing in my 33 years of flying, and that was due to mechanical failure that prevented the gear from extending. I can say from experience: landing gear‑up involves a lot of loud scraping noises, a shortened roll out, and an even shorter step out of the airplane.
As part of my duties as a regional NTSB investigator, I take “phone duty” for the entire eastern region of the Unites States during on-call periods. As the duty officer, I receive all the incident and accident notifications from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) or directly from pilots, and I’m surprised by the amount of gear-up landings we process. Now, some of these are due to mechanical issues like I experienced, but most of them are due to pilots (who admit) they either got complacent or distracted (or both!) and simply forgot to extend the gear.
Gear-up landings usually don’t result in serious injuries to pilots and passengers, but they are a big ego buster. They also cost a lot of money in unnecessary damage to the airplane’s propellers, engines, structure, antennae, and skin. Often a mechanic needs to be hired to remove skin so the damage can be better evaluated. More money! And, if the damage is substantial, you’ll also be dealing with an “accident” as defined by 49 Code of Federal Regulations 830.2, and you’ll not only be getting a call from your local FAA inspector, but also from your friendly NTSB investigator. Nobody has time for that!
So, how do you make sure you never forget to put your gear down?
- Use your BEFORE LANDING checklist—it’s there for a reason!
- Repeat your GUMPS check (gas, undercarriage, mixture, propeller, seat belts and switches) OUT LOUD several times before you land.
- Visually (if possible) confirm the gear is extended.
- Stay ALERT and FOCUSED on flying (configuring) the airplane in the traffic pattern. AVOID unnecessary conversation and MAINTAIN situational awareness. Traffic patterns can get hectic, and things can happen fast.
- Do some online research for articles about avoiding gear-up landings. There are some good articles and case studies out there written by CFIs and highly experienced pilots.
And remember: keep the rubber side down!