Gear down, two green
By DOUG TURNER
Strong headwinds have added an extra 20 minutes to the flight to Colorado Springs, but finally I’ve started down and performed the descent checklist. Even with the headwinds it has been an easy trip from Kansas City.
The passengers are a family of five, and the three young children are more than ready to start their vacation. Mom would prefer to be just about anywhere but in an airplane.
The aircraft is a Twin Commander 690B twin turboprop and, when the controller clears me for a visual approach, I contact the tower and work on completing the Before Landing checklist: Cabin differential—almost zero; Max flow switch—normal; Condition levers—high rpm; Prop sync switch—off. Turning right base, I move the gear handle to the Down position and look to confirm that there are three green lights.
The problem is there are not three green lights; there are two for the mains and a red “gear unsafe” light for the nose gear. A quick look shows an extended nose gear reflected in the left prop spinner. I remind myself that the first and most important thing to do is fly the airplane, and confirm to myself that I am doing just that.
Hydraulic pressure is right where it should be—about 1,000 psi. If the gear problem lies with a failed engine-driven hydraulic pump, the pressure might be down to around half that, with the auxiliary pump maintaining the reduced pressure. But, all appears normal.
Airspeed is fine and so is my position on base leg. There’s plenty of time to cycle the landing gear, but the results are the same—two green lights, one red. I advise the tower that I have an unsafe gear indication and would like to depart the pattern and climb a few thousand feet to troubleshoot the problem. The climb gives me a few minutes to think things through and talk to the passengers.
I explain the situation and tell them my intentions: execute a precautionary checklist (my passenger-friendly term for emergency checklist), then make a low approach down the runway so the tower personnel can visually observe the nose gear. After that, we will land.
I assure my passengers that if the nosewheel is not locked down and collapses on touchdown, the worst to expect will be some scraping of the nose. I again advise them, as I did during the preflight briefing, that only I will operate the cabin door, reminding them of whirling propellers just outside. Once we exit the airplane there will be no need to run or hurry. I let them know fire trucks will be positioned along the runway when we land, and they will follow us on the rollout. I reassure them that this emergency is an easy one.
The kids are wide-eyed and ready. Dad explains that there is nothing to worry about, so the kids wonder if they should worry. Mom is nearly comatose. Her eyes are shut, and I can’t tell if she is even breathing.
At altitude I perform a manual gear extension. That always works, doesn’t it? The nosewheel drops into the slipstream, and a spring assist pulls it into the down-and-locked position. Nitrogen pressure directed to the down side is always present on the Commander, so regardless of hydraulic pressure the main gear will extend so long as the aircraft has been slowed to 100 knots or slower.
My effort, conducted at 90 knots, bears no fruit. It is time for the tower fly-by and the landing. I advise the tower of my intentions and ask that emergency equipment be standing by. I add that I do not expect a fire, and that I believe the nose gear is safe.
The tower guys have been carefully schooled, and say, “The gear appears down,” rather than “The gear is down.” I turn downwind and set up for the landing, repeating all items on the landing checklist twice. Everyone aboard is ready.
I grease the mains on. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. As gently as possible, I lower the nosewheel. There are no scraping sounds, although for a second or two it seems like the nose is lower than it should be. But I am just imagining it. Thankfully, the nosewheel touches down just the way it should. As speed decays I ever so gently curve to the left onto a high-speed taxiway, and then onto the edge of the general aviation ramp where we come to a gradual stop.
I advise the tower that all is well and that I will be shutting down and vacating the aircraft. I also thank them for their assistance. The kids ask if we crashed, and seem disappointed that we haven’t. Nonetheless, they are excited to see fire engines alongside the aircraft.
I am relieved to learn that I do not need to complete a ream of paperwork, and also that the gear indication problem is minor. A mechanic makes an adjustment to a small tab on the nosewheel squat switch that has been deformed slightly, and a few hours later the aircraft is returned to service.
What did I learn from this experience? First off, that there’s no substitute for knowing your airplane’s systems inside out. The next lesson is the huge importance of adhering to checklists. It was my knowledge and checklists that let me stay calm during the incident. And my staying calm was most surely realized by my passengers, who I kept informed as the situation unfolded. Keeping my passengers both calm and informed was yet another big lesson. I projected the kind of professionalism that gave my passengers confidence in my abilities, and reassured them.
When it came time to return to Kansas City, no one hesitated to climb aboard. Even Mom.
Doug Turner is a retired air traffic controller who owns and flies a Beechcraft Baron B-55. He has logged more than 4,300 flight hours.
Download your personal ops manual template
All flight operations come under the rules provided to us by the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs). While adhering to the letter and spirit of the FARs goes a long way toward promoting safe flying, they represent the bare minimum in terms of a comprehensive safety mind-set. Think of a flight conducted under FAR Part 91—the general operating and flight rules. While comprehensive, these rules leave a lot unsaid—your personal risk-tolerance policies, for example. Or your attitudes toward rest periods, or flying in adverse weather, or aircraft maintenance policies.
The airlines, charter, and fractional operations all develop their own guidelines that are designed to exceed the limits of the FARs. These guidelines set out the organization’s specific procedures according to corporate culture, all in the name of safety. This way, there’s a second set of rules to back up the FARs. Yet another set—exhibited in each pilot’s own personal attitudes—rounds out what ought to be an adequate triad of safety and operational controls.
Those of us flying under FAR Part 91 should emulate the safety structures used by the airlines. Experienced pilots, safety experts, and insurance companies all agree that having a personal operations manual is perhaps the best way to promote safe attitudes and procedures. The manual needn’t be long or complicated, just a plain-language synopsis of the expanded, personalized rules you intend to follow. Jack Olcott, president of General Aero Company Inc. and former president of the National Business Aviation Association, has shared his ideas regarding personal operations manuals including examples and templates for your use. Click here to download the .PDF.
In the same vein, the AOPA Air Safety Foundation has developed an online safety course that deals with in-flight decision making. It’s only one of many such excellent interactive online courses, and to take it visit the Web site. It’s free; it counts as participation in the FAA’s Wings program; and, like a personal operations manual, it puts you in the right frame of mind. — Thomas A. Horne
The age of the very light jet is upon us. Many manufacturers are promising exciting, new, technologically advanced single-pilot jets to be delivered over the next few years. From the first days of start-up Eclipse Aviation taking orders for its then-$837,500 VLJ, many questions have surrounded the realities of owning and operating a VLJ. Chief among them has been the question of whether general aviation, nonprofessional pilots could safely and competently handle the transition.
By the end of 2008, Eclipse Aviation had produced more than 250 jets and Cessna expected to have 150 Citation Mustangs VLJs flying. Seeing these new jets at airports around the world is exciting, and proves that a smaller, less expensive jet built for owner-pilots can be—and, in fact, is—a reality.
These new jets have provided us with real information, data, and testimonials to begin to answer the question, “What does it take for an average propeller pilot to successfully transition to flying a jet?”
In the past year, I have helped more than 25 pilots transition to jets. In my role as chief executive officer and part-time instructor pilot at jetAVIVA, I have helped develop a jet familiarization training curriculum and worked one on one with pilots transitioning from Cirrus SR22s, Columbia 400s, Piper Senecas, Cessna 414s, and Piper Meridians to jets such as the Eclipse 500 and the Citation Mustang. Folks, it’s no cakewalk, but if you put your mind to it, you too can become a jet pilot.
The question I get asked the most is, “What are the biggest challenges pilots face when transitioning to very light jets?” These are the areas most pilots often find challenging when making the transition:
Automation. The most common problem experienced by owner pilots transitioning to the Citation Mustang is lack of comfort and familiarity with the Garmin 1000 integrated avionics system. This particular issue, however, is not isolated to owner pilots. During the 10-day type-rating course, a pilot must not only master the G1000 but also learn to fly the Mustang! Even highly experienced airline pilots transitioning to the Mustang have experienced difficulty completing this task. This is an acute example of a challenge for many new VLJ pilots—they are not just transitioning to the rigors of flying a jet, they are trying to simultaneously adjust to the world of flying a glass-cockpit airplane.
Our suggestion is to not do both at the same time. If you are planning a move into a G1000 VLJ (most manufacturers are delivering or planning to deliver with the G1000), you need a solid foundation of flying IFR with that system before you add the rigors of jet flying to the mix. Much more than just a checkout in any G1000 airplane, you need organized, professional, and thorough exposure to feel totally comfortable with instrument approaches, last-minute reroutings and holds, and simulated systems failures.
Related to the challenge of the glass cockpit/G1000 transition is the fact that, in single-pilot jet operations, the autopilot and flight management system (FMS) are not just convenient and helpful ways to ease pilot workload, they are critical and required for safe operation. Many GA pilots fly with a Garmin GNS 530/430, but have learned only enough about it to satisfy the most basic of their needs. To prepare for jet flying, pilots should be familiar with the most complex features and the fullest use of these cockpit systems.
Procedures, flow patterns, and checklists. This area of adjustment boils down to becoming a more disciplined pilot. Airline and professional pilots have always been required to follow strict procedures; adhere to the use of checklists through all phases of flight; and execute deliberate, memorized patterns as they move their eyes and hands around the cockpit. The good news is that none of this is difficult to do. The bad news is that, for many, it requires breaking old habits, and we all know how hard that can be.
Let’s start with checklist use. When flying a jet, it’s imperative that the checklist be used during all phases of flight. When a pilot does not regularly practice proper normal checklist management, pulling the checklist can create additional workload at the most inopportune times, like when intercepting a glideslope, lowering landing gear and flaps, starting a timer, and contacting the tower. However, pilots who have exercised the discipline of consistent checklist use are undaunted by the constant need to divert attention to the checklist and benefit from safer flights as a result.
A second checklist-related challenge for many new jet pilots is the integration of the quick reference handbook (QRH) into abnormal and emergency procedures. The QRH is a book of checklists easily accessible to the pilot, containing information and procedures for nearly everything that could go wrong (and will during training). Proper use of the QRH does not simply mean knowing where to find it and what page to turn to. We cannot forget to always fly the airplane first, navigating away from high terrain and other traffic, and then assessing the situation before grabbing the QRH.
Pilots can really help themselves prepare for this transition in two ways. First, they should practice emergency procedures in the airplane they currently fly with a focus on responding to each anomaly in a calm, collected, and unrushed manner. Practice pulling out, finding, and using the written checklist for each simulated emergency or abnormal situation. Second, pilots should start becoming familiar with the QRH for their type of jet well before they ship off to training.
If the QRH is already a familiar friend, it is much easier to learn how to comfortably integrate its use while flying a small jet. Almost all QRHs include some procedures that require the pilot to perform a series of steps by memory, without reference to the QRH. These items should be memorized prior to your first day of type rating training.
Flow patterns (or cockpit flows) should be thought of as tactile do-lists. This is a deliberate and consistent movement from one cockpit item to the next in a pattern so as to ensure that each item is attended to, properly and efficiently. Flow patterns only make flying easier once they are learned, but discipline and practice are essential in making good use of them. Chair flying your flow patterns until you know them cold will greatly ease your training and operation of a VLJ.
Instrument proficiency. There are two instrument flying challenges conspiring against pilots when it comes time to train and test for the type rating in a jet. First, most pilots have become accustomed to heavy use of the auto-
pilot, especially at times of high workload. This is, of course, a sound and appropriate practice, but to earn a jet type rating pilots must demonstrate the ability to hand-fly maneuvers and approaches, and to do so with equipment that has partially failed or while handling a simulated emergency.
The second challenge is that the type-rating checkride will be conducted to the highest pilot skill standards the FAA has set, the airline transport pilot (ATP) practical test standards. It doesn’t matter if you hold a private pilot certificate or if you’re an ATP, your checkride will be to ATP PTS standards. So, the new jet pilot is faced with the challenge of turning off the beloved autopilot and polishing some little-used instrument skills, all the while learning a new, fast, complex airplane and flying to a higher standard than he or she has ever had to meet. Get serious about your instrument skills as you prepare for the transition to a jet. Wean yourself off the autopilot and start hand-flying your airplane to ATP standards before you start the jet training process and you will greatly increase your chances of an enjoyable experience and a successful outcome.
All of this can seem formidable to pilots considering the step up to a VLJ. It shouldn’t be. As you break down each of these challenge areas, all are relatively simple steps. Most important to the success of a transition to jet flying is dedication to preparation. Years of flying, perhaps in progressively larger and faster equipment, has not automatically prepared you for jet flying as a natural next step. That expectation leads to disappointment and frustration when training and being evaluated for a jet type rating.
Do an honest assessment of your proficiency and comfort with checklist-based operations, procedures-focused flying, the Garmin G1000 (or other applicable flight system) operation, and instrument proficiency. Knowing that you must perform at the highest level, put the necessary time and work into fully preparing for what may be the greatest thrill and accomplishment of your aviation journey—flying a personal jet.
Ben Marcus is cofounder and chief executive officer of jetAVIVA. He is a former flight test engineer for Eclipse Aviation and has logged more than 3,000 hours in 16 years of flying.