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Training Tip: Shooting for troubleTraining Tip: Shooting for trouble

The last thing a flight instructor wants is to get a phone call from an unhappy pilot asking the CFI to tune in the six o’clock news to see what happened to the pilot and his airplane.

Photo by Mike Fizer.

I did, and there was the newly acquired retractable-gear high-performance single he’d been telling us about, sitting off the side of the runway in an obvious state of damage and distress. A pity, because the sequence of events leading up to it being there was all so unnecessary.

There were red flags: The pilot, then of modest experience, had been checked out by a seasoned instructor but still had little time in type. The aircraft had just been released from routine maintenance, and the pilot had taken it out for a practice flight.

Things started to go wrong when the pilot received a less-than-assuring landing gear indication. Not an emergency in itself; several methods of diagnosing and addressing the problem might have been attempted. Unfortunately, panic set in, and for reasons never enumerated, the pilot became convinced that landing immediately was the only suitable action. The flaws in that decision immediately became evident when a down-but-not-locked main gear leg buckled, the airplane departed the side of the runway, and the pilot endured his moment of misery in the local media spotlight.

How might the flight have gone better? (The FAA posed that question to the pilot in the form of a checkride.)

The Oct. 9 Training Tip presented a case in which a flight instructor facing a different sort of mechanical failure created time and a safe flight environment for troubleshooting the problem by flying to a safe altitude within reach of a runway and informing air traffic control of the situation.

Had the pilot with the gear problem remained clear-headed, a similar option was available. Perhaps the solution would have been found in recycling the gear or pumping it down by hand, sparing the local TV news crew a drive to the airport.

Perhaps not—but with the airplane flying under power and under control, and sympathetic occupants in the nearby control tower, binoculars at hand, it was worth a try.

If something goes wrong with an aircraft you are flying, maintain control, then ask yourself a key question: Does the problem prohibit continued flight? If not, fight off the possibly overpowering urge to land immediately, and take time to troubleshoot.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Student, Flight Training, Flight Instructor
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