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Training Tip: Forward-thinking flyingTraining Tip: Forward-thinking flying

I knew a designated pilot examiner who had an effective way to make applicants who were demonstrating their knowledge of complex aircraft think beyond “book” answers when discussing how they might handle a malfunction of the airplane’s retractable landing gear.

Photo courtesy of Mike Fizer.

While checking the applicant’s system knowledge, the DPE would inquire what a pilot could do if the landing gear did not retract after takeoff. If the applicant accurately described the steps for retracting the landing gear after a system glitch—the pilot’s operating handbook for a 1985 Cessna Cutlass RG provides a five-step checklist—the DPE would ask, “Why would you want to?”

It wasn’t a trick question designed to unnerve the applicant or dispute the manufacturer’s recommendations. He knew that asking would open the applicant’s mind to a wider set of scenario-based decision-making possibilities. One decision might be to leave the wheels down for continuing the flight (to an airport with an aircraft maintenance shop!).

For a student pilot flying a fixed-gear aircraft with a fixed-pitch propeller to train for your private pilot certificate, the idea of flying a complex aircraft may seem remote and futuristic—but you are already training for just that eventuality. Here’s hoping that this insight adds a perception of value to some procedures you are learning that may seem incongruous right now.

For example, if you perform a “GUMPS” check before landing, or use some other mnemonic form of a prelanding checklist, two items (the "U" in GUMPS stands for undercarriage; "P" is for propeller) may seem irrelevant. Your trainer’s landing gear is welded “down,” and the propeller’s pitch can’t be changed, but you play along with your instructor’s insistence about extending mock retractable landing gear, and simulating the adjustment of a fanciful constant-speed prop to low pitch (high rpm), as would be recommended in case of a go-around.

And the make-believe doesn’t end there: After touchdown, you are taught to hold off retracting the flaps until you have safely taxied off the runway, the reason being that it is only then that you can safely verify that it is the flap control, not a landing-gear lever, that you are about to operate.

Such drills are not the flights of fancy they seem: As too many pilots can attest, it only takes one gear-up landing in that brand-new complex aircraft to make you wish you had paid better attention to such details during your earliest flying lessons, when key habits are formed.

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: Training and Safety, Ownership, Aeronautical Decision Making
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