U.S. Department
of Transportation

Federal Aviation

St. Louis
Flight Standards District Office

10801 Pear Tree Lane
Suite 200
St. Ann, Missouri 63074


June 2002 




Thought for the month....
The natural function of the wing is to soar upwards and carry that which is heavy
up to the place where dwells the race of gods.

Those Who Will... Touching down with the wheels retracted is the proper thing to do - when landing an amphibian on water. At all other times, it is advisable to verify that the gear is extended and safe for landing. People who don't fly retractables often wonder how a pilot could be so stupid as to forget something as important as extending the landing gear. All I can tell those folks is to get checked-out in one and you'll find out. The worst thing any pilot who flies a retractable gear aircraft can do is to brag, "That'll never happen to me."

Every type of aircraft that has retractable landing gear, from powered gliders to huge multi-wheeled airliners, have been landed gear-up. Likewise, pilots whose experience ranged from novice to ATP CFII all-weather night fighters, have been aboard when the deed was done. They may have felt stupid after the dust settled, but clearly that wasn't the cause.

Over the years I have had several close calls with making a gear-up landing, and I have participated in numerous investigations of pilots who didn't catch the error in time. Only two of the mishaps involved landing gear that wouldn't extend or collapsed after touchdown. All the rest, and my own close calls, were the result of distractions. Distractions occur when there is a change, and the insidious nature of distractions is such that they not only cause us to neglect the task we're supposed to complete, they mask themselves so we are often unaware we're distracted. If I was aware I was distracted, I could have done something about it.

One of the things that checklists are supposed to do is to overcome distractions by giving us a written procedure to follow. Even the most dedicated pilot doesn't always use a checklist, and in about half the accidents, a checklist was used, but either the gear was missed, or an automatic response was given that it was down, when in fact, it wasn't. One pilot defended his gear-up landing by saying he did not use a before landing checklist because he didn't want to be distracted. Go figure.

Some pilots think they're bulletproof because they use a GUMPS (Gas Undercarriage, Mixture & Prop) memory checklist. Once again, distractions are the bad guys when it comes to using memory aids. GUMPS will work fine until a critical moment when we are distracted by some other activity. Some of the most common distractions occur during flight training or checkrides. Just the presence of a DPE or inspector in the cockpit can create enough distraction to cause a normally conscientious pilot to forget the wheels. And, more than one instructor has been embarrassed when they distracted a student to see if they could make them forget the gear, and then became distracted themselves so nobody remembered to lower the rollers.

The guidance I've always tried to give to pilots is if they need a checklist to get the gear down, they'll land one day with the gear up. Likewise, if they rely on memory to put the gear down, they'll land gear up. The moral therefore is that we have to do both. We have to establish a habit of extending the gear by memory, and verifying it by a checklist.

James G. Byrnes 1919-2002....One of the traditions in aviation is to say that when a fellow aviator passes away that they have flown West with the sunset. The imagery that creates is an airfield on a late summer afternoon after a rain shower has passed through. The sky has been washed clean and the setting sun is reflecting off puddles on the ramp and runway.

The pilot departs and we watch the aircraft bank to the West, climbing into the clear blue sky. It gets smaller and smaller, and we say, "there he goes". Eventually the spot disappears from our sight all together and we say, "he's gone". Of course we know that's not so. He's just crossed the horizon and we can no longer see him. But, someone beyond the horizon looking East might see the sun glinting off the propeller or canopy, watch the spot expand into a recognizable aircraft and say, "here he comes".

In 1999 I was able to get the final fix for the runway 18 approach at Smartt renamed "Byrns". Jim really enjoyed that and was even known to report "me", inbound on the approach to ATC. He always had a restless spirit and it wouldn't surprise me at all if pilots executing the 18 at Smartt report sensing a reassuring presence as they pass the fix, coaching them to the ground. Not to worry. It's just our Flight Instructor Emeritus still on the job. Log it as dual received.

Upcoming Events

June 19th
Florissant Valley Community College
Multi-purpose Room
Single Pilot IFR
7 to 9PM.

July 18th
Sponsored by the St Louis Chapter
Missouri Pilots Association

Thunder Aviation's New Terminal
(next to Wings of Hope)
Spirit of St. Louis Airport
Runway Safety Action Team (RSAT)
7 to 9PM.

Operations Safety Program Manager
1-800-322-8876 extension 4835