Pilots are occasionally faced with a decision that looks brilliant if it works and stupid if it fails. In this fascinating and descriptive narrative, join us as we Monday-morning-quarterback some tough decisions.
The following edited narrative came from a NASA ASRS report involving a commercial student, a CFI, and a Cessna Cardinal with a recalcitrant left main gear:
“… We raised the gear and lowered it again, but the left main again failed to fully extend, remaining about half way down… Fearing that the left gear wasn’t getting hydraulic pressure, I checked the hydraulic reservoir. It was full… ran the Manual Gear Extension Checklist again and pumped the gear down using the manual override handle… Left gear remained in its half-down [position].
I went into the back seat of the aircraft to get a better look… The tire was wet all over…most likely from hydraulic fluid spraying out from a broken line each time the hydraulic pump was actuated.
The next checklist was the “Gear Up Landing”. I wanted to exhaust all other possible solutions…before considering the possibility of an intentional gear up landing. The only other idea I could think of was a textbook example…that involved opening up the door, reaching outside the aircraft, and pulling the gear up. We contacted [XXX] Tower to alert them of our situation and have them call our mechanics to see if they could provide any other ideas that we had not thought of.
After troubleshooting (with the mechanics), the only idea they could come up with was the textbook example mentioned above… Not wanting to risk injury to people on the ground…we headed back out over the ocean.
My student and I switched seats. I had him fly the aircraft and I settled in to the left seat. He slowed the aircraft to 60 KTS at 4,000 FT, allowing plenty of altitude to recover if we entered an inadvertent stall…I fastened my seat belt, opened the door, turned around, put my feet and legs outside, and stretched. They wouldn’t reach… tried to reach the gear with my arm… opened the door, turned around to reach, but couldn’t.
I realized that any forward facing solution was not going to work. I turned around backwards, fashioned a makeshift harness to hold me in, lowered and reclined the seat to its full aft and down position, opened the door, reached out again, and was able to reach the gear this time. But I didn’t have the strength to pull it all the way into its locked position with one arm. So next I reached out with both hands, grabbed the gear, and then pulled it forward. I heard and felt a ‘click’. My student confirmed that we had a ‘green’ down and locked light.
Upon inspection by Maintenance, it was discovered that the pivot axle had sheared–most likely a manufacturing defect during the forging process.”
It’s easy to second guess someone in this situation, but this CFI is far braver (and more flexible) that I would have been. Changing seats in a single engine aircraft is sporty, and hanging out a door with the wind trying to blast it shut and hoping like heck that the seat belt buckle doesn’t unlatch is above and beyond the call in my book. I like Cardinal RGs as much as anyone, but there isn’t an aircraft built that is worth the risk of life in my view.
Another landing gear incident led to a major tragedy some years back. A Piper Aerostar carrying Senator John Heinz had a gear malfunction and collided with a helicopter whose pilot was attempting to verify the gear situation.
This incident with the Cardinal worked, but the risk-reward equation is not balanced in my view. What do you think?