Brilliant or Not So Much – Part II

April 22, 2014 by Bruce Landsberg

Cardinal RG

Last week’s blog on decision making turned out to be more than the usual rant on poor decision making. I voiced an opinion that a CFI faced with a recalcitrant main landing gear on a Cessna 172 RG might be taking more risk than prudent in trying to get the gear down. You can read last week’s blog here or just scroll down. (It was noted in error as a Cardinal RG—my mistake.)

There were good comments, pro and con. As this is being written Tuesday morning, 70 percent thought the insurance company should buy the aircraft, and 20 percent thought the CFI was managing the risk appropriately.

What makes this both fun and educational is that the CFI, whom we’ll call Tom, called me after reading the blog to tell his side of the story. Here are his comments, which give us a rare insight into his thought process:

“First and foremost, I would like to assure everyone that this decision was not made in haste and on a whim.  It was well thought out and coordinated with maintenance, ATC, the pilots in the practice area over the ocean, and amongst the two of us in the cockpit.

I bring to this equation over 20 years of flight experience, 8,000+ hours of flight time, a jet airline captain perspective, skydiving and open-door/wind stream knowledge, and an FAA gold seal CFII-MEI. My student and I knew each other well as I had completed his Private and Instrument training. We employed CRM, aeronautical decision making, and risk management using all of the available resources (including the numerous acronyms such as DECIDE, the 3P model, and CFIT). We maintained situational awareness and divided up the flying and problem-solving tasks throughout the entire scenario.

We thought of using a tow bar but didn’t want to risk hitting the elevator. Insurance, money, and cost never came into our decision-making process. In the end I’m glad I didn’t have to test the flight characteristics of an asymmetrical gear landing. I appreciate everyone’s thoughts and comments. I would like to reiterate, though, that I wouldn’t advocate this as a blanket procedure to be performed in all cases. If any of the variables had been different (non-VFR weather, low fuel, a different type of aircraft, single pilot, low-time pilot, night, etc.) then we may have very well come to a different conclusion and solution. Thank you for reading my response.”

The picture shows a Cardinal RG which had essentially the same gear system as a C172RG with a trailing main gear (not asymmetrical) which took the other option and bellied in. That aircraft lives to fly today.

Tom, thanks for a very clear explanation of how you reached your decisions. Some key points—you took a measured approach, and based on your background and on the conditions that existed at the time, decided that the risk was manageable. You didn’t hurry, there were no other complicating factors such as weather or fuel, and you coordinated with all the appropriate parties.

Hindsight bias says that humans almost always over-estimate their ability to forecast outcomes—especially after the fact. As I noted in the first round, I am fortunate to sit in a position of a Monday morning quarterback after all the pieces are laid out on the game board. Lawyers, accident investigators, other pilots, the media, and safety “experts” are quick to sit in judgment after they’ve had a few hours, days, weeks, or months to sift through all the facts. Sometimes we’re right and other times come across as holier-than-thou. Personally, I’ll stick to letting the insurance company have this one but commend you for a nice piece of work. Don’t know that I could have done it—and that’s exactly the point. Dirty Harry famously said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” This is especially true for pilots. It’s a fine line between wimping out and over-reaching. The consequences of misjudging can be severe.

Tom, I commend you for taking the time to call and bring this to light. It helps our safety cause to see and hear other views respectfully and professionally presented. Now, if we could just get our politicians to do the same!

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • Pete B

    Kinda like this story of the C310 “saver” in Flight Training mag:

    Bottom line, would you want to fly with somebody more concerned about the airplane or the occupants themselves? “Saving” airplanes or engines is not what pilots do. We safely fly people and if that means sacrificing the aircraft, so be it.

  • stu hyderman

    You initial article was confusing if someone like myself didn’t read it carefully. The picture you used was a low wing retractable and I was trying to get my head around just how the instructor was able to manipulate the mains..Find out today it was a 172 RG..That makes sense now..

  • Duane

    It seems from the comments on the original post that most of those who agreed with the CFI’s actions to reach outside the aircraft to manually lower the gear (which are a minority of commenters) did so on the basis of either:

    (1) life is full of risk, and risky actions are fun, so go for it!

    (2) apparently many Cessna retractable owners do this kind of thing all the time, even going so far as keeping a spare golf club in the cabin on all flights; or

    (3) a gear up landing is an equally fearful flight risk as compared to falling out of a flying airplane

    Meh …

    When it comes to (1), maybe the younger pilots enjoy accepting additional personal risk, but most of us guys old enough to be on the downhill side of life’s curve don’t particularly thrill at any acceleration of the risk equation;

    (2) That’s why I don’t own or fly a Cessna high wing retractable (those long skinny rearward-rotating gear legs just look like they’ve got “RISK” written all over them)

    (3) A gear up landing almost never results in a life-threatening outcome.

    Let the insurance company pay to repair an aircraft that fails to function correctly, and save the heroics for avoiding or managing a real life-threatening scenario.

    And don’t buy or fly a Cessna high wing retractable.

  • Chris

    Duane said: “those long skinny rearward-rotating gear legs just look like they’ve got “RISK” written all over them…And don’t buy or fly a Cessna high wing retractable”

    FYI, without objective data, such comments are 100% worthless. FYI #2, Cessna has addressed the failure mode of the landing gear via service bulletin. If it’s been complied with, the gear reliability is on par with other aircraft, using information from published data.

    Furthermore, those spindly legs are spring steel. They are seriously tough and not prone to failure.

  • Paul Cotrufo

    Something similar happened to a Cessna 182RG, years ago. The left gear leg was hanging limp, halfway through the cycle. The pilot performed a negative G push-over, the main gear move up and locked.

  • Jill

    It’s interesting what people are focusing on here… The pictures? Those are just tools or examples. And the thinking that he should’ve landed gear up–with an asymmetric gear situation? That would’ve been very different than a full gear up. How could landing like that have been safer than what he did? I too commend the CFI for responding the way he did here. He and his student (licensed pilot) did the right thing in their situation (including covering all the bases with the newer training techniques of risk management etc) and it worked for them–no loss (or even injury) to them or anyone else and that plane will also fly again! Well done!

  • Robert gary

    One short paragraph to summarize the situation would make the article less confusing.

  • Boyd

    “In Hollywood the woods are full of people that learned to write but eveidently can’t read. If they could read their stuff, they’d stop writing”. Will Rogers.

  • Duane

    Chris – if those spring steel Cessna high wing retractable gear legs are so “seriously tough and not prone to failure” then (1) why did Cessna have to issue a service bulletin to fix their “seriously tough and not prone to failure” landing gear, and

    (2) why did commenters on the previous thread suggest that everybody knows about this problem (like the GEICO commercials say) and keep golf clubs in the aircraft to deal with their “seriously tough and not prone to failure” landing gears?

    The obvious answer to both questions is that there is indeed a significant torsional stress on the Cessna gear (it’s a matter of physics, long moment arms, and mechanical design) that is indeed prone to failure and isn’t really all that tough, apparently. That’s likely why there have been relatively few high wing retractable aircraft built compared to low wing retractables. The much shorter and sturdier gear design available on virtually any low wing retractable gear aircraft is much less prone to structural failure, because the moment arm is much shorter. When gear failure happens on a low wing retractable, it’s almost always due to a hydraulic or electric actuator issue, not structural failure as in the Cessnas.

  • Cary Alburn

    In my younger, foolisher years, I might have tried to reach the gear. But being well into the downhill slope of life after 41+ years of flying, and frankly being not nearly flexible enough to do that, I’d have opted for the gear up landing, asymmetrical or not. But I don’t fault the CFI. We all make our in-flight decisions as we see the need at the time, and if it’s a reasoned, considered decision, who am I to second guess him?


  • Bob Glougie

    This is a Cessna 177 Cardinal RG. NOT a 172 RG. I have quite a bit of time in a Cardinal RG. If you don’t believe it, google the two.

  • http://learntoflylv,com Scott Brooksby CFII

    I had a similar situation in a Comanche 250. Flying with another pilot in a recently restored Comanche 250 we could not get a green gear down light. We flew by the tower and they verified that the right gear was at a 45 degree position. We tried cycling the gear down manually, but it did not work. The comanche requires special techniques to get the gear back up so I had the other pilot fly while I got the gear up. I did discuss with the mechanic via cell phone the possibity of a landing in the 1 gear up position, but the idea of an asymetrical landing did not seem safe. Tower asked for time to call the fire department.

    We went to the practice area and put the aircraft into a dive. As we put the gear switch down, he pulled up hard to create extra g-force on the gear. We got a green light. We had another aircraft verify that it looked down and locked. We returned to the airport and landed uneventfully. It turned out that a control cable had broken and would not extend the gear.

    Lessons learned. It is good to understand the working of your gear system. Talk to your mechanic. We used a cell phone and discussed all of the options. Cell phones are good tools during emergencies. G-forces can be very useful.

  • Don

    I love my plane – it’s like part of my family. But if it ever malfunctions, I hope I’ll be wise enough to remember that IT’S JUST A MACHINE.

    If the CFI was an experienced parachutist, and was wearing a parachute, then what the hell. But otherwise he risked falling out of an airplane to protect the belly from getting scraped up in a gear-up landing. I can’t see how this can be described as a good decision.

    As the saying goes, “you don’t need a parachute to skydive. You just need a parachute to skydive TWICE.”

  • Laurence Burrows

    I’ve flown a variety of airplanes: Piper Warrior, Arrow, Saratoga & Seminole; Beech Bonanza; Cessna Skyhawk & Skylane; Partenavia P68. Most are retractables.

    Only gear failure was in a rented Saratoga SP: 2 greens over YMHB. Confirmed “one main up” with the tower, circled over the ocean & reviewed the POH — recycled CB, slowed to 80 kts, selected emergency gear release, wiggled tail to ‘assist’ over-centre locks. 3 greens. Back to slow pass over tower at 500 ft :-) and they reported “three down”. Landed fine. Pump motor failure. Passengers cool with the experience and flew with me again.

    My take: if it’s your airplane, get very particular/obsessive about maintenance on ‘known problem systems/components’. That’s where the risk is best managed, not in the air.

    And, speaking of risk management, read the Beech POH about gear failure. The whole “reach behind, lift carpet, lift hatch, unlock and insert handle and rotate 50 times to lower gear” while “maintain control of airplane” tango! Gaahh! If you’re on your own or without a nice, ice-cool pax to do this stuff for you it’s not going to look good, especially as the gear is the #1 speed-brake for the flare…

  • Dave Passmore

    I heard another CFI tell the story of another C172 RG landing gear leg not extending. His solution was better and safer that the one in this story: The CFI cut a seatbelt with his pocket knife, opened the door, wrapped the seatbelt around the gear leg and pulled. It gear came down, and the gear “down and locked” light came on. Normal landing.

  • Rickey Harber

    I had the same problem 18 years ago. During an instructional flight the student lowered the gear. “No green”, he said. I had a visual on the gear on my side, he did not. I went to the rear seat for a bettter view to find the left main dangling just out of the wheel well. We tried cycling the gear numerous times only to see the gear barely move. On Unicom we advised the FBO of our plight. There was nothing in the book for this situation, so the mechanics suggested a gear up landing, rather than two out of three. The chief pilot then suggested this method at our discretion. We had good VFR, 4+ fuel, and were comfortable with each other. He slowed to 55, cracked open the door and I (lying on the floor) reached out to pull the gear forward. To my surprise the gear came forward as easily as moving a limp arm on someone sleeping. “I have a green!” he exclaimed. A fly by showed nothing amiss from the tower, so Walter performed a flawless soft field landing on the 4500′ runway. The gear held (we didn’t know what to expect) when he said, “I have no left brake”. He slowed with right brake and left rudder. We did not feel heroic. It was a simple attempt with no plan to try anything else if it did not readily work. But it did.

  • Cary Alburn

    All this makes me glad my gear is down, all the time. :)