On a bright, Saturday morning not too long ago, my wife Kathy and I drove to our hangar at the Frederick Municipal Airport in Maryland. Since we were pressed for time, we decided just to make several takeoffs and landings in our Mooney Ovation 2000. During my pre-flight, I noticed that I had about two hours of fuel in my tanks, but since we were not going anywhere, I thought that was adequate for our practice flight.
The run-up was uneventful, and we taxied to runway five. We took off and rotated at about 65 kt. As I gained altitude, I retracted the landing gear and the flaps and shortly turned to the right cross wind pattern. We proceeded right downwind at about 1300 msl. Halfway downwind, I put the electric gear handle in the down position. We heard the usual small grinding sound as the gear lowered, but we did not feel the usual minor tremor which would indicate that the gear was locked. I looked at my instrument panel and sure enough, the green light was not on. Kathy said, “We don’t have the landing gear locked. Do not land — let’s go out and determine what’s wrong.” By this time, we were over the stone quarry, which is where we normally turn base. I told Kathy to call CTAF on the radio as we were going to do a fly-over the field to see if anyone on the ground would look at our landing gear and determine visually if it were properly extended. Some must have heard this transmission on CTAF because we saw a couple people running toward runway five. A helicopter pilot hovering near the runway confirmed that the gear was not properly extended downward. I flew over the runway one more time to confirm that it was not safe to land. We flew a short distance away from FDK to give me some time to get the gear down, so I asked Kathy to fly the plane so I could hand crank the landing gear down. She was a great help when she took the controls so I could manually pull the cable without any difficulty to ensure that the gear was fully in the down position. Unfortunately, the green light still did not come on to indicate that the landing gear was locked.
I again flew low over runway five and requested a visual observation of the wheels. The helicopter pilot responded this time that the wheels appeared to be down but he was not sure. I decided to land and made touchdown as gentle as possible. The landing was successful although I felt that the wheels were not reacting to the landing as I expected or as I was used to. Nonetheless, everything seemed OK, and we taxied to the ramp.
When we got out of the plane, there were a number of people present who knew of our predicament. One of them, Phil Boyer, president of AOPA, happened to be at the airport then. He loves flying as much as we do, so it is not unusual to spot him on the field. Normally, when I get out of my Mooney, I turn the propeller horizontal. I don’t want to give away my age, but early on, this became a habit because wooden propellers were always to be positioned horizontally so that the sap in them would not flow to the lowest point to unbalance the prop. Fortunately, I remembered my early training that day because shortly thereafter, the nose wheel on the Mooney collapsed and the nose of the plane hit the tarmac with a loud thud. Fortunately, damage to the plane was minimal, but if there had been a prop hit, the engine would have to be taken out and inspected.
Boyer witnessed this incident and asked me how it happened that the prop was in the horizontal position. I told him it was a habit of mine to always place it that way. He said, “Write about your habit. It could prove helpful to others as well.” So I submit to you our experience in order that you as a pilot might save yourself some money should your plane’s nose wheel for any reason collapse or when towing your plane some action would inadvertently tip the nose of the plane downward. It is an inexpensive way to reduce the probability of a propeller strike on the ground.
We recently had our repairs completed, so we look forward to more takeoffs and landings, gear permitting.