Given the gusty conditions, the approach is actually pretty sweet.
In a surveillance video from Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport (KBAF) in Massachusetts you can see the twin-engine Beech Baron descending gracefully down final, rock solid in 19-knot, gusting to 29, wind, flaring with a bit of float to bleed off the extra 10-knot gust-factor the pilot added to his approach speed, and then — with a poof of smoke — touching down lightly on Runway 33 just beyond the thousand footers.
It would have been a landing to brag about, had the landing gear been deployed.
The Final Moments
The poof of smoke on touchdown is likely from the twin’s props taking a hungry bite out of the asphalt. It’s transient. It only lasts for a moment. You could easily have mistaken it for the poof of smoke tires make on touchdown, except the tires were still safely tucked up inside their wheel wells.
Perhaps the pilot pitches up slightly at this point, because the twin glides out of the frame, still airborne, gracefully skimming along just above the runway.
What happens next we can see for ourselves in the recording of a second surveillance camera, which is all we have to go on because even though the pilot later tells investigators he’s “gone through this a million times” in his head, he still remains unsure of how the final seconds of his short flight played out.
When the twin enters the frame of the second video feed, it’s higher off the runway, then its nose pitches gently up, the airplane begins to climb, and its landing gear begins to deploy.
Half a wing span above the runway, however, things go south. Well, further south.
The left wing suddenly dips, the airplane pivots 45° to the runway, and then sickeningly, the nose drops, the plane rolls, and the left wing tip digs into the turf just beyond the edge of the pavement. In a shower of brown dirt, the wing plows a trench — but not for long.
The wing tip hits the edge of the pavement of the intersecting Runway 2, slapping the airplane to the ground, part cartwheel and part belly flop, collapsing the belated landing gear.
The twin skids sideways across the 150-foot-wide Runway 2 and comes to rest on the grass just beyond the intersection of the two runways, its right wing snuggled up with a runway sign, as if giving it a friendly hug.
The props and engines are toast, all three landing gear structures are damaged, as are both wingtips, and the skin on the belly.
The pilot is not injured, aside from his ego and the obvious damage to his checking account.
The cartwheel-belly flop pilot is a 62-year-old male with a private pilot certificate and a multiengine rating, but no instrument rating. His logbook boasts over 2,500 hours with 168 hours of multi time — all in Barons.
In the last month, he’d only racked up an hour and a half of twin time, but he had an additional six hours in singles. His last 90-day hour count was just under 28 hours of flight time.
In the aftermath, he told NTSB investigators, “I’m sick about this, I’ve never put even hangar rash on an airplane.”
The day’s flight was a short hop (for the speedy Baron) down the scenic Connecticut River Valley that separates Vermont from New Hampshire. Only half an hour elapsed between his reported departure at Hartness State Airport (KVSF) in Vermont and the inglorious landing.
He told investigators he received a “full weather briefing” the night before, and another one the morning of the flight. He also says he talked to two pilots he was planning to meet at KBAF about the weather.
He adds the flight was uneventful, with only “the anticipated moderate turbulence.”
Analysis & Discussion
Gear-up landings are shockingly routine, with more than one a week taking place every year, year after year. No amount of training on the part of the flight instruction community, nor any amount of technology on the part of aircraft manufacturers, seems to help.
In this case, as the pilot maintained some power for the gusty conditions, the aircraft’s landing gear warning system was disabled. Apparently, it only works at idle power.
But of course, it’s not up to the airplane to lower its landing gear. That’s the pilot’s responsibility.
In his report on the accident to the NTSB, the pilot said that he was alone in the airplane and “I did not state my GUMPS (Gas, Undercarriage, Mixture, Prop, Seatbelts/Switches) checks out loud,” adding that he normally “religiously” says a minimum of two out loud and sometimes three.
He was doubly abashed because he told the Feds, “I coach high performance advanced aerobatics” and demands that his students say — OUT LOUD — the actions that they are about to perform.
He additionally stated, “I was taught — and the science supports this — that we are less likely to miss an item on a checklist if we say it out loud.”
He said that when he has passengers aboard he even briefs them that he will be talking out loud during takeoff and landing, and not to be alarmed.
Well…he’s certainly preaching the Gospel here, so for cryin’ out loud, why did he lose his religion on this particular day? He offers no explanation nor does he make any excuses.
So is there anything we can learn from his misfortune?
I have to wonder, as most of our hero’s recent time (and the bulk of his total time) is in single-engine airplanes — which are more likely to be fixed-gear airplanes than not — did he fall into a single-engine mindset that day?
He had owned the twin for about three years at the time of the crash, and he stated that his standard is to call out his GUMPS in the pattern, but what he didn’t say is if he does this for all airplanes or just for multiengine flights.
I know that when I was a student pilot, we were taught to do GUMPS in fixed, tricycle gear single-engine airplanes, reaching out to lower an imaginary gear lever on the downwind (as a side note, I think the gear handle simulator in the Cirrus TRAC trainer is a brilliant idea), but I confess I’ve not “run” a GUMPS checklist in decades, and no harm has come to me as I only fly fixed gear airplanes.
But it does seem to me that pilots who fly both fixed- and retractable-gear airplanes really do need to treat all airplanes like they have retractable gear.
Although, that said, even pilots who, opposite of me, fly only retractable still end up — rather often — landing on their bellies.
Clearly, this long-bedeviling problem isn’t going to go away anytime soon, so I think the big takeaway from this accident, the thing to think about, is this: Do you believe that making your critical safety callouts out loud improves their effectiveness?
And if so, what method can you deploy to ensure that you never — without exception — deviate from this protocol, so that you can avoid descending silently out of the blue with some final critical step, like deploying the landing gear, left ignored.
Want to read more? Download the NTSB’s final report here or view the items on docket here.
WK Taylor says
I was unfamiliar with GUMPS. I learned the following from my dad/CFI/fighter- pilot… RE flying simple-to-complex aircraft…
NOTE. These all were used in flight ONLY… where eyes had to be looking up/around… NEVER in-place of a full checklist during wheels stopped or stable flight.
GUMPFT – Gas, Undercarriage, Mixture, Prop, Flaps, Trim
HOT CIGAR TIPS
HOT – Carb-Heat [on/off]
CIGAR – Controls, Instruments/panel, Gas, Altimeter, Radios
TIPS – Trim, Instruments/panel, Prop, Seatbelt/Shoulder-harness
I’m very new to my Mooney 231. Recently was distracted in the pattern and ended up dropping my gear at…gulp… 70/ft AGL.
2 previous owners have landed this same bird gear up.
Last year I graduated from a fixed gear piper Cherokee to a retractable piper Arrow. My instructor focused on seeing three green several times most importantly on final. I found it hard to slow the plane down without putting the landing gear down on downwind and there was that unmistakable sound and feeling as they came down.
Bill Leavens says
This is a compelling argument for GA aircraft to have – at all times – their landing gear down and welded. That has worked for me for fifty years.
30k hrs of gumps in everything from 150s to Boeings. Works for me. Others use something different. It doesn’t matter what acronym, mnemonic, or tribal chant you use…..if you don’t do it, it doesn’t work.
Casey Bartman, N979DM says
I has to be rather hard to land a Baron with the gear up. I have about 5000 hours of Baron time and they are very clean airplanes. I do my approaches by the numbers 2500 RMP, 15 Inches manifold, gear down, approach flaps, 3 degrees up trim. You’ll enter a 3 deg glide slope at 120 knots. Leave the gear up and you will be going way too fast.
With the Baron, the biggest challenge is to get down to 153 knots to extend the gear. By the way, I always do check for three green when going to full flaps on short final.
Mike Haraseviat says
I’ve never used GUMPS in my entire 50+ year flying career because it’s an acronym that needs to be thought about, Each letter stands for something that requires thought, when you need to be thinking about other things.
An instructor 50 years ago taught me a very useful mantra that pretty covers everything in any plane you’ll fly and goes like this…
“Fuel on proper tank, boost pump on, mixture rich, prop set, gear down and locked.”
No acronyms, just direct references to five actions that need to be accomplished. You don’t have to remember what “G” means, etc, just check every item as you say it.
It’s much like the mantra we use for multi-engine flying when a engine fails on takeoff…
“Mixtures, props, throttles, flaps, gear, boost pumps, throttle, prop, mixture.”
While many may disagree about this, it’s served me well for 50+ years and works in every plane I’ve ever flown.
Eugenio Allevato says
Just like we are required to read back runway assignments, when we are given a landing clearance we should be required to say something like “gear is down and locked”. This also applies to the fixed gear folks.
Warren Webb Jr says
Agree with Cary and Scott. Distractions are a major factor. I’m familiar with three cases that happened locally. One was a young pilot landing a twin at Hartford-Brainard KHFD. He became distracted by the private Pratt and Whitney airport that used to be across the river (happened to pilots of all levels) and maneuvered to land at Pratt. By the time the tower straightened him out, I suppose he was way out of his arrival sequence. He landed gear up right in front of my eyes – I was on the ramp preparing for a lesson. Another was a former student who owned an Archer. He bought a Mooney which had gear warning horn issues. He trained with someone else and they apparently became acclimated to the gear up warning horn not meaning anything and worked around it. On his first solo, he landed gear up on the same runway. The third case was a gear up landing in a Lance where I am now based at a non-towered airport ten west of Hartford. He and a friend were returning from a breakfast flight and landed gear up. The distraction – low visibility in the immediate area of the airport. He had to spend much more time than normal getting visual contact with the runway. He told me he had owned the aircraft a long time (20+ years I think).
In the case of the Baron pilot, I think Scott makes a very accurate point – skill level. The question would be how skilled was the Baron pilot in windy conditions – did he have a lot of experience in strong winds or was it something that caused a preoccupation and distraction. The gear up problem is similar to the preflight problem (and others) where, for example, a towbar is left attached. When that happens to a pilot, what does he always say – I was distracted. The recommended action to any interruption is very good – when there’s a distraction, go back to the top of the checklist. For avoiding gear up landings, maybe more scenarios that lead to gear up landings should be included in the training, similar to the emphasis we’ve seen to reduce the number of base-to-final stall spins, to raise the awareness of when a dangerous scenario is developing. But that in itself is a hazard – increased training scenarios may also result in a gear up landing. Maybe best to discuss them in the classroom.
Had this story not taken a rather mockingly turn (“…as most of our hero’s recent time..”), it could have been useful.
Donnie Underwood says
I totally agree. It seems now that everyone is a Monday morning quarterback on everything. I really feel bad for the guy in the story. Hope he is doing well.
Cary Alburn says
For me, since I’ve never gotten into the habit, calling out checklist items out loud, whether from a written checklist or from memory like GUMPS, is a distraction, not a benefit. But I’ve flown with pilots who do “talk to themselves”, and if it helps them not to forget, that’s great. When I’ve flown with instructors who want me to say what I’m doing out loud, I find it rather annoying. Each to his own.
The important thing is not whether it is spoken out loud, or said silently, but whether it’s being done. If you rattle through GUMPS but don’t do what you’re saying, it’s no help at all. Whether “the science” supports that saying things out loud is beneficial, clearly experience supports that each item must be actually done, and in my opinion if it’s done the same way every time, it’s less likely that a step will be omitted.
William Ruttan says
I recommend separating the DOING of something (i.e. “SOP”) from the act of CHECKING (that it got done-and stayed done).
scott k patterson says
Don’t care if he hasn’t flown for 3 years, shouldn’t have happened. These are circumstances where pilots operating above their skill level finally catches up to them. Some take a few hours and some take thousands. Total hours and time since one thing or another are poor barometers.