Acknowledgements: Thomas P. Turner (Mastery Flight Training, Inc.

A local news station reports:

“A Mooney M20C made a belly-landing Tuesday …. It happened just after 10 a.m. According to the Kansas Highway Patrol, the agency which investigated the crash, the 56-year-old pilot was doing touch and go landings. He forgot to retract his landing gear after completing his first touch and go. On his second landing, the pilot thought he was extending the landing gear but was in fact retracting it. This resulted in a gear up landing. He was the only person on board. He wasn’t injured”.

It’s common practice to avoid performing touch and go landings in retractable gear airplanes. This admonition exists primarily because of the high rate of gear collapse events during touch and goes, when in a hurry to reconfigure the airplane from landing to take-off settings during the short time on the runway, the pilot inadvertently retracts the landing gear. That’s not what we’re going to talk about today.

If you’re going to practice, and you should, make sure you practice the way you intend to fly. If you do things differently during practice and training, then not only are you not reinforcing habits you use in normal flight, you’re developing habits contrary to those you intend to use. The result is a discrepancy between the way you train and the way you fly, a negative transfer of learning. 

Now, let’s look at what based on his statements the Mooney pilot appears to have done. The pilot was quite commendably spending some time to practice and enhance his skills in the visual traffic pattern. When he took off he “forgot” to retract the landing gear. When reaching the appropriate point in the airport circuit to extend the landing gear he impulsively moved the lever to the other position, which was “up.”

The M20C has a manual landing gear lever (sometimes called a “Johnson Bar”) directly connected to the gear actuating unit. I have a little time in a Johnson Bar M20C myself and remember the challenge of extending and retracting the gear. The lever is about two and a half feet long and pivots where it attaches at the base of the instrument panel. Pointing vertically the gear is down. Folded rearward so it parallels the floor between the seats, the gear is retracted. It takes a bit of effort and a little bit of finesse to change gear position. Again, this is merely background to this week’s LESSONS. My intent is to derive LESSONS from this event, not to explain precisely what happened in this particular case.

During initial climb the standard procedure in retractable gear airplanes is either (1) “positive rate, gear up,” or (2) retract the landing gear when “no usable runway” remains in the event of engine failure. Either one is a valid technique that we may debate another day. The important point: there is a procedure for take-off in a retractable gear airplane, and it involves retracting the landing gear. Retracting the gear, in turn, should include confirmation that the gear is up, including that the airplane’s attitude, airspeed and rate of climb is consistent with the power setting and the airplane in the gear up/flaps up configuration.

When the gear is extended part of the process is to confirm the gear is down. Attitude, airspeed and rate of descent should be consistent with the power setting, the flap selection and extended landing gear. On final approach a crosscheck of pitch, power, airspeed and vertical speed confirms the gear is down.

Some retractable gear pilots leave the landing gear down for repeated circuits in the traffic pattern. I believe this was standard practice in the U.S. Navy during the T-34B era. The intent is to prevent gear up landings and gear collapse mishaps during extended sessions of touch and go landings. The trouble is, not only does this mean you have to change your way of thinking when you leave training and move on (or back) to normal operations, it also prevents you from practicing and reinforcing the procedures and habits that you need away from the training environment. It trains the wrong thing.

The concept holds true across all types of practice and training. If it’s not done the way you plan to do it in normal operation, it’s not the way you need to be doing it when you’re commendably trying to improve your safety.

Train the way you fly, and fly the way you train” - Anything else is not only wasted time and effort, it is a negative transfer of learning that actually increases your chances of an accident. 


Tony Birth