LEARNING FROM MISTAKES: Landing a Cessna 210M on its belly
CAA ACCIDENT REPORT SUMMARY: Cessna 210M
Date of accident: 19.06.99
Time of accident: 1152Z
Aircraft registration: ZS-MMU
Type of aircraft: Cessna 210M
Pilot age: 20
Licence type: Commercial
Licence valid: Yes
Pilot-in-command flying experience: Total flying hours: 750
Hours on type: 450
Last point of departure: Kroonstad Airport (100 miles south of Johannesburg)
Next point of intended landing: Rand Airport (Johannesburg)
Location of the accident site: On Runway 17 at Rand Airport.
Meteorological information: CAVOK
Number of people on board: 1
No. of people injured: 0
No. of people killed: 0
During the approach in a busy circuit pattern at Rand Airport after a flight from Kroonstad, the pilot had a Cessna 172 in front of him in the circuit and a few aircraft behind. He extended the undercarriage during the downwind leg, but during the base leg of the circuit he retracted the undercarriage accidentally while he was concentrating on the other traffic.
During the final approach the pilot was worried that he will catch-up with the Cessna 172 in front of him and did not check whether his undercarriage was down and locked. He realised the undercarriage was up when the aircraft propeller touched the runway surface. The undercarriage retraction/extension system of the aircraft was tested for operation when it was recovered and no defect was evident.
During a busy circuit the pilot retracted the undercarriage on the base leg and did not check that it was in the down and locked condition during the final approach. He landed the aircraft on its belly.
I have a massive electronic pile of accidents. I was shuffling through these looking for something meaningful, something different, something from which we can all learn. So when I saw the words “Cessna 210” and “undercarriage” I had to stifle a yawn.
Unfortunately these poor aircraft have been plagued with undercarriage problems from day one – despite many mods. There’s not much we can learn from that.
My first instinct was to reject this – I was looking for one that dealt with pilot error. Of course, a bit more reading proved this one fitted the bill admirably. Not only that – I believe it is one that affects us all. They say, and many disagree with ‘they’, whoever they are, that there are those pilots who have done a wheels-up and those who have still to do it. And of course you can be in both categories, if you are not careful.
Okay enough waffle, let’s look at this crash. The pilot is a testosterone-laden 20-year-old who would certainly prang daddy’s Kawasaki if he could get his hands on it. So is it surprising that he bends a 210? Well, actually, in this case, I think it is, because he has already flown 450 hours in 210s without damaging them, as far as we know. So he’s not an idiot – he has been getting it right for quite a while.
In that case, why did he get it wrong this time? Two things:
1. A distraction; and
2. No safety net.
First let’s look at the distraction. Folks, be very sure that if you are flying a retractable and there is some sort of distraction in the circuit, you are halfway to landing on your belly.
What do I mean by a ‘distraction’? Well, it can be something as minor as a radio call in the middle of your landing checks, or it could be a change of runway, or a radio problem. Or it may be that you have done a go-around because of a poor approach, or because of other traffic.
What I am saying is that if anything, anything, anything changes your normal circuit procedure you must know that there is a huge red flag waving in the cockpit. In this case the pilot was distracted by other traffic. Well, hell that happens all the time, even to the best of us.
So you need a safety net to protect you from the results of distractions. In fact, I have three of those safety nets for you.
First, always do your undercarriage check THREE times. Not two and not four. Airline pilots will say do it once – properly. I hear what they are saying, but they have a whole bunch of electronic safety nets and bright young co-pilots called Nigel who remember whatever the captain forgets.
But for us philistines, three times works well. Once downwind, once on base and once on finals. Sound like overkill? Well it would have rescued the pilot in this case. I recommend three times for exactly that reason. If you are thoroughly distracted you are likely to do just what this guy did – put it down on downwind and pull it up on base. Then on the third time you will put it down again on finals.
Okay, the next safety net: after you have selected gear down do not take your hand off the selector until you have watched the movement of the ammeter, or hydraulic pressure, depending on the system. There should be a noticeable change in the reading while the gear is in transit and it should return to normal as the gear clunks into position and three green lights appear. And you keep your hand on the selector until you get those three greens.
If you don’t keep your hand there because you are in a hurry to get on with the rest of the checks, you will, sooner or later land with the wheels up. You have been warned.
And the last safety net is shortly before you cross the fence. “Three greens, carby-heat off and mixture rich”. I know it sounds like a serious distraction at a critical phase of flight, but it’s not. Try it. And if you like it, make it a lifelong habit.
What can we learn?
Well, I seem to have covered this, so here it is in summary:
1.Check the undercarriage three times: on downwind, base and finals.
2. If there is even the slightest distraction or change of normal procedures imagine a huge red flag in the cockpit.
3. When you select gear down keep your hand on the lever and watch the ammeter or hydraulic pressure until you get three greens.
4. Approaching the fence: carby-heat, mixture and undercarriage. Make it a habit.
Jim Davis has 15,000 hours of immensely varied flying experience, including 10,000 hours civil and military flying instruction. He is an established author, his current projects being an instructors’ manual and a collection of Air Accident analyses, called ‘Choose not to Crash’.
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