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Nobody wants to be "that guy"

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  • Nobody wants to be "that guy"

    Nobody wants to be “that guy.” But here I am, that guy. I took physical possession of my Super Petrel in May of 2020. In the middle of the pandemic lock down we (my plane partner and I) flew to Virginia where we had an incredible week of training, learning, and camaraderie. What an amazing time we had with Bill, Mark and Mike. After about 12 hours each of transition training, we took the plane home. For the next two months we flew the heck out of the plane. I think we put on about 120 hours of flight time in those two months. It was some of the most fun flying I have ever done. And then it happened. On July 18th, 2020 I had a gear down landing on a remote river in Maine. In the process of doing this nasty deed, I ended up damaging the left lower wing. The saga of retrieving the plane from the river is quite the story, but not the topic of my post. During my training, I told my instructor that my worst fear was a gear up landing on the runway. Perhaps in some way I jinxed myself. Maybe deep down I knew this was a vulnerability of mine. I had very little retractable time prior to my transition training. I had been using my check list routinely and had just completed 20 lands that day with 20 checklists prior to my incident.

    So, what happened? I flew up to visit a friend at his lake house in Livermore, ME. After about an hour flight up there, I landed on his lake and he met me in a kayak. We decided we would meet at a nearby grass strip called Bowman Field. I took off from the lake and met him at the field. Together we departed the field and did about 20 take-offs and landing on a few lakes and ponds and the ill-fated river. After all the fun we returned to Bowman Field and left by car for lunch and to cool down and relax and soak up the summer sunshine in the lake. When it was time to leave we discussed one more flyby of the lake house on the homeward leg. As I departed the grass strip, I hit some recessions or low areas in the field during climb out. You know the feeling when you hit these bumps and the plane is suddenly airborne, but you are not sure if you have enough airspeed to maintain lift and your focus shifts to flying the plane. In my training with retracting the gear we left the gear down until there was no way we could land straight ahead if the engine cut out. This brings me to my first question. Firstly, I want to say I take full responsibility for what happened and in no way am I casting blame on anyone else or my instructor, but, I do want to garner discussion on whether this is the correct way to train or should we be retracting the gear as soon as possible after liftoff and acquiring a positive rate of climb. In my case the gear position was the last thing I was thinking about as I acquired altitude before rotation speed and now was heavily focused on do I have enough airspeed to maintain flight and climb. This distracted me from my task of retracting the gear. My next error was the allure of the flat calm water. The winds were calm and I had already landed on the river which was about 1000 ft away and parallel to the runway. I knew it was a safe place to land. I was about 500ft above the ground and there it was, the river, calling out to me. I pulled the power and turned 180 degrees and began my landing decent. Obviously had I flown a little higher and a little further out before turning to the river and beginning my landing I would have given myself more time and set up for a better approach and perhaps had done my check list, but that is not what happened. The decent was perfect. The winds were calm and the river was clear. As soon as the wheels touched the water by the reaction of the plane I knew instantaneously what I had done and what had happened. The initial deceleration was fairly uneventful, but I was quite surprised when the plane abruptly turned to left and decelerated further. I had come in perfectly flat. It was a beautiful decent and, as I said, winds were calm. The touchdown looked like it was going to be perfect. I believe the deceleration of my body pushed forward and since my right hand was in the stick, it pushed the stick to the left pushing the sponson and wing tip into the water. At the time of the incident I didn’t realize what the damage was to the wing, but as it turned out the sponson was torn off its front mount and the wing tip was cracked and various ribs and spars were cracked and damaged. There was water in the sponson and in the wing. I was listing to the left, but sometimes the plane will do that depending on load and fuel difference in the wings. I initially tried to get back on step and take off, but the plane would only turn to the left when power was applied. After multiple attempts to take off I was able to reassess the situation with a gentleman in a canoe that happened to be there. At first I thought that I might have broken a rudder cable or that one of the wheels was still down after retracting the gear in the water. Once I determined what the situation was, I realized I was now stranded on the river. The story of retrieving the plane is not part of this discussion, but was an adventure of its own. So, I post this article as “that guy” with the hopes of others learning from my experience and to create a discussion about the incident. What can we learn about training and what is the right time to retract the gear? Why it is important to properly set up each landing and not rush it? What happens after the incident, valuable (and costly) lessons about insurance, and down time of the airplane waiting for parts?

  • #2
    Hi Ron. I was taught/transitioned by Brian Boucher, a retired Air Canada Captain that originally helped Scoda (then Edra) bring the SPLS to the US. He taught me to hold the stick back until you lift off, then IMMEDIATELY forward stick to remain in ground effect, then IMMEDIATELY retract the gear. This technique does three (3) things

    1) It gets the drag of the gear out of the way so you can accelerate and climb quickly and better
    2) Allows those spring-loaded front gear doors to close. If you wait, your high angle of attack, coupled with possible higher flight speeds can keep one or both of those nose gear doors open (have you heard a "clunk" sometime after departing? That is the gear door finally closing at a high AOA and/or higher airspeed). It's possible that some have departed a runway to quickly land on the water with one or both nose gear doors never closing. I've seen damage to suspect it anyway on more than one SPLS (not me).
    3) If it is the first thing you do following takeoff, it just becomes habit. If you wait, things can happen to distract you. Just sayin'

    Another ancillary thought: the keel at the bottom of the fuse is reinforced, heavily reinforced. If you did have a gear-up landing in an SPLS, you will scuff this up at best, and perhaps a little on one of the sponsons (once again Scoda's design here is amazing). There have been SPLS gear-up landings, and on one plane I know of, more than one (maybe more than two even). The planes and occupants survive. Some composite/cosmetic work is likely required, but I don't believe structural damage has been involved or common (I don't know of any).

    I would much rather land gear-up on a runway, or even a field, or snow, or grass football field, then land gear-down in the water - in pretty much anything, especially a SPLS with that reinforced keel.

    The "get the gear up right away" procedure makes sense to me. Keeping it in ground effect to get the gear up and then quickly accelerate to Vy, or whatever you wish to climb at, also makes good sense to me.

    I've flown other retractable gear planes extensively. I've been instructed both ways by different instructors in different planes. I'd suggest both techniques have their merits, but perhaps for different planes, and different situations. Some planes climb fast with or without gear, and the higher you get in any plane the more runway you need in front of you to make any landing on that runway at all. In the SPLS at my home field and mile+ long runways, I often feel like I could take off, climb, descend and land three times before I leave any runway behind me. I'm not so sure I'd not be able to get the gear down again, in time, in many situations that may arise (if I'm able to think about it that is). And if I didn't I know the SPLS will land on its keel well enough. With Citations on the same runway, I've watched as they all raise the gear ASAP. There's simply not enough runway in front of them after rotation to do anything, and they just want to climb.
    Last edited by PilotMelch; 01-30-2021, 08:01 PM.


    • #3
      Thanks for sharing your story Ron. Nobody wants to be "That Guy", but we can all learn from examining the factors involved in an incident.

      Insurance companies know that gear down landings on water (especially with floats) result in the highest insurance payouts. That's a major reason why amphibian insurance is more costly than fixed gear and retractable gear land planes. While I believe the Super-Petrel is the least likely LSA flying boat to flip, (making it the safest in this condition) it can still be costly.

      Let's discuss when to raise the gear on take-off. The Super-Petrel Flight Instructor Association (SPFIA), as well as the Seaplane Pilots Association (and other similar organizations) teach "positive rate of climb - gear up" in an amphibian. There are a couple of very good reasons for this:

      1) The greater likelihood of damage/injury is with gear down in the water, as opposed to gear up on land.
      2) Both flying boat and float manufacturer construction is designed to have minimal damage to the hull/float in a gear up on land event.

      The most likely reason for forgetting to raise the gear after takeoff is distraction. The longer you wait, the more likely there will be a distraction (radio call, turn on heading, passenger, etc.). Since the Super-Petrel accelerates so quickly after lift off, you have the additional concern of exceeding gear speed limitation.

      We don't endorse remaining in ground effect on a normal takeoff. That's fine on a soft field takeoff, but with the quick acceleration of the Super-Petrel, it is not necessary. Additionally, this technique causes a configuration change while close to the ground.

      So.....the SPFIA teaches: Raise the gear on every takeoff, (yes, even if just doing pattern work at your airport), and raise the gear when you have a positive rate of climb.

      Single-engine land, multiengine land, and amphibian pilots have different procedures because the planes and plans are different. Those of us who first learned retractable gear in a single-engine land aircraft were taught to wait until there was no longer usable runway. Remember, though, that plane was never going to head for a water landing and the most likely result is poorer cruise performance. Multiengine land plane pilot are taught positive rate of climb gear up in order to reduce drag in the event of one engine failure, so they can continue the departure. Amphibian pilot best practice is "positive rate of climb, gear up" for the reasons stated above.

      ​​​​​​​ Mike