FighterSweep fans, this is the second part of a two part series regarding how fighter tactics can help general aviation (GA) pilots. Former F-16 pilot Nate “Buster” Jaros takes us through his thoughts on landing with the gear up or down in engine out scenarios. He has written a book called “Engine Out Survival Tactics”. We hope you enjoy.
There is a thread on BeechTalk (the online quintessential Beechcraft forum) that was developing about the same time as I was finishing this book. It was covering the safest way to crash land an airplane. This thread was over four pages and had over 60 replies already at the time of this writing.
Reading through all of its pages and all the various comments by multiple pilots and self-proclaimed experts, one thing became really clear to me. There are a tremendous amount of variables when it comes to landing site selection and the engine out situation AND picking the best landing site and aircraft configuration for that pending crash can have a multitude of outcomes.
A common theme did emerge however after reading the lengthy postings, aside from the sheer number of variables involved. That key theme was that slower airspeed, and the rate of deceleration, as well as a shallow angle of impact seemed to be something that all could agree upon as being the most survivable. The slow and shallow landings that some folks cited examples for all seemed to have mostly good results for the occupants of the stricken aircraft.
The other chief concern in the thread, and I would agree, is the concern for flipping the aircraft over during an unplanned emergency landing. While not entirely catastrophic to the occupants (sometimes), a post-crash aircraft flip would seem to increase the chances for fire, injury, and fatalities.
Those with the ability to keep the gear retracted tended to want to do so, while there were also healthy examples of aircraft flipping over when the nose wheel “dug in” to the soft surface and caused a flip.
I do concur with these thoughts. One poster on the forum said something to the effect that if you are not willing to bet your life on the uncertainty of the actual state of the landing surface material (hard, soft, etc.), and you have retractable gear, then you should land gear up. I would tend to agree.
Engine Out: Landing Gear Up or Down?
For me, if I can land engine out on a surface that I would consider taxiing or taking off from, then I will lower the gear and land on it gear down. If it’s a soft surface or a field of heavy thick crops, or a desert full of scrub-brush, I wouldn’t be taking off from those environments so my gear will stay up if forced to land there. That is my game plan, and I’m sticking to it.
Getting data from the accident reports on this sort of post-crash damage is difficult to gather. However the preponderance of the limited data I could find and associated pictures seemed to point to highway and road landings with gear down looking pretty survivable. Those landings in fields and deserts with the gear down had a much higher rate of nose damage, flips, ripped off nose gear, and crunched firewalls.
Emergency Checklist Notes
The 1958 T-34A dash 1 has a warning in its emergency procedures section as well. Remember that the T-34 is basically a tandem-seat Bonanza, with an identical wing and landing gear. This warning in the manual states “Make no attempt to land on unprepared or unfamiliar terrain with the landing gear extended” (T-34A Flight Handbook, 1958).
The more modern T-34B Navy flight manual also has a similar warning in its manual. That warning states “When landing with the gear down on unprepared surfaces, the nose gear may collapse from contact with rough terrain and may cause the aircraft to invert making egress difficult. When the condition of the landing surface is in doubt, it is recommended that the landing gear remain in the up position” (T-34B Flight Manual, 1981).
Of course flipping a T-34 and landing on its bubble canopy would be especially bad for the occupants, the idea still holds true for any aircraft in this situation, you want to avoid a flip. If you have the choice and the surface below you is unknown, I’d highly recommend you keep the gear up. If you have fixed gear, you need to land on the hardest and flattest surface you can find, your nose gear can also collapse in soft or uncertain terrain.
Nate “Buster” Jaros is a retired USAF fighter pilot with over 2,000 hours in F-16 C/D/CM and T-38A/C aircraft and over 500 hours in General Aviation aircraft. He is currently a Test Pilot and Instructor Pilot with Lockheed Martin Skunkworks. He has a Bachelor of Science degree as well as a Master of Business Administration and owns, operates, and maintains a 1969 V-tail Bonanza. Buster currently resides in Las Vegas, Nevada and is a long-time member of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association as well as the American Bonanza Society. You can view his webpage at: http://engineout.weebly.com
Top photo: A single engine Cessna flipped during an attempted takeoff at the Ware County Airport Credit: www.jacksonville.com