Chabot College Instructor Lands at Airport without Landing Gear

MARCH 4, 2008

According to San Lorenzo resident Wayne Phillips, there are two types of pilots: those who have made a gear-up landing, and those who will. "I've got mine out of the way now," he said Monday.

Phillips was flying his Beech C24R fixed-wing, single-engine plane Sunday and was preparing to land at Hayward Executive Airport when he noticed a problem. He repeatedly flipped the landing switch and two of the three indicator lights went green, but not the third. One of the wheels of his landing gear would not extend. Phillips made a low pass by the tower and airport personnel using binoculars confirmed that his left gear was not down.

Phillips was flying home from Monterey, where his plane of 10 years had just been inspected, and he wasn't anticipating a problem like this, he explained. "For whatever reason, that one wheel just didn't want to come down," he said.

The 52-year-old Chabot College applied technology and business instructor had once before made an emergency landing after losing power while flying over the Grand Canyon, but landed without incident. This time he would have to attempt a more dramatic landing without wheels. He did not want to perform a gear-up landing while sitting atop a full tank of gas, so he circled above Hayward for about two hours burning off fuel. As he was circling, the tower called his wife, Noreen, who was driving their car home from the trip to Monterey. Noreen drove to the airport to be there for her husband's anticipated crash landing.

At about 4:30 p.m., Phillips flew in low at 80 knots as television news crews, Hayward firefighters, and his wife watched. "I was in control until I touched down," he said. "Then it was out of my hands." It was a hard and loud landing as the plane skidded on its belly for about 1,000 feet. When the plane came to a stop, Phillips jumped out and ran for it. "It smelled like burning metal," he said.

Hayward firefighters doused the plane. "We put a blanket of foam down underneath the plane to keep any leaking fuel from igniting," Hayward Fire Battalion Chief George Silva said. "We checked out the pilot and he was OK. He did a nice job setting it down nice and easy, and it just slid to a stop."

Hayward Executive Airport Manager Ross Dubarry said there was no damage to the airport. "Gear-up landings happen and pilots are trained to handle them," he said. "The vast majority of the time, there are no injuries."

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said the FAA will investigate the malfunction to determine if it was an isolated incident or a trend that needs to be addressed. "Hundreds of thousands of planes fly every day, and it's rare for the landing gear not to come down, but it's not unheard of," he said, adding that there are no widespread problems with the Beech C24R that he was aware of.

Phillips said sheet metal work would have to be done to the bottom of his plane, the propeller needs to be replaced, the engine needs to be torn down and inspected, and the nose landing gear needs repair. Otherwise, "the general feeling is that any landing you walk away from is a good landing. In that regard, I did OK."

Source: Daily Review