LOT's Gear-UP: Thank God!

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Let's all stand up on our respective virtual sofas and offer a loud cheer for Tadeusz Wrona. But not for the reason you think. Wrona was the skipper of that LOT 767ER that landed Tuesday in a shower of sparks in Warsaw with the wheels tucked into the wells. Evidently, after a hydraulic failure, he and his FO, Jerzy Szwartz, couldn't get the wheels down so they did what they had to do: Skidded down the runway resulting a seven-figure repair bill for some insurance company.

But I'm not cheering for Wrona's airmanship, which I more or less expect. He is, after all, a professional. I'm cheering because a couple of camera crews got great, unobstructed footage of the whole thing and it raced around the world at all of the speed the modern internet can muster and proved, once and for all, that a gear-up is just not a very big deal except for the people who have to move the airplane and fix it.

For the passengers, well, they always seem to end up the same way—milling around on the runway wondering when they're going to get their bags. I'm thinking here of the pax aboard who were sobbing, writing last words to loved ones and otherwise being overwrought without anyone being able to convince them that the risk during a wheels up landings is trivial. Maybe this video will help next time. Or maybe the working press will just stop reporting it that way.

I know, I know…as pilots, we're supposed to be empathetic with fearful fliers who don't understand that the belly structure in a typical jet transport is like the Brooklyn Bridge. Rational explanations won't suffice. Maybe I'm trivializing it, but I can't help myself. Perhaps we should resort to the method used in that hilarious scene in Airplane where the entire cabin lined up to try to slap some sense into a terrified passenger. Well, I guess not. But it was still funny.

Speaking of funny, the dark Poles wasted no time in circulating this little joke: "Fly like an eagle, land like a crow." In Polish, the Captain's last name, Wrona, means crow.

Comments (23)

I'm curious to hear about what happened to the emergency gear extension system. I understand it's cable operated in the 767 with no hydraulic component in the way.

Posted by: GERRY VAN DYK | November 2, 2011 2:42 PM    Report this comment

Well executed emergency. Hopefully the cause of the gear problem can now be identified.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | November 2, 2011 7:45 PM    Report this comment

Help me understand something. I know gear-up landings are not life-threatening in slow general aviation airplanes, but as I watched the video of this jet scuffing down, I wondered what would happen if both engine nacelles did not contact the runway at the same time. Could the airplane spin around and maybe flip over? That would seem pretty serious to me!

Posted by: Anthony Werner | November 3, 2011 9:25 AM    Report this comment

It appears that for the landing gear to fail to extend, the center hydraulic system must lose all pressure AND the electric alternate gear unlock system must fail. It seems that unusual that both of these would fail at once. However, the alternate gear extension is rarely used and probably was not checked recently for proper operation.

Posted by: Stefan Sobol | November 3, 2011 10:08 AM    Report this comment

There have been a couple of recent accidents involving flip overs, both FedEx MD-11. One at Narita (3/23/09) and one at Newark (7/31/97). But both airplanes were landing on fully extended landing gear and accidents were the result of unstable touchdowns and/or flares.

So anything is possible. But for gear ups, the record clearly shows that the great preponderance of airplanes of all sizes merely slide down the runway and stop. Even the ones with just one gear extended, which you'd think would be the most dangerous. Search YouTube for gear-up landing and the vids are there in the dozens, including an Airbus and 737.

You have to judge the risk by the actual outcomes rather than worst case what-ifs.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | November 3, 2011 10:14 AM    Report this comment

The only gear up landing that would probably be very dangerous is with one main down and locked and the other main retracted & the pilot unaware of the situation as has happen at Love Field to a Baron with a full load of fuel.

If it had not been for an alert controller this was a disaster in the making, instead the pilot flew to a near by airport with grass along the side of the runway and made an uneventful landing with minimal damage.

Posted by: Ray Laughinghouse | November 3, 2011 10:21 AM    Report this comment

Just to give you additional perspective, I just completed a Used Aircraft Guide for the Cessna 421 which is, by my estimation, the poster child for gear up landings.

Of 121 accidents studied, fully 20 percent were gear related, the highest of any airplane we've reviewed. These run the gamut from accidental gear-ups, to failure to extend, to single-leg extension to collapse of the runway of one main or a nosegear.

None resulted in hull loss. No injuries, deaths or significant fires. Could be no fires, I don't remember specifically.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | November 3, 2011 10:51 AM    Report this comment

I didn't see the Polish video, but the local talk show discussed the story stating specifically that "in a crash like this at least 50% of the passengers can expect to die." So I'm guessing this incident isn't going to change the public perception that a gear-up landing generally results in dead people. I felt like calling in, but figured there's no arguing with ignorance, and I don't like staying in hold for 20 minutes just to get in my two cents.

Posted by: DAVID CHULJIAN | November 3, 2011 11:34 AM    Report this comment

Besides the problem I have with the total ignorance and misinformation that David describes, I also have a problem with the news media calling this a "crash (landing)". When I hear "crash landing", I think of an aircraft hitting trees or power lines or other permanent or semi-permanent objects, or otherwise breaking apart. I imagine a lot of other people think this too, and I feel it's partially intentional on the media's part to get more ratings. This was a gear-up landing, nothing more. Until more people speak up about the total lack of journalistic professionalism some media outlets prefer, nothing is going to change people's perspective on these things.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | November 3, 2011 12:03 PM    Report this comment

People often ask me about the danger of gear up landings. My response is always the same:

"It's only a problem for the insurance company and the planes that want to use the runway within the next few hours.

All it means for us is a little longer walk to our cars."

Posted by: KRIS LARSON | November 3, 2011 12:43 PM    Report this comment

I once asked AOPAs Phil Boyer if "we" could put a representative in Hollywood whose job was to filter through all the scripts and weed out the truly STUPID depictions of aviation. One more scene of a pilot taking his hands off the controls and the engine immediately sputters and the plane falls from the sky and I swear I'll...I'll....I'll take my hands off the controls! Over a major studio! Hollywood and the news media. Aviation's number one enemys.

Posted by: Scott McGowin | November 3, 2011 12:48 PM    Report this comment

"Fly like an eagle, land like a crow." In Polish, the Captain's last name, Wrona, means crow.

If that came from their media, how refreshing. Open to interpretation as whether it's a compliment or not, by avoiding 'Miracle on the runway in Warsaw! None Dead!' it's like the parents were allowed to assign a caption instead of the toddlers.

Life's a miracle; that was just a skilled, pro landing. Here's a sofa jump for Polish old country maturity. Send some across the pond, won't you?!

Posted by: David Miller | November 3, 2011 1:00 PM    Report this comment

Boeing 767 pilot, Patrick Smith, has written about this landing on his blog

http://www.salon.com/2011/11/03/this_is_warsaw_not_hollywood/singleton/

Posted by: David White | November 3, 2011 4:10 PM    Report this comment

The link didn't survive posting. Search for "Ask the Pilot".

Posted by: David White | November 3, 2011 4:20 PM    Report this comment

"Fly like an eagle, land like a crow."

Dave,

Crows are actually pretty good flyers. The ones around my house swoop in and out of several large oak and maple trees, and they are all adept at landing. Crows are certainly not in the same league as eagles or ospreys, but the old expression "Strait as the crow flies," has basis in fact. They are strong determined flyers that can swiftly cover long distances -- and they do fly in a straight line when on a mission.

Posted by: Gary Dikkers | November 3, 2011 5:25 PM    Report this comment

I read you, Gary. And their larger friends, the ravens, have also a playful yet very intelligent side to their aerial skills. At Grand Canyon I've seen them fly wingtip to wingtip, do barrel-rolls, and fly upside down! Maybe I went to far in my assessment of the intended humor with the Poles. They probably just meant refering to skipper Wrona. Thanks for the good info.

Posted by: David Miller | November 3, 2011 6:11 PM    Report this comment

Well, once you are flat on your belly on a paved runway, assuming you were pointed down the runway to start with that's where you are going to go. You can entertain yourself by playing with the controls while sliding along but not much will happen :-)

Posted by: John Wilson | November 3, 2011 7:55 PM    Report this comment

I am glad that that LOT 767ER made it in safely, like someone else said, " it was a gear up landing' nothing else, but we all know how the media does things ! One of the weirdest sights, is to see an old Connie which landed seemingly ok only to have its nosegear, COLAPSE ! I guess I was about 15 or so overseas.

Posted by: Leighton Samms | November 3, 2011 8:32 PM    Report this comment

youtube.com/watch?v=loTPkN_IqM8

Posted by: ROBERT ZIEGLER | November 7, 2011 6:13 AM    Report this comment

Someone on the teevee said "that pilot is another Sully..." With all due respect to this guy, he didn't have to find a place to land among thousands of large buildings and wasn't out of time, power and altitude. Of course he did a good job but all in all it was just another landing that ends up a few feet closer to the pavement.

Posted by: Karl Schneider | November 7, 2011 12:05 PM    Report this comment

Not to diminish the job Sully & Skiles had to do, but if by "another Sully" they mean another professional airline pilot who's just doing the job they're expected to do, then yes, he was. Maybe if the public gets more examples of how most airline crews are indeed well-enough trained to handle emergencies and abnormal situations, they might realize that such training and professionalism doesn't come for free. So while this crew didn't have to deal with as critical a situation as Sully & Skiles, if equating the two means some good aviation publicity for a change, that's a good thing (and I think Sully & Skiles would likely agree).

Posted by: Gary Baluha | November 7, 2011 12:20 PM    Report this comment

The strangest gear up incident I ever saw actually happened at the gate...not the runway!

As a boy Flight Engineer on a B-720 I was walking out the concourse at CLE one pre-dawn morning about 1967 or so. As I was passing a gate on the way to the airplane I glanced out and saw a Convair 340 awaiting departure with the forward air stair down and dim lights in the cockpit advertising the presence of professional airmen already aboard and preparing for flight.

As I continued down the concourse a few more steps "motion" from the windows triggered my peripheral vision. I turned, looked out the window and watched aghast as first, the nose gear and then both main gear collapsed settling the Convair and its two R2800s onto its belly...the air stair now sticking out horizontally like a gangplank.

A minute or two later I watched as the professional flight crew exited the aircraft, stepping cautiously on the edges of the stair treads, a flight bag in one hand and a suitcase in the other looking--well, let's just say "abashed"--and likely wondering if the word "gangplank" might not be part of a predictable discussion in their near future.

Posted by: Terry Fancher | November 8, 2011 10:06 AM    Report this comment

"We have clearance, Clarence." "Roger, Roger." "What's our vector, Victor?"

Posted by: John Hogan | November 17, 2011 9:48 AM    Report this comment

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