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Home > Flying the Plane > Is landing gear problem a live-and-death issue?
Is landing gear problem a live-and-death issue?
Flying - Flying the Plane
Thursday, 22 September 2005 23:31

As a result of the JetBlue landing drama at the Los Angeles International Airport on Wednesday evening (21/9), a few readers have written to me about it.

Well, to keep the rest in the picture, JetBlue Flight 292 took off from the Burbank*s Bob Hope Airport with 140 passengers for New York*s JFK International Airport. After airborne, the pilot reported a landing gear problem. The crew then decided to head for Los Angeles Airport that has a longer runway. To lighten the effect of the emergency landing, the Airbus A320 burned off all the excess fuel over the Pacific. It then circled the airport, located just about 30 miles to the South, before making a safe landing on the runway.

There were lots of dramas in this incident because it was televised live on the satellite TV. Worst still, the passengers were watching their own unfortunate incident on the plane*s onboard TV sets. Some cried whilst others sent farewell messages when they were not able to call their loved ones on the phones.

But, is a landing gear problem a live-and-death issue? Well, generally no. Landing gear problems can be a combination of a few variables. It can be about one or two gears partially extended; one main gear down and one nose gear extended; both main gears down but with the nose gear up, etc. Amongst these, the least problematic is the one with only the nose gear still retracted. The Airbus A320 drama above had a slightly different trouble - the nose gear was extended but the front wheels were stuck in a sideway position.

In such a situation, pilots are taught how to handle the landing with the least possible damage: Most importantly, land as light as possible! So, the landing speed must be reduced. How? By dumping (no such facility on the A320, so they had to fly for a few hours to burn the fuel off - thanks to Cap*n Meryl for pointing out) any excess fuel to make the airplane lighter. Next, look for the longest runway (Los Angeles Airport). Approach the runway with a stable landing speed whilst maintaining a normal rate of descent. The speed brakes or spoilers must not be selected on (armed) - it would kill the lift prematurely, causing the nose to drop too soon. The reverse thrust can be used but hold the nose up as long as possible after touchdown and lower it gently before losing the elevator effectiveness as the speed reduces. In the end, what is most important is the speed of impact (can be quite low now).

Well, this is exactly what the pilot, identified as Captain Scott Burke, did. He even apologized jokingly, that he could only put the plane down six inches off the centerline! It was a job well done!

I have gone through this before, but mine was not as serious because it was only an indication problem. Nonetheless, the drills were the same.

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landing with landing gear problems...
I've seen a private jet doing a belly slide down the runway safely when I think it experienced problems deploying its landing gear. I wonder if the same trick can be done with airliners equipped with under-wing engine nacelles, is it?
pogi , 23 Mar, 2008

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