The Value of a Professional Pilot
It was clear Saturday afternoon at Hanscom Field in Bedford, MA when the emergency vehicles mobilized along runway 11. The scanner was turned to the tower frequency to listen in on the problem at hand. As it turns out, there was a small airliner approaching the field with a landing gear problem. From what could be determined from the radio calls, the nose gear was not indicating that it was down and locked which is, of course, required for a safe landing.
On the first pass, the pilot calmly called the tower and asked the tower to visually confirm the nose gear was down. The pilot carefully described the expected position of both the gear and the doors to the tower controller, who was not familiar with the aircraft type. The pilot slowed the aircraft down and completed a low approach across the field. The nose gear was visually checked by the tower and emergency crews near the runway and subsequently reported to the pilot. They confirmed the gear looked down and the doors seemed to be in the required position, as described in detail by the pilot. The pilot then climbed to a safe altitude, positioned the aircraft over a safe area, and continued to work the problem with the company maintenance team. After a few minutes, the pilot called the tower again and repeated the process.
After multiple attempts to clear the gear issue, the time came for the pilot to attempt a landing with a nose gear that may or may not remain in the down position for the landing which of course could cause serious damage and very hazardous situation that included the potential of a post landing fire or explosion. The pilot contacted the tower again and asked if the emergency equipment was still in place and explained to the tower that they would come in for a “touch and go”, meaning they would land and quickly take off again. The pilot further explained that he was going to land on just the rear wheels and keep the nose gear off the runway to test the integrity of the main landing gear for the eventual landing. The pilot’s voice remained calm and professional as he approached, completed the landing with only the main landing gear and then taking off again. It was apparent the pilot was in full command of the aircraft.
Upon the final approach, the pilot, now headed in for a full stop landing with a nose gear that could collapse, sounded just as calm and professional as the previous calls on the radio. Once again the pilot reconfirmed the emergency equipment was in position and expressed to the tower the intention to use the entire length of the runway. Upon hearing this call, one of the emergency vehicles re-positioned to the far end of the airport to be in better position in case the gear collapsed at the far end of the runway. The pilot did a masterful job of bleeding off airspeed while keeping the nose gear off the runway until gently letting the nose gear touchdown. This landing was anti-climactic because the pilot was a consummate professional who maintained complete control of his aircraft and stayed completely calm during the entire process.
After the landing and before moving the aircraft, the pilot called for the gear to be secured and a tow back to base to ensure the gear wouldn’t collapse during taxi. After watching this display of piloting, it became apparent how important a true professional pilot is to safe flight operations. This piloting is reminiscent of the late, Neal Armstrong, who before he ever set foot on the moon was an amazing pilot during several life threatening emergencies. During one of the Gemini missions, Armstrong’s ship was spinning out of control due to a runaway retro rocket. Armstrong, who was in grave danger and spinning wildly in space, worked the issue by systematically going through many options and finally regaining control in the highest of stressful environments. This airline pilot was clearly not put to a test like Armstrong but his actions were so systematic and professional, they pointed out the fact that a professional pilot is truly needed during emergencies.