With all my flying, I've learned there are certain things you really don't want to hear. It makes a pretty short list: Become a Complete Fool
From my travel agent: Your flight will connect in Heathrow
At the check-in counter: We can't seem to find your reservation
Security: Will you follow me.
At the gate: Due to the late arrival of the inbound aircraft our flight will now depart 50 minutes later.
I'm sure I've got a few others as well. This week I heard a new phrase and it went to the top of my list. The phrase is, "We are having an issue with the landing gear" I might add, it has much more dramatic effect when your plane isn't on the ground.
I was taking a short flight on a regional carrier. It was a ATR-42, which is a prop plane. I fly them from time to time. I really don't mind them that much other than the fact that they are a bit noisy. I arrived at the gate and boarding went as planned. I found my way to my window seat. Since I was a bit tired, I kind of dozed in and out as we taxied and took off.
Shortly after takeoff, the pilot comes on the intercom and makes an announcement.
"Some of you may have noticed that we have turned back toward the airport" - I was sleeping at the time, so I didn't notice. In any case, I am thinking this isn't good news.
"We are having an issue with the landing gear" - OK, I AM WIDE AWAKE NOW! Funny how that statement will wake you right up, no matter how tired you are. In my book, for a safe and successful landing, you need wings, engines, and landing gear. Not having one of those three can ruin your day.
"Those of you on the right side of the plane may have noticed the problem as well" - I'm on the right side of the plane in a window seat and against my better judgment, I looked. On the ATR-42, the wings are at the top of the fuselage and the landing gear retracts into the wing. If you have a window seat, you can see the landing gear when it is down or in this case, when it does not retract correctly. It was just sort of hanging there halfway up and halfway down. Yes sir, captain! That doesn't look right!
"There is nothing to be alarmed about, the landing gear is fine" OK - this probably was just a bad translation from the pilot's native German, but I am thinking, "Hey crazy pilot - look out the window - this is not fine!" What he probably meant was that the gear still extended and locked correctly, so it was not that serious of a situation.
As we are heading toward the airport, the pilot keeps cycling the gear, it still won't retract, but it comes down perfectly. I know they are probably going through some normal diagnostic testing, but for me I am thinking that if we have the gear down and locked - LEAVE IT ALONE!
After a few minutes, we find arrive at the moment of truth, the landing. I know the pilot said everything was fine, but in the back of my mind I am thinking that something still may go wrong. I recheck the emergency exit door opening procedure a few times and recount the number of seatbacks to each exit several times just in case.
We cross over the runway and the pilot sets the plane down on the ground. OK, set is probably not the best word to use for the description of the landing. When we HIT the runway, I thought for a split second, something had gone wrong and we had crashed. I never had such a hard landing in my life. Now I don't know if the pilot just wanted to get on the ground a little quicker or was testing to see if the gear really was locked in place, but it was quite a jolt. Thankfully, other than the rough landing everything was fine. We taxied off the runway, past the awaiting fire and rescue trucks. I am glad they were not needed!
We finally taxied to the remote stand and parked. The flight crew shutdown the engines and the cabin broke out into applause. A few minutes later we caught the bus to the terminal where I spent the next few hours waiting for a replacement plane to get me to my destination. That flight went off without a hitch. What a day!
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With all my flying, I've learned there are certain things you really don't want to hear. It makes a pretty short list:
Become a Complete Fool