DA42

After fifteen years flying one rented Cessna 172 or another, I finally bought my first plane with a few partners: the Diamond DA42, a perfect plane for traveling in Europe. It had it all: radar, deicing, and two engines. Getting the multi-engine rating was a blast, and I took the checkride in Innsbruck, Austria, one of the world’s most magnificent airports.

And now, I had them both—a plane and all the ratings that go with it. And, of course 400 hours or so, which made me that “great” pilot. And so it was time to take it all to the test. I took two friends and off we flew to Geneva, Switzerland, a breeze of 1.5 hrs with the DA42. The mission: to attend the yearly car show, of course!

DA42

The DA42 is a great way to travel around Europe—especially when the gear comes down.

It was a quiet and beautiful evening. We were on the flight home to Augsburg, Germany. The DA42 was running smoothly, and my passengers and I enjoyed the twilight, which turned into night somewhere over the Alps. Strictly according to plan, I was then on approach to our home airport, Augsburg, and reported “fully established on ILS 25,” and then came the shock, there were no three green lights for the extended landing gear.

I tried recycling it again in and out, and still no lights. I reported a go-around to fix the problem and worked through the emergency checklist, and yes, there was still no green light. At this point, I started to prepare mentally for a belly landing, also calmly (or as much as I could) informing the passengers.

While I had the feeling the gear was out (speed, wind noise), no lights mean no safely extended landing gear. The friendly controller offered to look at it with binoculars, so I approached again on a low approach, and he said, “I think the gear is extended, but I’m not sure; it’s too dark!”

It took me a few seconds, and then I officially declared an emergency; we would prepare for a belly landing and shut down the engines just before touchdown. Back again with Munich Radar, I was asked, “Is this an emergency?” and I replied, “affirm, emergency, preparing for a belly landing.”

The controller sent all other planes landing at Munich International to another frequency and calmly explained that she is now exclusively with me. I wish I knew who to thank for that reassuring voice in those minutes. But she also asked the creepy question of, “passengers and fuel onboard?” Thankfully, my passengers remained calm and let me work. The controller then asked me for a few more minutes so that the fire department could prepare for our (belly) landing, sending teams for nearby cities. I will never forget all the blue lights coming from all corners in the direction of the airport.

In the meantime, I tried again to fix the problem, and among other things, I finally tried to turn up the light dimmer switch—and the three green lights were immediately there.

What happened? In the twilight, I gradually adjusted the dimmer down to the minimum to not be blinded!

So that second, I called off the emergency, we landed gently, but we were still escorted by around 20 emergency vehicles to our hangar, where I had to fill out a report with relief.

The next day I learned that an acquaintance pilot had experienced the same thing a few weeks earlier, with a DA42, too, and had landed with the engines switched off.

Here is what I learned. The Diamond DA42 had an issue unknown to me, since I had never flown so long at night: below about 25% dimming, you can no longer see the landing gear and flap lights. But checklists are not perfect, and I was proud to act professionally, despite the “feeling” that everything was OK after all. Today, we have “Check Dimming” handwritten under the appropriate item on the emergency checklist.

Guy Katz
Latest posts by Guy Katz (see all)
9 replies
  1. Thomas
    Thomas says:

    That seems to be a pecularity of Diamond. I once wrote up a failed trim indicator on our flying club’s DA20, only to be educated by our maintenance officer that, if you turn up the dimmer, it works just fine.

    Reply
  2. Erik
    Erik says:

    As an instructor, one of my favorite tweaks during preflight is to turn the dimmer switch all the way down when the client is looking elsewhere. Observing “three green / no red” is one of the first items on the checklist after turning the master switch on. This motivates the question “no gear indication, what do you do next?” I teach this early and often.

    Reply
  3. George Haeh
    George Haeh says:

    Dimmers can be evil. On a night takeoff in a C-172, just after liftoff on the AH to ensure we remain climbing, I touched the dimmer switch and the panel lights went out.

    The dome light was very quickly put on. I remain grateful to Dick Collins for that tip in his book on night flying when he had the same problem.

    Reply
  4. David Luddy
    David Luddy says:

    Guy- I know the feeling. In 1968 I checked out in a 1964 210 Centurion. A few nights after commanding the 210 two friends and I flew across San Francisco by to Oakland airport. On our return flight I retracted the gear, no green
    light. A numerous futile attempts still NO green light. Finally I declared an emergency attempting a belly
    landing at Oakland. The fire department with numerous vehicle were waiting for my landing. At that point my passengers
    were prepared to exit when we stopped. The night landing sent sparks into the night. Our belly landing was noisy however successful. As it turned out a hydraulic line was the cause. This is one I will never forget. Oh, I was 17 at the time.

    Reply
  5. Udo
    Udo says:

    Impressive story. For sure you will remember this one.
    But before memorizing to many situations by experiencing them similarly and making afterwards notes on (own written?) checklists, … let’s have a common flight?
    I have many more stories to tell.

    Udo

    Reply
  6. Jeff
    Jeff says:

    I also experienced a similar situation with my DA62. On my first solo night flight after getting checked out in the new 62, I was entering the pattern at my home field in Tennessee. Gear selected, but no green lights. Aborted the approach and left the pattern to troubleshoot. I quickly found the dimmer was set too low and the three green appeared. I landed uneventfully and learned an important lesson with the 62. I now always check the dimmer during pre-takeoff and pre-landing. No more issues!

    Reply
  7. THEO TRUTER
    THEO TRUTER says:

    On the Piper retractables, turning on the Nav.lights, also dimmed the gear lights.
    Once embarrased, one remembered to check the position of that switch!

    Reply
  8. Scott Powell
    Scott Powell says:

    I had the same issue as Theo early on in flying a Piper Seneca during the day. Fortunately, having spent a lot of time reading and rereading the POH, I remembered the Nav Light quirk…checked the switch, and yup it was one. Flicked it off the three green appeared again!

    Reply
  9. Karrpilot
    Karrpilot says:

    I once dropped the gear down on the 182 RG i fly and didn’t get a green light. I heard the gear drop, the plane slowed down, but no light. At first i started to panic, but then i thought to myself, maybe the bulb was loose in the dashboard? A quick crack of my hand next to the switch, and the light came on. Lesson learned that day.)

    Reply

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