Challenger

I have been extremely fortunate throughout my aviation career to have had the opportunity to perform acceptance flights and deliver multiple types of aircraft ranging from Cessna 150s, twin engine piston aircraft, and multiple models of business jets. As expected, acceptance flights had the most major and minor mechanical issues. Once the airplanes were delivered, the airplanes were for the most part mechanically clean and reliable. Except for one.

I was administering line training to Steve, one of our line captains. I was in the right seat for this leg and we had another line captain, John, on the jump seat. Our trip that day took us to Boeing Field, in Seattle. We had four hours of en route time for systems and procedure discussions, which was valuable and rewarding. Steve and John had both completed their type ratings but were in the process of finishing the company training curriculum for the Challenger 604.

A beautiful VFR day provided us with a gorgeous view of Mt. Rainier as we prepared to land on runway 31L at Boeing Field (re-designated in 2017 as 32L). The FMS was programmed for the ILS to 31L, our approach speed had been programmed, all descent, transition, and approach checklists were completed. We ran those checklists at a leisurely pace so that if any discussion were needed, we would not get slammed as we got into the final phase of the flight.

Challenger

Gear down… or is it?

Steve was doing a great job calling for configuration changes, as he anticipated what to ask for when and got the airplane slowed for the approach. As we came up on the final approach fix, Steve called for “gear down.” I reached up, grabbed the gear handle, and placed it in the down position. Nothing happened. No gear, no wind noise, nothing. I looked at Steve, he looked at me, and Steve said to me, “What do you want to do now?” Aw crap. I’m teaching in a new jet, and I’ve got a gear problem.

“Tower, we’ve got a gear indication problem and need to go somewhere to work on this for a bit. Where would you like for us to go?” I said. With Boeing Field, a spit north northeast of SeaTac, the airspace is crowded, and I really did not want to get in anyone’s way as I had enough to deal with as it was.

Mr. Controller gave us an altitude restriction followed by a couple of vectors that kept us away from SeaTac traffic and Boeing Field arrivals. We had enough fuel to start a war, so we were in absolutely no rush to hurry through the required troubleshooting.

I handed the Abnormal Checklist book to John on the jump seat while I answered the usual questions from the controller, such as fuel on board, souls on board, and do you want the trucks? I answered all the questions and said I’ll let you know on the trucks. In the meantime, John searched the Abnormal Checklist for landing gear malfunction procedures.

All systems on the aircraft showed normal. We just had the landing gear selector in the down position and no landing gear. We agreed to recycle the landing gear lever, so I placed the lever in the gear up position. We had been holding 185 knots, which was well below the landing gear extension speed. I got the nod from Steve and went to extend the landing gear again. The landing gear lever would not move. It was now stuck in the “up” position.

John had been through the abnormal landing gear section and had concluded that there was not a checklist for what we had, which appeared to be a physically stuck landing gear lever. I looked at the emergency landing gear extension procedure, which listed step one as “Place the landing gear lever in the down position.” We were clearly on our own on this one. I tried moving the landing hear handle down again with no luck. We have all been taught to treat our airplane with tender loving care. We change power smoothly, we try to go easy on the brakes, we keep the airplanes clean, we are gentle on the controls, or at least for the most part we try to be. I was about to resign myself to begin the emergency landing gear extension procedure with a few modifications when I had a thought.

“What if I just honk on this big time?” I asked.

“What do we have to lose? We will just move onto a modified emergency extension procedure and go from there,” Steve answered.

Challenger cockpit

What if the handle itself won’t move?

I reached up, grabbed the landing gear handle while partially pulling myself up off the seat with both hands and really torqued the lever towards the down position as hard as I could. The lever moved to the down position, followed by the landing gear extension noises and panel indications. All hydraulic pressures showed normal and we had three green landing gear down and locked indications.

“We’ve got three green and are ready to head back to the airport to land. No fire trucks required,” I radioed.

“Proceed direct to runway 31L, you are cleared to land runway 31L. Glad you’re fixed.”

Controllers do not like paperwork either.

The factory sent two technicians the next day from Tucson to figure out what the problem was. When the airplane was placed on jacks, the landing gear would not retract on the first attempt at cycling the landing gear. If the failure had occurred during departure, the inability to retract the landing gear could have been very problematic, requiring fuel dumping and reduced climb gradient for obstacles particularly in a single engine situation. I love it when things break for the technicians after we report it.

Four months later I received the autopsy on the landing gear selector box, which indicated an internal mechanical failure deep within the mechanism. The box had 48 cycles on it since the aircraft was new. A year later as I was sitting in recurrent training, the instructor highlighted the usual changes, but drew particular attention to the new landing gear abnormal checklist section. It seems our little fiasco turned some heads in the big house, requiring a new procedure… “I am not sure why this change was made. Somebody must have had a problem,” the ground school instructor said.

I chuckled as I raised my hand in class and said, “yea, that was me.”

Steve Jordan
14 replies
  1. David Ward Sandidge
    David Ward Sandidge says:

    Don’t cha just hate it when these things happen? I guess that’s one good thing about being fitted into a smaller flight department – like a particular corporation’s; you get to follow up on problems such as this and find out what was what. At a big airline, trying to check on just what caused a specific problem you may have incurred some time back is more like Dorothy and the Tin Man trying to get in to see the Wizard…

    Reply
    • Steve Jordan
      Steve Jordan says:

      We had greased the wheels early on by requesting the autopsy right off the bat. If we hadn’t pushed, there would’ve been no Wizard for sure..

      Reply
  2. Marc L. Aronson
    Marc L. Aronson says:

    Not big iron, like you, and not as complicated, but I still have in my possession the white landing gear handle from a rental Mooney. I put the gear handle down, with normal pressure, and the handle snapped off right where it went in the panel. Surprise! The good news was that I wanted it down, so I just landed. If it would have snapped off when putting the gear up I guess this story would have been longer!

    Reply
    • Steve Jordan
      Steve Jordan says:

      It does not say that although maybe it should…”Honk down on it” is an official term I think….lol.

      Reply
  3. Robert C Thompson MD
    Robert C Thompson MD says:

    Power control disconnection/non-function also leaves you without a clear procedure to follow. A throttle complete disconnect at altitude, IFR, at full power, led to a very quiet no visibility descent, fortunately with routine landing. In this case also there was time to think it all out, and try some alternatives first.

    Reply
  4. Richard Anderson
    Richard Anderson says:

    I’m surprised there isn’t a emergency manual crank to lower the gear. I had to use it once on a Cessna 310-glad it was there.

    Reply
  5. Bill Heaphy
    Bill Heaphy says:

    Was an instructor Second Officer doing a pre-flight for a routine training flight one morning many years ago. Reviewing the Form 1 writeups I see two pages covering one MLG problem of no green light on extension. It was like an episode from Fate is the Hunter. The maintenance sign off was two words. “Changed bulb”. The write-up was made by a long gone Captain who welcomed no ones input!!

    Reply
  6. Tracy
    Tracy says:

    On the Airbus A300/600F there is system 1 & 2 on the landing gear selector panel. Having the second system is nice as I used it to retract the gear a few times over the years due to the other system failing. Thankfully I never had a extension problem. I retired recently so although I miss the flying, it’s nice to not have to deal with that anymore. You used some good head work – nice job!

    Reply
  7. Scott Powe
    Scott Powe says:

    Ugh…Is it just me or does everyone else who flies with retracts kind of hold their breath a little when they select gear down (one, two…three green…whew)

    I can only imagine what was going through your head..nice job! I am going to add “honk on it” to my Checklist for “stuck gear lever”!

    Reply
  8. Gerardo B
    Gerardo B says:

    “I love it when things break for the technicians after we report it.”

    I Laughed out loud at this truism! After managing a 25 aircraft fleet. Makes no difference to the red rag folks, most mechanics know pilots simply did something wrong.

    Somebody must have had a problem,” the ground school instructor said.
    I chuckled as I raised my hand in class and said, “yea, that was me.”

    I delivered a brand new C-182, I landed 40 miles short of my destination at the old Stapleton KDEN when the sun was setting and the blizzard had covered me with ice.

    Next day in fresh sunshine during preflight I found the elevators moved in opposite directions. Hmmm, nope don’t like that.
    The Cessna Zone Office was there. I headed in a daze to their front door.while increasingly becoming like really: Angry at the careless ineptitude of the Cessna Factory’s lack of skill and concern for customer safety. And this was my second such serious deadly manufacturing flight from QC.

    Reply

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