The Almost Did Club

The old pilots, those much older (and presumably wiser) than me, have proclaimed, “There are those who have and those who will.” What they are referring to are pilots who have landed an airplane gear up and pilots who will land gear up. Personally, I think there is a group of pilots in the middle. And I belong to that group—“The Almost Did’s.”

One has to ask how a pilot could possibly land an airplane today with all the redundant backup warning systems. To this, I give the junior officer’s hand salute (palms up shrug). I will also submit Exhibit A, a video from youtube.com of such an event.


(Found at youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2hMn7ZweF6s.)

In my case, on the night in question when I joined The Almost Did’s, I was breaking the rules. I was tired and should not have been flying. But the company was short of pilots, I was young, and I was a “hacker.” I could hack anything. I could do it all…

This event happened when I was a charter pilot flying checks at night for a now defunct company. I typically flew five to eight hours a night spread over a 12-hour period. My route started at 9 p.m. and finished at 9 a.m. and I would sleep all day and get up to fly again all night long. It was a romantic, hard, time. There is nothing like flying all night, if you can stay awake and feel rested enough to be safe about it.

Which you could do if you slept all day.

But this one day, the company called me at 1 p.m., right during the middle of my sleep cycle. They wanted redundant information on the gripe I had written on the plane after the previous night’s flying.

I was never able to go back to sleep.

I should have said, “I’m not flying tonight.” What I did was crawl into the airplane and departed Tampa International for Orlando International. There I was in my trusty 210 and I found myself working on autopilot. What happened next has stayed with me for an entire career.

Automaticity had taken over. For those of you who don’t know about that fancy word, automaticity is what keeps you going when you are too tired to keep going. You experience it as the event of getting home after a long tired day and night, but you don’t remember driving your car home, you don’t remember the red lights, you cannot remember leaving your departure point or arriving at your destination. It just happens.

In my case, that night I was in the middle of the landing flare when I had the sudden thoughts, I don’t remember talking to tower; I don’t remember lowering the landing gear; I don’t remember extending the flaps.

I don’t remember doing the GUMP check.

I uttered that famous four-letter expletive-deleted at the same time I crammed the throttle into the firewall. Simultaneously, the tires screeched. I yanked the power to idle again, but the excess energy had already transferred to the airframe and we went bouncing horribly up and down runway 18L in what had to be the worst landing of my entire life.

As the airplane settled down, I literally looked over toward the staging area and uttered, “I hope no one saw that!”

Ever since, I GUMP on gear extension, turning base, and then again on short final. Regardless of the airplane I am flying. I also make sure I remember it.

And I no longer fly when I am tired.

-30-

© 2011 J. Clark

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