On a daily basis every one of us faces situations which cause the release of stress hormones. Fortunately, most of those situations are unlikely to harm us and therefore we settle down quickly. But what if the circumstances actually aggravate and every negligence could have lethal consequences? Most people panic and respond with impulsive actions which are extremely exposed to faulty reasoning and hence failure. To avoid incidents caused by panic, pilots learn from their first day of training to rely on checklists in case of emergency situations and prepare every flight down to the last detail.
Gunnar Jansen – Co-founder of Nodus and Leader of the Patrouille Suisse – has encountered several critical situations and agreed to share his experience in this blogpost.
Inside The Cockpit
After a successful training session, my training partner and I headed back to the home base in our F-5. The weather was good and the wind was calm thus there were no identifiable external hazards. The radio communication worked smoothly and I started the usual procedure to get into the traffic pattern. A routine I had done thousands of times before. I reached the point where I had to lower the gear. So I lowered the lever and waited until the warning tone stops. Despite my correct execution the three green lights which usually pop up to confirm that the gear is down and locked in place didn’t turn on. Instead the warning signal was still present and the handle light started to flash red. The landing gear was stuck in the fuselage.
„Mayday, mayday, mayday, unable to lower the gear, remaining in the traffic pattern“ communicated over the radio. According to the flight briefing, the team leader immediately joined my wing and inspected my aircraft visually. He confirmed my assumption and reported: „all gear doors are closed, they are up and locked!“. As briefed before the flight I instinctively opened the emergency checklist while the team leader took over the communication with the ground staff. This would have given me precious seconds to go through the checklist without distraction but all of a sudden, the master caution light and a second warning tone started to signalize a deficiency. I checked the annunciator panel and it said: „left fuel low, caution“. My heart rate rose promptly but then I remembered the flight leader’s words during the briefing: „The minimum fuel required on ground is lower than the fuel state that triggers the low fuel caution.“ My heart rate normalized again and after minutes of trouble shooting I finally reached the checklist point to lower the gear by gravity, a standard emergency procedure. Step one, gear handle down. It’s quiet in the cockpit. Seconds later, the three green lights turned on!
Airmanship is very important in the cockpit. But what really helped me to stay calm and focused to solve all problems I faced as a pilot so far, was the in depth planning, a clear and meaningful briefing with a strict adherence to standards, procedures and checklists. Even when the gear lever of my fighter just had a loose connection.