Don't Forget the Checklist
CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 4 KURT SUITOR
D Company, 1st Battalion, 169th Aviation Regiment
Connecticut Army National Guard
Windsor Locks, Connecticut
I was undergoing mission training as a pilot in the C-12 with our unit’s new standardization pilot. We were supporting the Wounded Warrior Project, transporting veterans undergoing treatment from Alexandria, Louisiana, to San Antonio, Texas. I was beginning to feel comfortable again in the C-12 after being out of the fixed-wing community for more than four years. That being said, even though I was executing well, I often felt like I was behind the aircraft and performing mechanically.
The preflight inspection and operational preflight checks were accomplished with no deficiencies noted. During our taxi for takeoff, we noted an odd odor, but it did not smell like an electrical fire. We thought one of our passengers may have been vaping from his e-cigarette before our departure and brought the smell on board with him. The odor did not linger on our takeoff roll so we forgot about it.
The flight proceeded normally during our climb to altitude and cruise. We discussed which approach we would ask for into San Antonio and began to perform our descent and arrival checks. As a longtime helicopter pilot, I find the descent to approach — and the approach sequence itself — to be much more compressed in fixed-wing aircraft. Because of this compressed feeling, I try to prepare myself ahead of time to make sure my callouts are correct. I was about to call for the descent and arrival checks when San Antonio approach asked us to keep our speed to 190 knots or greater on descent for sequencing.
We were cleared for the visual for Runway 13R into San Antonio and needed to lose speed, as we were coming up on the approach sequence. I called for the descent arrival checks: “Props 1900, flaps approach, before-landing checks.” The SP responded with, “Props 19, flaps …,” and stopped. The flaps had failed to move to the approach position. We quickly scanned the cockpit and found the flaps circuit breaker popped, so I reset it. The circuit breaker popped again immediately when the SP selected the approach position. At that moment, we realized what the odor earlier on the flight had been and knew we had to perform a flaps-up landing.
For those who are unfamiliar with fixed-wing terminology, flaps are movable portions on the aft portion of the wings that, when extended, change the aerodynamic shape of the wing and provide greater lift and slower flight. In the C-12, it means that you land at approximately 130 knots instead of 100 knots. It’s no big deal, as long as you’ve got a long enough runway. We had 8,500 feet to use at San Antonio, so we knew we were in good shape.
All of these things swirled in my head as I began a very fast extended left base turn to final. I was completely in my own head, trying to bleed off 60 knots as we began to align with the runway. I had the power levers all the way back to idle and was still at 165 knots. The SP told me I needed to slow down the plane. My head was reeling. I had all the power out, I was on a good angle and we were still screaming into the runway.
It then occurred to us at the same time that the landing gear was still up! We had failed to complete the checklist after the flaps failed. We quickly completed the checklist items and landed normally, albeit with the flaps-up warning announcement blaring in our headsets. We let a fairly minor equipment failure distract us and we almost committed the cardinal sin of fixed-wing pilots — landing with the gear up.
Checklists exist so vital checks and configurations aren’t forgotten. Our takeaway from this experience was that utilizing the checklist is even more important when something doesn’t follow the script.