Almost every Saturday, I take the opportunity to get an aerobatic practice in. My practices are usually about 15 minutes long with about 5 of those minutes flying to and from my practice area. A couple of Saturdays ago, I decided to go to the airport, but before I left, I thought it was a good time to change the Air Conditioning filters in our house. Well, good thing I did! That 10-15 minute delay allowed me to put my formation piloting skills in action.
After changing the filters on our house, I grabbed my headset bag and drove to the Chandler Airport. It’s less than a 5 minute drive for me. After opening my hangar and pulling out my plane, I climbed in to taxi to the fuel pumps. As I was taxiing, I saw a beautiful Cessna T210. I used to fly a Cessna T210, so they always capture my eye because they are like a big cargo van. They don’t bounce around too much and fly like a truck. But I really like them. As I taxied by the T210, the pilot had his engine running and I nodded at him as he returned the nod to me.
After getting out to the run-up area, I was ready for take off. Once again I noticed the 210 taxing to the run-up area and also noticed his “Tail Number”. I took off and flew south about 3 minutes to my practice area. While I am practicing, I like to keep the Chandler Tower tuned so I can hear incoming and outgoing traffic that may be near me. During this practice, I heard the T210 pilot receive instructions from the tower that after his take off, they were not seeing his “Mode C” on his transponder. Meaning, they didn’t see his aircraft sending an altitude signal back to the tower. The pilot opted to turn around and come back to land. However, when he put his landing gear down, the gear got stuck about 1/2 way. For confirmation, he asked the tower “I would like to fly by the tower and have you guys look at my gear”. As he flew by the tower, the controllers said “They look down, but I am not sure”. By this time, I was already heading back to the airport, but with throttles full open. I was cruising ab about 210 MPH getting back quick to help this pilot out. So I called the tower and requested that I jump on the T210’s wing in formation. The tower controllers know that I am qualified to do this, so they gave me permission. I also contacted the pilot and asked him the same request to jump on his wing. He said “Sure”.
They look down, but I’m not sure.
As I intercepted the T210, he was cruising about 80 MPH and I was doing 210 MPH. In the airshow world, during a formation intercept, this type of thing happens all the time. So I made visual contact with the T210 as I pointed the nose of my plane about 35 degrees ahead of the T210. The closure rate was quick as I slipped underneath and behind him. Then banked hard right and pulled the power to almost idle. That combination slowed my plane down rapidly and I popped up on his left wing. Looking at his landing gear, sure enough, they were about one half extended. It would be a real mess if he was forced to land like that. So I asked the pilot to try raising and lowering the gear with the gear handle. But nothing worked. Then I asked him to make a right turn so we can get back to the airport pattern. As we turned back towards the west, I asked him to pop the airplane quickly up by pulling back on the yoke. Maybe the gear would become “unjammed” and lower. He tried it, but that didn’t work either. Then I asked him to try the emergency gear extension handle. This is a manual hydraulic pump used in just such an emergency. The pilot ran through the emergency checklist and pumped the gear down to the fullest extension. “Whew!” I thought. Then the pilot said he had three green lights meaning that he confirmed that the gear were down.
I gave the pilot a salute and then pulled up and behind him. Requesting to the tower that I could be number one to land. As I was on downwind leg for landing, I really felt good. All this crazy aerobatic flying and years of pilotage was used to help someone in need. I am sure the pilot could have figured it out on his own, but sometimes it is just nice to have a buddy up there with you as you are working through problems. So at the end of the day…it was a good one.