Low Approach Flights

Q: Watching a regional jet come into land one morning, I noticed the landing gear hadn’t been lowered. I even uttered, “Hey, gear down, buddy!’ Finally, not more than 100 feet off the ground the plane went into a bank before going around for another try. Do pilots sometimes forget important things like, well, landing gear? Might this have been a case of not following procedures?

If you’d told me it was a small private plane you had seen, I wouldn’t have been all that surprised (see my comments on GA from a few weeks ago). But what I suspect you witnessed was some sort of training flight — the jet making what’s called a “low approach” with its gear retracted intentionally. It would be extremely difficult for an airline crew to land with its wheels up, and I doubt the plane would’ve gotten as close to the runway as you describe without the automatic warning systems kicking in. There are lights and buzzers that will alert you to a lack of gear deployment, dependent on things like thrust setting, altitude, and wing flap position.


This Q&A is part of a collection that originally appeared on Salon.com. Patrick Smith, 38, is an erstwhile airline pilot, retired punk rocker and air travel columnist. His book, Ask the Pilot (Riverhead) was voted “Best Travel Book of 2004” by Amazon.com. Patrick has traveled to more than 55 countries and always asks for a window seat. He lives near Boston.