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Plane lands safely after stuck landing gear is freed

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Rusty Gill (hanging out of truck) reaches for the plane’s stuck landing gear on the runway at the Middle Peninsula Regional Airport on June 25.

by Tom Chillemi

Rusty Gill improved his record for “freeing stuck landing gear while an airplane is flying” to 2-1 on June 25 in a daring maneuver that involved a flying plane and a speeding pick-up truck.

It had been just another day at Gill’s ICS Services at Hummel Field in Topping when Gill heard the emergency call over the airport radio.

Fish spotter pilot John Mark Deihl radioed to the terminal that one of his landing gear wheels was stuck and would not go up or down. Deihl already had unsuccessfully gone through the emergency procedures in an attempt to free the landing gear.

Deihl flew low over the Hummel runway so Gill could confirm the gear was stuck. Then, they made the first attempt to free the landing gear. Gill sat in the passenger seat of a truck driven by Jamie Cornette. They got up to about 60 miles per hour on the runway, trying to match the speed of the airplane, but the plane buzzed right past the truck.

It was obvious that Hummel’s 1,900-foot long runway was too short. So the maneuver was moved to the Middle Peninsula Regional Airport at West Point. The runway at the World War II training airport is nearly a mile long.

With all the authorizations in place, a dry run was executed. Cornette drove down the taxi way, while the plane flew over the runway. From this, they got an idea of how fast the plane was going.

The planning was over.

Cornette drove at a steady speed on the runway, and Deihl flew his plane up behind the truck. Gill sat on the truck’s window sill. He knew that riding the truck bed would put the front of the truck too close to the propeller. 

Gill leaned out and got hold of the landing gear. “I almost got it the first time, but I lost my grip on the tire,” he said.

They knew what to do now. Instead of the plane trying to match the truck’s speed, the plane needed to fly at a steady speed and the truck would ease up behind it. “We got about two-thirds down the runway and, with a little bit of effort, the landing gear came down and locked into place,” said Gill.

Cornette said that when the truck, doing about 60 miles per hour, got into the wake of air flowing off the plane. This caused the plane to veer to the right. The pilot corrected and held a straight course.

When the plane hovered overhead, Cornette could see the stuck landing gear by looking out the top of the windshield on the passenger side. He kept his focus on the landing gear as a reference point.

“It was pretty exciting,” said Cornette. “I’ve seen it done on TV or in a movie, but you never think you’re going to actually do it. Rusty [Gill] made it seem like it wasn’t a big deal.”

The plane returned to Hummel Field and ICS Services where Gill found a cracked landing gear actuator.

Although the repair was costly, it saved considerable costs over a gear-up landing, Gill explained. That’s because when a spinning propeller hits the ground, the engine has to be torn down for inspection. There also is a risk of a crash.

While June 25 started as just another summer day for Gill, Cornette and Deihl, it became a day to remember.

posted 07.02.2013

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