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September 23, 2016

Proud in the Turboprop Crowd

Editors Note: In the early morning hours of May 18, 2013, a Piedmont Dash-8-100 operating US Airways Flight 4560 made a wheels-up landing at Newark Liberty International Airport. The following is an account of how the crew flying N934HA prepared for and executed a safe emergency landing, taking advantage of the Dash-8 turboprop’s unique design.

This may not seem like the most flattering image of an airplane, but if there was one picture to make you feel good about riding on our small, noisy, and “mature” Dash-8s, this could be it.  It’s true that the proverbial shit hit 934’s fans three years ago when a good friend called for his landing gear down.  The airplane disagreed as they sometimes do, but this one turned out to be a bit more stubborn.  When it became clear that the left main gear had checked out early by refusing to come down, the crew jumped in to work overtime: try lowering it again.  No fix.  Non-normal checklist.  No fix.  Try that again.  No fix.

Sigh.

934 CabinThe decision to land with no landing gear was, for our intents and purposes, unprecedented.  Aviation relies heavily on redundancy for safety, but this was different.  You don’t design a car to drive without wheels, and de Havilland didn’t design the Dash-8 to land without landing gear.  Or so we thought.

The strategy turned to designing a ‘safe emergency’.  This is the case-by-case version that would be different for any other crew, in any other airplane, at any other airport.  Call the flight attendant, it’s going to be a long night.  Move people around and start preparing for a textbook evacuation after a non-textbook landing.  Is that even possible?  Call the company, is there something else to try?  Coordinate with Air Traffic Control, clear the runway.  Will the propellers strike the ground?  Where should people be sitting?  What happens next?

With the fuel run low and the flaps out full with trucks standing by, a security camera gets the only proof that something totally new can appear so normal.  Except for the trail of sparks.  The round belly crunches flat just enough to lay even and clear the props.  And through the preventative dousing from the airport’s finest, you could see that if the nose wheel had been down as well it would’ve rolled out right on the centerline.  Even better, no injuries.

Professional.

934 Flight DeckThis is where the crews with me at Piedmont deserve to be proud of our reputation, and for sweating it out – literally – over decades of effort and experience.  You could say that the Dash is not reliable because the wheels didn’t come down that night, but you’d be flat out wrong. It’s built extremely well.  I’m confident to say that the bigger reason 934 truly landed safely is because, like no other aircraft, it teaches its pilots and flight attendants how to fly, how to think, and how to have the patience to deal with all those proverbial shits flying around with us in the sky.

It’s in this spirit, sort of, that the aircraft is now worth more in parts than as a whole.  All the panels, gauges, dials, switches, seats and yokes are scattered around the global fleet.  Still, after several dozen flights in this very room as the pilot, it’s good to be back in the bones of ol’ HBB.

 

 

 



About the Author

Brian Futterman





 
 

 

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