Aviation Safety Corner
GREETINGS! For this month's topic, I would like to conclude discussing, "Open-Door Debacle." The
result of a door opening in flight too often is a crash. It shouldn't be that way. This is Part IV of IV.
Let's begin our discussion with, "Stalls and Slips." Even a door that comes only partially unlocked can cause problems, as discovered by the pilot of a Piper Cherokee 140 in New Jersey in 1986. He had just taken off when the upper cabin door fastener became unlocked. He returned for a landing but had to go around due to traffic. He was on final for the second attempt when the aircraft started to sink. He said, "Full power didn't stop the descent." The airplane hit telephone lines, and a pole tore off the right wing. The pilot and his passenger got away with minor injuries, but the aircraft was destroyed. NTSB cited an inadvertent stall on short final as the probable cause of the crash.
Now, let's discuss, "Staying Safe." So, what can you do to avoid a mishap resulting from a door popping open during flight?
1. Make sure all the doors on your aircraft are closed properly before takeoff. If you have cargo doors that can be locked with a key to lock them. Then, pull on the door to make sure it won't come open. After closing and latching/locking the cabin door, push on it a couple of times. In some cases, the door may appear to be closed, but really isn't. It's better to find out on the ground.
2. If you rent or fly aircraft that are flown by other people, review the airframe logs. It's amazing what you can find out sometimes. Try opening and closing the doors on the ground. If you can pop one open on the ground, you can expect it to open in flight. If you have any doubts about the condition of the aircraft, don't accept it. It may delay the flight, but that's better than the alternative.
3. If a door opens up in flight, the main thing to do is fly the airplane. Particularly with General Aviation aircraft, a cabin door that opens in flight is almost never going to compromise the ability of the aircraft to fly. There may be some handling effects (roll and/or yaw), but these can be overcome.
4. Leave the door alone. Fly the airplane. Don't rush to return to land. Climb to pattern altitude, fly a normal pattern and land.
5. Most doors won't stay wide open. They will usually bang open, then settle partly closed. A slip toward the door may cause it to open wider; a slip away from it may push it closed.
6. If you decide to ignore our best advice to just leave the darn thing alone, get a passenger to try to close the door while you fly. Make sure he or she remains "belted," but don't get involved in the door closing action. If your passenger can't get it closed, return for landing and close it on the ground.
7. If you fly a cabin class airplane, don't even think about messing with an "airstair" door in flight. You might not be as lucky as a Beech 99 Captain, whose entanglement in the cables kept him form skydiving without a parachute.
8. If you are flying by yourself, don't get distracted by trying to close the door. Return for landing and do it on the ground. Since most of the mishaps occur on takeoff, you are not far from the airport. Don't panic and rack the airplane around at low altitude. You'll be startled by the surprise and unsettled by the din created by the open door. Try to ignore it. Take it easy. Fly the airplane.
9. Above all, don't release your seat belt and shoulder harness because you can't reach the door. Just leave the darn thing open and land the airplane.
10. Finally, follow all of the items on your landing checklist. If the checklist has flown out of the air-craft, at least do a GUMP check. Especially, don't forget to put the gear down.
Now, In conclusion, remember "Most GA mishaps happen because pilots become distracted and quit paying attention to what their airplanes are doing."
Don't miss next month's, Aviation Safety Corner, when we'll discuss, "Staying Ready for Anything." Exploring what the new Airplane Flying Handbook has to say about handling 'generic' emergency situations. This will be in a Four Part Series.
Larry G. Harmon
FAA Aviation Safety Counselor