It’s the day after Thanksgiving, about 75 degrees and partly cloudy, with a breeze out of the east. I was hanging out at X55, a local grass strip, watching a friend give rides to his son’s Air Force buddies in a gorgeous WWII Fairchild trainer. All of a sudden there was a loud thump, then a dragging sound on runway 36, behind us.
I whirled around just in time to see a very nice vintage G35 V tail Beechcraft Bonanza sliding sideways to a stop, 90 degrees off runway heading. The landing gear was fully retracted. We ran towards the plane as fast as we could to help. Fortunately the pilot was unhurt and climbed out of the aircraft on his own before we got there. He was remarkably calm, or maybe just in a bit of shock.
The pilot, whom I did not know, has been flying for 30 years and has owned this V tail aircraft for 21 of those years, without incident. The plane is insured, but I question if it will fly again, because of its age and value.
Everyone there who witnessed the gear-up landing felt very bad for the pilot and tried to cheer him up. There were no recriminations, nor gloating, nor any unkind comments. It was very humbling for all of us, as it could have happened to any of us.
Six of us then got to work to raise the aircraft and clear the runway.
After we secured the aircraft, making sure the mags and fuel were off, we got an engine hoist out of one of the hangars. We wrapped a chain around the crankshaft flange and then placed some old aircraft tires under the aft bulkhead to support the empennage. Then we lifted the old bird up by the nose, as the owner hand-cranked the gear down from inside the cockpit. Once the gear was fully extended, we lowered the nose and got the Bonanza back on her feet. Finally, we towed her to the hangar, where she will await a visit from the insurance company adjuster. The whole process took about an hour.
On approach, the flaps were fully down, and I suspect that configuration may have slowed the aircraft, misleading the pilot into thinking his gear was down and locked. If you know Bonanzas and Mooneys, you know that they are very slick aerodynamically and difficult to land with the gear and flaps in the up position.
The prop is trashed, as are both wing flaps, the cowl flaps and exhaust pipes. The engine will need to be torn down for inspection. Because of the grass turf, the underbelly is remarkably unscathed. On the G model Bonanza, the aft boarding step retracts, so it was in the up position and also escaped damage.
We walked the runway looking for any damaged parts. There were sickening tick marks in the turf, made by the prop, about every 5 feet, for about 80 feet. Each tick mark got progressively deeper. After that, there were just long gashes in the grass, where the flaps and exhaust pipes dug in once the bird flopped on her belly. The Bonanza came to a full stop in less than 200 yards..
Once the runway re-opened, it was time to head for home. It was getting dark on my short flight back to KLEE. I must have confirmed my gear-down indicators at least 5 times on downwind, base and final. Watching an incident like this makes you kinda paranoid. Maybe that’s good.