What is the best way to shut a door that has popped open in flight?

I had a door on a Cessna 172 pop open shortly after takeoff and was unable to get it closed, but I was fortunate enough to be able to quickly circle around and land. I tried reaching across with my right hand, but I was unable to push the door open enough to pull it quickly enough to latch. Is there a way to shut a door?

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In this accident of a Cirrus SR22 the pilot became disorientated by an open door and crashed. What procedure should be used for an open door?

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    Did you try a sideslip? – Peter Kämpf Aug 26 at 12:29
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    I can't tell you how many times I was soloing in my flight schools 172 during my training and the pilots door would open on short final. I'm not even phased by them anymore, except when it's -10F then it gets a little cold. – Ron Beyer Aug 27 at 3:39
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    I dk but I should warn you that in Canada it is illegal to enter an airplane while it is in flight. So.... no hitch-hikers. – DanielWainfleet Aug 28 at 17:47
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    Canadians are no fun! – Harper Aug 28 at 22:03
up vote 23 down vote accepted

If lower airspeed and the push/pull technique don't get the door closed, I have always had great success opening a window and trying again, especially in Cessnas (check your POH and observe max window open speeds). This helps equalize the pressure between inside and out and makes the door close much more easily. The windows are usually very easy to open and close by hand in light planes.

Again, as in the other answers, I emphasize to fly the plane first, and only try to close the door at a safe altitude, during trimmed, safe stable flight conditions.

  • 1
    This is what I was later told would work - especially with Cessna. However I noticed some are saying they slowed the airplane down and that may also increase success. In my case I attempted to re-close at normal cruise speed and could not push against the air stream enough to quickly snap it shut. Thanks for pointing this out. – jwzumwalt Aug 27 at 10:58
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    FWIW, I just put 30 hours on a C182 last week, and the other guy's door came open a number of times. We never slowed, but always opened a window first, and always got the door closed on the first try. I know anecdotal evidence isn't worth much, but that's my experience. – nexus_2006 Aug 27 at 23:39
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    " I emphasize to fly the plane first" << I don't think this can be emphasized enough. I've read so many accident reports because an air crew became fixated on a problem that wouldn't have resulted in a crash if they had JUST FLOWN THE PLANE. – Shawn Aug 28 at 15:21

I've had this happen a few times on aging C152's and in all cases I have been able to simply push it against the airflow enough to pull it closed. On a PA28 with the door the other side of the cabin from the pilot seat, this wouldnt be possible. Not that I have experienced it in a PA28, but I might ask a passenger to attempt the same (hard push followed by a hard pull).

Some things to note:

  1. There's no massive danger of a door slightly ajar, so waiting until out of a critical phase of flight is advisable (ie, climbed to cruise, clear of any ATZ)
  2. In all but one time I had another competent pilot sitting next to me who can keep an eye out and even hold the controls for a few seconds. Just one reason flying with other pilots is nicer than flying alone.

However, I would suggest that every situation is different. The most important thing is, as always, Aviate first. A light aircraft is unlikely to be critically unable to continue flying with a door ajar. Don't get distracted by something like an ajar door - fly the aircraft.

If in any doubt, land as soon as possible and fix the problem. It would, I think, be acceptable to call "Pan Pan" if you feel you need to expedite a landing.

  • 44
    "There's no massive danger of a door slightly ajar": That is really the most important line - more accidents happen because the pilot is distracted by the door than from the open door itself. Just like in Eastern 401 – Peter Kämpf Aug 26 at 12:32
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    I once asked my CFI whether we could try it in a training flight in a PA-38, as the doors were a bit worn and I didn’t want to deal with an open door on one of the early solos without any preparation. He agreed, and we did, and on the push/pull the door handle came off. So ... I‘d recommend to factor in a potentially worse outcome when trying to fix something that’s not really hazardous per se when you establish priorities in a real situation. – Cpt Reynolds Aug 26 at 13:09
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    Remotely related: here's a training video for flight deck window opening in a 737 during take-off. It stresses that there is nothing mechanically wrong with the airplane and you should continue flying and close it when stable. – Jan Hudec Aug 26 at 21:05
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    I can attest that it may be impossible to close the door of a Mooney in flight, because of the way the airflow gets directed through the hinge section. At the very least, I (passenger and bombardier) couldn't do it. This is what we'd suspected going out, though, and we completed the flight as-planned. – Erin Anne Aug 28 at 0:53

Do whatever it says in the POH for your aircraft. This is from the C172S POH, for example:

Accidental opening of a cabin door in flight due to improper closing does not constitute a need to land the airplane. The best procedure is to set up the airplane in a trimmed condition at approximately 75 KIAS, momentarily shove the door outward slightly, and forcefully close and lock the door.

A C182RG POH says exactly the same thing, but at 80 KIAS instead of 75.

  • 1
    I think OP tried this but couldn't, due to reaching across! – Fattie Aug 28 at 11:08

A few points: The trick of pushing the door farther open then slamming it shut doesn't work as well as on a car as the door is generally much lighter weight than a car's, reducing its inertia that helps it slam shut. And the force of the airflow over it prevents it from opening much farther anyway. A sideslip in the direction of the open door can help a lot, though.

But besides the sudden wind noise and potential wind in the cockpit blowing loose items around, it is not an emergency. I've flown (and been flown in) a Cessna 152 when we had removed the passenger door altogether to allow air to air photography. No problem. Just be sure to be buckled in first!

While I was banking a Cessna 152 45 degrees left a few years back, the pilot-side door popped open. That was exciting.

As I recall, closing it took a hard push into the windstream, then a pull as it bounced back. Otherwise, it was just re-closing a car door. The instructor didn't even have me level out first.

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