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Let's say we are flying a single prop airplane with tricycle format retractable gear, such as a Mooney Bravo or a Piper Comache. The nose gear fails mid-flight and is unable to be lowered. Is it safer to attempt a belly landing, or to actually try and make use of the functional main landing gear? What is the standard procedure?


Edits and updates:

  • Here is the video of a very smooth looking nose landing with a RCMP Pilatus PC-12 I could find
  • Here is the video of a smooth looking belly landing find I could find

My major concern with the nose landing would be the increased risk of the nose digging in, causing a flip and/or the fuselage to break in half. As pointed out by @acpilot, the probability of this increases according to runway type.

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    $\begingroup$ There is no procedure that this situation has, so this may be entirely opinion based. Personally I'd leave the mains down and land on the nose. Gives better directional control at lower speeds and you don't have to replace as much skin/antennas when the repair bill comes around (but you will need a new prop/motor anyway). Especially for low-wing aircraft though because things like flaps hang below the aircraft and you can really tear up a lot in a belly landing. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Apr 20 at 15:45
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    $\begingroup$ Keep the fuel away from sparks. Then avoid sudden deceleration. So, if landing on other than hard surfaces, you may need to consider the chances of burying the nose and flipping. Personally, I'd leave my mains down and fly the nose on to a paved surface. Repair bills aren't part of my thought process. That's what insurance is for. $\endgroup$ – acpilot Apr 20 at 17:01
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    $\begingroup$ One the gear or engine fails, the insurer owns the airplane, and your only job as pilot is to limit injuries to yourself (and any passengers) as best you can. $\endgroup$ – StephenS Apr 21 at 16:33
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The standard procedure is whatever is in the POH for your aircraft. This is from a C182RG POH:

LANDING WITH A DEFECTIVE NOSE GEAR (Or Flat Nose Tire)

  1. Movable Load -- TRANSFER to baggage area.
  2. Passenger -- MOVE to rear seat.
  3. Before Landing Checklist -- COMPLETE.
  4. Runway -- HARD SURFACE or SMOOTH SOD
  5. Wing Flaps -- 40°
  6. Cabin Doors -- UNLATCH PRIOR TO TOUCHDOWN.
  7. Avionics Power and Master Switches -- OFF when landing is assured.
  8. Land -- SLIGHTLY TAIL LOW.
  9. Mixture -- IDLE CUT-OFF.
  10. Ignition Switch -- OFF.
  11. Fuel Selector Valve -- OFF.
  12. Elevator Control -- HOLD NOSE OFF GROUND as long as possible.
  13. Airplane -- EVACUATE as soon as it stops.

That assumes that you've already run the gear extension failure checklist without success, of course.

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    $\begingroup$ I really like the "Hold nose off ground as long as possible" recommendation. I usually hear "lower the nose gently", which is obvious, but having a non-arbitrary rule on when to actually put it down should definitely help. $\endgroup$ – naco Apr 20 at 18:00
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Typically in that situation, you would land with the gear down and lower the nose as gently to the ground as possible after touchdown. Nose gear failures are the easiest of all gear up landings to deal with.

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While technically not one of the choices you asked about, you may not be aware of a quasi-third option you should consider.

Make a pass down the runway and "bang it on the mains" a couple of times to see if you can jolt the nose gear to go down and locked. If it works, go around WITHOUT RAISING THE GEAR and land normally (well, more like gingerly). Even if it doesn't work, you are no worse off than you started and this has the added benefit of burning off a pattern's worth of fuel (you'll want to burn fuel down to minimum reserves before committing to a landing to minimize stall speed and fire danger regardless) and gives you a look at the texture of the surface to help you with your original choice.

Additionally, if you do wind up landing without (nose|any) gear down, if the engine stops when you switch it off (not a given), try to position the propeller with a couple of bumps with the starter before touching it down such that is positioned to minimize contact with the ground to reduce the likelihood of digging in and flipping, as well as reduce the repair/inspection bill on the engine itself.

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