A Tacoma pilot had a bit of a scare late Saturday afternoon as he prepared to land at the Tacoma Narrows Airport near Gig Harbor.
As pilot John Carlin, 46, approached the airport around 4 p.m., his small single-engine aircraft’s warning system went off, indicating his landing gear had not deployed.
The experienced pilot, a former Navy flier for 11 years, communicated with the airport tower controllers, then spent nearly two hours circling the airport and burning off fuel as a safety precaution. Gig Harbor Fire and Medic units responded, and several people inside the airport restaurant listened on portable radios to controller radio traffic and watched from a patio as events unfolded.
But in the end, Carlin was able to land the plane smoothly with the landing gear deployed.
Carlin bought his French-made Trinidad TB20 in 2013, and it had recently passed an annual inspection, he said.
“It passed with flying colors,” he said. “Everything was up to standard.”
Carlin was returning from a trip to Salem, Oregon, on Saturday in what he described as an uneventful flight on a beautiful day.
“Until I got ready to land,” he said. “That’s when the excitement started.”
He said he heard warning bells inside the cockpit, indicating the landing gear had not dropped or was dangling and not locked in place. He contacted the tower and made two low passes so controllers could see his aircraft. They told him it appeared the gear was down. But inside the airplane, Carlin couldn’t know for sure.
He decided to burn off fuel from his tank, so that if the landing turned rough, there would be less to burn. He had just filled up in Salem, so the burn-off took about two hours.
“I was thankful that it was a beautiful day and that I wasn’t having to solve this problem in bad weather,” he said. He said he was also glad his family wasn’t with him.
Carlin’s wife, Rebecca, had just put their 3-year-old son into the bath when she received a text from John letting her know what was happening.
“I knew if he had to land without the gear, he could have,” she said. “But of course I was worried.”
She and the child were both at the airport to greet Carlin after he touched down.
Carlin said he had not experienced this particular problem before. But he acknowledged landing in much more difficult circumstances during his Navy years.
“Maybe an hour from now, I will think about what might have happened,” Carlin said.