Split Flap Emergency

This is a guest post from Jim Reed (Lt. Col. USAF Ret.) author of, “Turning Final, A Life Complete”

Here is an example of an unwritten rule that I have used for years:

If you’ve just done something and everything falls apart, put everything back where it was.

As simple as it sounds, most folks won’t do that unless they have been trained to do it.

Here is a story that supports that theory. It is an excerpt from my book:

One morning, after an early flight, I stopped off at D’s Restaurant at the Sonoma County Airport to grab some breakfast. I happened to sit at the counter next to Kentucky Pentegrast, a man whom I had met through Hugh. He owned a small twin and told me that he hadn’t made a decent landing in six months and asked if I would be willing to go along with him someday and try to figure out what he was doing wrong.

I said sure I would, and that, in fact, I wasn’t doing anything at that moment. So after breakfast, we went out to his plane and took off north to a small landing strip next to the lumber mill at Cloverdale. As we came down final, I watched to see if I could detect anything that Kentucky was doing that might aggravate the landing, but everything looked pretty good and we made a satisfactory touchdown.

We made the touch and go and I sat there with my arms folded looking at the surrounding scenery as we made a right turn and thought, “Gosh, those hills are awfully close for us to be turning into them.” I looked at Kentucky and could not believe what I saw. Although he had all of the control inputs for a left turn, WE WERE TURNING RIGHT. His mouth was open, his eyes were wide and he had a look of terror on his face.

I instinctively reverted to the training the Air Force had drummed into me – if you’ve just done something and everything starts to fall apart, put everything back where it was! Since we had just made a touch and go and had retracted the gear and flaps, I reached over without asking Kentucky and extended the gear and flaps. The controls started working again and, after some experimentation, I determined that only the flap on one wing had retracted from the full flap landing.

The other had stayed full down and we had experienced a split flap. Kentucky told me later that throughout all of his training, he had never even heard the term ‘Split Flap’.

We left the flaps down, returned to Santa Rosa and landed. His problem with landings over the past six months was obviously a result of that flap partially hanging up either going up or going down. This time it decided to hang up while it was full down, and I’m convinced that if I hadn’t been with Kentucky that day he would not have survived that incident.