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The Weakest Link of the Grumman Cheetah

The Cessna line is not the only plane with a built-in weakness in the landing gear.The Cessna line is not the only plane with a built-in weakness in the landing gear. The Grumman American and Cheetah line, while fast and efficient, share a landing gear design that features a free-castering nose wheel. That design can pose some significant problems to pilots who were trained on planes with a slightly more beefy nose gear...

THE SETUP -- You have just completed your transition to the rental Grumman at your FBO. The CFI at your FBO took great pains to show you how to land with the nose high, but did not share the weakness in the nose gear.

MISTAKE -- Rather than ask why the instructor wanted you to land nose high, you just assume that he lands that way because it is a personal preference or how he was trained. You elect to ignore his advice on your first landing. With your girlfriend watching, off the end of the runway, a greaser is in order. You set up to land nice and flat, looking like that guy who just landed in the twin moments before you.

FLAT FOR A MOMENT – As the plane settles to land, the nose dips slightly as the wing loses lift. Then, the nose suddenly pitches down hard -- and further than you have ever seen it go down before. The stattaco TAP TAP TAP of the prop striking the runway can then be heard, over the grinding noise that the nose gear, which has been torn off the firewall, is now making as you slide to a stop on the runway.

WHAT HAPPENED? The free-castering nosewheel of many Grumman aircraft are NOT built to withstand landing loads -- they are for taxiing only. Your flat approach, combined with a bad combination of winds, caused the wing to stall. This caused the aircraft to gently pitch forward, but because you were close to the runway, the nose gear came down first. Blessed with most of the load, the nose gear failed and ripped out of its mountings, leaving you with a severely damaged aircraft ... and a really mad FBO and CFI.

LESSONS

  • If a CFI asks you to fly a plane a certain way, ask why. Knowledge is power, so knowing why the CFI is asking you to do something can help avoid embarrassing assumptions. Take it from us, the CFI will be happy to tell you why he wants you to fly that way -- and if he isn’t, talk with the FBO.

  • Every plane has a weakness or two, and we don’t mean to say that the Grumman or Cessna lines are not safe. Instead, consider this a heads up to a weakness that, if ignored, could result in extensive damage to the aircraft and your reputation as a pilot.
BOTTOM LINE: For pilots, learning how to fly a particular model of airplane the right way is part of the job. Take that job seriously, and every airplane you transition to will provide you with safe fun and excitement, instead of something considerably less fun, but perhaps more exciting!

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