|26 mile flight turned into 196 miles.|
I took a buddy, who was visiting from out of town, on a flight to Sussex Airport that's about 20 minutes away. The clouds were dissipating as the afternoon progressed. Just to be on the safe side, I filed an IFR flight plan and expected a direct route, via ATC vectors, to our destination. When I was issued my clearance I discovered that my 20 minute flight of 26 nautical miles (nm) had turned into a nearly two hour, 196 nm flight.
The first lesson I learned that day was not to take for granted the route that ATC will issue through busy airspace. Another lesson that I didn't learn until I got home was to always recompute fuel requirements when there's a change to your flight plan. I didn't top off my fuel tanks before I left my home airport since I was only expecting to fly about 20 minutes to a place where the aviation gas was significantly cheaper. However, even though I had almost three hours of fuel on board, it still should have crossed my mind. But, before leaving, I decided to turn down the clearance that I was issued (which is perfectly allowable).
When I took off from my home airport of Morristown the weather was clear so I simply flew my route visually. About 20 minutes later I learned an even more important lesson. Since Sussex Airport doesn't have a control tower, I flew directly over it at 800' above the traffic pattern altitude. This procedure gives the pilot an opportunity to check the wind sock and runway conditions for any glaring problems. But, since I didn't suspect any issues at the airport, I wasn't looking for anything in particular. Everything seemed fine as I announced my position on the traffic advisory frequency until a voice recommended that I not land at Sussex Airport since a "plane had crashed" at the far end of the runway.
Obviously, this seemed like good advice, so I turned around and, as we overflew Sussex airport on the way back to Morristown, we took a harder look at the runway. While we could see a King Air airplane at one end of the runway, there was no way to know that it had - as I found out today - landed with its landing gear up. In other words, the King Air pilot, who was returning to the airport after dropping off jumpers (parachutists), simply forgot to deploy his landing gear and he landed on the belly of the plane.
You might be asking yourself, "How does a pilot forget to put down the landing gear?" That's a great question since an alarm will go off if you forget to put it down as you can hear in the following video. But, it happens more frequently than you'd expect.
And don't take for granted that the runway's clear before landing.