Piloting a large airlines plane is a very responsible job. However, sometimes small mistakes happen, making people wonder what if a pilot accidentally hits a wrong button at a wrong time? For example, what would happen if one of the pilots would move landing gear lever while the aircraft is stationary? Would the plane simply flop to the ground on its belly?
This did happen in a popular TV series “The Simpsons”. Homer was mistaken for a pilot, since he was actually dressed as one, and was pushed into the cockpit. Soon he found himself pressing random buttons in an attempt to fly the plane. One of them actually retracted landing gear, making the plane flop on its belly. Probably causing some serious damage in the process. But is that possible in real life?
Well, the short answer is no. Modern airplanes have something called “Squat switch”. Essentially it is a sensor, which can tell if a plane is still standing on the ground. That is why it is called squat switch – it senses when the landing gear is still squatting under the load of the plane. When the squat switch is activated, meaning that the plane is still on the ground, it is physically impossible to retract the landing gear.
In “Simpsons” homer just pressed a switch and the incident happened. In real life landing gear is controlled by a lever. When the squat switch is activated, a special rod in the mechanism physically prevents the landing gear lever from moving. In other words, pilots cannot push it forward even if they want to. When plane is off the ground, squat switch is off and the lever is free to move.
You may say that sensors can fail and you’d be right. However, engineers made sure that the squat switch would fail in “on” position if it happens at all. In this case pilots would not be able to retract the landing gear even when already flying. Plane would have to return immediately, but it would not be an extremely dangerous situation.
Also, don’t forget that airline pilots are highly trained – it is hard to believe that they would make such mistake. And planes have some impressive safety tech nowadays. But some mistakes similar to this may happen.
Sometimes pilots may retract landing gear a little early when they are taking off. As soon as the plane is lifting itself from the ground and the landing gear gets extended, they can move the lever and wheels go in. However, at this point nothing serious can happen, since the plane is already taking off anyway. Unless the pilot gets scared of his own mistake and decides to land on the belly immediately.
In conclusion, mistakes related to landing gear are very rare. Pulling it up too early or deploying a little too late is very likely to never happen to you, regardless of how often you travel. However, it did make for a funny scene in “The Simpsons”, even if not possible in real life.