Over the years I have had the opportunity to fly a Piper Aerostar, and insured a fair number of them when I owned my aviation insurance business. While I knew the airplane was a tough bird, I never new it was as tough as the one flown by Chris Gaklis!
Botched Go-Around Results In Gear-Up MishapRecently Mr. Gaklis amazed a number of people at the small airport at Aero Acres Air Park when he was approaching to land and then decided to go around because of some anticipated cross winds. What happened next was described in an article in AvWeb by Russ Niles:
The 87-year-old pilot who skipped a gear-up Piper Aerostar off a runway in Florida earlier this month told AVweb he didn't forget to drop the gear. In fact, Chris Gaklis said in an interview he retracted the gear a few seconds before the aircraft was caught on video clattering down the short strip at Aero Acres Air Park in Port St. Lucie, then lurching back into the air. It was, he said, a botched go-around rather than a gear-up landing. "As I was coming in on final I noticed the (crosswind) was coming up," he said. He decided to go around but after pulling up the gear and firewalling the throttles, he retracted the flaps prematurely. "It dropped about eight feet," he said. He said he knew the aircraft had spent some time on the ground but the howling engines masked the extent of the impromptu belly landing and he elected to continue the go-around. After he had stabilized the aircraft in the pattern, he learned from the ground radio station that there were no repair services on the field so, with the engines still making power and no apparent problems staying airborne he elected to fly to his home airport of Ft. Lauderdale Executive Airport about 80 miles away. "I said: 'To hell with it, I'll go back,'" said Gaklis. He tested the gear and "got three green" so he left the wheels down for the low and slow flight (for an Aerostar) back home. "It ran perfectly," he said. "There was no vibration whatsoever." Gaklis said he landed normally and it wasn't until he shut down that he realized how lucky he had been. "I was shocked when I saw the props," he said. An image posted online shows the prop tips curled like fish hooks about six inches up the chord. Gaklis has the Aerostar listed for sale as a rebuild and he's estimating there is about $50,000 in damage to the props, engines and belly. If it doesn't sell, he's considering doing the work himself but he said it's unlikely he'll fly the aircraft again.