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Training Tip: Opening a door to trouble

Its long service had imparted some interesting effects. You could use most any blunt-edged metal object to unlock or lock the doors if the key was misplaced. Another oddity, useful for instructional purposes, was that a broad-shouldered flight instructor sitting innocently with hands folded could simply take a deep breath and stealthily pop the right-side door open.

Climbing after takeoff was a choice opportunity for an instructor to increase the intensity of an inhalation and initiate this idiosyncrasy to observe the learner’s response.

The hoped-for response was no response at all, but often a CFI found it necessary to coax a startled student through the mental exercise of ignoring the open door—despite noise and wind and pieces of paper flapping about—until the aircraft was safely established in cruise.

Some learners familiar with the Cessna 152’s pilot’s operating handbook knew that a door opening in flight “does not constitute a need to land the airplane.” They knew to set up a trimmed airspeed of approximately 65 knots indicated, then “momentarily shove the door outward slightly, and forcefully close the door.”

Recommended technique varies by aircraft (see page 17-13 of the Airplane Flying Handbook for general guidance), but it’s always unfortunate when a nonemergency opens the door to trouble, usually resulting from pilot distraction.

An example was an April 2008 flight lesson on crosswind takeoffs and landings in a Piper PA–28-140 that had a faulty door latch and weak toe brakes (available only to the left-seat pilot). That combination of compromising characteristics caused chaos when the door unlatched during the fourth takeoff.

An NTSB accident report noted that “the CFI immediately retarded the throttle and instructed the student to apply the brakes. The student complied but reported that the brakes were not working.”

The instructor tried using the hand brake before forcing the airplane off the side of the runway to avoid running off the end, said the report, giving the probable accident cause as the instructor’s “improper decision to abort the takeoff after the cabin door latch opened.”

The report cited language in the aircraft’s owner’s handbook stating that “an open door will not affect normal flight characteristics, and a normal landing can be made with the door open.”

How should you cope with a door opening in flight in your training aircraft?

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