Aviation occurrence briefs

Wheels up landing involving a Piper PA-32R-301, Bacchus Marsh, Vic., on 16 March 2018

Status: Completed
Investigation completed


Occurrence Briefs are concise reports that detail the facts surrounding a transport safety occurrence, as received in the initial notification and any follow-up enquiries. They provide an opportunity to share safety messages in the absence of an investigation.

What happened

On 16 March 2018, the crew of a Piper PA-32R-301 was conducting a series of circuits at Bacchus Marsh, Victoria (Vic). Following approximately seven circuits, the instructor reduced power on the aircraft to allow the student to fly a practice forced landing on runway 27.

As the aircraft neared the runway, the student pilot reduced the power to idle and the landing gear position warning sounded. The instructor reported that both he and the student mistook this for the stall warning[1] and the aircraft subsequently landed with the gear retracted.

Prior to the circuits, the aircraft departed Essendon, Vic. for a navigation training flight. Despite having flown approximately 5 to 6 hours, the student wanted to practise circuits. The instructor reported that the student did not require a great deal of instruction in circuits, having performed previous circuits to a very good standard.

Pilot comments                                

The Instructor provided the following comments:

  • The instructor felt confident with the student’s performance, resulting in relaxed supervision.
  • Both pilots were focusing outside the aircraft at 300 ft, when they should have been focused on completing the final landing checks.
  • Distraction also played a part in both pilots missing the final landing checks, as they had been following the progress of a student who had conducted their first solo flight and had landed on a different runway to the one from which they had taken off.
  • The landing gear warning was mistaken for a stall warning due to the higher than normal landing attitude.

Safety action

As a result of this occurrence, the instructor and student undertook a full debrief and formulated a plan to continue the student’s training. The instructor’s self-debrief focused upon maintaining vigilance regardless of the performance of the student.

Safety message

This occurrence highlights the importance of vigilance during critical phases of flight. Distraction and complacency can result in critical tasks being omitted and not being detected until it is too late.

Pilots should also familiarise themselves with aircraft warning systems to ensure correct responses to those warnings.

The Flight Safety Australia article, Those who won’t: avoiding gear-up landings includes valuable information to assist pilots in avoiding these incidents.

About this report

Decisions regarding whether to conduct an investigation, and the scope of an investigation, are based on many factors, including the level of safety benefit likely to be obtained from an investigation. For this occurrence, no investigation has been conducted and the ATSB did not verify the accuracy of the information. A brief description has been written using information supplied in the notification and any follow-up information in order to produce a short summary report, and allow for greater industry awareness of potential safety issues and possible safety actions.


  1. Stall warnings indicate to the flight crew that the aircraft will approach a stall if action is not taken to reduce the angle of attack (ATSB AR-2012-172). A stall occurs when the smooth airflow over an aeroplane’s wing is disrupted, and it loses lift rapidly. This causes the aircraft to descend. This is caused when the wing exceeds its critical angle of attack (the angle of the wing relative to the direction of the airflow). This can occur at any airspeed, at any attitude, and at any power setting (FAA, 2004).
General details
Date: 16 March 2018   Investigation status: Completed  
Location   (show map): Bacchus Marsh    
State: Victoria    
Release Date: 04 July 2018   Occurrence category: Serious Incident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: None  

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer Piper Aircraft Corp  
Aircraft model PA-32R-301  
Type of operation Flying Training  
Sector Piston  
Damage to aircraft Minor  
Last update 12 December 2018