If you have been flying for any length of time, you know that stuff happens – there is just no way around it. No matter how hard you try, no matter how regular you are at checking things, something will happen that will throw off your routine and cause a problem. One real attention getter is having a cabin door open up while you are flying. Whether you are taking off, landing, or enroute, having a door open creates a massive disturbance in the cockpit, causing any loose paper to fly about the cabin as if possessed, with much of it heading out the previously closed door.
What to do:
Fly The Airplane. Whatever damage the door may do — there are very few doors out there that will do anything but go into trail with the air stream — it can’t compare to what will happen if you become overly distracted.
1. Aerodynamics. Having the door open will change the drag profile on the aircraft. What may have been stable, level flight in your plane could now be a significant descent because of the door. Get the plane under your control, and then assess the situation.
2. Effort. If you are flying in a Commander, Piper, Beech Baron or Bonanza line, you can pretty much forget about closing the door in flight. Owners of most Cessna aircraft will have more success, simply because of how the air moves over the cabin.
3. Cold. Depending on the outside temperature, you could be at significant risk for a loss of control due to hypothermia. If your core body temperature is lowered quickly enough, you could find yourself challenged to fly the plane by stiff hands and arms, sleepiness, and even tears frozen over your eyes by extremely low temperatures and high winds.
1. If you have a passenger, the door is closer to them — and they are still somewhat composed — you can have them hold the door closed to reduce the noise and wind in the cabin. More important, it may restore the original flying characteristics of the aircraft.
2. Still, don’t over-exert yourself trying to get the door closed if it doesn’t comply after several physical requests. Remember, it’s a lot easier to close on the ground, but be aware that the door may disrupt airflow over the tail during landing.
3. If you are flying in the wintertime and the door opens, turn your cabin heat on high, and put on whatever clothes are available. Winter weather and open doors are nothing to be trifled with – don’t make the mistake of trying to stretch yourself a few more minutes to your home airport. Get the airplane down as fast as you safely can.
No matter which model you are flying, if the door can’t be closed, then you will have to land and then close it. Once you are on the ground shut down the engine and look for the cause of the problem. If there is a problem that will almost certainly cause the door to open in flight again, have the problem corrected before you try to go on. If not, carefully close the door, check the latch or latches, check the hinges (in case you damaged them trying to get the door closed,) and fly on. Keep in mind what you will do if the door opens again.
By knowing what to expect when the unexpected happens and what actions to take as pilots, we can better handle these little in-flight mishaps. By doing so, pilots and their passengers will be safer and happier in friendlier skies.