Open Door

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I've tried to capture here a list of pilot reports of under what circumstances a door has opened in flight, what led up to the door opening, what the flight characteristics were with the door open (or departed), and if the door departed what the consequences of that were.

Rodney Brim

N87br brim.jpg
Here's Rodney's account. He was moved by the encounter to change his door hinges to be forward opening. Check out his plane here.

I had a near fatal encounter with the door opening and not coming off. I sent in some suggestions to the factory, which should be part of all your emergency procedures. I have since rehinged my doors from the front, and the open quite nicely in flight without creating any problems - although I can't close them once they are open until I'm back on the ground.

Bottom Line: If the door pops all the way open and doesn't tear off, (which mine didn't, in my case it was the co-pilot door and it swung all the way up and I couldn't reach it) you will be in an emergency.

1. The aircraft will be moderately directionally unstable - you now have a dorsal fin of sorts in the middle of the aircraft and the plane wants to wander around that center - its still quite flyable.

2. The curved door is a spin waiting to happen. As soon as you turn away from the door, the plane will begin an involuntary roll away from the door, and drag will increase quickly. You will be in what would be a stall-spin configuration in a conventional plane. Speed will be dropping like a rock, as will the plane, and you're best efforts to stop the spin and return to straight and level will result in a bank exceeding 60 degrees. In my case I was departing the airport at 200 feet agl. At this altitude, once you initiate a roll, you will have less than 5 seconds to get it right or meet your Maker.

3. Don't turn away from an open door in a Velocity. Turn into it, you'll pin it against the fuselage and stabilize it against the air frame. You'll have tremendous drag, but its flyable. I have 325 hp and I could maintain altitude at full power.

4. With all the drag, the plane is going to feel like the gear is hanging out. In all the noise and confusion, charts flying around, you won't be able to hear through your headset - remember that the gear isn't down (I didn't) but don't drop it until you've made the field, because it obviously will create even more drag.

Hope that helps,

Rodney Brim

In another post he added this addendum. If the door pops open fully, DO NOT TURN AWAY FROM THE OPEN DOOR.

If you, like I, ever have that experience. You will start a rapid roll away from the door to an inverted position. For me the door opened slightly as I departed... with the gear coming up it pressurized the cabin and pops the door wide open, and then if you turn away from the door (to head back to the airport) it wants to roll and spin into the ground, in my case at about 200 feet. Opposite rudder and aileron will hold you at a 60 degree bank angle, but won't get you out of the fix as you're going to stall in that configuration.

Al Gietzen

Here's Al's write-up of his "door open in flight" incident.

Of course I was very disappointed not to make the fly-in, and other stops planned on the trip. But I don’t want anyone to be alarmed – I’m fine, and I flew the plane back home today with an improvised door.

We were about an hour out, cruising happily along at 9500’ and 170 KTAS, when suddenly there was a noise and lots of wind blowing and the pilot side door was gone. I have no idea why it came unlatched – I had a double detent spring which had always kept it solidly in the latched position.

It took only a few moments to determine that the plane was controllable (meaning the door had departed), and that there was no prop vibration meaning there was no prop damage. With a few moments to adapt to the new aerodynamics; it was a matter of flying to the nearest airport about 10 miles away. Only when we got there, we found it was a small strip (looked like dirt, although I found later it was paved) in the middle of the desert with no structures of any kind anywhere in sight. Since the plane was flying stably, I decided to head off to another about 20 miles away; and made a normal landing.

Upon landing we noted that the rear window on the passenger side had a large hole in it. Apparently as the door ripped off it was swung over the top, and the strake extension slammed into the window; and from there the door bounced clear of prop. The front hinge mounting pad was torn out; the rear hinge separated at the pin. The prop had a couple of minor marks on it apparently made by pieces of the plexiglass from the window.

The plane was about 150 miles from home; and it is now safely back in it’s hangar. All in all, the damage is not too bad; just a lot of work to do to replace the door with my custom strake extensions, etc.


Mark Riley

Mark reported that the buyer of his first plane had an incident as well.

The buyer of my SERG forgot to latch the copilot side door prior to takeoff from Santa Barbara at night. The door departed the aircraft mid takeoff and destroyed the prop, necessitating a forced landing and heavy damage. I would strongly recommend against opening a door on an Elite in flight.

Jim Beck

Jim file this report.

My Passenger Door came open as I broke ground at about 20 ft altitude, I had ample runway and was able to land reasonably straight with the door open. I hate to admit to being a slow learner but after repairing the door hinges,( one broke but the other held on ) a few months later I forgot to latch the pilot door, this time I was about 100 ft when it started to open , I was able to hold it closed and fly around the pattern & land.

I installed the flashing light after this and the last 5 years have not forgotten. I like the position right by airspeed as this is usually the last check before rotation.


Toni Vallee

A flight test report from Toni Vallee and Pete Wetmore

Hi, my husband, Pete Wetmore, usually monitors the Reflector and he asked me to write about my experience with the pilot door, on our standard RG, opening in flight. We were still in the test flight stages of the aircraft and I was flying by myself.

I had not checked that the door latch had been locked while finalizing my run up and was cleared for take off. I started my runway role and had lifted off 100 feet when the door flew open. I tried to pull it down but was not able to and called the tower to ask for a full stop landing - explaining that my door had come open.

I had taken off from Runway 7 right at Deer Valley airport, in Phoenix, and the traffic pattern is to turn right - which I did. During this time, I told myself repeatedly (and I mean repeatedly) to fly the airplane and was able to keep things relatively stable. I tried several times, while on downwind (again a right turn - away from the door) to pull the door down but was not successful and finally gave up. I had never retracted the gear so this was one additional thing I didn't have to deal with while trying to land the plane.

The tower asked me if I wanted the runway foamed, while I was on downwind, but I was horrified at the attention that would bring and told them I didn't want that - the aircraft was performing pretty well. I made my right turn onto final and I was able to land the airplane. I seem to remember that I kept my usual pattern speeds (this was in November of 2003 so I don't have a clear recollection).

Upon arrival back at the hangar, we looked at the door and found one of the hinges had been broken off and the gas strut (old style) had been torn loose from the door frame. The second hinge held and this is what held the door on.

We replaced both hinges and reinforced their attachment pads. We also changed to the new type struts on both doors. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we installed the door locked light which is activated by the door locking pins. Needless to say I now check to see that the doors are locked and the door locked light is green before I take off.

I hope this is helpful.

Toni Vallee