A single-engine plane with two men aboard made an emergency landing at Bert Mooney Airport just before 11 a.m. Thursday.
There were no injuries, said Jeff Miller, Butte-Silver Bow fire chief.
The plane was piloted by a Helena man, 71, and carried a passenger, 61, from Philipsburg.
Miller said the airport received a distress signal just before the plane was supposed to land at 9:50 a.m. The pilot said the plane could not lock down its landing gear. The gear would extend but not lock.
The plane flew around the airport to burn off about 30 gallons of fuel and prepared for an emergency landing. The pilot was in direct contact with the Butte-Silver Bow Fire Department as well as the plane’s manufacturer, Miller said.
Pam Chamberlin, Bert Mooney Airport director, said one wheel collapsed when the plane touched down but the other wheels remained operational.
She said the plane veered off the runway into a safety area.
Flying the plane was Larry Klaas, a retired real estate developer from Helena, accompanied by Mark Hudgens, a Philipsburg resident and the former manager of the town’s Riddick Field airport.
Klaas, who has 50 years of flight experience and formerly served as an airplane salesman in Seattle, said the plane is repairable, the wing having sustained minor damage.
He described the landing as mild, noting that the plane skidded at the end of its landing and turned about 180 degrees, hitting a runway light with its wing.
When Klaas took off in the plane, a Lancair IV-P, from the Bert Mooney Airport Thursday morning, he immediately noticed that the landing gear was not retracting properly.
According to Klaas, there was a problem with the hydraulic system that controls the gear, which only partially retracted the gear, leaving it in an unlocked position.
The two on the plane followed emergency protocol, checking to make sure there wasn’t an electrical malfunction and trying to control the gear manually. They maintained communications with emergency personnel on the ground while Hudgens phoned an advanced training pilot. They also performed flying maneuvers in an effort to restore the gears’ functionality.
“We did everything,” said Klaas, noting that their only choice was to land the plane with the malfunctioning landing gear.
Before touching down, Klaas and Hudgens turned the engine off, just in case things didn’t go well and the plane caught fire.
“I didn’t get too scared,” said Klaas, whose training kicked in. “You’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do,” he said, adding that it’s better to stay calm rather than to panic and make a mistake.
Hudgens, who has been flying since he was 13 years old, described the Lancair IV-P as the “fastest single-engine piston airplane there is.” Klaas is the owner of the plane.
Hudgens was relieved when the plane landed — who wouldn’t be? he said. The two managed to stay cool enough to grab lunch after the incident.
“We kept our heads on straight, made a plan, and everything went well,” said Hudgens.
Firefighters and all emergency workers were at the site prepared to help once the plane landed, Miller said.
"All credit goes to the pilot. He did all he could to troubleshoot," Miller said. "This was one of those cases where we have time, we had time to get as many resources there as possible."
Chamberlain said the plane has been towed off the runway and all operations are back on at the airport.
There were no air service interruptions as a result of the emergency, she said.