It may seem silly, since the 172 is a fixed gear aircraft, but checking it has two important purposes:
1. Building the habit for when you move up to a complex airplane.
2. In the stress of an emergency, we tend to fall back on ingrained habits.
Both of these points are related to the Law of Primacy: what we learn first we learn best. If you learn to check gear down from the beginning, it will be second nature to you when you learn to fly a retractable. If you don't learn to check gear down from the beginning, it makes it much more likely that you'll forget to check when you aren't in a 172 anymore. It takes no effort to "check" the gear in a 172 and it builds an extremely useful habit from the very beginning.
During the pre-landing GUMPS check (Gas, Undercarriage, Mixture, Props, Pumps, Switches—although there are dozens of variations on this that pilots will fight about endlessly, so don't get caught up in the specifics of my personal version), the callouts would sound something like this in a 172:
"Undercarriage: Down and welded."
"Mixture: Full forward."
"Props: Full not there."
"Switches: Landing light on."
Personally, I would even point next to the empty space next to the mixture control while saying, "Props: Full not there" because that's where the prop control would be in a plane that had one. That's for the same reason as the "Down and welded" callout for the landing gear: it builds the habit of checking.
Why "Down and welded?" Because the callout in a retractable would be "Down and locked." I'm being a bit humorous with the "welded" bit. If you want it to remain standardized, you can say, "Down and locked" even in a 172. (In that case, I would also change "Props: Full not there" to "Props: Full forward" too.)
In fact, that's what we do at my airline. When I was on the Dash-8, we had two variants. One had a specific indicator light and the other didn't. Nonetheless, the Before Start checklist intentionally still included that light and the required response was the same on both—even the one that didn't have the light.
In an emergency, the law of primacy also lays the foundation for your performance during stress. In a high workload situation, the brain falls back on what is most deeply ingrained in order to free up mental resources to deal with the other pressures. If you're in a retractable, you'll be glad your gear checks are deeply ingrained. Many, many gear up landings are caused because the pilot is preoccupied with something else and doesn't have "Gear: Down and locked" so burned into their mind that it is automatic.
I use automaticity in the ERJ-145 too: in visual conditions, I try to consistently be at 200 knots at glideslope intercept. That way I can say, "Gear down, flaps 22" all at once. The extension speed for 22 degrees of flaps is 200 knots, and if we lower the gear and put the flaps in at the same time, I don't have to remember that the gear is down but the flaps aren't yet. The less I have to fiddle around with configuration changes on final the better.
(It also works out nicely because when the autopilot lowers the nose to start following the glideslope down, the extra drag of the gear and flaps keeps it from picking up speed. At the right power setting, it even slows the plane down at just the right rate to be at Flaps 45 speed at just the right time. I try to be as lazy as possible because the secret to good airmanship often is doing less, not more. The less you do, the less you can screw up.)
If your instructor isn't teaching you to check the gear in any airplane, they're doing you a disservice for your future learning. Ask them why they don't, and tell them "Because you don't have to" is not the right answer.
See you next Wednesday!
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The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with ERJ-145 and DHC-8 type ratings, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.
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