On January 5, 2011, about 2145 eastern standard time, a Mooney M20E, N7828V, experienced jammed flight controls while on an instrument approach to St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport (PIE), Clearwater. Florida. The certificated commercial pilot, who was not injured, subsequently landed the airplane without damage. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and the flight was operating on an instrument flight rules flight plan from Baytown Airport (HPY), Baytown, Texas. The personal flight was conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91.

According to the pilot, he was beyond the final approach fix on the ILS (instrument landing system) runway 17 approach, had contacted the tower, and had the airport in sight. He began to configure the airplane for landing, "added" flaps, enriched the mixture, turned on the boost pump, and attempted to extend the landing gear manually via the Johnson bar.

The pilot unlocked the Johnson bar from the floor and brought it forward to the instrument panel. He encountered resistance 3 to 4 inches from the panel and was unable to move the bar any further forward. He then retracted the Johnson bar, and checked the area around it for anything that may have been preventing its full movement forward. The pilot then "moved" the carpet and attempted to lower the landing gear again with no luck. He tried a third time before calling the control tower and reporting that he had a landing gear problem.

After the pilot's call, the tower controller advised him that he could return to the approach controller or stay in the pattern. He also offered to inspect the landing gear to confirm if it was down. The pilot opted to stay in the pattern and declined the offer to inspect the landing gear since he knew that none of the three wheels were down and locked "due to the nature of the manual extension gear." As he continued to follow the localizer and glideslope for a low approach to the runway, the pilot was issued instructions to stay in the pattern and make right traffic.

About 1/4 mile from the runway threshold, the pilot tried to force the landing gear down by applying more pressure to the Johnson bar. There was no emergency checklist, and the pilot felt that if it did not work, he would land gear up after a "lap" in the pattern. As he applied greater force to the Johnson bar, it clicked into the panel.

As the Johnson bar clicked into the panel, the airplane "immediately" banked to the left. The pilot rapidly turned the yoke to the right, but "was met [by] complete resistance and was unable to move the yoke to the right." The airplane continued to roll to the left and entered a descent. The pilot declared an emergency and was cleared to land on any runway. The airplane continued to roll and was, "at one point close to 60 degrees bank." The pilot retracted the landing gear, "thinking it would reverse the situation," but it did not. The pilot then "cleaned the airplane up by putting the flaps up and reducing the power," and added full right rudder. He was able to roll the airplane to "about 15-20 degrees" of left bank, which stopped the turn and put the airplane into a left slip.

After completing about 315 degrees of a 360-degree turn, the pilot looked to his left and saw that he was about to be lined up with the runway. He called the tower controller once again and said he was landing, but wasn’t sure the landing gear was locked down. With a right crosswind and left slip, the airplane touched down "well left of centerline," but on the runway. The pilot then brought the airplane to a stop while remaining on the runway.

A subsequent examination of the airplane revealed no damage. However, a photograph provided by the maintenance facility revealed that a small flashlight, about 5 ½ inches in length, was jammed, with the head of the flashlight against the aft side of the aft nose wheel well bulkhead, and adjacent to the aileron control linkage. The tail of the flashlight was jammed against the landing gear bellcrank. The owner of the flashlight could not be determined.

Maintenance personnel also found that when the Johnson bar was raised, a 3- to 4-inch hole could be seen in the boot that covered the area where the Johnson bar mechanism went through the deck. In a photograph of the boot, it appeared to be old, worn, and torn at the seams.

The airplane's owner reported that it had been "rebuilt" between 2004 and 2006, that he used it during flight training, and that he purchased it in July 2009. According to the airplane's aircraft logbook, the latest annual inspection was completed on April 12, 2010, with the airplane "determined to be in an airworthy condition."

Federal Air Regulation (FAR) 91.7 states that "no person may operate a civil aircraft unless it is in an airworthy condition," while FAR 91.403 states that the owner or operator of an aircraft is primarily responsible for maintaining that aircraft in an airworthy condition."

According to FAA Order 8130.2F, "Airworthiness Certification of Aircraft and Related Products," the term “airworthy” is not defined in United States Code or in 14 CFR, "however, a clear understanding of its meaning is essential for use in the agency’s airworthiness certification program, [and]...a review of case law relating to airworthiness reveals two conditions that must be met for an aircraft to be considered 'airworthy.'

a. The aircraft must conform to its TC [type certificate]. Conformity to type design is considered attained when the aircraft configuration and the components installed are consistent with the drawings, specifications, and other data that are part of the TC, which includes any supplemental type certificate (STC) and field approved alterations incorporated into the aircraft.

b. The aircraft must be in a condition for safe operation. This refers to the condition of the aircraft relative to wear and deterioration, for example, skin corrosion, window delamination/crazing, fluid leaks, and tire wear."

The "Best Practices Guide for Maintaining Aging General Aviation Airplanes" was published in September 2003 and endorsed by numerous aviation advocacy groups as well as the FAA. The Guide's stated purpose is to "provide owners of aging single-engine airplanes guidance about maintaining the airworthiness of their airplanes." In noting that it was only a starting point for owners, it provides best practices and a checklist of areas critical to airworthiness, but also notes that the checklist is not all-inclusive or mandatory. The checklist itself did not mention the condition of interior furnishings, covers, boots, that through their deterioration, could allow interference with flight controls.

FAA Advisory Circular AC 20-106, Aircraft Inspection for the General Aviation Aircraft Owner, dated April 1978, also contains a non-mandatory checklist that includes cockpit cleanliness and loose articles, and the condition of door linings, but does not mention the condition of interior furnishings, covers and boots that could, through their deterioration, allow interference with flight controls.

On February 28, 2011, Mooney Airplane Company, Inc. issued Service Instruction M20-118, which based on the incident, re-emphasized the importance of inspecting all interior boots and covers to preclude objects or debris interfering with flight controls.

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