Landing Gear Alignment, Support, and Retraction (Part One)

in Aircraft Landing Gear Systems

Retractable landing gear consist of several components that enable it to function. Typically, these are the torque links, trunnion and bracket arrangements, drag strut linkages, electrical and hydraulic gear retraction devices, as well as locking, sensing, and indicating components. Additionally, nose gear have steering mechanisms attached to the gear.

Alignment


As previously mentioned, a torque arm or torque links assembly keeps the lower strut cylinder from rotating out of alignment with the longitudinal axis of the aircraft. In some strut assemblies, it is the sole means of retaining the piston in the upper strut cylinder. The link ends are attached to the fixed upper cylinder and the moving lower cylinder with a hinge pin in the center to allow the strut to extend and compress.

Alignment of the wheels of an aircraft is also a consideration. Normally, this is set by the manufacturer and only requires occasional attention such as after a hard landing. The aircraft’s main wheels must be inspected and adjusted, if necessary, to maintain the proper tow-in or tow-out and the correct camber. Tow-in and tow-out refer to the path a main wheel would take in relation to the airframe longitudinal axis or centerline if the wheel was free to roll forward. Three possibilities exist. The wheel would roll either: 1) parallel to the longitudinal axis (aligned); 2) converge on the longitudinal axis (tow-in); or 3) veer away from the longitudinal axis (tow-out). [Figure 13-28]

Figure 13-28. Wheel alignment on an aircraft.

Figure 13-28. Wheel alignment on an aircraft.

The manufacturer’s maintenance instructions give the procedure for checking and adjusting tow-in or tow-out. A general procedure for checking alignment on a light aircraft follows. To ensure that the landing gear settle properly for a tow-in/tow-out test, especially on spring steel strut aircraft, two aluminum plates separated with grease are put under each wheel. Gently rock the aircraft on the plates to cause the gear to find the at rest position preferred for alignment checks.

A straight edge is held across the front of the main wheel tires just below axle height. A carpenter’s square placed against the straight edge creates a perpendicular that is parallel to the longitudinal axis of the aircraft. Slide the square against the wheel assembly to see if the forward and aft sections of the tire touch the square. A gap in front indicates the wheel is towed-in. A gap in the rear indicates the wheel is towedout. [Figure 13-29]

Figure 13-29. Finding tow-in and tow-out on a light aircraft with spring steel struts.

Figure 13-29. Finding tow-in and tow-out on a light aircraft with spring steel struts.

Camber is the alignment of a main wheel in the vertical plain. It can be checked with a bubble protractor held against the wheel assembly. The wheel camber is said to be positive if the top of the wheel tilts outward from vertical. Camber is negative if the top of the wheel tilts inward. [Figure 13-30]

Figure 13-30. Camber of a wheel is the amount the wheel is tilted out of the vertical plain. It can be measured with a bubble protractor.

Figure 13-30. Camber of a wheel is the amount the wheel is tilted out of the vertical plain. It can be measured with a bubble protractor.

Adjustments can be made to correct small amounts of wheel misalignment. On aircraft with spring steel gear, tapered shims can be added or removed between the bolt-on wheel axle and the axle mounting flange on the strut. Aircraft equipped with air/oil struts typically use shims between the two arms of the torque links as a means of aligning tow-in and tow-out. [Figure 13-31] Follow all manufacturer’s instructions.

Figure 13-31. Tow-in and tow-out adjustments on small aircraft with spring steel landing gear are made with shims behind the axle assembly. On shock strut aircraft, the shims are placed where the torque links couple.

Figure 13-31. Tow-in and tow-out adjustments on small aircraft with spring steel landing gear are made with shims behind the axle assembly. On shock strut aircraft, the shims are placed where the torque links couple.

Support

Aircraft landing gear are attached to the wing spars or other structural members, many of which are designed for the specific purpose of supporting the landing gear. Retractable gear must be engineered in such a way as to provide strong attachment to the aircraft and still be able to move into a recess or well when stowed. A trunnion arrangement is typical. The trunnion is a fixed structural extension of the upper strut cylinder with bearing surfaces that allow the entire gear assembly to move. It is attached to aircraft structure in such a way that the gear can pivot from the vertical position required for landing and taxi to the stowed position used during flight. [Figure 13-32]

Figure 13-32. The trunnion is a fixed structural support that is part of or attached to the upper strut cylinder of a landing gear strut. It contains bearing surfaces so the gear can retract.

Figure 13-32. The trunnion is a fixed structural support that is part of or attached to the upper strut cylinder of a landing gear strut. It contains bearing surfaces so the gear can retract.

While in the vertical gear down position, the trunnion is free to swing or pivot. Alone, it cannot support the aircraft without collapsing. A drag brace is used to restrain against the pivot action built into the trunnion attachment. The upper end of the two-piece drag brace is attached to the aircraft structure and the lower end to the strut. A hinge near the middle of the brace allows the brace to fold and permits the gear to retract. For ground operation, the drag brace is straightened over center to a stop, and locked into position so the gear remains rigid. [Figure 13-33] The function of a drag brace on some aircraft is performed by the hydraulic cylinder used to raise and lower the gear. Cylinder internal hydraulic locks replace the over-center action of the drag brace for support during ground maneuvers.

Figure 13-33. A hinged drag strut holds the trunnion and gear firm for landing and ground operation. It folds at the hinge to allow the gear to retract.

Figure 13-33. A hinged drag strut holds the trunnion and gear firm for landing and ground operation. It folds at the hinge to allow the gear to retract.

Small Aircraft Retraction Systems

As the speed of a light aircraft increases, there reaches a point where the parasite drag created by the landing gear in the wind is greater than the induced drag caused by the added weight of a retractable landing gear system. Thus, many light aircraft have retractable landing gear. There are many unique designs. The simplest contains a lever in the flight deck mechanically linked to the gear. Through mechanical advantage, the pilot extends and retracts the landing gear by operating the lever. Use of a roller chain, sprockets, and a hand crank to decrease the required force is common.

Electrically operated landing gear systems are also found on light aircraft. An all-electric system uses an electric motor and gear reduction to move the gear. The rotary motion of the motor is converted to linear motion to actuate the gear. This is possible only with the relatively lightweight gear found on smaller aircraft. An all-electric gear retraction system is illustrated in Figure 13-34.

Figure 13-34. A geared electric motor landing gear retraction system.

Figure 13-34. A geared electric motor landing gear retraction system. [click image to enlarge]

A more common use of electricity in gear retraction systems is that of an electric/hydraulic system found in many Cessna and Piper aircraft. This is also known as a power pack system. A small lightweight hydraulic power pack contains several components required in a hydraulic system. These include the reservoir, a reversible electric motor-driven hydraulic pump, a filter, high-and-low pressure control valves, a thermal relief valve, and a shuttle valve. Some power packs incorporate an emergency hand pump. A hydraulic actuator for each gear is driven to extend or retract the gear by fluid from the power pack. Figure 13-35 illustrates a power pack system while gear is being lowered. Figure 13-36 shows the same system while the gear is being raised.

Figure 13-35. A popular light aircraft gear retraction system that uses a hydraulic power pack in the gear down condition.

Figure 13-35. A popular light aircraft gear retraction system that uses a hydraulic power pack in the gear down condition. [click image to enlarge]

Figure 13-36. A hydraulic power pack gear retraction system in the gear up condition.

Figure 13-36. A hydraulic power pack gear retraction system in the gear up condition. [click image to enlarge]

When the flight deck gear selection handle is put in the geardown position, a switch is made that turns on the electric motor in the power pack. The motor turns in the direction to rotate the hydraulic gear pump so that it pumps fluid to the gear-down side of the actuating cylinders. Pump pressure moves the spring-loaded shuttle valve to the left to allow fluid to reach all three actuators. Restrictors are used in the nose wheel actuator inlet and outlet ports to slow down the motion of this lighter gear. While hydraulic fluid is pumped to extend the gear, fluid from the upside of the actuators returns to the reservoir through the gear-up check valve. When the gear reach the down and locked position, pressure builds in the gear-down line from the pump and the low-pressure control valve unseats to return the fluid to the reservoir. Electric limit switches turn off the pump when all three gear are down and locked.

To raise the gear, the flight deck gear handle is moved to the gear-up position. This sends current to the electric motor, which drives the hydraulic gear pump in the opposite direction causing fluid to be pumped to the gear-up side of the actuators. In this direction, pump inlet fluid flows through the filter. Fluid from the pump flows thought the gear-up check valve to the gear-up sides of the actuating cylinders. As the cylinders begin to move, the pistons release the mechanical down locks that hold the gear rigid for ground operations. Fluid from the gear-down side of the actuators returns to the reservoir through the shuttle valve. When the three gears are fully retracted, pressure builds in the system, and a pressure switch is opened that cuts power to the electric pump motor. The gear are held in the retracted position with hydraulic pressure. If pressure declines, the pressure switch closes to run the pump and raise the pressure until the pressure switch opens again.