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

in Aircraft Landing Gear Systems

Large Aircraft Retraction Systems

Large aircraft retraction systems are nearly always powered by hydraulics. Typically, the hydraulic pump is driven off of the engine accessory drive. Auxiliary electric hydraulic pumps are also common. Other devices used in a hydraulically-operated retraction system include actuating cylinders, selector valves, uplocks, downlocks, sequence valves, priority valves, tubing, and other conventional hydraulic system components. These units are interconnected so that they permit properly sequenced retraction and extension of the landing gear and the landing gear doors.


The correct operation of any aircraft landing gear retraction system is extremely important. Figure 13-37 illustrates an example of a simple large aircraft hydraulic landing gear system. The system is on an aircraft that has doors that open before the gear is extended and close after the gear is retracted. The nose gear doors operate via mechanical linkage and do not require hydraulic power. There are many gear and gear door arrangements on various aircraft. Some aircraft have gear doors that close to fair the wheel well after the gear is extended. Others have doors mechanically attached to the outside of the gear so that when it stows inward, the door stows with the gear and fairs with the fuselage skin.

Figure 13-37. A simple large aircraft hydraulic gear retraction system.

Figure 13-37. A simple large aircraft hydraulic gear retraction system. [click image to enlarge]

In the system illustrated in Figure 13-37, when the flight deck gear selector is moved to the gear-up position, it positions a selector valve to allow pump pressure from the hydraulic system manifold to access eight different components. The three downlocks are pressurized and unlocked so the gear can be retracted. At the same time, the actuator cylinder on each gear also receives pressurized fluid to the gear-up side of the piston through an unrestricted orifice check valve. This drives the gear into the wheel well. Two sequence valves (C and D) also receive fluid pressure. Gear door operation must be controlled so that it occurs after the gear is stowed. The sequence valves are closed and delay flow to the door actuators. When the gear cylinders are fully retracted, they mechanically contact the sequence valve plungers that open the valves and allow fluid to flow into the close side of the door actuator cylinders. This closes the doors. Sequence valves A and B act as check valves during retraction. They allow fluid to flow one way from the gear-down side of the main gear cylinders back into the hydraulic system return manifold through the selector valve.

To lower the gear, the selector is put in the gear-down position. Pressurized hydraulic fluid flows from the hydraulic manifold to the nose gear uplock, which unlocks the nose gear. Fluid flows to the gear-down side of the nose gear actuator and extends it. Fluid also flows to the open side of the main gear door actuators. As the doors open, sequence valves A and B block fluid from unlocking the main gear uplocks and prevent fluid from reaching the down side of the main gear actuators. When the doors are fully open, the door actuator engages the plungers of both sequence valves to open the valves. The main gear uplocks, then receives fluid pressure and unlock. The main gear cylinder actuators receive fluid on the down side through the open sequence valves to extend the gear. Fluid from each main gear cylinder up-side flows to the hydraulic system return manifold through restrictors in the orifice check valves. The restrictors slow the extension of the gear to prevent impact damage.

There are numerous hydraulic landing gear retraction system designs. Priority valves are sometimes used instead of mechanically operated sequence valves. This controls some gear component activation timing via hydraulic pressure. Particulars of any gear system are found in the aircraft maintenance manual. The aircraft technician must be thoroughly familiar with the operation and maintenance requirements of this crucial system.

Emergency Extension Systems

The emergency extension system lowers the landing gear if the main power system fails. There are numerous ways in which this is done depending on the size and complexity of the aircraft. Some aircraft have an emergency release handle in the flight deck that is connected through a mechanical linkage to the gear uplocks. When the handle is operated, it releases the uplocks and allows the gear to free-fall to the extended position under the force created by gravity acting upon the gear. Other aircraft use a non-mechanical back-up, such as pneumatic power, to unlatch the gear.

The popular small aircraft retraction system shown in Figures 13-35 and 13-36 uses a free-fall valve for emergency gear extension. Activated from the flight deck, when the free-fall valve is opened, hydraulic fluid is allowed to flow from the gear-up side of the actuators to the gear-down side of the actuators, independent of the power pack. Pressure holding the gear up is relieved, and the gear extends due to its weight. Air moving past the gear aids in the extension and helps push the gear into the down-and-locked position.

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]

Large and high performance aircraft are equipped with redundant hydraulic systems. This makes emergency extension less common since a different source of hydraulic power can be selected if the gear does not function normally.

If the gear still fails to extend, some sort of unlatching device is used to release the uplocks and allow the gear to free fall. [Figure 13-38]

Figure 13-38. These emergency gear extension handles in a Boeing 737 are located under a floor panel on the flight deck. Each handle releases the gear uplock via a cable system so the gear can freefall into the extended position.

Figure 13-38. These emergency gear extension handles in a Boeing 737 are located under a floor panel on the flight deck. Each handle releases the gear uplock via a cable system so the gear can freefall into the extended position.

In some small aircraft, the design configuration makes emergency extension of the gear by gravity and air loads alone impossible or impractical. Force of some kind must therefore be applied. Manual extension systems, wherein the pilot mechanically cranks the gear into position, are common. Consult the aircraft maintenance manual for all emergency landing gear extension system descriptions of operation, performance standards, and emergency extension tests as required.

Landing Gear Safety Devices

There are numerous landing gear safety devices. The most common are those that prevent the gear from retracting or collapsing while on the ground. Gear indicators are another safety device. They are used to communicate to the pilot the position status of each individual landing gear at any time.

Figure 13-39. Typical landing gear squat switches.

Figure 13-39. Typical landing gear squat switches.

Safety Switch

A landing gear squat switch, or safety switch, is found on most aircraft. This is a switch positioned to open and close depending on the extension or compression of the main landing gear strut. [Figure 13-39] The squat switch is wired into any number of system operating circuits. One circuit prevents the gear from being retracted while the aircraft is on the ground. There are different ways to achieve this lockout. A solenoid that extends a shaft to physically disable the gear position selector is one such method found on many aircraft. When the landing gear is compressed, the squat safety switch is open, and the center shaft of the solenoid protrudes a hardened lock-pin through the landing gear control handle so that it cannot be moved to the up position. At takeoff, the landing gear strut extends. The safety switch closes and allows current to flow in the safety circuit. The solenoid energizes and retracts the lock-pin from the selector handle. This permits the gear to be raised. [Figure 13-40]

Figure 13-40. A landing gear safety circuit with solenoid that locks the control handle and selector valve from being able to move into the gear up position when the aircraft is on the ground. The safety switch, or squat switch, is located on the aircraft landing gear.

Figure 13-40. A landing gear safety circuit with solenoid that locks the control handle and selector valve from being able to move into the gear up position when the aircraft is on the ground. The safety switch, or squat switch, is located on the aircraft landing gear. [click image to enlarge]

The use of proximity sensors for gear position safety switches is common in high-performance aircraft. An electromagnetic sensor returns a different voltage to a gear logic unit depending on the proximity of a conductive target to the switch. No physical contact is made. When the gear is in the designed position, the metallic target is close to the inductor in the sensor which reduces the return voltage. This type of sensing is especially useful in the landing gear environment where switches with moving parts can become contaminated with dirt and moisture from runways and taxi ways. The technician is required to ensure that sensor targets are installed the correct distance away from the sensor. Go–no go gauges are often used to set the distance. [Figure 13-41]

Figure 13-41. Proximity sensors are used instead of contact switches on many landing gear.

Figure 13-41. Proximity sensors are used instead of contact switches on many landing gear. [click image to enlarge]

Ground Locks

Ground locks are commonly used on aircraft landing gear as extra insurance that the landing gear will remain down and locked while the aircraft is on the ground. They are external devices that are placed in the retraction mechanism to prevent its movement. A ground lock can be as simple as a pin placed into the pre-drilled holes of gear components that keep the gear from collapsing. Another commonly used ground lock clamps onto the exposed piston of the gear retraction cylinder that prevents it from retracting. All ground locks should have a red streamers attached to them so they are visible and removed before flight. Ground locks are typically carried in the aircraft and put into place by the flight crew during the post landing walk-around. [Figure 13-42]

Figure 13-42. Gear pin ground lock devices.

Figure 13-42. Gear pin ground lock devices.

Landing Gear Position Indicators

Landing gear position indicators are located on the instrument panel adjacent to the gear selector handle. They are used to inform the pilot of gear position status. There are many arrangements for gear indication. Usually, there is a dedicated light for each gear. The most common display for the landing gear being down and locked is an illuminated green light. Three green lights means it is safe to land. All lights out typically indicates that the gear is up and locked, or there may be gear up indicator lights. Gear in transit lights are used on some aircraft as are barber pole displays when a gear is not up or down and locked. Blinking indicator lights also indicate gear in transit. Some manufacturer’s use a gear disagree annunciation when the landing gear is not in the same position as the selector. Many aircraft monitor gear door position in addition to the gear itself. Consult the aircraft manufacturer’s maintenance and operating manuals for a complete description of the landing gear indication system. [Figure 13-43]

Figure 13-43. Landing gear selector panels with position indicator lights. The Boeing 737 panel illuminates red lights above the green lights when the gear is in transit.

Figure 13-43. Landing gear selector panels with position indicator lights. The Boeing 737 panel illuminates red lights above the green lights when the gear is in transit.

Nose Wheel Centering

Since most aircraft have steerable nose wheel gear assemblies for taxiing, a means for aligning the nose gear before retraction is needed. Centering cams built into the shock strut structure accomplish this. An upper cam is free to mate into a lower cam recess when the gear is fully extended. This aligns the gear for retraction. When weight returns to the wheels after landing, the shock strut is compressed, and the centering cams separate allowing the lower shock strut (piston) to rotate in the upper strut cylinder. This rotation is controlled to steer the aircraft. [Figure 13-44] Small aircraft sometimes incorporate an external roller or guide pin on the strut. As the strut is folded into the wheel well during retraction, the roller or guide pin engages a ramp or track mounted to the wheel well structure. The ramp/track guides the roller or pin in such a manner that the nose wheel is straightened as it enters the wheel well.

Figure 13-44. A cutaway view of a nose gear internal centering cam.

Figure 13-44. A cutaway view of a nose gear internal centering cam.