Landing Gear Types – Fixed and Retractable Landing Gear (Part One)

in Aircraft Landing Gear Systems

Fixed and Retractable Landing Gear

Further classification of aircraft landing gear can be made into two categories: fixed and retractable. Many small, singleengine light aircraft have fixed landing gear, as do a few light twins. This means the gear is attached to the airframe and remains exposed to the slipstream as the aircraft is flown. As discussed in Chapter 2 of this handbook, as the speed of an aircraft increases, so does parasite drag. Mechanisms to retract and stow the landing gear to eliminate parasite drag add weight to the aircraft. On slow aircraft, the penalty of this added weight is not overcome by the reduction of drag, so fixed gear is used. As the speed of the aircraft increases, the drag caused by the landing gear becomes greater and a means to retract the gear to eliminate parasite drag is required, despite the weight of the mechanism.


A great deal of the parasite drag caused by light aircraft landing gear can be reduced by building gear as aerodynamically as possible and by adding fairings or wheel pants to streamline the airflow past the protruding assemblies. A small, smooth profile to the oncoming wind greatly reduces landing gear parasite drag. Figure 13-11 illustrates a Cessna aircraft landing gear used on many of the manufacturer’s light planes. The thin cross section of the spring steel struts combine with the fairings over the wheel and brake assemblies to raise performance of the fixed landing gear by keeping parasite drag to a minimum.

Figure 13-11. Wheel fairings, or pants, and low profile struts reduce parasite drag on fixed gear aircraft.

Figure 13-11. Wheel fairings, or pants, and low profile struts reduce parasite drag on fixed gear aircraft.

Retractable landing gear stow in fuselage or wing compartments while in flight. Once in these wheel wells, gear are out of the slipstream and do not cause parasite drag. Most retractable gear have a close fitting panel attached to them that fairs with the aircraft skin when the gear is fully retracted. [Figure 13-12] Other aircraft have separate doors that open, allowing the gear to enter or leave, and then close again.

Figure 13-12. The retractable gear of a Boeing 737 fair into recesses in the fuselage. Panels attached to the landing gear provide smooth airflow over the struts. The wheel assemblies mate with seals to provide aerodynamic flow without doors.

Figure 13-12. The retractable gear of a Boeing 737 fair into recesses in the fuselage. Panels attached to the landing gear provide smooth airflow over the struts. The wheel assemblies mate with seals to provide aerodynamic flow without doors. [click image to enlarge]

NOTE: The parasite drag caused by extended landing gear can be used by the pilot to slow the aircraft. The extension and retraction of most landing gear is usually accomplished with hydraulics.

Shock Absorbing and Non-Shock Absorbing Landing Gear

In addition to supporting the aircraft for taxi, the forces of impact on an aircraft during landing must be controlled by the landing gear. This is done in two ways: 1) the shock energy is altered and transferred throughout the airframe at a different rate and time than the single strong pulse of impact, and 2) the shock is absorbed by converting the energy into heat energy.

Leaf-Type Spring Gear

Many aircraft utilize flexible spring steel, aluminum, or composite struts that receive the impact of landing and return it to the airframe to dissipate at a rate that is not harmful. The gear flexes initially and forces are transferred as it returns to its original position. [Figure 13-13] The most common example of this type of non-shock absorbing landing gear are the thousands of single-engine Cessna aircraft that use it. Landing gear struts of this type made from composite materials are lighter in weight with greater flexibility and do not corrode.

Figure 13-13. Non-shock absorbing struts made from steel, aluminum, or composite material transfer the impact forces of landing to the airframe at a non-damaging rate.

Figure 13-13. Non-shock absorbing struts made from steel, aluminum, or composite material transfer the impact forces of landing to the airframe at a non-damaging rate.

Rigid

Before the development of curved spring steel landing struts, many early aircraft were designed with rigid, welded steel landing gear struts. Shock load transfer to the airframe is direct with this design. Use of pneumatic tires aids in softening the impact loads. [Figure 13-14] Modern aircraft that use skid-type landing gear make use of rigid landing gear with no significant ill effects. Rotorcraft, for example, typically experience low impact landings that are able to be directly absorbed by the airframe through the rigid gear (skids).

Figure 13-14. Rigid steel landing gear is used on many early aircraft.

Figure 13-14. Rigid steel landing gear is used on many early aircraft.

Bungee Cord

The use of bungee cords on non-shock absorbing landing gear is common. The geometry of the gear allows the strut assembly to flex upon landing impact. Bungee cords are positioned between the rigid airframe structure and the flexing gear assembly to take up the loads and return them to the airframe at a non-damaging rate. The bungees are made of many individual small strands of elastic rubber that must be inspected for condition. Solid, donut-type rubber cushions are also used on some aircraft landing gear. [Figure 13-15]

Figure 13-15. Piper Cub bungee cord landing gear transfer landing loads to the airframe (left and center). Rubber, donut-type shock transfer is used on some Mooney aircraft (right).

Figure 13-15. Piper Cub bungee cord landing gear transfer landing loads to the airframe (left and center). Rubber, donut-type shock transfer is used on some Mooney aircraft (right). [click image to enlarge]