For many aircraft, the landing gear system is one of the most important aspects of the entire vehicle. During a standard flight operation, aircraft landing gear will enable the plane to traverse ground surfaces, take off, and land with ease. Despite its grand importance, landing gear is only useful while on the ground, thus, it creates unnecessary drag when extended in the flow of air during flight. To avoid this loss in performance, many modern aircraft feature what is known as a retractable gear system, that of which is a landing gear assembly that can be drawn into the fuselage of the aircraft when not in use.
Retractable landing gear actually traces itself back to the first half of the 1900s, though most assemblies at that time were not fully enclosed. While engineers well understood the aerodynamic benefits of a sleeker underside, the technology required to extend and retract landing gear was not available in the early days of aviation, so aircraft such as seaplanes often took the reign of being the fastest options on the market. Before fully retractable landing gear, some aircraft would be designed with wheel fairings, wheel pants, and other similar components to reduce drag. As hydraulic power rose in the late 1930s, engineers finally found a way to implement retractable assemblies that would not require ample manual power to adjust.
To ensure the safety of modern retractable gear, such assemblies are regularly coupled with emergency extension systems, warning systems, equipment to prevent accidental extensions, and much more. For safety, many aircraft are provided with maximum airspeeds that dictate when it is okay to extend gear and retract it. Generally, these limitations are created based on the time it takes to retract the landing gear, as well as basic performance in climbs, descents, etc.
Depending on the aircraft in question, the mechanisms in place for extension and retraction may vary. For example, Beech Bonanzas and Barons rely on an electric motor for their landing gear, utilizing power from the aircraft’s electrical system to easily extend and retract the assembly. Meanwhile, various Cessna single-engine models utilize a hybrid electric and hydraulic system. While hydraulics and electronic motors are the most prevalent, some aircraft may even utilize pneumatics instead of a hydraulic pump. The variation between aircraft generally comes down to considerations of weight, space, and power sources.
While retractable landing gear assemblies definitely have their benefits over non-retractable variations, pilots must know how to properly use them to ensure safety. For example, some accidents have occurred as pilots forget to deploy the landing gear before landing, though this is an exceedingly rare occurrence. Generally, pilots just need to know the proper method of deployment and retraction, when to do each, and how to address issues such as a stall, failed deployment, etc. All of this is covered in standard training, though if you ever question the proper steps and procedures, you can use an applicable checklist to review.
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