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Landing gear is without a doubt one of the most important parts of an airplane, helping to ensure safe landings. When do pilots put it down during flight?
Since the lowering of a plane’s landing gear is not automated, the pilot must decide when to lower it as they make their approach. The pilot will lower the gear in order to make a stabilized approach as they come in for a landing. This is typically done between 500 - 1,000 feet above the ground.
As anyone that’s ever flown a plane before could tell you, landing is usually the most stressful and most difficult stage of the flight. And as you can guess, the plane’s landing gear is vital for a safe landing. In this article, you’ll read all about what landing gear is, how it operates, when a pilot should lower it, and what happens if it’s faulty or broken. So if you ever wanted to be a landing gear expert, this is the article for you!
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What Is The Landing Gear On An Airplane?
Landing gear is the undercarriage of an aircraft that’s used during landing (of course), takeoff, and taxiing. Basically anything that an airplane does while it’s not airborne, the landing gear is being used. In most cases on the vast majority of aircraft, landing gear refers to the wheels and tires that the aircraft drives around on. Landing gear can also refer to skis or floats if the plane lands on water or snow instead.
Without landing gear, it would be nearly impossible to land (or take off). Well, not quite impossible. But attempting a landing without any sort of landing gear would be very difficult to manage and incredibly dangerous for anyone on board. It provides stability to the aircraft during landing and takeoff and offers the pilot something to actually drop the plane down on instead of the plane’s fuselage.
The landing gear is one of the most important parts of an airplane that any un-and-coming pilot should really try to understand.
How Does An Airplane’s Landing Gear Operate?
In this technology-driven world that we’re all living in today, it might seem like a no-brainer. The landing gear has to just be automatic, right? When the plane gets to a certain altitude after takeoff it goes up, and when it reaches a certain altitude as it’s coming in for landing, the gear gets deployed. That’s gotta be how it works.
Actually, that’s not correct at all! Even as airplanes are getting more and more advanced with autopilot systems that can handle nearly the entire flight, some things are still best left to the pilot. The landing gear on almost all aircraft is still operated manually by the pilot, depending on conditions, altitude, speed, and more. This is best left to the pilot instead of being automated because it’s not always best to deploy/retract the gear at a certain altitude.
The pilot can use the landing gear to their advantage as they’re coming in for landing or during takeoff, depending on what the conditions around the airplane are. For example, if they’re descending towards the runway for landing, the pilot can deploy the gear early and use it for additional drag. This will slow the plane down and make it easier to bank, turn, and maneuver as necessary.
Some landing gear manufacturers do offer automated systems, but retrofitting them into aircraft is expensive and unnecessary. And even so, operating the landing gear is something that most pilots want to have control over for the reasons mentioned above and more. So if you’re training to become a pilot, make sure you pay attention to how you can use the landing gear to your advantage!
Do Some Small Aircraft Have Landing Gear That’s Always “Down”?
If you’ve ever flown a personal airplane or you’re looking at finding an affordable one to buy on your own, then you’ve probably noticed that the wheels are permanently down. Even during flight. While that goes against what you just read above about how the landing gear operates, it just isn’t necessary for the gear to be retractable on these smaller aircraft.
The retraction system that’s used to deploy and hide landing gear is heavy and complex, adding unnecessary weight to the aircraft and complexity to the controls. For small aircraft, this added weight and complexity is just unnecessary. These types of planes also don’t typically fly high enough or fast enough for the landing gear to have any discernible negative effects on flight.
The way the aircraft are designed, the affixed landing gear has been taken into account since the start, so the way the planes fly and react to pilot input already has the gear’s position in mind. If retractable landing gear started to get retrofitted onto these wildly popular aircraft, they would act differently than pilots have gotten used to over the decades. So it’s just not worth it!
When Should Pilots Put Down The Landing Gear?
As we mentioned above a couple of times, there is no set time, altitude, or speed to deploy the landing gear during flight. If there was, then automatic landing gear wouldn’t be an issue. But as any pilot with enough flight experience would tell you, knowing when to deploy the landing gear is a skill, not just an instruction learned in pilot training. So how do they know when to put the gear down?
The key to knowing when to deploy the landing gear is doing so within the proper window to qualify as a stabilized approach. This means that the pilot establishes a point on the runway and then maintains a constant angle glide path to that point during the approach. That might not tell you enough to answer the question specifically, so a general rule of thumb is to deploy the landing gear between 500 - 1,000 feet above the ground.
This window of altitude typically gives the pilot more than enough time to react to any changes in flight or angle of approach due to lowering the gear so that they can establish a stabilized approach. As alluded to above, the gear can sometimes be lowered a little higher in the air if the pilot needs more drag to make a safe approach. In the end, it comes down to pilot discretion and whatever is necessary to make a safe landing.
Is It Possible To Land An Airplane With Faulty Landing Gear?
As the name suggests, landing gear is an integral part of safely landing an airplane. After all, the landing gear — whether it’s wheels and tires, skis, floats, or something else — is literally the only part of the airplane that actually comes in contact with the ground. It’s also the only thing that gives the pilot any control of the aircraft while they’re on the ground or during any sort of taxiing.
So if the landing gear is faulty, it can make landing incredibly difficult. It is possible to land a plane without landing gear if the system fails, but it is always incredibly dangerous for everyone on board, not to mention how difficult it is for the pilot to do. This is one of the reasons that manually-operated landing gear is still preferred. There are fewer parts/systems that can fail that way.
This problem is usually a much bigger deal in commercial aircraft, due to the nature of the plane’s size, speed, passengers, and cargo. So if a commercial pilot goes to lower the landing gear and realizes that there is a problem, they’ll immediately call in to Air Traffic Control and get input on how to proceed.
But no matter what type of aircraft it is, you never want to be in a situation where you’re trying to land without landing gear. But it’s important to have a plan of action in mind just in case it ever does happen!