# Undercarriage

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Undercarriage
Undercarriage of a Boeing 777-300
Retraction of the undercarriage of a Boeing 727 after take-off

The undercarriage or landing gear in aviation, is the structure that supports an aircraft on the ground and allows it to taxi, takeoff and land. Typically wheels are used, but skids, skis, floats or a combination of these and other elements can be deployed, depending on the surface.

## Overview

Landing gear usually includes wheels equipped with shock absorbers for solid ground, but some aircraft are equipped with skis for snow or floats for water, and/or skids or pontoons (helicopters).

The undercarriage is a relatively heavy part of the vehicle, it can be as much as 7% of the takeoff weight, but more typically is 4-5%.[1]

### Gear arrangements

A SAN Jodel D.140 Mousquetaire with conventional "taildragger" undercarriage.
A Mooney M20J with tricycle undercarriage.

Wheeled undercarriages normally come in two types: conventional or "taildragger" undercarriage, where there are two main wheels towards the front of the aircraft and a single, much smaller, wheel or skid at the rear; or tricycle undercarriage where there are two main wheels (or wheel assemblies) under the wings and a third smaller wheel in the nose. The taildragger arrangement was common during the early propeller era, as it allows more room for propeller clearance. Most modern aircraft have tricycle undercarriages. Taildraggers are considered harder to land and take off (because the arrangement is unstable, that is, a small deviation from straight-line travel is naturally amplified by the greater drag of the mainwheel which has moved farther away from the plane's centre of gravity due to the deviation), and usually require special pilot training. Sometimes a small tail wheel or skid is added to aircraft with tricycle undercarriage, in case of tail strikes during take-off. The Concorde, for instance, had a retractable tail "bumper" wheel, as delta winged aircraft need a high angle when taking off. The Boeing 727 also has a retractable tail bumper. Some aircraft with retractable conventional landing gear have a fixed tailwheel, which generates minimal drag (since most of the airflow past the tailwheel has been blanketed by the fuselage) and even improves yaw stability in some cases.[citation needed]

### Retractable gear

The landing gear of a Boeing 767 retracting into the fuselage

To decrease drag in flight some undercarriages retract into the wings and/or fuselage with wheels flush against the surface or concealed behind doors; this is called retractable gear.

If the wheels rest protruding and partially exposed to the air stream after being retracted, the system is called semi-retractable.

Schematic showing hydraulically operated landing gear, with the wheel stowed into the wing root of the aircraft

Most retraction systems are hydraulically operated, though some are electrically operated or even manually operated. This adds weight and complexity to the design. In retractable gear systems, the compartment where the wheels are stowed are called wheel wells, which may also diminish valuable cargo or fuel space.[citation needed]

A Boeing 737-700 with main undercarriage retracted in the wheel wells without landing gear doors

A design for retractable landing gear was first seen in 1876 in plans for an amphibious monoplane designed by Frenchmen Alphonse Pénaud and Paul Gauchot. Aircraft with at least partially retractable landing gear did not appear until 1917, and it was not until the late 1920s and early 1930s that such aircraft became common, with Grover Loening's military aircraft designs being among the first routinely using them for the main undercarriage members, in a system later licensed and used by his friend Leroy Grumman's aviation firm. By then, aircraft performance was improved to the point where the aerodynamic advantage of a retractable undercarriage justified the added complexity, weight and interior space penalties. An alternate method of reducing the aerodynamic penalty imposed by fixed undercarriage is to attach aerodynamic fairings (often called "spats" or "pants") on the undercarriage, with only the bottoms of the wheels exposed, as with the Junkers Ju 87 Stuka.[citation needed]

Pilots confirming that their landing gear is down and locked refer to "three green" or "three in the green.", a reference to the electrical indicator lights from the nosewheel and the two main gears. Red lights indicate the gear is in the up-locked position; amber lights indicate that the landing gear is in transit (neither down and locked nor fully retracted).[2]

Multiple redundancies are usually provided to prevent a single failure from failing the entire landing gear extension process. Whether electrically or hydraulically operated, the landing gear can usually be powered from multiple sources. In case the power system fails, an emergency extension system is always available. This may take the form of a manually operated crank or pump, or a mechanical free-fall mechanism which disengages the uplocks and allows the landing gear to fall due to gravity. Some high-performance aircraft may even feature a pressurized-nitrogen back-up system.[citation needed]

### Large aircraft

Tire Arrangements of large airliners
Main landing gear of an Antonov An-124
The A340-600 has an an additional main undercarriage on the fuselage belly

As aircraft grow larger, they employ more wheels to cope with the increasing weights. The earliest "giant" aircraft ever placed in quantity production, the Zeppelin-Staaken R.VI German World War I long-range bomber of 1916, used a total of eighteen wheels for its undercarriage, split between two wheels on its nose gear struts, and a total of sixteen wheels on its main gear units under each tandem engine nacelle, to support its loaded weight of almost 12 metric tons. Later, during World War II, the experimental German Arado Ar 232 cargo aircraft used a centerline row of ten "twinned" fixed wheel sets directly under the fuselage centreline to handle heavier loads while on the ground, as the earliest known example of multiple "tandem wheels" on an aircraft, like many of today's large cargo aircraft use for their retractable main gear setups (usually mounted on the lower corners of the central fuselage structure). The Airbus A340-500/-600 has an additional four-wheel undercarriage bogie on the fuselage centreline, much like the twin-wheel unit in the same general location, used on later DC-10 and MD-11 airliners. The Boeing 747 has five sets of wheels: a nose-wheel assembly and four sets of four-wheel bogies. A set is located under each wing, and two inner sets are located in the fuselage, a little rearward of the outer bogies, adding up to a total of eighteen wheels and tires. The Airbus A380 also has a four-wheel bogie under each wing with two sets of six-wheel bogies under the fuselage. The enormous Ukrainian Antonov An-225 jet cargo aircraft has one of the largest, if not the largest, number of individual wheel/tire assemblies in its landing gear design - with a total of four wheels on the twin-strut nose gear units, and a total of 28 main gear wheel/tire units, adding up to a total of 32 wheels and tires. Most large airliners have metal scuff plates located in the landing gear bay. The are designed to slow down the tires, preventing damage to the bay.[citation needed]

### Unusual types of gear

An Me 163B Komet with its two-wheel take-off "dolly" in place
Bell Model 207 Sioux Scout with tubular landing skids
Hawker Siddeley Harrier GR7 (ZG472). The two mainwheels are in line astern under the fuselage, with a smaller wheel on each wing

Some aircraft use wheels for takeoff and then jettison them soon afterwards for improved aerodynamic streamlining without the complexity, weight and space requirements of a retraction mechanism. In these cases, the wheels to be jettisoned are sometimes mounted onto axles that are part of a separate "dolly" (for main wheels only) or "trolley" (for a three wheel set with a nosewheel) chassis. Landing is then accomplished on skids or similar other simple devices. Historical examples include the "dolly"-using Messerschmitt Me 163 rocket fighter,[3] the Messerschmitt Me 321 Gigant troop glider, and the first eight "trolley"-using prototypes[4] of the Arado Ar 234 jet reconnaissance bomber. The main disadvantage to using the takeoff dolly/trolley and landing skid(s) system on German World War II aircraft, was that aircraft would likely be scattered all over a military airfield after they had landed from a mission, and would be unable to taxi on their own to an appropriately hidden "dispersal" location, which could easily leave them vulnerable to being shot up by attacking Allied fighters. A related contemporary example are the wingtip support wheels ("Pogos") on the Lockheed U-2 reconnaissance aircraft, which fall away after take-off and drop to earth; the aircraft then relies on titanium skids on the wingtips for landing.[citation needed]

Tubular landing skids are often used by helicopters to save weight and volume or to allow the version to floatation devices. However, the danger of Ground resonance may require dampers so touchdown shocks or jolts are not transmitted to the main rotor system.[citation needed]

Some main gear struts on World War II aircraft, in order to allow a single-leg main gear to more efficiently store the wheel within either the wing or an engine nacelle, rotated the single gear strut through a 90° angle during the rearwards-retraction sequence to allow the main wheel to rest "flat" above the lower end of the main gear strut, or flush within the wing, when fully retracted. Examples are the Curtiss P-40, Vought F4U Corsair, Grumman F6F Hellcat, Messerschmitt Me 210 and Junkers Ju 88. The Aero Commander family of twin-engined business aircraft also shares this feature on the main gears, which retract aft into the ends of the engine nacelles. The rearward-retracting nosewheel strut on the Heinkel He 219 and the forward-retracting nose gear strut on the later Cessna Skymaster similarly rotated 90 degrees as they retracted.[citation needed]

A Royal Air Force P-47 with its raked-forward main gear, and rearward-angled main wheel position (when retracted) indicated by the just-visible open wheel door.
Experimental tracked gear on a B-36 Peacemaker
Splayable aircraft nose gear

On most World War II single-engined fighter aircraft (and even one German heavy bomber design) with sideways retracting main gear, the main gear that retracted into the wings was meant to be raked forward, towards the aircraft's nose in the "down" position for better ground handling, with a retracted position that placed the main wheels at some angle "behind" the main gear's attachment point to the airframe - this led to a complex geometry for setting up the angles for the retraction mechanism's axis of rotation, with some aircraft, like the P-47 Thunderbolt, even mandating that the main gear struts lengthen as they were extended down from the wings to assure proper ground clearance for its large four-bladed propeller. One exception to the need for this complexity in many WW II fighter aircraft was Japan's famous Zero fighter, whose main gear stayed at a perpendicular angle to the centreline of the aircraft when extended, as seen from the side.[citation needed]

An unusual undercarriage configuration is found on the Hawker Siddeley Harrier, which has two mainwheels in line astern under the fuselage (called a bicycle or tandem layout) and a smaller wheel near the tip of each wing. On second generation Harriers, the wing is extended past the outrigger wheels to allow greater wing-mounted munition loads to be carried.[citation needed]

A multiple tandem layout was used on some military jet aircraft during the 1950s, pioneered by the Martin XB-51, and later used on such aircraft as the U-2, Myasishchev M-4, Yakovlev Yak-25, Yak-28 and the B-47 Stratojet because it allows room for a large internal bay between the main wheels. A variation of the multi tandem layout is also used on the B-52 Stratofortress which has four main wheel bogies (two forward and two aft) underneath the fuselage and a small outrigger wheel supporting each wing-tip. The B-52's landing gear is also unique in that all four pairs of main wheels can be steered. This allows the landing gear to line up with the runway and thus makes crosswind landings easier (using a technique called crab landing). The challenge of designing a tandem-gear layout is that the aircraft has to sit (on the ground) at the optimum flight angle for landing - when the plane is nearly in a stalled attitude just before touchdown, both fore and aft wheels must be ready to contact the runway. Otherwise there will be a vicious jolt as the higher wheel falls to the runway at the stall.[citation needed]

The "castoring" main gear arrangement on a Blériot XI

One very early undercarriage arrangement that passively allowed for castoring during crosswind landings, unlike the "active" arrangement on the B-52, was pioneered on the Bleriot VIII design of 1908. It was later used in the much more famous Blériot XI Channel-crossing aircraft of 1909 and also copied in the earliest examples of the Etrich Taube. In this arrangement the main landing gear's shock absorption was taken up by a vertically sliding bungee cord-sprung upper member. The vertical post along which the upper member slid to take landing shocks also had its lower end as the rotation point for the forward end of the main wheel's suspension fork, allowing the main gear to pivot on moderate crosswind landings.[citation needed]

One idea to ease hangaring and enhance safety by directing the hot jet blast upwards was a specially designed “kneeling” nose gear for the McDonnell F2H Banshee .[citation needed]

In order to save precious space various folding and splayable landing gear designs have been created.[citation needed]

### Light aircraft

For light aircraft a type of landing gear which is economical to produce is a simple wooden arch laminated from ash, as used on some homebuilt aircraft. A similar arched gear is often formed from spring steel. The Cessna Airmaster was among the first aircraft to use spring steel landing gear. The main advantage of such gear is that no other shock-absorbing device is needed; the deflecting leaf provides the shock absorption.[citation needed]

### Gliders

Monowheel landing gear on a Schleicher ASK 21 glider

To minimize drag, modern gliders most usually have a single wheel, retractable or fixed, centered under the fuselage, which is referred to as monowheel gear or monowheel landing gear. Monowheel gear is also used on some powered aircraft, where drag reduction is a priority, such as the Europa XS. Much like the Me 163 rocket fighter, some gliders from prior to the Second World War used a take-off dolly that was jettisoned on take-off and then landed on a fixed skid.[5]

## Steering

Two mechanics replacing a tire on a P-3C Orion

There are several types of steering. Taildragger aircraft may be steered by rudder alone (depending upon the prop wash produced by the aircraft to turn it) with a freely pivoting tail wheel, or by a steering linkage with the tail wheel, or by differential braking (the use of independent brakes on opposite sides of the aircraft to turn the aircraft by slowing one side more sharply than the other). Aircraft with tricycle landing gear usually have a steering linkage with the nose wheel (especially in large aircraft), but some allow the nose wheel to pivot freely and use differential braking and/or the rudder to steer the aircraft, like the Cirrus SR22.

Some aircraft require that the pilot steer by using rudder pedals; others allow steering with the yoke or control stick. Some allow both. Still others have a separate control, called a tiller, used for steering on the ground exclusively.[citation needed]

### Rudder steering

Wheel-skis

When an aircraft is steered on the ground exclusively using the rudder, turning the plane requires that a substantial airflow be moving past the rudder, which can be generated either by the forward motion of the aircraft or by thrust provided by the engines. Rudder steering requires considerable practice to use effectively. Although it requires air movement, it has the advantage of being independent of the landing gear, which makes it useful for aircraft equipped with fixed floats or skis.[citation needed]

### Direct steering

Some aircraft link the yoke, control stick, or rudder directly to the wheel used for steering. Manipulating these controls turns the steering wheel (the nose wheel for tricycle landing gear, and the tail wheel for taildraggers). The connection may be a firm one in which any movement of the controls turns the steering wheel (and vice versa), or it may be a soft one in which a spring-like mechanism twists the steering wheel but does not force it to turn. The former provides positive steering but makes it easier to skid the steering wheel; the latter provides softer steering (making it easy to overcontrol) but reduces the probability of skidding. Aircraft with retractable gear may disable the steering mechanism wholly or partially when the gear is retracted.[citation needed]

### Differential braking

Wing and fuselage undercarriages on a Boeing 747-400, shortly before landing

Differential braking depends on asymmetric application of the brakes on the main gear wheels to turn the aircraft. For this, the aircraft must be equipped with separate controls for the right and left brakes (usually on the rudder pedals). The nose or tail wheel usually is not equipped with brakes. Differential braking requires considerable skill. In aircraft with several methods of steering that include differential braking, differential braking may be avoided because of the wear it puts on the braking mechanisms. Differential braking has the advantage of being largely independent of any movement or skidding of the nose or tail wheel.[citation needed]

### Tiller steering

A tiller in an aircraft is a small wheel or lever, sometimes accessible to one pilot and sometimes duplicated for both pilots, that controls the steering of the aircraft while it is on the ground. The tiller may be designed to work in combination with other controls such as the rudder or yoke. In large airliners, for example, the tiller is often used as the sole means of steering during taxi, and then the rudder is used to steer during take-off and landing, so that both aerodynamic control surfaces and the landing gear can be controlled simultaneously when the aircraft is moving at aerodynamic rates of speed.[citation needed]

## Tires and wheels

The number of tires required for a given aircraft design gross weight is largely determined by the flotation characteristics. Specified selection criterion, e.g., minimum size, weight, or pressure, are used to select suitable tires and wheels from manufacturer’s catalog and industry standards found in the Aircraft Yearbook published by the Tire and Rim Association, Inc.

### Gear loading

The choice of the main wheel tires is made on the basis of the static loading case. The total main gear load $F_\text{m}$ is calculated assuming that the aircraft is taxiing at low speed without braking:[6]

$F_\text{m} =\frac{l_\text{n}}{l_\text{m} + l_\text{n}} W.$

where $W$ is the weight of the aircraft and $l_\text{m}$ and $l_\text{n}$ are the distance measured from the aircraft's center of gravity(cg) to the main and nose gear, respectively.

The choice of the nose wheel tires is based on the nose wheel load $F_\text{n}$ during braking at maximum effort:[6]

$F_\text{n} =\frac{l_\text{n}}{l_\text{m} + l_\text{n}} (W-L) + \frac{h_\text{cg}}{l_\text{m} + l_\text{n}} \left(\frac{a_\text{x}}{g} W - D + T\right).$

where $L$ is the lift, $D$ is the drag, $T$ is the thrust, and $h_\text{cg}$ is the height of aircraft cg from the static groundline. Typical values for $\frac{a_\text{x}}{g}$ on dry concrete vary from 0.35 for a simple brake system to 0.45 for an automatic brake pressure control system. As both $L$ and $D$ are positive, the maximum nose gear load occurs at low speed. Reverse thrust decreases the nose gear load, and hence the condition $T = 0$ results in the maximum value:[6]

$F_\text{n} =\frac{l_\text{m} + h_\text{cg}(\frac{a_\text{x}}{g})}{l_\text{m} + l_\text{n}} W.$

To ensure that the rated loads will not be exceeded in the static and braking conditions, a seven percent safety factor is used in the calculation of the applied loads.

### Inflation pressure

Provided that the wheel load and configuration of the landing gear remain unchanged, the weight and volume of the tire will decrease with an increase in inflation pressure.[6] From the flotation standpoint, a decrease in the tire contact area will induce a higher bearing stress on the pavement, thus eliminates certain airports from the aircraft’s operational bases. Braking will also become less effective due to a reduction in the frictional force between the tires and the ground. In addition, the decrease in the size of the tire, and hence the size of the wheel, could pose a problem if internal brakes are to be fitted inside the wheel rims. The arguments against higher pressure are of such a nature that commercial operators generally prefer the lower pressures in order to maximize tire life and minimize runway stress. However, too low a pressure can lead to an accident as in the Nigeria Airways Flight 2120.

A rough general rule for required tire pressure is given by the manufacturer in their catalog. Goodyear for example advises the pressure to be 4% higher than required for a given weight or as fraction of the rated static load and inflation.[7]

## Landing gear and accidents

JetBlue Airways Flight 292, an Airbus A320, making an emergency landing on runway 25L at LAX in 2005 after the front landing gear malfunctioned

Malfunctions or human errors (or a combination of these) related to retractable landing gear have been the cause of numerous accidents and incidents throughout aviation history. Distraction and preoccupation during the landing sequence played a prominent role in the approximately 100 gear-up landing incidents that occurred each year in the United States between 1998 and 2003.[8] A gear-up landing incident, also known as a belly landing, is an accident that may result from the pilot simply forgetting, or failing, to lower the landing gear before landing or a mechanical malfunction that does not allow the landing gear to be lowered. Although rarely fatal, a gear-up landing is very expensive, as it causes massive airframe damage. For propeller driven aircraft it almost always requires a complete rebuild of engines because the propellers strike the ground and suffer a sudden stoppage if they are running during the impact. Many aircraft between the wars - at the time when retractable gear was becoming commonplace - were deliberately designed to allow the bottom of the wheels to protrude below the fuselage even when retracted to reduce the damage caused if the pilot forgot to extend the landing gear or in case the plane was shot down and forced to crash-land. Examples include the Avro Anson, Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and the Douglas DC-3. The modern-day Fairchild-Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II carries on this legacy: it is similarly designed in an effort to avoid (further) damage during a gear-up landing, a possible consequence of battle damage.[citation needed]

Some aircraft have a stiffened fuselage bottom or added firm structures, designed to minimize structural damage in a wheels-up landing. When the Cessna Skymaster was converted for a military spotting role (the O-2 Skymaster), fiberglass railings were added to the length of the fuselage; they were adequate to support the aircraft without damage if it was landed on a grassy surface.[citation needed]

The Bombardier Dash 8 is notorious for its landing gear problems. There were three incidents involved, all of them involving Scandinavian Airlines, flights SK1209, SK2478, and SK2867. This led to Scandinavian retiring all of its Dash 8s. The cause of these incidents was a locking mechanism that failed to work properly. This also caused concern for the aircraft for many other airlines that found similar problems, Bombardier Aerospace ordered all Dash 8s with 10,000 or more hours to be grounded, it was soon found that 19 Horizon Airlines Dash 8s had locking mechanism problems, so did 8 Austrian Airlines planes, this did cause several hundred flights to be canceled.[citation needed]

On September 21, 2005, JetBlue Airways Flight 292 successfully landed with its nose gear turned 90 degrees sideways, resulting in a shower of sparks and flame after touchdown. This type of incident is very uncommon as the nose oleo struts are designed with centering cams to hold the nosewheels straight until they are compressed by the weight of the aircraft.[citation needed]

On November 1, 2011, LOT Polish Airlines Flight LO16 successfully belly landed at Warsaw Chopin Airport due to technical failures; all 231 people on board escaped without injury.[9]

### Automatic extension systems

The Piper Arrow was originally fitted with a system that automatically extended the landing gear when certain power and flap settings were selected. The manufacturer issued an Airworthiness Directive for owners to disable this system. Pilots were found to be relying on this system to extend the gear in routine flight operations, rather than just as an emergency backup. If the gear failed to extend then the manufacturer was exposed to liability for the resulting gear-up landing. There were also concerns over unintentional gear extension incidents where pilots placed the aircraft in "bad-weather" (low-power setting, flaps down) configuration and inadvertently activated the gear extension system.[citation needed]

### Emergency extension systems

In the event of a failure of the aircraft's landing gear extension mechanism a back-up is provided. This may be an alternate hydraulic system, a hand-crank, compressed air (nitrogen), pyrotechnic or free-fall system.[10]

A free-fall or gravity drop system uses gravity to deploy the landing gear into the down and locked position. To accomplish this the pilot activates a switch or mechanical handle in the cockpit, which releases the up-lock. Gravity then pulls the landing gear down and deploys it. Once in position the landing gear is mechanically locked and safe to use and land on.[11]

## Stowaways

Unauthorized passengers have been known to stowaway on larger aircraft by climbing a landing gear strut and riding in the compartment. There are extreme dangers to this practice.

## References

1. ^ Kundu, Ajoy Kumar (2010). Aircraft Design. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780511677854. Retrieved 13 May 2012.
2. ^ Stern, by Jonathan M. (1995). "Chapter 2: The New Flight Simulator Pilots Ground School: Retractable Landing Gear". Microsoft Flight Simulator Handbook. Indianapolis, Indiana: Brady Publishing. ISBN 1566862825. Retrieved 13 May 2012.
3. ^ Canada Aviation and Space Museum (undated). "Messerschmitt Me 163B-1a Komet". Retrieved 13 May 2012.
4. ^ "Arado Ar 234 - The Flight Deck - The Hangar - WW II Bomers". http://flight-deck.forumotion.com. Retrieved October 7, 2012.
5. ^ "Europa XS Monowheel Overview". Europa Aircraft Ltd. 2011. Retrieved 13 May 2012.
6. ^ a b c d "Landing gear integration in aircraft conceptual design" Sonny T. Chai and William H. Mason, September 1996. Retrieved: 26 January 2012.
7. ^ [1] Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Retrieved: 26 January 2012.
8. ^ The Office of the NASA Aviation Safety Reporting System (January 2004). "Gear Up Checkup". Call Back ASRS (NASA) (292). Retrieved 1 April 2012.
9. ^ Scislowska, Monika (3 November 2011). "Warsaw airport back to work after plane emergency". MSNBC. Retrieved 13 January 2012.
10. ^ "Boeing 757 Landing Gear". Biggles Software. 29 December 2011. Retrieved 13 May 2012.
11. ^ Stellan F. Hilmerby (24 November 2009). "Landing Gear". Stellans Flightsim Pages. Retrieved 13 May 2012.