Although landing gear malfunctions can occur on any aircraft, not all of them risk the chance of death or injuries, obviating any investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board due to the rarity of serious incidents. However, 10% of all failures in an aircraft are caused directly by landing gear failure, which is often either attributable to mechanical reasons or human error. In both cases, aircraft safety is jeopardized regardless of the severity of danger, possibly leading to crash landings or other accidents if issues are ignored. Therefore, investigating and analyzing the root causes of landing gear breakdown is crucial to avoid and tackle such scenarios from taking shape.
Why Does Landing Gear Fail?
Landing gear failure can manifest in several ways, ranging from the lack of complete extension or retraction of the gear assembly to a complete collapse of the structural components. Partial failures can also occur where only the main gear remains functional during the landing roll. According to the preliminary incident reports released by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), more than half of all aircraft accidents occur due to the failure of landing gear retraction. Other mechanical causes can include the incorrect assembly of all aircraft parts, usage of old, worn out, or non-standard parts, and improper repair. Other indirect contributory causes can be defective safety switches, warning systems, electrical circuits, and up & down jocks. In addition, a lack of lubrication can jam landing gear wheels, while insufficient hydraulic fluid can leave the hydraulic machinery, and by extension, the landing gear struts inoperative.
Other than mechanical failures, some flight safety experts have pointed to design failures within the cockpit that can exacerbate human error during landing. An example of this is placing the landing gear switch dangerously close to the lower part of the instrument panel. If pilots are seated too close to the instrument panel, their knees might accidentally turn on the landing gear switch as they attempt to push the rudder pedal while preparing to land. Moreover, research studies conducted on landing gear failures in military aircraft discovered structural dilapidations such as cracks in joints of landing gear equipment and other causative factors exemplified by striations sustained in the system due to continuous loading.
Emergency Landings Due to Landing Gear Failure
Belly landing is the term given to the phenomenon of when an aircraft cannot completely touch down on the runway due to an improper extension of landing gear. The words "belly landing" are often interchangeably used with "gear-up" landings because both are characterized by the same type of extension failure. However, belly landings are generally attributable to mechanical issues that result in an incomplete extension, whereas a pilot error often causes gear-up landings. Emergency landings due to landing gear failure can induce fire in the aircraft (in sporadic cases), the disintegration of component assemblies, or a complete flip-over of the plane before it can stop on the ground. Some statistics suggest that gear-up landings are safer to be performed on the runway’s tarmac than on the grass near it.
How to Avoid Landing Gear Failure
Pilots should be adequately trained on how to extend and retract landing gear at the appropriate time during landing to avoid human error in landing gear-related mishaps. For instance, the common practice of "touch-and-go" should be minimized to prevent stress on the retractable landing gear system. Pilots should also be trained to strictly adhere to the FAA's landing gear checklist during the final stage of their plane's landing. The checklist helps pilots confirm that the gears have been lowered with the help of gear-down indicators located in the cockpit.
According to manufacturer standards, it is considered a safe practice to routinely service the aircraft to avoid landing gear failures due to mechanical reasons. Accumulated debris and dirt in valves and switches can interrupt the complete extension of the retractable gear while displaying false safety indications. Therefore, routine cleaning of aircraft landing gear is paramount, particularly during daily pre-flight inspections. Furthermore, according to FAA's Airworthiness Directives, aircraft should undergo periodic inspections to get the working condition of landing gear checked.
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