Just like the arguments over which is the better alternative between high-wing or low-wing, tricycle gear or tail-draggers, there’s no simple answer to the question of when you should raise the gear after takeoff in a retractable gear airplane. Some say that you should only retract the gear when you can no longer land on your departure runway; others insist that the right time to do it is the moment you have a positive rate of climb. Well, there’s unconditional fact, there’s subjective opinion … and then there’s common sense.
BY THE BOOK
One precept falling in the latter category is not to rush things; you wouldn’t want to settle ignominiously back down on bent knees. This is particularly true on aircraft for which drag significantly increases when the gear doors open, such as the Cessna 337 Skymaster, for which the correct procedure is to wait until the airplane is well established in the climb. (In fact, there’s even an STC for removing the gear doors entirely.) As to facts, well, what do the airline pilots do? For the most part, they call for gear up after confirming a positive climb rate. Of course, an airline crew generally would have better training, better equipment, and more engines — and are probably incapable in most instances of landing on the remaining runway.
Inside Information: An ATR-72 POH says to retract the gear after a positive rate of climb. For an Airbus A320, raising the gear is the third item under “Climb Check“. For the smaller Beech 1900D, the procedure is to rotate and hold 105 knots and then to retract the gear, once a positive climb rate is established.
LETTING IT ALL HANG OUT…
For most of us, unless we’re departing a short field, we usually have a few seconds after seeing a positive climb rate before reaching the point of no return. Here, in the case of an engine failure if you’d raised the gear, they might not get back down again before you did. That would be without any distractions.
The Bad News: For the thousands of accident free hours flown, those spent departing a field with the gear out help add to the anguish of the Great Unwashed who cry for airport closures because we’re making such a racket up there.
…OR UP, UP AND AWAY:
Of course once the gear is in the wells, climb performance improves. And even if you live in Nebraska, the quicker you get up there, the more options you have if something does go wrong. If raising the gear gets you to pattern altitude ten seconds sooner, that could mean another 150 feet, which just might mean the difference between making your emergency off-field landing site (or making it back to the runway), and not making it.
The Bad News: Imagine you lift off from your 4200-foot runway, see a climb, raise the gear, whoops the door pops open, you forget you just raised the gear and congratulate yourself on your conservative plan to land back on the runway. After landing, you discover you’re going to need an awful lot of power just to taxi — especially with one blade bent back under the fuselage.
NO COMPANY MANUAL
One big difference between transport category airplanes and us little guys is that our operations have fewer restrictions, and more variables. That’s one big reason why the waters can seem so muddy (and the line between opinion and “common sense” can blur just a tad). For my car, the warranty was four years or 40,000 miles, whichever came first. With an airplane, maybe we should look for whichever comes last (meaning the positive rate, or the end of the remaining landable runway). That is, unless the runway happens to be wet grass, or 1800 feet long…
- One Cessna 172RG checklist says that in a normal takeoff, you rotate at 55 knots, and then when you have “Pos Rt/No Rnwy,” it’s gear up. For a short field, rotation is followed by a climb at 67 knots, then gear up after “Clear Obstacle/Pos Rt.“
- A Cessna 182RG checklist says rotate at 50 KIAS, climb at 80, depress the brakes, and then retract the gear and flaps. For a short field after rotation, it’s climb at 55, clear obstacles, then basically the same sequence.
- For a Beech Travel Air (BE95), the procedure for a normal takeoff is that the gear will be retracted on departure once a positive rate of climb has been established visually and confirmed with the VSI, and there is insufficient runway remaining on which to land, or Vyse is attained, whichever occurs first.
- One Piper Seneca checklist says to retract gear after normal takeoff when sufficient runway no longer remains. Then for a maximum performance takeoff and climb, it says to retract the gear when a positive rate of climb has been established. Another simply has “airspeed alive,” Vr, or Vy, then “Up Pos Rate” (with a similar sequence for a short field takeoff).
- Some checklists, in one example for a Piper Arrow, simply say lift off at rotation speed, tap the brakes, and retract the gear; the short field checklist says to confirm Vx after rotation, then tap and retract.
- For a Piper Seminole, one recommended procedure is to look for the initial climb airspeed of 88 knots, then retract the gear at positive rate of climb.
- A Piper Comanche checklist says for a normal takeoff, you rotate at 80 mph, and then it’s “Gear Up / Flaps Up.” For a short field, you pull back at 75, lift off at 77, then “Gear Up.” For a soft field, you lift the nose as soon as possible, accelerate in ground effect, then “Gear Up / Flaps Up.“
- For a Rockwell Commander, the checklist observes a rotation speed, a climb speed, and then it says to retract the gear “when safely airborne.“
- In a Cessna 177RG, you go for 85 KIAS Vy, 74 KIAS Vx, tap the brakes, and retract the gear in climb-out.
At a short field, once you had Vx nailed, would you raise the gear before clearing obstacles, if you thought it would help you clear them faster? (After all, one of the standard “positional imprinting” items for ILS approaches is that lowering the gear at glide slope intercept, with no change in power, will itself usually confer something like a 500 foot-per-minute descent.) Or is it unwise to be looking in the cockpit or reaching for flap and landing gear controls until obstacle clearance is assured? If you were taking off from a two-mile runway into a 200-foot overcast, would you raise the gear right away? Would you bother raising the gear at all, if you were only practicing crosswind landings in the pattern? Would you pull the gear up right away if you were taking off from a slushy runway?
THE REAL WORLD
The decision basically all depends on the particular gear retraction mechanism, the airplane’s performance numbers, and recommended procedures. Add to that what kind of runway and airport environment you’re taking off from, what kind of weather you’re flying into, potential distractions, perhaps what your instructor drummed into your head…and maybe on which side of the bed your own landing gear first hit the floor that morning.
BOTTOM LINE: Keep thinking, know your options, know your airplane, and remember that what goes up, had better come down. (But that’s another subject.) In other words, use some common sense.