Circuit Training in a Retractable Gear Aircraft


Many flight schools and instructors do training circuits in retractable gear aircraft, leaving the gear down.Their rationale for this is that the gear is not designed to be cycled frequently, and perhaps to reduce wear and tear on the gear.


However, despite the good intentions, there are terrible consequences to this training choice.It teaches the student to NOT lower the gear in the retractable gear aircraft.Additionally, the training is not applicable to the real world arrival at the aircraft, descending from cruise altitude.Itís really shitty.


A retractable gear single just landed gear up, near me.The pilot listened to the functioning gear warning horn on final, with the throttle all the way back.He simply didnít select gear down, after an incredible ONE HUNDRED hours of dual training type conversion, post-PPL.He had been trained by his instructor to not lower the gear.They had done circuits with the gear down.Sigh.


This is how I do circuit training on a retractable gear (single or twin) aircraft.At the risk of enraging the legal beagles, I donít fly a normal circuit, but rest assured there is no CARs contravention.


Takeoff checks (including a pre-takeoff brief) complete, we line up at the runway threshold.All the knobs forward, we take off.Gear comes up.Climb power is set.At 500 AGL, we turn left 90 degrees and climb to 2000 AGL and level off.Climb power is used after leveling off, until we accelerate to cruise airspeed.


Trim nose down as the airspeed increases.Once the cruise airspeed is reached, cruise power is set, including mixtures.Rather than screwing around with EGTís and such, I just set the mixtures for the known fuel flow (gph or pph) for the given cruise power setting (MP and RPM).EGTís will be perfect.


Now for a 180 degree right turn.Once that is complete, descend from 2000 AGL to 1000 AGL.It may be helpful to reduce MP from cruise power by 5 inches (approved by both Lycoming and Continental) before the descent, to avoid building excessive speed with the gear up, which may make lowering the gear difficult later because we are over the gear extension speed.Flying retractable gear aircraft, you will struggle with this problem until you get some more experience and can stay ahead of the aircraft.


As a rule of thumb, in a retractable gear aircraft, you can go down, or you can slow down, but you canít do both at the same time.At least, not if you want to keep the CHTís in the green Ė you simply canít haul the throttles all the way back, and ride the props down in the descent.Speed brakes are really handy for dealing with this, but you probably wonít have those.Hint:landing gear is a good speed brake!


Anyways, we level off at 1000 AGL and turn right, to join the downwind.Depending on the aircraft type, you may wish to select 10 or 15 flap at this point Ė or even during the descent.If you do everything right with the power and the drag, and you get the aircraft down to the max gear extension speed, abeam the middle of the runway, you can drop the gear.


Hereís a trick that will send the four-bars harrumphing and perhaps even running screaming from the room, wattles flapping up and down.


At some point, you will level off and want to lower the gear, but you are far too fast, because you didnít think ahead of the aircraft in the descent.It happens.One trick you can use is to pitch the aircraft 45 degrees nose up and convert your excessive airspeed to altitude.When the airspeed drops far enough, lower the gear, gently drop the nose (donít go negative on the G), and descend (with the drag of the gear) back to your initial altitude.They donít teach that to straight and level pilots, but gosh, it works well.


Actually, what works best with slippery, retractable gear aircraft is a level overhead break from cruise speed, which uses G to bleed off airspeed so that you can lower the gear.Again, four bars will go bananas about that, too.But it works marvelously, even though straight and level pilots are sure to whine about it.


Ok.You are now downwind, with perhaps 10 flap, and the gear down.Select another stage of flaps (perhaps 20) and turn base.On base, you might wish to select another stage of flaps Ė perhaps 30.After wings level on final, you may want to make a final selection (e.g. 40) of flap.


The objective, during the above, is to NOT be a throttle jockey.Ideally, you set the power in the descent, and drop the gear and flaps and speed brakes as required, adjusting your approach if you want, so that you donít have to touch the power until the power reduction just before touchdown.


Touch down and roll the aircraft to the end of the runway, not using any brakes.Turn around, taxi back, and donít grab at knobs and levers when the aircraft is moving.This is when people like to grab the gear lever instead of the flaps.Donít do that.Taxi back to the runway threshold, complete your pre-takeoff check and brief, and take off again.


Rinse, lather, repeat as it says on the shampoo bottle.



Sept 2014