Can Airplanes Land Without Landing Gear?

Whether it’s a large Airbus A380 or a single-engine Cessna 172, most airplanes rely on landing gear to touch down on the runway. Landing gear consists of wheeled assemblies that allow airplanes to roll on hard surfaces, such as runways. When preparing to land, pilots will typically deploy the airplane’s landing gear. Once fully extended, pilots will descend and touch down. The landing gear’s wheels will allow the airplane to roll while simultaneously protecting the airplane’s fuselage and body from direct contact with the runway.

Landing gear systems aren’t immune to failure, however. Statistics show that nearly half of all maintenance-related component failures involve landing gear. So, how do pilots deal with landing gear failures?

The Basics of a Belly Landing

Most airplanes can still land without landing gear. It’s a relatively common practice that’s known as a “belly landing.”

Belly landings involve airplanes landing with the underside of their fuselage touching down on the runway. It’s similar to a traditional landing, except the landing gear isn’t deployed with a belly landing. Instead, the landing gear remains retracted within the airplane.

The process for a typical belly landing involves the following:

  • The pilot contacts Air Traffic Control (ATC) to notify them of the situation.
  • Passengers will prepare for the emergency landing.
  • The pilot will perform a checklist for a belly landing.
  • The pilot will select a suitable runway.
  • The pilot will descend and execute the belly landing.

Damage From Belly Landings

While airplanes can often land with their belly touching down on the runway, they will typically sustain at least some damage. The friction of the airplane’s belly rubbing against the runway will generate heat. Excessive heat, of course, can turn into fires. This is why it’s important for pilots to control the speed at which they touch down when performing a belly landing.

Other factors can affect the risk of damage during belly landings as well. Crosswinds and visibility, for instance, play an important role in the outcome of belly landings. If there are strong crosswinds present or low visibility, the risk of damage increases.

Belly Landing vs Gear-Up Landing

The terms “belly landing” and “gear-up landing” are both used to describe landings without landing gear, but they aren’t necessarily the same.

A belly landing typically involves mechanical failure of the airplane’s landing gear. In other words, there’s some type of problem with the landing gear that prevents it from being deployed. A gear-up landing, on the other hand, involves pilot error. If a pilot forgets to deploy the airplane’s landing gear when approaching the runway, it’s considered to be a gear-up landing.

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