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How much extra drag does landing gear incur?

I'm interested in large commercial airplanes. For a concrete example, let's say a 747 flying at 1,000 m above sea level at 800 km/h. Edit: Looks like 800 kmh is too high for lowered gear at 1,000 m. Let's say 400 kmh instead.

In those conditions, what is the drag with the gear lowered, and what is the drag with the gear fully raised?

Drag is a force measured in newtons.

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  • $\begingroup$ It is more than you may think being small in relative proportion. Barring any other configuration changes, lowering the gear feels like stomping on the brake pedal, which is (one of the reasons) why in an emergency you don't lower the gear until you have the field made. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Oct 18 '16 at 2:21
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    $\begingroup$ Just a quibble, but the regulatory speed limit (in the US) at that altitude is 250 knots indicated. That works out to about 490 km/h TAS. I'm not even sure a 747 has enough thrust to go 800 km/h TAS at 1,000m... Approach speeds are around 265 km/h CAS for a 747. $\endgroup$ – ioctlLR Oct 18 '16 at 15:27
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    $\begingroup$ @CarloFelicione I gave a concrete example: a 747 at 1000m above MSL at 800 kmh---corrected to 400 kmh. $\endgroup$ – DrZ214 Oct 18 '16 at 21:52
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    $\begingroup$ It's enough drag that in flying a 747-100 gear down the 600 nautical miles from Yokota Air Force Base near Tokyo to Osan Air Force Base a bit south of Seoul, we burnt more than twice the projected fuel burn. Had we not been tankering fuel to avoid refueling at Osan, we would not have been able to do it when we couldn't get the gear up. It was all we could do initially to stagger up to FL190, and we never got higher than FL220. $\endgroup$ – Terry Oct 18 '16 at 22:08
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    $\begingroup$ @ymb1 No problem, happy to be of assistance. $\endgroup$ – Terry Oct 19 '16 at 19:59
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Since drag equals thrust in level flight, we can work out an approximation for any aircraft that has a counterpart in MS Flight Simulator or similar software.

Before you fly away, real values would require renting a CFD / wind tunnel facility, or access to the 747 flight test data.

To compare the drag before and after, fly at the required altitude/speed, and notice the fuel flow with and without the gear extended.

Write down both fuel flow values, look up the jet engine model from jet-engine.net/civtfspec, note the number of engines, and use the SFC value (lb/lbf hr) to find out the force differential in lbf, then convert to Newtons.


I ran the test in a reputable 737-800 add-on, and with the values for the CFM56-7B27 engine (SFC 0.380), the difference was 67 kN at 250 knots IAS and 3000 feet MSL.

enter image description here

Source—CFD visualization of the turbulent structures around a landing gear.

Fuel flow figures (per engine) were 1.1 and 2.4 (x1000 kg/hr), angle of attack remained constant.

The drag (thrust) values were 57 kN and 124 kN. The landing gear more than doubled the drag at 250 knots (460 km/h).

In other words, the landing gear alone consumed 2600 kg/hr of fuel in those conditions.

That agrees with Terry's experience:

It's enough drag that in flying a 747-100 gear down the 600 nautical miles from Yokota Air Force Base near Tokyo to Osan Air Force Base a bit south of Seoul, we burnt more than twice the projected fuel burn. Had we not been tankering fuel to avoid refueling at Osan, we would not have been able to do it when we couldn't get the gear up. It was all we could do initially to stagger up to FL190, and we never got higher than FL220.—Terry

A 747 has two bogies more than a 737, they're also bigger and tilted, so the drag penalty for a 747 is likely triple that of a 737, or even more.

At approach speeds the landing gear drag should be much, much lower.

[The] drag depends linearly on the size of the object moving through the air.

[The drag varies] with the square of the relative velocity between the object and the air.

NASA

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    $\begingroup$ Uh, having worked with FSX/P3D internals for years, I have very little confidence in its calculations. Especially such complex multi-step ones, and especially if they involve engine. One can massage certain correct numbers in, but some dependencies are plain wrong, often giving invalid result. And not everything is possible to tweak in a plug-in. That is, the model can certainly be usable, but not good for validation. $\endgroup$ – Zeus Oct 18 '16 at 4:32
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    $\begingroup$ ...That said, doubling the drag is not unreasonable. It is usually considered 'the worst case' for a typical airplane, but at the unreasonably high speed that the OP wants (where the induced drag share is low), it is entirely possible. $\endgroup$ – Zeus Oct 18 '16 at 4:45
  • $\begingroup$ That speed far exceeds the 747 gear and airplane limits. Okay, what is the max airspeed for that plane at that altitude with the gear lowered? $\endgroup$ – DrZ214 Oct 18 '16 at 9:01
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    $\begingroup$ @ymb1 In ground school for the aircraft, we were taught this was the case, the reason being that the first thing that happens on gear retraction is that the gear doors open, putting the doors out in the slipstream and opening up the cavities in the body and wings that will contain the gear. The gear doors out in the slipstream also account for the difference in max gear extended speed (320 kts) and max retraction/extension(270 kts) speed. You don't want them to come off. BTW, when the gear is retracted, the gear doors close, except of course for that relatively small part for the struct. $\endgroup$ – Terry Oct 18 '16 at 19:46
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    $\begingroup$ "A 747 has two bogies more than a 737, they're also bigger and titled,". I think you meant tilted, not titled. $\endgroup$ – Skip Miller Oct 18 '16 at 20:08
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There is one data point from real life: An Airbus A-310, scheduled to fly from Chania (Crete) to Hannover, Germany, a distance of 2197 kilometers, could not get the gear up after take-off on 12 July 2000. The crew decided to fly slower in order to conserve fuel and initially tried to divert to Stuttgart. When they realised that fuel flow was higher than anticipated, they reduced their trip planning first to Munich and then Vienna. On approach, while still 12 nm out from the airfield, the engines cut out and the aircraft landed just short of the runway, incurring damage beyond economic repair. None of the occupants were injured during the landing.

The distance from Chania to Vienna is 1545 km, and the aircraft used up all the fuel onboard, including reserves. This makes the distance flown about half of what would be possible with gear up and exhausting reserves. Since the added drag from the landing gear shifts the optimum range speed to a lower value, the aircraft had to fly not only slower, but also lower than normal, and a direct comparison of the drag with and without gear extended is impossible.

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