Pilot's tip of the week

When to Retract the Gear

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Subscriber question:

"I've flown with two different instructors in my Piper Arrow. One says to retract the gear as soon as a positive rate of climb is established. The other says to retract the landing gear once out of usable runway. Which is the better technique?" — Dean R.

Jeff:

“My practice is to retract the gear once I verify a positive rate of climb—with one caveat that I’ll get to in a moment.

The way I see it, I’ll climb faster with gear retracted than with the gear extended. This is more efficient, clears obstacles with more altitude, and removes any chance of exceeding a gear speed while the wheels are still hanging out. My thinking may be influenced by my time flying a Mooney, where the maximum gear retraction speed can easily be exceeded before reaching pattern altitude.

Waiting to raise the gear assumes that in the unlikely event you abort the takeoff within a few seconds of rotation, you can land on the remaining runway using the wheels rather than the (expensive) airplane belly. I don’t think this is realistic for most pilots. My experience is that people radically underestimate how much runway would be required. It can take several thousand feet of runway to transition from a climb attitude at 700 AGL back down to a full-stop landing. Skidding to a quick stop on the belly make actually be safer than overrunning the far end of the runway on wheels. And a catastrophic failure that close to the ground means the insurance company just bought the airplane anyway. Furthermore, the odds of this engine failure scenario happening are tiny, while the benefits of cleaning up the gear early exist on every departure.

So, I pick up the gear right away.

The caveat is that some airplanes actually increase in drag during the retraction cycle. In that case, I wouldn’t retract the gear until I was clear of any close-in obstacles. Hopefully, this procedure would be in the airplane flight manual—which would supersede any suggested procedure you get from instructors or in a pilot tip.”

What's your normal technique for gear retraction?

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