Helicopter Landing Gear: Skid vs. Wheel Systems

Helicopters have the unique ability to hover and land vertically. The type of landing gear used on helicopters depends entirely on the intended purpose the vehicle will serve. Some factors a manufacturer might also consider are the weight, length, and materials a helicopter integrates. Most helicopters are equipped with skid landing gear, wheel landing gear, or a combination of both.

Skid landing gear is generally considered a simpler and more cost-effective option. The skids are attached directly to the fuselage and are lightweight in comparison to wheel systems. They are most efficient on helicopters that need to carry heavy loads, and that will generally land on soft surfaces. Because there is no braking method, a helicopter with skid landing gear must rely on aerodynamic braking systems like reverse thrust. 

Wheel landing gear is more costly and more complex than a skid system, but in some situations, it is the most effective option. If an aircraft is expected to encounter rough landing surfaces or needs to have faster-flying speeds with reduced drag, wheeled landing gear is preferred. Wheels are typically located on the front and rear of a helicopter and can be fixed or retractable. Retractable landing gear is often seen on medevac and military aircraft because they require greater speed, increased fuel efficiency, and easier ground handling for landing in unfavorable locations. 

The general rule used when assessing whether a helicopter will benefit from skid or wheel landing gear is its size and intended purpose. A small helicopter with the capacity for 10 passengers or less will usually have skid landing gear, with the exception of emergency aid aircraft. Any larger helicopters and most naval and military aircraft will defer to a wheel landing system. 


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