Skids versus Landing Gear Systems

Every helicopter shares one characteristic, no matter the make, model, or year, at some point, it has to land. When your helicopter touches down, it has to support it’s weight on something-you wouldn’t park your car on it’s undercarriage, would you? So, modern helicopter designers have settles on two methods to support the qieght of the aircraft when it lands: either skids or wheels.

Skids are metal bars that are permanetly affixed to the frame of the aircraft. They often resemble the rails of a sled. On the bottom of the skids is usually a reinforced metal coating, as when the helicopter touches down, the skid touches the ground (wher it’s name coems from) while the helicopter settles in. Though stroung enough to support the weight of the helicopter indefinitely, and inexpesive enough to be found on most helicopters (including all Robinson models), skids have one major drawback: they are not retractable, and therefore are a big source of aerodynamic drag while in flight.

Landing gear systems, on the other hand, consist of three or more wheels on hydraulic suspension mounts, that can be retracted into the fuselage of the helicopter once the aircraft has taken off, but can be deployed when it is ready to land. Much likethe gear on a fixed-wing airplane, these systems are more expensive, but allow for better aerodynamics while flying, as there is no drag created by skids or wheels hanging out of the aircraft.

The biggest benefit of skids, practically speaking, is that skids distribute the weight of the aircraft over a larger area. This allows for the attachment of floats, or for landing on ice, or for landing on this surfaces in situations where a gear-equipped helicopter might sink or fall through. Landing gear, in contrast, distributes the aircraft’s weight to three (or four) points, rather than spreading it out over a 1-2m long skid, therefore concentrating the weight into those areas. This can lead to a fall-through situation when landing on, say, ice or snow, potentially causing a fatal accident.

The biggest benefit of landing gear is that is can be retracted into the aircraft, reducing the profile and fuel consumption as well as improving the aesthetics. Traditionally, gear systems are found on more expensive helicopters, all of which are typically turbine powered. This is because the systems are expensive, but although it seems counterintuitive, the retractable great is usually fairly lightweight and adds little to the helicopters gross weigh, while improving efficiency by up to 5%, a significant savings in fuel use over the life of the helicopter.

No matter which system your helicopter has, land safe and don’t try to land without one! That’s like doing a belly flop into a pool- you will feel it later.