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What Am I: Smarty pantsWhat Am I: Smarty pants

Why some aircraft sport spats

Preflight December 2019

Until the 1930s, almost all aircraft had fixed gear. The dawn of retractable gear—which came as aircraft were prepared for war—had a profound effect on design and performance, but those who appreciated fixed gear desired the same perceived benefit of reduced drag and more speed. It’s a real dogfight among aircraft owners: to add wheel pants or not to add wheel pants. Called pants, fairings, trousers, or spats, these coverings are designed to reduce drag, save fuel, and streamline the airflow around tires, increasing speed performance. They also have the added benefit of guarding against stones, rocks, and mud being thrown up from the ground and dinging or damaging the wings, fuselage and cowling. Some owners say an aircraft with pants looks better, and others say “pants on” for summer flying and “pants off” for winter flights. As to the debate over retractable gear versus fixed gear, speed gain came with weight gain—as the mechanisms to retract the landing gear were initially heavy and cumbersome—and higher maintenance costs, but that’s another story.

Julie Walker

Julie Summers Walker

AOPA Senior Features Editor
AOPA Senior Features Editor Julie Summers Walker joined AOPA in 1998. She is a student pilot still working toward her solo.

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