Designing landing gear is practically trivial when you’re only ever planning on landing on beautiful runways paved with concrete as smooth as glass. But things quickly become more complicated when the conditions aren’t quite so ideal. That was certainly the case in World War II, when planes often had to land where there weren’t runways at all. The FliteTest YouTube channel team was inspired by some of the unusual German landing gear designs from that era and decided to see if they could build an RC airplane with an exercise ball as landing gear.
This exercise ball looks exactly like the kind you’d see sitting next to the rolled up yoga mat in the corner of your friend Brittany’s apartment. It’s meant for core exercises like crunches, and almost certainly wasn’t designed to act as landing gear. But after seeing some footage of experimental planes from World War II, the FliteTest team thought it might just work well for taking off and landing on rough terrain. That’s because it acts a bit like the large, low-pressure tires you see on off-road vehicles. The low-pressure lets it spread out to cover as much surface area as possible, helping it maintain traction and roll over bumps.
The FliteTest crew attached the exercise ball to their airplane fuselage using 3D-printed mounts glued to either side of the spherical surface. They obviously couldn’t run an axle through the ball, so this was the next best thing. Because the ball is large and heavy, they had to create an airplane that was quite sizable. But if you’re familiar with the FliteTest YouTube channel, you know they’re no strangers to big, strange aircraft — their flying IKEA chair is proof of that. It may not be the best-flying airplane ever, but that exercise ball landing gear does work surprisingly well on a grassy field. We’re just glad that the Germans didn’t have access to exercise ball technology during World War II, or things could have gone very differently.