Question

Did the pilots forget the gear?

I was on a Q400 first flight of the day at 0540.  Small airport.  Commercial flight.  Flown the same flight twice a month for almost 3 years.  Always at the wing.  Took off pilot flew for approx 15 seconds and reduced flaps to zero.  Flew another 15 or so seconds with gear down and flaps at zero.  Finally raised landing gear. Did the pilots forget the gear? What would cause them to keep the gear down with zero flaps?

Delayed gear retraction procedure

Depending on aircraft type, there are a few cases where delaying retracting the gear is an operational procedure. For example, on some aircraft types, there is an operational procedure that instructs the pilots to delay the retraction of the gear if there is a known failure of one of the wheel brake actuators. A failure of a brake actuator would result in a wheel spinning when the gear is retracted after getting airborne. This is not a good thing as a damaged high-speed spinning wheel could cause damage to components in the wheel bay. The role of the brake actuator is to brake (stop) the wheel from spinning before gear retraction. If one of the brake actuators are not working, there is an operational procedure that instructs the pilots to delay the retraction. The wheel will (in the free airstream) slow down naturally.
Another reason for a delayed gear retraction (again this depends on the type of aircraft and airline procedures) could be a contaminated runway. Delaying the gear, in this case, may allow the wind to “clean the gear” of any deposits before it gets retracted.
Now based on our research which involved talking to a current Q400 pilot these procedures seem un-likely in the described case and time of the year.

Did the pilots forget the gear?

So what could a possible explanation then be? Well, yes it could simply be down to the pilots forgetting to retract the gear in the correct sequence.
The gear is normally the very first thing the pilots would retract. Then flap retraction follows. It sounds really early that the pilots have retracted the flaps. Usually, this procedure is a lot later than 15 sec after getting airborne, it is more like 2 minutes after getting airborne.

Did the pilots forget the gear? If yes, have you been in danger?

Have you been in danger? No certainly not. There is a “performance penalty” if the gear remains down. With the gear extended the aircraft will have more drag, which makes it more difficult to climb or accelerate. With all engines operating the aircraft will, in most cases, have plenty of performance margin.
The pilots would most likely have realized their error by observing the aircraft behaving differently, like slower than normal to climb or accelerate or by increased noise (extended gear makes a lot of wind noise on many aircraft types).
On most aircraft types there is a structural speed limit for gear extension, gear extended, and gear retraction. For the phase of flight, you have been at, it is unlikely that you will have been anywhere near these speeds.

Just safety culture

The just safety culture will allow the pilots to make a report if they have made a mistake. This report will then normally go to the flight safety department and this department may then liaise with other operational departments if relevant. If something like this (forgetting to raise the gear) is something that the airline can see a trend of, the airline will likely develop new procedures and/ or include specific training during recurrent pilot training.
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