Tricycles and Tailwheels: Different Types of Landing Gear
Landing gear is a critical component for any aircraft, as it allows the aircraft to takeoff, land, and taxi safely on the ground. However, the way landing gear is designed and arranged on the aircraft can affect its weight distribution, center of gravity, and handling characteristics on the ground. Most modern civilian small aircraft are built in either the tricycle or tailwheel configurations.
In the tricycle configuration, two main wheels are located on either side of the fuselage, with a third wheel directly underneath the nose. This configuration is identical to the children’s toy, thus giving it the name. Tricycle landing gear has three main advantages: firstly, it allows for more forceful application of the brakes during landings at high speed, gives the pilot better visibility during takeoff, landing, and taxiing, and helps prevent ground looping or swerving while taxiing. This is because the aircraft’s center of gravity is forward of the main wheels, keeping it moving in a straight line rather than wavering.
Tailwheel landing gear also has two wheels on either side of the fuselage attached ahead of the aircraft’s center of gravity, which support most of the aircraft’s weight on the ground. A third wheel is placed in the rear of the fuselage directly under the tail, thus giving the configuration its name. This arrangement means that the plane is slightly tilted back when on the ground and has all three wheels on the ground, which provides greater clearance between the aircraft propeller and the ground. This in turn means that a larger propeller can be installed on the aircraft, and allows it to operate from rougher, unimproved airfields. However, with the center of gravity located behind the main landing gear, directional control of the aircraft is more difficult, as it is more likely to swerve during taxiing. The lack of forward visibility while the tailwheel is on the ground is also a major issue, and one that requires specific training for the pilot to adapt to.