Aircraft Wheels – Wheel Construction

in Aircraft Landing Gear Systems

Aircraft wheels are an important component of a landing gear system. With tires mounted upon them, they support the entire weight of the aircraft during taxi, takeoff, and landing. The typical aircraft wheel is lightweight, strong, and made from aluminum alloy. Some magnesium alloy wheels also exist. Early aircraft wheels were of single piece construction, much the same as the modern automobile wheel. As aircraft tires were improved for the purpose they serve, they were made stiffer to better absorb the forces of landing without blowing out or separating from the rim. Stretching such a tire over a single piece wheel rim was not possible. A two-piece wheel was developed. Early two-piece aircraft wheels were essentially one-piece wheels with a removable rim to allow mounting access for the tire. These are still found on older aircraft. [Figure 13-57] Later, wheels with two nearly symmetrical halves were developed. Nearly all modern aircraft wheels are of this two piece construction. [Figures 13-58 and 13-59]

Figure 13-57. Removable flange wheels found on older aircraft are either drop center or flat base types.

Figure 13-57. Removable flange wheels found on older aircraft are either drop center or flat base types. [click image to enlarge]

Figure 13-58. Two-piece split-wheel aircraft wheels found on modern light aircraft.

Figure 13-58. Two-piece split-wheel aircraft wheels found on modern light aircraft.

Figure 13-59. Features of a two piece aircraft wheel found on a modern airliner.

Figure 13-59. Features of a two piece aircraft wheel found on a modern airliner. [click image to enlarge]

Wheel Construction


The typical modern two-piece aircraft wheel is cast or forged from aluminum or magnesium alloy. The halves are bolted together and contain a groove at the mating surface for an o-ring, which seals the rim since most modern aircraft utilize tubeless tires. The bead seat area of a wheel is where the tire actually contacts the wheel. It is the critical area that accepts the significant tensile loads from the tire during landing. To strengthen this area during manufacturing, the bead seat area is typically rolled to prestress it with a compressive stress load.

Inboard Wheel Half

Wheel halves are not identical. The primary reason for this is that the inboard wheel half must have a means for accepting and driving the rotor(s) of the aircraft brakes that are mounted on both main wheels. Tangs on the rotor are fitted into steel reinforced keyways on many wheels. Other wheels have steel keys bolted to the inner wheel halves. These are made to fit slots in the perimeter of the brake rotor. Some small aircraft wheels have provisions for bolting the brake rotor to the inner wheel half. Regardless, the inner wheel half is distinguishable from the outer wheel half by its brake mounting feature. [Figure 13-60]

Figure 13-60. Keys on the inner wheel half of an aircraft wheel used to engage and rotate the rotors of a disc brake.

Figure 13-60. Keys on the inner wheel half of an aircraft wheel used
to engage and rotate the rotors of a disc brake.

Both wheel halves contain a bearing cavity formed into the center that accepts the polished steel bearing cup, tapered roller bearing, and grease retainer of a typical wheel bearing set-up. A groove may also be machined to accept a retaining clip to hold the bearing assembly in place when the wheel assembly is removed.

The inner wheel half of a wheel used on a high performance aircraft is likely to have one or more thermal plugs. [Figure 13-61] During heavy braking, temperatures can become so great that tire temperature and pressure rise to a level resulting in explosion of the wheel and tire assembly. The thermal plug core is filled with a low melting point alloy. Before tire and wheel temperatures reach the point of explosion, the core melts and deflates the tire. The tire must be removed from service, and the wheel must be inspected in accordance with the wheel manufacturer’s instructions before return to service if a thermal plug melts. Adjacent wheel assemblies should also be inspected for signs of damage. A heat shield is commonly installed under the inserts designed to engage the brake rotor to assist in protecting the wheel and tire assembly from overheating.

Figure 13-61. Heavy use of the aircraft brakes can cause tire air temperature and pressure to rise to a level resulting in explosion of the wheel assembly. To alleviate this, thermal plug(s) mounted in the inner wheel half of a high performance aircraft wheels are made with a fusible core that melts and releases the air from the tire before explosion.

Figure 13-61. Heavy use of the aircraft brakes can cause tire air temperature and pressure to rise to a level resulting in explosion of the wheel assembly. To alleviate this, thermal plug(s) mounted in the inner wheel half of a high performance aircraft wheels are made with a fusible core that melts and releases the air from the tire before explosion.

An overinflation safety plug may also be installed in the inner wheel half. This is designed to rupture and release all of the air in the tire should it be over inflated. The fill valve is also often installed in the inner wheel half with the stem extending through holes in the outer wheel half to permit access for inflation and deflation.

Outboard Wheel Half

The outboard wheel half bolts to the inboard wheel half to make up the wheel assembly upon which the tire is mounted. The center boss is constructed to receive a bearing cup and bearing assembly as it does on the inboard wheel half. The outer bearing and end of the axle is capped to prevent contaminants from entering this area. Aircraft with anti-skid brake systems typically mount the wheel-spin transducer here. It is sealed and may also serve as a hub cap. The 737 outer wheel half illustrated in Figure 13-59 also has a hub cap fairing over the entire wheel half. This is to fair it with the wind since the outer wheel half does not close behind a gear door on this aircraft. Hub caps may also be found on fixed gear aircraft.

The outboard wheel half provides a convenient location of the valve stem used to inflate and deflate tubeless tires. Alternately, it may contain a hole through which a valve stem extension may pass from the inner wheel half or the valve stem itself may fit through such a hole if a tube-type tire is used.