Landing Gear Types – Landing Gear Arrangement

in Aircraft Landing Gear Systems

Aircraft landing gear supports the entire weight of an aircraft during landing and ground operations. They are attached to primary structural members of the aircraft. The type of gear depends on the aircraft design and its intended use. Most landing gear have wheels to facilitate operation to and from hard surfaces, such as airport runways. Other gear feature skids for this purpose, such as those found on helicopters, balloon gondolas, and in the tail area of some tail dragger aircraft. Aircraft that operate to and from frozen lakes and snowy areas may be equipped with landing gear that have skis. Aircraft that operate to and from the surface of water have pontoon-type landing gear. Regardless of the type of landing gear utilized, shock absorbing equipment, brakes, retraction mechanisms, controls, warning devices, cowling, fairings, and structural members necessary to attach the gear to the aircraft are considered parts of the landing gear system. [Figure 13-1]

Figure 13-1. Basic landing gear types include those with wheels (a), skids (b), skis (c), and floats or pontoons (d).

Figure 13-1. Basic landing gear types include those with wheels (a), skids (b), skis (c), and floats or pontoons (d). [click image to enlarge]

Numerous configurations of landing gear types can be found. Additionally, combinations of two types of gear are common. Amphibious aircraft are designed with gear that allow landings to be made on water or dry land. The gear features pontoons for water landing with extendable wheels for landings on hard surfaces. A similar system is used to allow the use of skis and wheels on aircraft that operate on both slippery, frozen surfaces and dry runways. Typically, the skis are retractable to allow use of the wheels when needed. Figure 13-2 illustrates this type of landing gear.


Figure 13-2. An amphibious aircraft with retractable wheels (left) and an aircraft with retractable skis (right).

Figure 13-2. An amphibious aircraft with retractable wheels (left) and an aircraft with retractable skis (right). [click image to enlarge]

NOTE: References to auxiliary landing gear refer to the nose gear, tail gear, or outrigger-type gear on any particular aircraft. Main landing gear are the two or more large gear located close to the aircraft’s center of gravity.

Landing Gear Arrangement

Three basic arrangements of landing gear are used: tail wheeltype landing gear (also known as conventional gear), tandem landing gear, and tricycle-type landing gear.

Tail Wheel-Type Landing Gear

Tail wheel-type landing gear is also known as conventional gear because many early aircraft use this type of arrangement. The main gear are located forward of the center of gravity, causing the tail to require support from a third wheel assembly. A few early aircraft designs use a skid rather than a tail wheel. This helps slow the aircraft upon landing and provides directional stability. The resulting angle of the aircraft fuselage, when fitted with conventional gear, allows the use of a long propeller that compensates for older, underpowered engine design. The increased clearance of the forward fuselage offered by tail wheel-type landing gear is also advantageous when operating in and out of non-paved runways. Today, aircraft are manufactured with conventional gear for this reason and for the weight savings accompanying the relatively light tail wheel assembly. [Figure 13-3]

Figure 13-3. Tail wheel configuration landing gear on a DC-3 (left) and a STOL Maule MX-7-235 Super Rocket.

Figure 13-3. Tail wheel configuration landing gear on a DC-3 (left) and a STOL Maule MX-7-235 Super Rocket. [click image to enlarge]

The proliferation of hard surface runways has rendered the tail skid obsolete in favor of the tail wheel. Directional control is maintained through differential braking until the speed of the aircraft enables control with the rudder. A steerable tail wheel, connected by cables to the rudder or rudder pedals, is also a common design. Springs are incorporated for dampening. [Figure 13-4]

Figure 13-4. The steerable tail wheel of a Pitts Special.

Figure 13-4. The steerable tail wheel of a Pitts Special. [click image to enlarge]

Tandem Landing Gear

Few aircraft are designed with tandem landing gear. As the name implies, this type of landing gear has the main gear and tail gear aligned on the longitudinal axis of the aircraft. Sailplanes commonly use tandem gear, although many only have one actual gear forward on the fuselage with a skid under the tail. A few military bombers, such as the B-47 and the B-52, have tandem gear, as does the U2 spy plane. The VTOL Harrier has tandem gear but uses small outrigger gear under the wings for support. Generally, placing the gear only under the fuselage facilitates the use of very flexible wings. [Figure 13-5]

Figure 13-5. Tandem landing gear along the longitudinal axis of the aircraft permits the use of flexible wings on sailplanes (left) and select military aircraft like the B-52 (center). The VTOL Harrier (right) has tandem gear with outrigger-type gear.

Figure 13-5. Tandem landing gear along the longitudinal axis of the aircraft permits the use of flexible wings on sailplanes (left) and select military aircraft like the B-52 (center). The VTOL Harrier (right) has tandem gear with outrigger-type gear. [click image to enlarge]

Tricycle-Type Landing Gear

The most commonly used landing gear arrangement is the tricycle-type landing gear. It is comprised of main gear and nose gear. [Figure 13-6]

Figure 13-6. Tricycle-type landing gear with dual main wheels on a Learjet (left) and a Cessna 172, also with tricycle gear (right).

Figure 13-6. Tricycle-type landing gear with dual main wheels on a Learjet (left) and a Cessna 172, also with tricycle gear (right). [click image to enlarge]

Tricycle-type landing gear is used on large and small aircraft with the following benefits:

  1. Allows more forceful application of the brakes without nosing over when braking, which enables higher landing speeds.
  2. Provides better visibility from the flight deck, especially during landing and ground maneuvering.
  3. Prevents ground-looping of the aircraft. Since the aircraft center of gravity is forward of the main gear, forces acting on the center of gravity tend to keep the aircraft moving forward rather than looping, such as with a tail wheel-type landing gear.

The nose gear of a few aircraft with tricycle-type landing gear is not controllable. It simply casters as steering is accomplished with differential braking during taxi. However, nearly all aircraft have steerable nose gear. On light aircraft, the nose gear is directed through mechanical linkage to the rudder pedals. Heavy aircraft typically utilize hydraulic power to steer the nose gear. Control is achieved through an independent tiller in the flight deck. [Figure 13-7]

Figure 13-7. A nose wheel steering tiller located on the flight deck.

Figure 13-7. A nose wheel steering tiller located on the flight deck.

The main gear on a tricycle-type landing gear arrangement is attached to reinforced wing structure or fuselage structure. The number and location of wheels on the main gear vary. Many main gear have two or more wheels. [Figure 13-8]

Figure 13-8. Dual main gear of a tricycle-type landing gear.

Figure 13-8. Dual main gear of a tricycle-type landing gear.

Multiple wheels spread the weight of the aircraft over a larger area. They also provide a safety margin should one tire fail. Heavy aircraft may use four or more wheel assemblies on each main gear. When more than two wheels are attached to a landing gear strut, the attaching mechanism is known as a bogie. The number of wheels included in the bogie is a function of the gross design weight of the aircraft and the surface type on which the loaded aircraft is required to land. Figure 13-9 illustrates the triple bogie main gear of a Boeing 777.

Figure 13-9. Triple bogie main landing gear assembly on a Boeing 777.

Figure 13-9. Triple bogie main landing gear assembly on a Boeing 777.

The tricycle-type landing gear arrangement consists of many parts and assemblies. These include air/oil shock struts, gear alignment units, support units, retraction and safety devices, steering systems, wheel and brake assemblies, etc. A main landing gear of a transport category aircraft is illustrated in Figure 13-10 with many of the parts identified as an introduction to landing gear nomenclature.

Figure 13-10. Nomenclature of a main landing gear bogie truck.

Figure 13-10. Nomenclature of a main landing gear bogie truck. [click image to enlarge]