The number of wheels on an airplane is usually proportional to its size. But the number varies from plane to plane, so how many wheels do airplanes have?
If you’ve been around the aviation industry a bit here and there, then you’ve probably seen planes with all sorts of numbers of wheels. Some have just a few, some have a lot. Some airplane wheels are big, some are small. It really does depend on the type of plane and what that plane is used for.
Most commercial airplanes have six wheels. This includes two in the landing gear of the nose and four in the main landing gear assemblies. Almost all personal airplanes that private pilots own have 3 wheels. Airplanes can have anywhere from zero wheels up to the current record of 32 wheels.
For most automobiles, this question is fairly straightforward and easy to answer. Barring trucks and some utility vehicles, the answer is almost always four, right? Easy peasy. With airplanes, it’s not quite so simple. In this article, we’ll not only walk you through how many wheels airplanes have, but we’ll also examine what these wheels are used for and we’ll even take a look at airplanes that don’t have any wheels.
Here at SkyTough, we strive to provide only the best aviation content out there. The only way to effectively do this is to combine our own knowledge with research and input from other experts in the industry. For a topic like this one, we dove especially deep into the specifications of specific airplanes to make sure you know exactly how many wheels airplanes have.
What Are Airplane Wheels?
When you’re thinking about the wheels of an airplane, you might think about the wheels themselves, the tires, or the landing gear as a whole. The landing gear is the entire assembly that makes up one of the most important parts of an airplane. This includes parts and pieces such as the struts, shocks, wheels, and tires.
And even though people often mistake wheels and tires for the same thing, they’re actually not. Just like on your car, wheels and tires are different things. For a simple way to think about it, the wheels are the metal part and the tires are the rubber part. On an airplane, it’s the same way technically. But I know you’re not here specifically asking about the metal wheels of an airplane, but the whole wheel and tire combination.
What Are The Wheels on an Airplane Used For
The main use of airplane wheels is to evenly distribute the weight of the entire aircraft and provide a way for the plane to move while on the ground. This is why the number of airplane wheels is heavily dependent on the payload of the aircraft. You might be thinking that an airplane’s size is the determining factor in how many wheels it has, but it’s much more important to take the weight of the airplane into account.
The wheels and tires need to stand up to the force exerted while taking off and landing. Think about what happens when an airplane lands, for example. The pilot lowers the landing gear and the wheels and tires drop down into place. Just a few minutes later, the plane comes in for a landing and the tires meet the runway at hundreds of miles per hour.
Not only do the wheels and tires have to get up to speed immediately, but they also have to withstand the entire weight of the airplane. They’re the only thing that’s between the airplane itself and the runway, so the landing gear as a whole — but especially the wheels and tires — have to be up to the task and able to withstand the high forces.
How Many Wheels Are There on an Airplane?
So now that we’ve talked about the importance of airplane wheels and how the number of wheels that an airplane has mostly depends on its payload, let’s dive into the numbers. I’ll look at three categories of airplanes — private, commercial, and military — and break down how many wheels some of the most popular planes of each type have.
Since the number of wheels is related to the weight of the plane, I’ll use many of the same models that we examined in our in-depth guide on how much airplanes weigh. Let’s dive in.
How Many Wheels Do Private Planes Have?
When we talk about private planes on this site, we’re almost always talking about ones that the typical pilot (like myself) might own themselves. So I’m talking about planes like a Cessna or Piper, not a private jet or anything like that! For these planes, I’ve taken the same nine from the aforementioned article about how much airplanes weigh.
These planes are the perfect ones to look at because they’re among the most popular private planes out there. These very planes are some of the easiest ones to fly and the most affordable planes on the market, so if you’re a pilot with a plane of your own, yours might very well be in this table. The table goes from the lightest plane (Aeronca Champ) to the heaviest (Diamond DA40 Star).
I know, I know, that’s not exactly the most exciting table you’ve ever seen. But that doesn't make it any less interesting. The fact of the matter is that most personal aircraft that private pilots own themselves will almost always have 3 wheels. There are always two main wheels located under the center of gravity, and the one either at the nose or the tail.
How Many Wheels Do Commercial Planes Have?
Let’s take a look at the ten most common commercial airplanes in the world, including both passenger jets and cargo planes. These are listed in ascending order in terms of weight, with the lightest one being listed first (Bombardier CRJ200) and the heaviest being last (Boeing 757-200).
As you can see from this table, the majority of commercial airplanes do, in fact, have six wheels. Only the heaviest Boeing listed comes with ten wheels standard, and the two heavier Airbus models can have either six or ten. For 10-wheel configurations, the two main landing gear assemblies have 4 wheels each rather than two.
How Many Wheels Do Fighter Jets Have?
Similar to the sections above, let’s look at the same fighter jets that we looked at in our article about how much airplanes weigh. This way, you can see how the weight of an airplane affects the number of wheels. This table is also ranked from lightest (T-38 Talon) to heaviest (AC-130J Ghostrider).
From this table, you can see that standard fighter jets all come with 3 wheels. This is similar to what you see on the private planes above, with the third wheel always being under the nose. The AC130J Ghostrider is a massive gunship, not really a fighter jet like the others.
Which Airplane Has the Most Wheels?
Although most of the planes in this article have a relatively similar number of wheels to one another and nothing really jumps off the screen as anything out of the ordinary, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a plane out there that might surprise you. That’s where the massive Antonov An-225 cargo jet comes in.
This Ukrainian airplane is the current record-holder for having the most wheels with an astounding 32 of them. That’s right, this behemoth has 32 wheels! This is necessary thanks to its insane 1.4 million pound payload. For reference, the heaviest plane above (the Boeing 757-200), weighs just 127,000 pounds.
That said, you’d be hard-pressed to ever see this plane in real life considering only one of them was ever built. But that doesn’t change the fact that it was designed and constructed with 32 sets of wheels and tires!
Are There Any Airplanes That Don’t Have Wheels?
At the very beginning of this article, I mentioned that some airplanes can have as little as zero wheels. Based on everything I said about how important landing gear and wheels are on an airplane, how is that possible? Well, this really only occurs in two cases and for very specialized planes.
First, the most common time you might run into a plane with no wheels is if you come across a seaplane. Often also called a floatplane, these planes are designed to take off from and land in bodies of water. Therefore, they either land directly on the belly of the plane or on big pontoon-like floats. For more information on these types of planes, check out our full article on seaplanes and floatplanes.
The other type of plane that might not have wheels is a bush plane. Bush planes can vary wildly depending on the terrain they’ll be used and what they’ll be used for, but some of them don’t have wheels. In some cases, a bush plane might be affixed with floats for landing in water or skis for landing in snow and ice. These specialized types of landing gear replace the wheels and tires that you see on regular planes!
About THE AUTHOR
After spending years watching every video I could find about flying, I finally scratched the itch and got my pilots license. Now I fly every chance I get, and share the information I learn, here.Read More About Joe Haygood