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- Its weight, its landing speed, its landing gear design and the number of engines it has all have a bearing on the number of wheels an aircraft has
- The average is six, however, varies from three, to as many as 32
- Though they have some outward similarities, aircraft wheels are completely different to their automotive equivalents in almost every way possible, particularly in regards to tire pressure
After walking around my local airport with some aviation enthusiast friends of mine, I asked myself: how many wheels do airplanes have?
The number of aircraft wheels depend on a number of factors, namely the size, weight, speed of the aircraft. It can vary from as little as three wheels on an aircraft like the Cessna 172 to as many as 32 on a large aircraft like the now-destroyed Antonov An-225.
As a pilot who has flown just about every aircraft imaginable, I have flown aircraft with all three wheels to as many as eight.
How Many Wheels Does an Airplane Have?
Each aircraft needs wheels that support its intended function. The makeup of the landing gear depends on the maximum gross weight of the plane. Wheels must sustain an aircraft’s weight while it is stationary and distribute weight evenly when landing.
The rough average is six wheels, but they can range from 32 on the An-225 to 18 on a Boeing 747 to three wheels on light aircraft.
The Makeup of Airplane Wheels
Tires are an essential element in the structure of an aircraft. They need to be very strong. Airplane wheels are conductive rubber that absorbs friction-generated electricity between the runway and the tire.
The tires of an airplane must be flexible. Kevlar is often used for wheels of transport airplanes. It is a pliable plastic that is heat-resistant, lightweight, and strong. Tires typically have three layers of rubber.
Each layer is placed in a different direction to increase traction and strengthen the tires. A special aluminum steel reinforcement layer also keeps the tires from falling apart or losing tread when landing.
Grooves in the tires serve as conducting strips that dissipate electric charge build-up. They prevent sparks caused by friction that could ignite the airplane’s fuel supply.
Non-flammable nitrogen gas is often used to fill the tires to eliminate corrosion of metal parts of transport airplane structures. Nitrogen gas will not oxidize and destroy the rubble that comprises the wheels of an airplane.
How Many Wheels Do Single-Engine GA Aircraft Have?
General Aviation is the term used to describe the operation of aircraft not used for commercial purposes. Commercial planes are more advanced and sophisticated. The common types of single-engine GA aircraft are:
- Single-piston taildraggers
- Single-piston tricycle landing gear aircraft
- Single turboprop aircraft
Single-piston taildraggers have two wheels in front and a small skid or wheel in the back to support the tail. The tricycle arrangement of the landing gear makes the aircraft lighter than nose wheel aircraft.
This configuration provides the aircraft an advantage when taking off from short runways. It is more practical for fields or smaller airports. Planes like these are used in ski operations and are noted for maneuverability inside a hangar.
Aircraft with tricycle gear are usually easier to land than other planes because of the altitude needed to land on the main gear. A tailwheel plane on the ground naturally sits nose-up, which makes taxiing or landing on dirt or unpaved surfaces where debris can damage the propeller easier.
Most modern aircraft have tricycle gear. Any aircraft with tricycle gear is, however, susceptible to wheelbarrowing when taking off or landing.
Single Turboprop Aircraft
Like other General Aviation airplanes, single turboprop aircraft have three wheels. Small planes usually have two wheels in the front or under the wings and one in the back. They can have two further to the back and one in the front.
Three wheels provide stability, simplifying taxiing, and provide sufficient take off and landing capability.
How Many Wheels Do Twin-Engine GA Aircraft Have?
Examples of twin-engine GA aircraft are:
- Airbus A380, having nose landing gear that consists of a single two-wheel bogie
- Airbus A330, having main landing gear that consists of two four-wheel bogies
- Twin Otter Series 400, with two primary landing gear units and a nose landing gear unit consisting of a wheel mounted to a stub wheel
The tires and wheels of an aircraft support the weight on the ground and transmit dynamic loads and static caused when the plane taxis, takes off, or lands to the shock absorption system of the aircraft.
The wheel is the cylindrical metal structure connected to the axle of the landing gear through bearings and has a shape that provides the seating surface for tires.
General Aviation aircraft are planes used for activities such as:
- Aerial photography
- Aerial survey work
- Agricultural including crop spraying
- Business aviation
- Civil search and rescue
- Emergency medical services
- Flight demonstrations
- Law enforcement and firefighting
- Monitoring ground traffic
- News gathering
- Pilot training
- Sightseeing or air tours
Examples of aircraft for these purposes are:
- Aerial photography - Gulfstream American GA-7 Cougar, with landing gear consisting of two main six-ply tires and a four-ply nose wheel tire
- Aerial survey work - Cessna 303 Clipper with a retractable tricycle undercarriage
- Agricultural - Rockwell Thrush Commander has three wheels
- Business aviation - TECNAM P2006T with three wheels
- Civil search and rescue - Sikorsky S-92 helicopter has six wheels
- Emergency medical service - TECNAM P2012 with three wheels
- Flight demonstrations - Diamond DA62 having three wheels
- Law enforcement and fire fighting - Twin Commander 500S with three wheels
- News gathering - TECNAM P2010 having three wheels
- Pilot training T-1A Jayhawk with three wheels
- Sightseeing and air tours - Cessna Grand Caravan EX having three wheels
How Many Wheels Do Private Jets Have?
Private jets usually have three to six airplane wheels. The landing gear is often arranged as a single nose assembly and two main landing gear assemblies. Each has one or two wheels. Examples include:
- Bombardier Challenger 350 has two wheels at the three locations mentioned above.
- Cirrus Vision SF50 with one wheel at each location
- Textron Aviation Cessna Citation Latitude having two wheels at each landing gear location
- Pilatus PC-24 has one wheel at the nose and two at each main assembly
- Airbus ACJ TwoTwenty with two wheels at each landing assembly location
- Gulfstream G650 has two wheels at each location
- Embraer Phenom 300E with one wheel per location
- Embraer Praetor 500 and 600 each have two wheels at each landing gear point
- Learjet 75 Liberty has one wheel at the nose assembly and two at the main assembly locations
- Eclipse EA500 with one wheel each
- HondaJet HA-420 has one each
- Bombardier Global 7500, two each
- Dassault Falcon 10X, two per assembly location
- Cessna Citation CJ4 Gen2, one per assembly location
- Beechcraft King Air 360, one wheel at the nose and two on the main assemblies
- Gulfstream G700 has two wheels at each location
- Dassault Falcon 6X with two each
The Aerion A52 is an outlier. It has one wheel at the nose and four at the other two locations.
The weight of a private jet has a lot to do with how many wheels its landing gear has. There are eight types of private jet classifications based on weight. They are:
- Very Light Jets
- Small Light Jets
- Super Light Jets
- Midsize Cabin Jets
- Super Midsize Cabin Jets
- Heavy Jets
- Ultra-Long-Range Heavy Jets
- Executive Liners/Bizliners
Very light, small light, and super light jets typically have three wheels. The midsize cabin, super-midsize cabin, heavy, and ultra-long-range jets usually have six wheels.
Examples of executive liners/bizliners are Airbus ACJ 380, which has ten wheels; Airbus ACJ 319, six wheels; Boeing 747-8, 20 wheels; and Boeing BBJ with six.
How Many Wheels Do Fighter Jets Have?
Today’s fighter jets usually have three or four wheels. There are one or two nose gear wheels and two main landing gears, each with one wheel. Examples of fighter jets and the wheel configuration they have include:
- Boeing F/A-18E and F/A-18F Super Hornet, four wheels
- Gripen NG, four wheels
- Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, three wheels
- Shenyang FC-31, three wheels
- Dassault Rafale, four wheels
- Sukhoi SU-57, four wheels
- Eurofighter Typhoon, four wheels
There are variations in the general pattern. The wheel arrangement under the British Harrier fighter jet has five wheels:
- One nose wheel
- Two wheels on the landing gear under the fuselage
- One smaller outrigger wheel under each of the wings.
The Typhoon has one wheel in the front, and the Gripen and Rafale have two in the front. Many reasons that impact the arrangement. They include design trade-offs, steering mechanisms, weight saving, service life, and runway loading requirements.
The nose landing gear of the Rafale is designed to interface with the ship’s catapult shuttle, eliminating the option of a single nose wheel.
How Many Wheels Do Commercial Airliners Have?
Most commercial airlines have six wheels - two at the nose and four in the other landing gear assemblies. There are different types of commercial aircraft. They include
- Commuter Aircraft
- Regional Jets
- Narrow Body Commercial Jets
- Wide Body Commercial Aircraft
- Four-Engine Aircraft - Quadjets
- Amphibious Aircraft
Commuter aircraft generally have designated seating capacity and size, typically 19 or fewer seats. They support scheduled air transportation services for hire or compensation in air commerce. Examples are:
- Saab 2000, six wheels
- Saab 340, six wheels
- Jetstream 41, six wheels
- Fokker 100, six wheels
A regional jet has less than 100 seats. The size is frequently a design point. United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and American Airlines cap regional jets at a maximum take-off weight of 86,000 pounds and 76 seats. Examples and the number of wheels of regional jets are:
- ATR 42-600, six wheels
- ATR 72-600, six wheels
- DHC Dash 8, six wheels
- Embraer ERJ 135, six wheels
- Bombardier CRS700, six wheels
- Canadair CL-600-2B19, six wheels
- Sukhoi Superjet 100, six wheels
Narrow-Body Commercial Jets
A narrow-body aircraft has a single aisle allowing seating six people across a cabin less than 13 feet wide. Examples are:
- Boeing 737-300, six wheels
- Airbus A220, six wheels
- Bombardier CRJ200LR,six wheels
Wide-Body Commercial Aircraft
A twin-aisle configuration of the wide-body aircraft accommodates two aisles and rows with seven or more seats across 16 to 20 feet/ Examples of wide-body commercial aircraft are:
- Airbus A350, ten wheels
- Boeing 787 Dreamliner, ten wheels
- Ilyushin 11-86, 12 wheels
- Lockheed L-1011 TriStar, ten wheels
- McDonnell Douglas DC-10-10, ten wheels
- McDonnell Douglas MD-11, 12 wheels
Four-Engine Aircraft - Quadjets
There are only a few four-engine quad-jet aircraft models. Examples are:
- Airbus A380, 20 wheels
- Boeing 747, 18 wheels
- Airbus A340, 12 wheels
The Boeing 747 is classified as a Jumbo Passenger Jet. Airbus A340 and A380 are mid-size passenger jets.
Amphibious aircraft are designed for taking off and landing in freshwater lakes or seas. They maneuver on land and have wheels. Examples of amphibious aircraft are:
- Sukhoi/Beriev Be-103, three wheels
- Bombardier 415, four wheels
- Cessna 208 Caravan Amphibian, six wheels
- De Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver, six wheels
- Grumman HU-16 Albatross, four wheels
- Republic RC-3 Seabee, three wheels
- Vought 024-2 / 3 “Corsair,”.three wheels
How Many Wheels Do Cargo Aircraft Have?
The major difference between passenger and cargo aircraft is what they transport. The aircraft are outfitted for the purpose they serve. Passenger planes are predominantly for travelers with minimum luggage. Cargo planes are equipped for transporting goods.
They have no windows or passenger seats and a large loading door rather than an emergency exit. Examples are:
- Antonov An-225, 32 wheels
- Boeing 747-8 Freighter, 18 wheels
- Lockheed C-5M Super Galaxy, 20 wheels
How Many Wheels Do Military Aircraft Have?
All branches of the military enlist the help of aircraft for a long list of purposes that include but are not limited to
- Cargo Transport
- VIP Transport
- Electronic warfare
- Utility aircraft
- Carrier-based fighters
- Carrier-based strike
- Aerial Refueling
The list of aircraft used by the military is quite lengthy. Below is a list of the newer models each branch uses.
- Bombardier Challenger 650, five wheels
- Alenia C-27J Spartan, ten wheels
- General Atomics MQ-1C Gray Eagle, three wheels
- AAI RQ-7 Shadow 200, three wheels
- Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey, six wheels
- General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper, three wheels
- Boeing C-40 Clipper, six wheels
- Boeing P-8 Poseidon, six wheels
- AC-130J Ghostrider, six wheels
- Dornier 328, six wheels
- PZL M28 Skytruck, three wheels
- Bombardier Global Express, six wheels
- McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle, three wheels
- Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, three wheels
- Boeing KC-46 Pegasus, ten wheels
- General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper, three wheels
- Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk, three wheels
- Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel, three wheels
- Beechcraft T-6 Texan II, three wheels
- Alenia C-27J Spartan, ten wheels
- Eads Casa HC-144A Ocean Sentry, five wheels
The military also uses helicopters. Most of them have no wheels or a single wheel at the nose of the aircraft.
What Affects The Number of Wheels a Plane Has?
Given the weight and size of aircraft, they often require a large number of wheels. The number varies from model to model. Factors that impact the number of wheels needed include:
- Aircraft weight
- Landing gear design
- Landing speed
- Number of engines
Effect of Weight on the Number of Wheels
Some large aircraft have massive tires. The correct scale size and platform are essential. Platform scale capabilities must be taken into consideration. Each scale needs to be able to weigh up to 60,000 pounds.
Super large airplanes do not necessarily require heavier-duty scales. They tend to have a number of wheels that more evenly spread the weight. For instance, the A380 spreads the load over 22 wheels. No wheel exceeds that of smaller airplanes. It does require 22 separate platforms.
There are three basic landing gear arrangements - tail wheel, tandem, and tricycle. The tail wheel gear is the conventional arrangement. The main wheels are located forward in proximity to the center of gravity. The tail requires a third-wheel assembly for support.
The angle allows using a long propeller. Increased clearance of the forward fuselage is advantageous in operation in and out of runways that are not paved. A typical design is a steerable tail wheel connected with cables to the rudder or rudder pedals.
Runways are designed to handle particular loads. They can be damaged if forced to handle concentrated amounts of weight traveling at high speeds.
Only a few aircraft use the tandem landing gear design. The main and tail gears are aligned on the airplane’s longitudinal axis. Tandem gear is commonly used on sailplanes.
Military bombers, like the B-47 and B-52 and the U2 spy plane, have tandem gear. The VTOL Harrier uses small outrigger gear beneath the wings for support in addition to tandem gear.
Tricycle gear is the most commonly used. It consists of the nose gear and main gear. The tricycle-type landing gear is used on small and large airplanes. It has the main gear attached to a reinforced fuselage or wing structure.
The location and number of main gear wheels vary. Many have two or more wheels. Multiple wheels spread the airplane’s weight over a larger area. They serve as a safety margin if a tire fails.
Each main gear of heavy aircraft may have four or more wheels. Two or more wheels attached to the landing gear strut is called a bogie. How many wheels an aircraft has depends on the surface the aircraft must/is expected to land on and the gross weight design.
The size of airplane wheels is relatively small compared to the fuselage. They can effectively support the aircraft by an even distribution of weight. Large aircraft would weigh more with bigger wheels and use more fuel.
Tricycle landing gear arrangements consist of many assemblies and parts. They include brake and wheel assemblies, steering systems, safety and retraction units, air/oil shock struts, and more.
Unlike car tires that require tread patterns that provide traction and the ability to channel water away to avoid traction loss, aircraft tires rotate freely. A complex tread pattern is not necessary for traction.
A block-tire pattern would be problematic during landing. It would break when touching the tarmac because the tires drag until the rotational speed matches the airplane speed.
The wheels of airplanes are composed of a tire and a rim. The tires are more rigid than those used for cars. They are assembled using a two-part rim and bolts. The two parts are an inboard and an outboard wheel rim. The components of the tires are:
- Belt piles
- Casing piles
- Casing piles turn-ups
- Chafer rubber
- Protector ply
Landing Gear Design
Modern runways are designed to provide traction and drain water. Aircraft tire patterns do not need to drain much water when taking off or landing. For runways that fail to drain sufficient water, some features have been added for cases of extreme rain.
They include tread patterns or chines, which are a type of deflector. The design is simple rubber grooves along the tire’s diameter that help channel water away.
Chines are located near the nose of the plane’s landing gear. They are curved protrusions on the side of the tires that prevent water from getting into the engines.
Aircraft tires support the vessel when it travels at high runway speeds before take-off and when touching the ground at a high rate of speed when landing. The temperature differential aircraft tires experience ranges from -40° in flight to 200°C during landing.
Aircraft tires must withstand high temperatures and stress when they experience extreme conditions like a strong stop in a rejected take-off. Besides the composition of airplane tires, the pressurized air used to inflate them is of the utmost importance to reduce wear and ensure high resistance.
Tires having lower-than-ideal or over-inflated pressure can cause failure during take-off and landing. Rather than air, aircraft tires are usually inflated with inert gas, such as nitrogen.
It reduces the chance of explosion or fire due to high temperatures reached during high speed, touching down, or heavy braking. Compared to automobile tires having a psi between 30 and 40, aircraft tires typically reach 200 psi.
Hot brakes affect the tires and wheels of an aircraft, especially during emergency landings or rejected take-offs. Designers made a fusible or thermal plug as a solution. It is a small hollow bolt filled with metal having a low melting point.
When the melting point is reached, the tire can safely deflate before the brakes reach a temperature that poses a risk of a tire explosion.
Number of Engines
Single engine aircraft like the Cessna 182 Skylane, Beechcraft Bonanza A36, and Piper PA-28 Cherokee has three wheels.
The wheels of twin-engine planes vary by the size of the aircraft.
- Airbus A330, ten wheels
- Twin Otter Series 400, ten wheels
- Gulfstream G650, six wheels
- Learjet 70/75, five wheels
Examples of four-engine aircraft and the number of wheels include:
- De Havilland Comet, ten wheels
- Tupolev TU-114, 18 wheels
- British Aerospace 146, six wheels
- Airbus A340-300, 12 wheels
- Airbus A380, 22 wheels