Airplanes rely on landing gear to safely take off and land. Located in the undercarriage, it consists of wheels that essentially allow airplanes to drive or roll on the runway. Without landing gear, airplanes wouldn’t be able to safely land. Rather, they would land directly on the tarmac, resulting in damage to the fuselage or other components. Not all airplanes use the same landing gear, however. There are several types of landing gear, the two most common of which being taildragger and tricycle. What’s the difference between taildragger and tricycle landing gear exactly?
What Is Taildragger Landing Gear?
Also known as conventional landing gear, taildragger landing gear is characterized by the use of two primary wheels at the front of the airplane, followed by a smaller secondary wheel towards the back of the airplane. It’s called “taildragger” landing gear because it encourages airplanes to “drag their tail” during takeoffs and landings. The rear of the airplane will shift downwards, thereby allowing the secondary wheel to support the airplane’s weight.
What Is Tricycle Landing Gear?
Tricycle landing gear, on the other hand, is characterized by the use of two primary wheels at the front of the airplane, followed by a smaller secondary wheel in front. Both taildragger and tricycle landing gear systems have three wheels. The difference lies in the arrangement of their respective wheels. With taildragger landing gear, the secondary wheel is behind the two primary wheels. With tricycle landing gear, the secondary wheel is in front of the two primary wheels.
The tail of an airplane won’t drag behind it if the airplane uses tricycle landing gear. Rather, the airplane’s weight will shift to the front where it’s supported by the secondary wheel.
Why Taildragger Landing Gear Is More Popular Than Tricycle
While you’ll find both taildragger and tricycle landing gear systems used in modern airplanes, the former is more popular among pilots than the latter. For starters, many airplanes — especially commercial airplanes — are heavy. They contain cargo and passengers that shift their center of gravity towards the back. Taildragger landing gear can support otherwise heavy airplanes thanks to the rear placement of their secondary wheel.
Airplanes with taildragger landing gear are typically easier to handle than those with tricycle landing gear. Landing gear, of course, doesn’t affect how an airplane handles during flight. It only affects handling during takeoffs and landings. Nonetheless, taildragger landing gear allows pilots to control airplanes more easily when taking off and landing because of the rear placement of its secondary wheel.