Landing gear is a crucial element of aircraft, allowing them to safely touchdown on a surface at the end of a flight operation. Depending on the type of aircraft, its weight, and general application, the configuration of landing gear may differ greatly from model to model. The tailwheel-type assembly, or simply tailwheel assembly, is a common configuration in which three wheels are placed across the bottom of the fuselage. As a unique type of design when compared to other options, it can be beneficial to have a general understanding of the tailwheel assembly and its various advantages over other counterparts for certain types of aircraft.
Also known as conventional landing gear, the tailwheel assembly consists of three wheels in which a single matching wheel pair is typically present near the nose of the aircraft while a single wheel is placed near the tail-end. The front wheels are always ahead of the center of gravity while the rear wheel is behind it, ensuring an optimal balance during operations. The optimal balance of gravity across the three wheels is also crucial for a pilot to be able to conduct takeoffs and landings safely.
While not the most popular option for a variety of modern aircraft, the tailwheel assembly long served aircraft during the early days of flight, and they may still be present on numerous smaller, piston-powered planes. As the back wheel of the tailwheel assembly is often smaller than the front pair, it causes the aircraft to have its tail leaning towards the ground while on a surface, hence why they are often referred to as “taildragger gear.”
There are many reasons as to why a designer may choose the tailwheel assembly specifically when creating an aircraft, one such reason being the simplicity of the configuration. Tailwheel assembly gear is often lightweight, and drag can be minimized by having the main gear encased within streamlined fairings. Additionally, there are other various advantages to such configurations, including the large angle of attack already present as the aircraft speeds down a runway for liftoff. With its nose pushing up into the air, a greater amount of lift is generated during forward movement, reducing the amount of distance that is required for optimal takeoff and landing operations. With the attitude, the propeller is also given a larger clearance between each tip and the ground surface.
Nevertheless, tailwheel assemblies are not without their various disadvantages, and it is important to be well aware of them if you are deciding between different aircraft with varying landing gear configurations. One of the biggest issues that tailwheel assemblies face is in regard to their handling characteristics is instability as a result of the aircraft’s center of gravity. To ensure that a tailwheel assembly aircraft touches down as safely as possible, the pilot will need to conduct the approach with much care as to not have one wheel hit the ground first, causing the aircraft to veer in the direction of the grounded wheel.
Alongside this issue, pilots will need to be aware that they will have less visibility during taxiing as a result of the aircraft nose tilting up. With this orientation, crew members will have to compensate for the slope of the cabin, which can also make loading cargo a bit more difficult. Lastly, fuel may have a harder time reaching the engine due to the upward angle of the fuselage.
Despite such shortcomings, there are many aircraft that still take advantage of the tailwheel assembly due to its advantages, and there are varying forms that have come about over the years to remedy some issues. The tricycle wheel assembly is the most popular form of the tailwheel assembly in the modern day, and it features two main gears aft of the center of gravity while another is placed close to the nose. This configuration greatly increases the stability of the aircraft, removing the ground loop problem of conventional designs. Additionally, tricycle wheel configurations also make taxiing and steering easier. Alongside such a major example, other common designs include the bicycle gear, single main gear, quadricycle gear, and multi-bogey gear configuration.
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