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Conventional landing gear

A Cessna 150 converted to taildragger configuration by installation of an


aftermarket modification kit

Conventional landing gear, or tailwheel-type landing


gear, is an aircraft undercarriage consisting of two main
wheels forward of the center of gravity and a small wheel
or skid to support the tail.[1][2] The term taildragger is also
used, although some claim it should apply only to those
aircraft with a tailskid rather than a wheel.[2][3]

The term "conventional" persists for historical reasons,


but all modern jet aircraft and most modern propeller
aircraft use tricycle gear.

History
Tailwheel detail on a Tiger Moth biplane

Like many attack helicopters, the AgustaWestland Apache has a


tailwheel to allow an unobstructed arc of fire for the gun.

In early aircraft, a tailskid made of metal or wood was


used to support the tail on the ground. In most modern
aircraft with conventional landing gear, a small articulated
wheel assembly is attached to the rearmost part of the
airframe in place of the skid. This wheel may be steered
by the pilot through a connection to the rudder pedals,
allowing the rudder and tailwheel to move together.[2][3]

Before aircraft commonly used tailwheels, many aircraft


(like a number of First World War Sopwith aircraft, such
as the Camel fighter) were equipped with steerable
tailskids, which operate similar to a tailwheel. When the
pilot pressed the right rudder pedal — or the right footrest
of a "rudder bar" in World War I — the skid pivoted to the
right, creating more drag on that side of the plane and
causing it to turn to the right. While less effective than a
steerable wheel, it gave the pilot some control of the
direction the craft was moving while taxiing or beginning
the takeoff run, before there was enough airflow over the
rudder for it to become effective.

Another form of control, which is less common now than


it once was, is to steer using "differential braking", in
which the tailwheel is a simple, freely castering
mechanism, and the aircraft is steered by applying brakes
to one of the mainwheels in order to turn in that direction.
This is also used on some tricycle gear aircraft, with the
nosewheel being the freely castering wheel instead. Like
the steerable tailwheel/skid, it is usually integrated with
the rudder pedals on the craft to allow an easy transition
between wheeled and aerodynamic control.

Advantages

Douglas DC-3, a taildragger airliner


The tailwheel configuration offers several advantages
over the tricycle landing gear arrangement, which make
tailwheel aircraft less expensive to manufacture and
maintain.[2]

Due to its position much further from the center of


gravity, a tailwheel supports a smaller part of the
aircraft's weight allowing it to be made much smaller
and lighter than a nosewheel.[2] As a result, the smaller
wheel weighs less and causes less parasitic drag.[2]
Because of the way airframe loads are distributed while
operating on rough ground, tailwheel aircraft are better
able to sustain this type of use over a long period of
time, without cumulative airframe damage occurring.[2]
If a tailwheel fails on landing, the damage to the aircraft
will be minimal. This is not the case in the event of a
nosewheel failure, which usually results in a prop
strike.[2]
Due to the increased propeller clearance on tailwheel
aircraft less stone chip damage will result from
operating a conventional geared aircraft on rough or
gravel airstrips, making them well suited to bush
flying.[2]
Tailwheel aircraft are more suitable for operation on
skis.[2]
Tailwheel aircraft are easier to fit into and maneuver
inside some hangars.[2][4]

Disadvantages

A replica World War 1 F.E.2 fighter. This aircraft uses a tailskid. The small
wheel at the front is a safety device intended to prevent nose-over
accidents

The conventional landing gear arrangement has


disadvantages compared to nosewheel aircraft.[2]

Tailwheel aircraft are more subject to "nose-over"


accidents due to injudicious application of brakes by
the pilot.[2]
Conventional geared aircraft are much more
susceptible to ground looping. A ground loop occurs
when directional control is lost on the ground and the
tail of the aircraft passes the nose, swapping ends, in
some cases completing a full circle. This event can
result in damage to the aircraft's undercarriage, tires,
wingtips, propeller and engine. Ground-looping occurs
because, whereas a nosewheel aircraft is steered from
ahead of the center of gravity, a taildragger is steered
from behind (much like driving a car backwards at high
speed), so that on the ground a taildragger is inherently
unstable, whereas a nosewheel aircraft will self-center
if it swerves on landing. In addition, some tailwheel
aircraft must transition from using the rudder to steer
to using the tailwheel while passing through a speed
range when neither is wholly effective due to the nose
high angle of the aircraft and lack of airflow over the
rudder. Avoiding ground loops requires more pilot
training and skill.[1][2]

A parked Vought F4U Corsair. If this aircraft were taxiing, the pilot would
be unable to see the photographer

Tailwheel aircraft generally suffer from poorer forward


visibility on the ground, compared to nose wheel
aircraft. Often this requires continuous "S" turns on the
ground to allow the pilot to see where they are
taxiing.[2]
Tailwheel aircraft are more difficult to taxi during high
wind conditions, due to the higher angle of attack on
the wings which can then develop more lift on one side,
making control difficult or impossible. They also suffer
from lower crosswind capability and in some wind
conditions may be unable to use crosswind runways or
single-runway airports.[2]
Due to the nose-high attitude on the ground, propeller-
powered taildraggers are more adversely affected by P-
factor – asymmetrical thrust caused by the propeller's
disk being angled to the direction of travel, which
causes the blades to produce more lift when going
down than when going up due to the difference in angle
the blade experiences when passing through the air.
The aircraft will then pull to the side of the upward
blade. Some aircraft lack sufficient rudder authority in
some flight regimes (particularly at higher power
settings on takeoff) and the pilot must compensate
before the aircraft starts to yaw. Some aircraft,
particularly older, higher powered aircraft such as the P-
51 Mustang, cannot use full power on takeoff and still
safely control their direction of travel. On landing this is
less of a factor, however opening the throttle to abort a
landing can induce severe uncontrollable yaw unless
the pilot is prepared for it.

Jet-powered tailwheel aircraft


Royal Navy Supermarine Attacker landing at RNAS Stretton, England,
1956

Jet aircraft generally cannot use conventional landing


gear, as this orients the engines at a high angle, causing
their jet blast to bounce off the ground and back into the
air, preventing the elevators from functioning properly.
This problem occurred with the third, or "V3" prototype of
the German Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter.[5] After the
first four prototype Me 262 V-series airframes were built
with retracting tailwheel gear, the fifth prototype was
fitted with fixed tricycle landing gear for trials, with the
sixth prototype onwards getting fully retracting tricycle
gear. A number of other experimental and prototype jet
aircraft had conventional landing gear, including the first
successful jet, the Heinkel He 178, and a single Vickers
VC.1 Viking, which was modified with Rolls Royce Nene
engines to become the world's first jet airliner.
The sole surviving Yak-15. Vadim Zadorozhny Technical Museum,
Moscow, 2012

Rare examples of jet-powered tailwheel aircraft that went


into production and saw service include the British
Supermarine Attacker naval fighter and the Soviet
Yakovlev Yak-15. Both first flew in 1946 and owed their
configurations to being developments of earlier propeller
powered aircraft. The Attacker 's tailwheel configuration
was a result of it using the Supermarine Spiteful's wing,
avoiding expensive design modification or retooling. The
engine exhaust was behind the elevator and tailwheel,
reducing problems. The Yak-15 was based on the
Yakovlev Yak-3 propeller fighter. Its engine was mounted
under the forward fuselage. Despite its unusual
configuration, the Yak-15 was easy to fly. Although a
fighter, it was mainly used to prepare Soviet pilots for
flying more advanced jet fighters.

Monowheel undercarriage

A Schleicher ASG 29 glider shows its monowheel landing gear


A variation of the taildragger layout is the monowheel
landing gear.

To minimize drag, many modern gliders have a single


wheel, retractable or fixed, centered under the fuselage,
which is referred to as monowheel gear or monowheel
landing gear. Monowheel gear is also used on some
powered aircraft, where drag reduction is a priority, such
as the Europa XS. Both monowheel gliders and
monowheel power aircraft use retractable wingtip legs
(with small castor wheels attached) to prevent the
wingtips from striking the ground. A monowheel aircraft
may have a tailwheel (like the Europa) or a nosewheel
(like the illustrated Schleicher glider).

Training
Taildragger aircraft require more training time for student
pilots to master. This was a large factor in the 1950s
switch by most manufacturers to nosewheel-equipped
trainers, and for many years nosewheel aircraft have been
more popular than taildraggers. As a result, most Private
Pilot Licence (PPL) pilots now learn to fly in tricycle gear
aircraft (e.g. Cessna 172 or Piper Cherokee) and only later
transition to taildraggers.[2]
Techniques
Landing a conventional geared aircraft can be
accomplished in two ways.[6]

Normal landings are done by touching all three wheels


down at the same time in a three-point landing. This
method does allow the shortest landing distance but can
be difficult to carry out in crosswinds,[6] as rudder control
may be reduced severely before the tailwheel can become
effective.

The alternative is the wheel landing. This requires the pilot


to land the aircraft on the mainwheels while maintaining
the tailwheel in the air with elevator to keep the angle of
attack low. Once the aircraft has slowed to a speed that
can ensure control will not be lost, but above the speed at
which rudder effectiveness is lost, then the tailwheel is
lowered to the ground.[6]

Examples
Examples of tailwheel aircraft include:

Airplanes

de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver


Douglas DC-3