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Plane Facts: Airplane Tires

Who could have guessed: airplane tires are fascinating!

We tend to take our plane’s tires for granted. Before a flight, we check the tires (or at least we should!) for proper inflation and general condition–bald spots are bad. But the history of aircraft tires is fascinating, as is the technology behind them. What size they are, how they’re stowed or streamlined and even how many we put on each landing gear leg, are all critical parts of the design process, and for good reason. Tires that are poorly designed or installed on hastily conceived wheels or gear legs can and have threatened the success of the entire model lineup. And the loss of tires on takeoff and the subsequent fire brought down one of the most famous planes in history. We underestimate the importance of an aircraft’s tires at our peril. 


First pneumatic airplane-specific tire: Goodyear 1909

Number of tires on the Antonov AN-225 freighter: 32

Typical cost of a tire for a light plane: $100-$250

Cost of the tires on the Airbus A380: About $5,500 apiece

Number of retreads a tire can take: Up to 10 before replacement

Composition of almost all aircraft tires: Rubber, steel and fabric

Length of time it takes NASCAR pit crews to change a tire: A few seconds

For ready-to-go crew to change a tire on an Airbus A320: 45 minutes

Inflation pressure in a typical car’s tires: 35 psi

Inflation of the tires in a Lockheed Martin F-16: 320 psi

Convair XB-36 airplane tires
A close-up of the single-wheeled portside main gear unit on a Convair XB-36.

Inflation gas in a light plane: Air

In an airliner: Nitrogen

Reason: Nitrogen is inert, so it doesn’t react with the rubber at high altitudes

Rated speed for a typical airliner tire: 200-250 mph

Reason for chines (perpendicular fins on the sidewalls): Keep rain water from getting into the engine inlets

Largest aircraft tire (that we’ve been able to find): 110 inches, B-36 Peacemaker bomber

Weight of the B-36 tire on the runway: 156 pounds per square inch

Number of runways worldwide in late ’30s rated to handle that load: 3

Ultimate replacement: A four-wheel bogie (multi-wheel gear)

Failed alternative: Tank-style tracks

Problem with SR-71 Blackbird tires: High heat could ignite them

Solution: An aluminum–latex blend filled with nitrogen

Inflation pressure: 415 psi

Size of DC-3 tailwheel: 6 inches, larger than J-3 Cub main gear

Reason for FAA testing of large-tire airplanes, 1995: Frequent stall-spin crashes

FAA theory at the time: Large tires cause stall increase as bank increases

FAA finding: Inconclusive

Largest size tundra tire approved by FAA today: 35-inch tire diameter

X-15 nose tire problem: Prone to shredding on landing

Landing speed of X-15: 242 mph

Main gear on X-15: Metal skids

First radial tire approved by FAA: Goodyear, 1983

Reason that rubber builds up on runways: Spin-up friction

Amount deposited on a runway by landing jet liner: 1 pound

Pounds of rubber built up on a typical international airport runway every three months: 10,000 pounds

Reason it has to be regularly removed: Increases risk of hydroplaning

Most common removal method: Water pressure (up to 40,000 psi and 30 gallons per minute)

Other methods: Chemical removal and milling of the runway surface

Number of dimensions used to describe aircraft tires: At least 12

Number of tires on the space shuttle: 6 (two nose and four main gear tires)

Rated speed, respectively, for those tires: 250/263 mph

Want more crazy, fun, or frightening facts about all things aviation? Check out our Plane Facts Archive.


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