Aircraft on the ground may appear to have a straight set of landing gear wheels that are flat to the surface they are on Upon closer look, however, during takeoff or before landing, you will notice that the landing gear is regularly tilted. Often configured in this manner for practical storage rather than for any technical landing aspects, tilted landing gear fits perfectly into its storage compartment in the fuselage.
Since space on aircraft is precious, and the wings and fuselage are already responsible for storing fuel, additional storage space is paramount. To maximize the use of space, the wheels are tilted to fit into a smaller housing. With the help of a hydraulically-operated actuator that is located between the wheels of the landing gear, force is applied to position the wheels at the correct tilt for storage.
When landing, the actuator will first attempt to keep the landing gear tilted. As the force increases, pressure is released, enabling the wheels to level out. It is important to note that the actuator can only be powered into the extended direction, not in both directions. The reason for this is that it would necessitate a more complex, larger, heavier, and more expensive hydraulic setup to achieve such ends.
The primary function of landing gear is to absorb the force of the landing aircraft and prevent any contact between the fuselage and ground. While it is not the main purpose, the tilted landing gear aids with this. The resulting torque of the straightening gear helps to soften the landing and lower the nose gear. Another benefit of the tilt is the ability to utilize the first contact of the wheels for air/ground sensing. This may operate differently across different aircraft, but can include activating the speed brakes and allowing reverse thrust and aircraft depressurization.
Given that the tilt is not related to landing safety or technology, it is not a surprise that tilted landing gear vary by aircraft. Some have leading wheels landing first, some use the rear wheels, and some are tilted. On the Airbus A330 and A340 as well as the Boeing 747, 777, and 787, the rear wheels are lower. On the 767 and A350, it is the lead wheels that are lower. These aircraft all have the actuator located at the front of the gear, rather than the rear.
Despite the benefits of landing gear, problems with these devices are a common cause of aircraft emergencies. Any issue preventing full retraction, extension, or locking of the gear can lead to an emergency landing. In March of 2020, for example, a Virgin Atlantic A330 had a malfunction with its landing gear after takeoff which forced the aircraft to return to the airport.
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