Aircraft Tires Operation and Handling Tips | Aircraft Systems

Aircraft Tires Operation and Handling Tips

Aircraft tires experience longer life if operated in a manner to conserve wear and minimize damage. The most important factor impinging on tire performance and wear, as well as resistance to damage is proper inflation. Always inflate tires to the specified level before flight for maximum performance and minimal damage. An improperly inflated tire has increased potential to fail upon landing due to the high impact loads experienced. The following sections include other suggestions that can extend the life and the investment made in aircraft tires.


Needless tire damage and excessive wear can be prevented by proper handling of the aircraft during taxi. Most of the gross weight of an aircraft is on the main landing gear wheels. Aircraft tires are designed and inflated to absorb the shock of landing by deflection of the sidewalls two to three times as much as that found on an automobile tire. While this enables the tire to handle heavy loads, it also causes more working of the tread and produces scuffing action along the outer edges of the tread that results in more rapid wear. It also leaves the tire more prone to damage as the tread compound opens during this flexing.

An aircraft tire that strikes a chuck hole, a stone, or some other foreign object is more likely to sustain a cut, snag, or bruise than an automobile tire due to its more flexible nature. There is also increased risk for internal tire injury when a tire leaves the paved surface of the taxi way. These incidents should be avoided. Dual or multiple wheel main gear should be operated so that all tires remain on the paved surface so the weight of the aircraft is evenly distributed between the tires. When backing an aircraft on a ramp for parking, care should be taken to stop the aircraft before the main wheels roll off of the paved surface.

Taxiing for long distances or at high speeds increase the temperature of aircraft tires. This makes them more susceptible to wear and damage. Short taxi distances at moderate speeds are recommended. Caution should also be used to prevent riding the brakes while taxiing, which adds unnecessary heat to the tires.

Braking and Pivoting

Heavy use of aircraft brakes introduces heat into the tires. Sharp radius turns do the same and increase tread abrasion and side loads on the tire. Plan ahead to allow the aircraft to slow without heavy braking and make large radius turns to avoid these conditions. Objects under a tire are ground into the tread during a pivot. Since many aircraft are primarily maneuvered on the ground via differential braking, efforts should be made to always keep the inside wheel moving during a turn rather than pivoting the aircraft with a locked brake around a fixed main wheel tire.

Landing Field and Hangar Floor Condition

One of the main contributions made to the welfare of aircraft tires is good upkeep of airport runway and taxiway surfaces, as well as all ramp areas and hangar floors. While the technician has little input into runway and taxiway surface upkeep, known defects in the paved surfaces can be avoided and rough surfaces can be negotiated at slower than normal speeds to minimize tire damage. Ramps and hangar floors should be kept free of all foreign objects that may cause tire damage. This requires continuous diligence on the part of all aviation personnel. Do not ignore foreign object damage (FOD). When discovered, action must be taken to remove it. While FOD to engines and propellers gains significant attention, much damage to tires is avoidable if ramp areas and hangar floors are kept clean.

Takeoffs and Landings

Aircraft tires are under severe strain during takeoff and landing. Under normal conditions, with proper control and maintenance of the tires, they are able to withstand these stresses and perform as designed.

Most tire failures occur during takeoff which can be extremely dangerous. Tire damage on takeoff is often the result of running over some foreign object. Thorough preflight inspection of the tires and wheels, as well as maintenance of hangar and ramp surfaces free of foreign objects, are keys to prevention of takeoff tire failure. A flat spot caused on the way to the runway may lead to tire failure during takeoff. Heavy braking during aborted takeoffs is also a common cause of takeoff tire failure. [Figure 1]

Aircraft Tires Operation and Handling Tips
Figure 1. Heavy braking during an aborted takeoff caused these tires to fail

Tire failure upon landing can have several causes. Landing with the brakes on is one. This is mitigated on aircraft with anti-skid systems but can occur on other aircraft. Other errors in judgment, such as landing too far down the runway and having to apply the brakes heavily, can cause overheating or skidding. This can lead to flat-spotting the tires or blow out.


Skidding on a wet, icy, or dry runway is accompanied by the threat of tire failure due to heat build-up and rapid tire wear damage. Hydroplaning on a wet runway may be overlooked as a damaging condition for a tire. Water building up in front of the tire provides a surface for the tire to run on and contact with the runway surface is lost. This is known as dynamic hydroplaning. Steering ability and braking action is also lost. A skid results if the brakes are applied and held.

Viscous hydroplaning occurs on runways with a thin film of water that mixes with contaminants to cause an extremely slick condition. This can also happen on a very smooth runway surface. A tire with a locked brake during viscous hydroplaning can form an area of reverted rubber or skid burn in the tread. While the tire may continue in service if the damage is not too severe, it can be cause for removal if the reinforcing tread or protector ply is penetrated. The same damage can occur while skidding on ice.

Aircraft Tires Operation and Handling Tips
Figure 2. Crosscut runway surfaces drain water rapidly but increase tire wear

Modern runways are designed to drain water rapidly and provide good traction for tires in wet conditions. A compromise exists in that crosscut runways and textured runway surfaces cause tires to wear at a greater rate than a smooth runway. [Figure 2] A smooth landing is of great benefit to any tire. Much aircraft tire handling and care is the responsibility of the pilot. However, the technician benefits from knowing the causes of tire failure and communicating this knowledge to the flight crew so that operating procedures can be modified to avoid those causes.