Aerodynamics: Construction Part 3

This is the third part of our three part series about aircraft construction, which will be covering landing gear, propeller, engine, and lights. You can learn about the fuselage, wings, and empennage in Part 1, and the flight controls in Part 2. This excerpt comes from Bob Gardner‘s The Complete Private Pilot.

Landing Gear
The two main landing wheels and their supporting structure are designed to withstand landing loads and support the airplane on the ground. A third, smaller wheel mounted either forward (tricycle) or aft (conventional) is for ground steering control only. Nosewheels are usually close to or a part of the engine mount and are definitely not designed to absorb landing loads. (Your instructor will devote a lot of training time to making sure that you do not land on the nose wheel!)

The shiny cylinders on nose wheels and some main landing gear are called struts (the Katana’s nosewheel uses replaceable rubber “doughnuts”). They absorb the bumpiness of runways taxiways. The shiny kind are filled with air and oil, just like your car’s shock absorbers. When a strut is “flat” there is no cushioning effect and vibrations are transmitted to the entire airframe. You will see some airplanes which use a spring steel assembly on the main landing gear instead of a strut.

Almost all airplanes use disc brakes on the main landing gear, and you can see the discs if there are no wheel pants. Checking brake condition is considerably easier to do on airplanes than it is on cars. The nose wheel is usually not steerable with the rudder pedals and swivels freely, so steering is accomplished by tapping the brake lightly on the side toward the turn.

The propellers you see may be either fixed or variable in pitch, or blade angle. You will probably see some amphibians (airplanes that can land on either land or water) with pusher-type propellers, but most are mounted up front and pull the airplane through the air. The conical spinner is not only decorative but servers to direct air into the cooling air intakes.

Modern airplanes have four- or six-cylinder flat opposed engines: when you open the cowling, you see that the cylinders are on opposite sides of the engine, and that the flat profile allows maximum aerodynamic streaming of the cowling. As you walk along the ramp you may see an older airplane with a radial engine, its cylinders arranged in a “star” pattern. Most light sport aircraft use water-cooled Rotary engines.

The lighting system on a modern airplane consists of position lights on the wing tips (red on the left, green on the right) and a white light on the tail, and anticollision light system which may be either red or white (or both) and one or more landing lights. Many airplanes also have bright flashing strobe lights to increase the chances of being seen during both day and night flights.

You can purchase The Complete Private Pilot on our website at, which also contains even more resources for student pilots. On Thursday, the CFI will be back with more FAA Knowledge Exam questions.


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