I was watching a movie recently in which a plane landed on the runway. There was a blue cloud of smoke that erupted from the tires at the moment of contact between tire and asphalt. I wondered why they couldn’t spin the tires just before landing to reduce the risk of a blowout.
My curiosity got the better of me.
It is rare for a plane to blow a tire except in the most extreme circumstances. They are very different from regular passenger car tires except in their general shape. Here’s how different.
First, the tire material is very different. The airplane tires are made with aramid, a synthetic material. It has high heat resistance properties. Further, they can handle many abrasions. The average landings for a tire are 500 times. It takes an hour to change the tire, so the more landings a tire can handle, the more money in the company’s pockets, and the more money will stay in your pocket with lower fares. Ok, wait a minute. Even for me, that’s a stretch.
The average air pressure in a passenger car tire is 32 PSI. The plane tire is at least 200 PSI. Each tire can carry a load of 38 tons. Multiply the number of tires by 38 and add in a safety factor and you’ll be close to the plane’s weight.
What’s inside the tire? Air you say. Nope. It’s nitrogen. This gas already makes up about 78% of what we call air. Unfortunately the other gases in the air – the other 22%, will cause problems. For example think about temperature differences during a flight. It could be 30C on the runway and -30C in the sky. Nitrogen is known as an inert gas and doesn’t change very much based on its surroundings.
And there are failsafe technologies. There are anti-locking brakes similar to the ABS systems in cars. But airplane tires integrate an anti-skid component that helps keep the plane travelling straight on the runway. This reduces the risk of the wheels locking up.
Finally there are fusible plugs that will pop above certain temperatures, thereby avoiding a catastrophic blowout.
I still don’t understand why it wouldn’t be better to start the tires spinning before touching down.
With all this new-found knowledge in your heads, please give this a bit of a think. What characteristics do you have that you are proud of but often missed by others? They are hiding in plain sight.
Can you think of a situation in which they were noticed? Would your close friends recognize this attribute?
I’m curious about your thoughts. Please share your bit of a think below.
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