Aircraft wheels and tires are required to work in extreme conditions, often supporting up to 340 tons and accelerating at speeds in excess of 150 miles per hour during takeoff. Furthermore, they are subject to varied environmental stresses while in flight and during taxiing. While cruising, tires are exposed to temperatures below -40°C and, at touchdown, tire temperatures can briefly exceed 200°C. Additionally, during a rejected takeoff, a fully loaded aircraft accelerates to takeoff speed, and then must stop on the remaining runway. In this scenario, tires must withstand extreme heat and stress until the aircraft comes to a complete stop. As the aircraft tire and wheel assembly is subjected to multiple takeoffs and landings each day, there are few aircraft components that take more daily abuse.
Aircraft tires are far too rigid to be forced on to a rim like automotive tires are. Instead, aircraft wheel hubs come in two parts (an inboard and outboard hub) which are bolted together with the tire in the center and subsequently pressurized with nitrogen. There are many types of aircraft wheels and tires, but the most common are parallel groove tires. These have several circumferential grooves molded into the tread that help channel water away from the surface and offer better handling on wet runway surfaces.
There are three main hazards faced by aircraft tires: deflation, explosive breakup, and FOD damage. Deflation refers to the tires deflating in a controlled manner with little to no direct consequence to other systems. In an explosive breakup, the tire, and sometimes the wheel, deflates or breaks up in an uncontrolled manner with significant damage to the surrounding area. FOD damage, or foreign object debris damage, refers to tire destruction caused by foreign object debris. Not every cut causes immediate or even eventual tire failure. That said, there are two worst case scenarios involved with FOD damage: one, the tire bursts if the foreign object penetrates through the tread into or through the casing, and two, the tire tread peels off if the cut damage is limited to the tread area.
Aircraft tires are smaller than you might realize. For example, a Boeing 737 commercial airliner uses wheels that are 27 inches in diameter, 7.75 inches wide, and wrapped around a 15-inch wheel. The sidewalls are not particularly thick either, and the strength of a tire usually comes down to the nylon cords below the tread. Tire performance is affected by three main factors: centrifugal force, heat generation, and tensile, compression, & shear forces. If any of these become excessive, the tire is in danger of failing.
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