Not trying to get into the age old debate of which is better. From mechanical perspective, all landing gears are just long cantilevered beams. With a greater instability, one would expect tail draggers to not be preferred for a rough ground surface.

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    $\begingroup$ Only thing I can think of has nothing to do with the gear, but keeps the prop further away from the ground. Nose-wheel airplanes have very small prop clearances while tail draggers have good prop clearance. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Nov 8, 2016 at 16:30
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    $\begingroup$ Related: Why tail wheel rather than tricycle? $\endgroup$
    – fooot
    Nov 8, 2016 at 16:42
  • $\begingroup$ If you land on a grass runway and drop the little wheel in a gopher hole, what happens next? I'd expect a nose dragger to tumble upside down. $\endgroup$ Nov 8, 2016 at 17:56
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    $\begingroup$ @DanPichelman do you mean a headstand? $\endgroup$
    – dalearn
    Nov 8, 2016 at 18:48
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    $\begingroup$ @dalearn - headstand, nosestand, really bad day $\endgroup$ Nov 8, 2016 at 19:02

2 Answers 2


To expand/clarify upon the other answer, bush planes and the like use tail wheels because imagine if when landing on a rough runway, your little tiny nose wheel hit a rock. That could be catastrophic. However, on a taildragger, the big main landing gear can go over some obstacles, and the little wheel on the back won't pose a big problem with small rocks and such. The little wheel will just bump over the obstacle, instead of possibly skidding on it and throwing the whole plane off. Effectively, the plane is dragging the tail wheel over the obstacle vs. pushing the tail wheel into the obstacle. So, that's why I think that tail draggers are preferred for a rough surface.

Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong... I've never really flown a plane in my life. I'm just an enthusiast.

  • $\begingroup$ this is not "another reason", but a consequence of what I wrote. A nose wheel is pushed down into the rock, while a tail wheel is pulled up and over. $\endgroup$
    – bogl
    Nov 10, 2016 at 14:23
  • $\begingroup$ True, but I expanded upon a specific part of your answer. If you feel I plagiarized your answer, I will delete this answer and relegate it to the comments section. $\endgroup$
    – cessnageek
    Nov 10, 2016 at 16:15
  • $\begingroup$ Don't worry. I do not care about reputation points. But you why don't you write that you want to expand on the other answer, or add another angle, etc. That would be easier for the reader. $\endgroup$
    – bogl
    Nov 11, 2016 at 7:49
  • $\begingroup$ Counterexample: Twin Otters have trike gear and yet serve as excellent bush planes. $\endgroup$
    – Vikki
    May 1, 2018 at 17:53

Let's assume that the main wheels are more sturdy than nose or tail wheels.

When the plane encounters an obstacle on the runway, the inertia of the plane will push the nose down and lift the tail up.

  • the force on a nose wheel will increase
  • the force on a tail wheel will decrease

Additionally the tail wheel is further away from the COG than the nose wheel, resulting in less force needed to lift the tail compared to the force needed to lift the nose.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your thoughts. Your last comment makes me think that the less force needed to lift the tail would make the airplane more likely to flip on its back. $\endgroup$
    – SP00N
    Nov 9, 2016 at 6:16
  • $\begingroup$ @SP00N Yes, but this is about the pivot points. When only the main wheels are down, the nose wheel plane lifts its tail easier because its main wheels are further backward than the taildragger's main wheels. As soon as the nose wheel is down, the nose wheel plane cannot rotate forward any more without breaking the front gear. When the taildragger rotates forward, the next parts after the main gear to contact ground are propeller and cowling... $\endgroup$
    – bogl
    Nov 9, 2016 at 9:11
  • $\begingroup$ Wouldn't hitting an obstacle bounce the nose up, not down? $\endgroup$
    – Vikki
    May 1, 2018 at 18:42
  • $\begingroup$ Obstacle means the wheels cannot roll over. The wheels are stopped, not lifted. The plane's center of gravity has a forward momentum and will start rotate around the wheels' axes. This turns the nose down. $\endgroup$
    – bogl
    May 1, 2018 at 18:47

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