Cessna 140 tail wheel Cessna 150 tricycle gear

Photos' source: Cessna 140 and Cessna 150.

According to Wikipedia here, the Cessna 150 is successor of Cessna 140. Both have two-seat capacity and a single engine.

Why was the Cessna 150 changed to tricycle landing gear from the "old school" tail wheel? If we consider that the two airplane models have the same weight and capacity, then what are the advantages/disadvantages of tail wheels vs. tricycle landing gear? Why are so few new tailwheel aircraft produced?

Note: I mentioned the Cessnas here solely because I knew their story better, so I can more easily compare them. This question should not be considered specific to only Cessna's products.

  • $\begingroup$ Clarification please - do you intend to aim this question at light aircraft like the Cessnas pictured? $\endgroup$ – Criggie Sep 14 '19 at 22:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Criggie, not for light aircraft only,but for all size. But both the light and the heavy aircraft, all are tricycle now, right? $\endgroup$ – AirCraft Lover Sep 15 '19 at 1:35
  • $\begingroup$ @Criggie, not for light aircraft only,but for all size. But both the light and the heavy aircraft, all are tricycle now, right? $\endgroup$ – AirCraft Lover Sep 15 '19 at 1:35
  • $\begingroup$ WRT commercial planes, I'd guess that it's as much a matter of passenger convenience as anything. Consider how much worse the boarding & deplaning process could be with a tilted floor :-) $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Sep 15 '19 at 18:52

A tailwheel is a good choice for operation on unprepared surfaces with aircraft that have low wing loading and need to be as light as possible. Two main wheels and a small tail wheel weigh less and cause less drag than a tricycle gear, especially if they cannot be retracted. On the Bo-209 Monsun only the nose gear was made retractable because, being positioned right behind the prop, it caused 40% of gear drag all by itself.

On the other hand, high wing loading aircraft with their high landing speed would need very long landing runs due to their inability to brake hard. A rejected take-off close to the decision speed would be impossible without crashing through the airfield perimeter. Braking too hard with a tailwheel configuration will cause a headstand.

To summarise the reasons given in this answer:

  • A tricycle gear offers better visibility on the ground.
  • A tricycle gear allows full brake application.
  • A tricycle gear makes loading and unloading easier because the fuselage is horizontal.
  • A tricycle gear has less drag during the initial stage of a take-off run.

Cessna simply shifted priorities between the 140 and the 150.

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    $\begingroup$ 40% isn't excessive when if balanced, it would cause 33%... $\endgroup$ – Harper - Reinstate Monica Sep 14 '19 at 22:41
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    $\begingroup$ @Harper, 40% is excessive when you realize the nose wheel is generally much smaller than the main gear. In general, a tricycle-gear plane is balanced so that the center of gravity is just barely in front of the main gear. The nose gear supports just enough weight to keep the airplane from tipping over backwards. $\endgroup$ – Mark Sep 14 '19 at 23:42
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you Peter for the nice explanation. Very complete. $\endgroup$ – AirCraft Lover Sep 15 '19 at 1:40
  • $\begingroup$ I'd think another advantage is that you only need one wheel to turn for steering, while the tail-wheel model has two steerable wheels, which means more mechanical parts, thus more weight in order to steer the plane while taxiing. You could instead design it so that the rear wheel steers, but that's far less intuitive if you're not used to it, and probably mechanically more complex - thus heavier - to run controls all the way down the tail for that. $\endgroup$ – Darrel Hoffman Sep 15 '19 at 14:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Darrel Hoffman: AFAIK the main wheels on taildraggers aren't steerable. Can't say there aren't any, but the ones I've seen aren't. Even in a tricycle gear light plane, you steer as much or more by differential braking of the mains as by turning the nose wheel. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Sep 15 '19 at 18:50

A tailwheel aircraft is particularly susceptible to a dynamic instability during landing which causes the plane to violently spin around, point backwards, and skid off the runway. This is called a ground loop and is one of the leading causes of landing accidents in tailwheel aircraft. Avoiding ground loops requires good reflexes, good training, and lots of practice.

A tricycle gear aircraft is immune to ground looping, making it easier to handle on the runway during landings.

Because the tailwheel aircraft has no nose gear, it will weigh less and experience less drag during flight than the same airframe with a nose wheel, so it can fly a little faster and a little farther on the same fuel.

However, the cost to insure the tailwheel aircraft against landing accidents is greater than the cost to insure the tricycle-gear plane, which wipes out any savings on fuel burn.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your nice explanation. It helped me understand better. $\endgroup$ – AirCraft Lover Sep 16 '19 at 14:14

Already some excellent answers here, but to add to Peter's response, in spite of the challenges, some folks prefer tail wheel planes because they are better for back country type flying - landing on unpaved surfaces, etc. If you take a look at any of the short take off and landing (STOL) contests around the country, you see almost exclusively tail wheel planes competing.

AOPA article on STOL contests

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you my friend for your explanation. Now I know better where it can be used. $\endgroup$ – AirCraft Lover Sep 16 '19 at 14:13

Why was the Cessna 150 changed to tricycle landing gear from the "old school" tail wheel?

According to my old-time teacher, the accident rate in flying school changed dramatically when changing to tricycle gear. Ground loops used to be common and potentially expensive with tail-wheels. That seems to be enough of reason for a flight school to stop buying tail wheel planes. ( The 150 I believe, was mainly targeted at schools ).

For specialized uses with trained and experienced pilots, tail-wheels are still in use.

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  • $\begingroup$ I am sorry. Seems that you have misunderstood my question. "Old school" means is, "old time". So, this question is not related to flight school. But however, thank you anyway for your explanation. $\endgroup$ – AirCraft Lover Sep 16 '19 at 14:12
  • $\begingroup$ The point is that the main buyrrs of the 140 and 150 used to be flying schools. $\endgroup$ – ghellquist Sep 21 '19 at 14:35

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