Ask the pilot: Why do planes land on the right wheel first?

Even the most experienced travelers have many questions about the inner workings of airplanes. How do they react to weather conditions? How do they get washed? How do they land most safely? The experts with all the answers are, of course, the pilots.

About Jostein Sørli                          

Age: 34
Career: Alongside his pilot training, Sørli worked as ground staff in Tromsø. He then flew Boeing 737s for another airline before joining SAS three years ago.
Home base: OSL
Flies: Boeing 737
Flight hours: 3,500

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My son is very interested in flying and watches many films about airplanes. He has a couple of questions about wheels. Why do planes land on the right wheel first? And at what altitude are the wheels released before landing?

– Lena

Hi Lena,
There’s no strict rule that dictates which wheel should touch the ground first, other than that the main wheels should touch down first in order to absorb most of the energy. Sometimes though, we do set one side down first. It often depends on the wind. If it’s blowing from the right, we usually fly with the right wing slightly lower than the left. We call it putting the wing into the wind, which is a way of counteracting the forces of increased lift on the wind-affected side. Lowering one wing will result in one main-gear touching the runway slightly ahead of the other. One can also lower one wing just before normal landing in order to get the aircraft on the ground quicker. This way we can apply the air brakes faster and stop over a shorter distance. But like I said, it really all comes down to different flying techniques.

During approach, the wheels usually come out fairly late, only a few minutes before landing. They cause a lot of drag and noise, so we try to keep them up for as long as possible. This makes for a smoother, quieter and more environment­friendly flight. I can’t give you an exact altitude for when we extend them, because it really depends on what speed and sink rate we need. But I would say that on a normal approach, we set the wheels down at around 2,000ft, or 600m. 

First Officer Jostein Sørli

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