Airplane Tires
Credit: Jonathon Davison/EyeEm/Getty Images

When airplanes safely hit the tarmac after a long flight, some people applaud the plane’s pilot, but most people don’t give a second thought to the plane’s tires.

Wired took a close look at the science behind airplane tires, and the fact that they can land without popping—over and over again—just might be worthy of applause.

Each tire is designed to withstand incredible weight loads—38 tons—and can hit the ground at 170 miles per hour (some can withstand speeds of 288 mph) more than 500 times before ever needing to get a retread.

Each plane has a significant number of tires, too, with the specifics depending on the type of plane (Boeing 777s using 14, while the Airbus A380 uses 22). That means that if one does blow out or lose its tread during a high-speed landing there are plenty of others to pick up the slack. Luckily, though the tires typically don’t blow out.

The tires are created to resist wear and tear and drag, with grooves and durable nylon or aramid cord running below the rubber tread.

But the real secret to their durability lies in something not known for its strength: air. “It’s really pressurized air that’s so strong,” said Lee Bartholomew, the lead test engineer for Michelin Aircraft Tires, who spoke to Wired.

The tires are inflated to 200 psi, which is about six times the pressure used in a car tire. That gives the tires extra strength to make all those high speed landings. That incredible pressure increases even more in jets: The tires on an F-16 fighter are inflated to 320 psi.

Each tire is carefully tested and must meet a significant safety standard before ever being put into use on a plane.