How to change a Boeing 747 wheel

Roly Weller supervises apprentices Chay Oliver and Ben Brash as they change the 747 wheel.

Roly Weller supervises apprentices Chay Oliver and Ben Brash as they change the 747 wheel.

The Formula One season rolls into Silverstone for the British GP this weekend. It’s sure to be an action-packed race with plenty of thrills, and it’s a good opportunity to admire the teamwork and speed of the pit crews who change the car wheels. It’s all very impressive. But we think our engineering team at Gatwick are better. Here’s why.

  • Our line engineering technicians and maintenance assistants are the people who do the regular wheel changes on our aircraft. The process isn’t dissimilar to a car wheel change but on a much bigger scale, with wheel change kits loaded up and ready to use for the start of every shift.
  • Although both teams rely on great skill and years of training there are big differences. A Formula 1 pit stop this season is working out at anything between 2.5 and 3 seconds. It all happens in a bit of a blur. Our engineering team at Gatwick on the other hand, aren’t in a race. They’re highly skilled but do things in a very methodical way. It takes about half an hour to change the wheel of a Boeing 747. With 455 people onboard that works out at 2.6 seconds per person. Per capita that would put our engineers among the fastest F1 pit crews who have just one person onboard.

In this video two of our most experienced engineers, Chris Martyr, B1 certifying engineer, Roly Weller, “A” licensed technician and Mick Jenner, Maintenance Assistant, show two of our most recent engineering apprentices, Chay Oliver and Ben Brash, how to change the wheel on a 747.

  • A 747 main wheel weighs 228kg and is 56 inches measured from top to bottom.
  • Each aircraft has 18 wheels, numbered according to the diagram below. The wheel we changed in our video was number 6.
  • Last year at Gatwick we changed 499 wheels. There’s no maintenance schedule for tyre changes. They’re changed as and when needed. Over and above normal wear and tear, many things can shorten the life of a tyre. Runway conditions, hard landings and debris picked up off the taxiways can all have an impact on a tyre’s life.  But the overwhelming majority of our tyre changes are due to normal wear.
  • Tyres are filled with nitrogen to around 200psi (pounds per square inch). Nitrogen is used because at altitude the tyres are subject to extreme cold, and water vapour in air would freeze
  • The jacks used to raise the gear are initially hand operated to locate the cup in the top of the jack to the jacking point on the underside of the truck. Once located the jacks are then pneumatically operated. They can either be powered by the spent nitrogen from within the tyre or by nitrogen bottles.
  • Inflating the new tyre with nitrogen is the longest part of a 747 wheel change. This can take up to half the time of the whole process.
  • The valve to inflate the tyre is similar to the ‘Schrader Valve’ you have on your car, but the tyre pressure is much higher at around 200psi

Every day five or six of our giant Boeing 747s arrive into Gatwick. That’s a lot of wheels and tyres. Changing the wheels is one of the most common engineering jobs. It’s part of the daily routine on the engineering line where our engineers perform post-flight checks, fix any defects that have arisen during the flight and make sure everything is ship-shape for the next flight.

If you’re interested in a career in Engineering keep an eye on our recruitment pages for current vacancies or find out more about our apprentice and graduate schemes.

About Dave Gunner

Dave is the co-editor of Ruby, the Virgin Atlantic Blog. He has worked at Virgin Atlantic for over two decades. In that time he has amassed some truly epic memories but never lost his fascination with the airline world. Dave's on a mission to bring you some great insights into our people, planes and planet.
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