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Nose gear is the name given to the landing gear in the nose of an airplane. In any type of airplane that has a tricycle type of landing gear, the wheel, tire and components in the front of the plane are referred to as nose gear. In the earliest airplane designs, the planes were called tail-draggers since the airplane had only landing gear in the center or wing area as well as a small skid or tire under the tail. Most modern designs place landing gear in the nose and under the wings, creating tricycle-designed nose gear.
In most airplane designs, the nose gear is used to steer the airplane while it is on the ground. In tail-dragger designs, the airplane is turned by applying the brake in the direction that the pilot wants the plane to turn. With nose gear, the pilot can simply turn the controls in the cockpit in the direction that he wishes the plane to turn. While equipped with brakes, the nose gear is not used to brake the airplane significantly. The main braking pressure is applied to the tires and gear at the center of the airplane.
On many airplanes equipped with nose gear, there is a landing light affixed to the gear. By mounting a light to the front gear, the pilot is better able to see where the plane is going as the light follows the path of the wheel and is pointed in the direction the gear is turned. In airplanes not so equipped, the pilot is often found in a dark and unlit area as the plane makes its turn.
While on the ground, the nose gear makes an easy-to-access point to attach towing gear. The towing gear is used to push or pull the aircraft by small utility vehicles and tractors. Resembling a long tow-bar, the tow gear is fastened to the nose gear, and the ground crew is able to maneuver the craft to any location on the airport grounds with ease. This ability does not require a pilot or the airplane to be started or running while moving.
When maneuvering a tail-dragger on the ground, the pilot is forced to use only peripheral vision since the high-pointing nose of the craft is impossible to see over. Many accidents have been avoided by placing gear in the nose of the craft. Pilots can then see over the nose of the aircraft.