Why do the Vipers in Battlestar Galactica use skids as landing gear instead of wheels?

Did they use the skids when landing at airfields back in the colonies?

Viper Mk2 with skids

I'm mostly interested in in-universe explanations but I would also be very interested in why the prop designers didn't go for wheels.

6 Answers 6


I think the argument about pneumatic tyres is irrelevant, and also uninteresting. You could have gear with metal tyres (like a train has). More interesting is why no wheels at all?

In-universe explanation

Let's look at the role of the gear during take-off. When a Viper is accelerated along the launch tube (presumably using some kind of magnetic rail system, in addition to the Viper's engines) it apparently reaches combat speed on exit. Today's ship-launched jet fighters have wheels and reach take-off speed (in atmosphere), but nothing close to combat speed.

What would be the risk of a wheel fouling in the launch tube, at combat speed? It would probably be catastrophic to the Viper and serious for the Battlestar.

For that matter skids wouldn't be much better, if there was some foreign object in the tube.

Looking at some images on the Net, it seems that for the launch the Viper is mounted onto a catapult under the main fuselage Viper in launch tube - 1/12 scale model - Ian Lawrance

Viper in launch tube - 1/12 scale - rear view

Those images are both of the same model by model maker Ian Lawrance - awesome work!

My in-universe conjecture here is that the gear are not involved in take-off, only in landing, and the use of skids makes it easier to engineer a gear which can retract to become flush to the fuselage. Also, the Viper's deck operations take place in zero or controlled gravity where wheels would not assist, so they are not necessary.

Real-world explanation

For real-world thoughts, here's a studio archive image of a Viper prop: Viper on launch rails - studio mock-up Galactia TV

In the real world, it gets better: the '70s studio mock-up skids had wheels

enter image description here

Clearly these wheels assisted in moving the mock-up around the studio, where there's no controlled gravity. But the designer went for skids, presumably for aesthetic reasons. Maybe they felt wheels look too pedestrian.

The Galactica TV page about Viper Mockup also explains that in the real world, the merchandice for the Viper were released before the first broadcast of the show, and these models were designed to re-use parts from other contemporary TV and movie space ships - notably the Star Wars franchise. So the skids likely came from a toy X-Wing or other Rebel Alliance space ship.

The best image I can find of a period Viper toy showing the gear is this pinterest pin which actually has a wheel:

enter image description here

So I'm not sure now, maybe there were other toys with skids. The skids even on the 70s studio mockup and models only look vaguely like an X-Wing skid too.

The X-15

An X-15, with landing skids and nose wheel down, alongside an F-104 with wheels down

I recently saw a video of the X-15 space-plane landing at Edwards AFB. It used skids on the rear fuselage, and a wheel in the nose.

A distinct feature of the X-15s were the main retractable landing gears, which used skids instead of wheels for simplicity and weight reduction. The skids, coupled with a non-steerable nose-landing wheel, required the aircraft to land on a dry lakebed rather than a conventional concrete runway

-- X-15 fact sheet, NASA Dryden Flight Research Center

It struck me that this could have been an inspiration for the TV show's model designers, especially since it was a space-plane, like the Viper.


If you watch a Viper landing on the deck of BattleStar Galactica Ideally they come to a Hover and then lower the Landing Gear and drop down. wheels would make this action more unstable and in any case brakes would need to be applied to stop the wheels moving creating more mechanics that can go wrong. in addition when taking off the legs are retracted so wheels would not make launching easier.

Finally the use of Skids allows for a magnetised Docking Bay that locks the Vipers in position meaning that if the Battlestar rolls, vibrates or moves the Vipers are less likely to slide around the deck causing injury.

@ Revenant Tyres in space would work, but they would have to be Solid and not filled with gas.

  • 4
    Why couldn't tyres be filled with gas? The space shuttle used pneumatic tyres, see this question for details on that.
    – Burgi
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 9:59
  • 3
    I cant remember where I read it, going to look through my BSG books this evening to try and find that but I def read it in an official manual somewhere but if landing normally Vipers hover. In a combat landing situation they don't have the time to come to a stop before hitting the ground hence they come in Nose up and let the rear skids bounce them off the ground to a stop. In this case again wheels would work against them or simply Skid along the floor with the brakes applied.
    – Richard C
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 10:46
  • 2
    We see a lot more combat landings than we do controlled landings. Raptors work the same way, and we do see more controlled landings for them.
    – T.J.L.
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 12:55
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    Consider also the (potential) need to land on alien worlds and uninhabited moons, and other unpaved surfaces. Having wheels is useless in cases where there is no paved runway to land on, and a blown tire (due to atmospheric or surface conditions) might make it impossible to keep the Viper upright for eventual take off. Wheels also have bearings and other moving parts that can get clogged with space dust while on the ground. Skids keep things simple for the rough times, and I seem to recall it being mentioned in the show that there's an auto-pilot docking process for the not-so-rough times.
    – Steve-O
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 13:26
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    Also, just to point out, space has no gravity. If you have a viper coming in to land in the battlestar's pods it's likely that the grav plating is switched off so the magentic attraction of the skids is the only thing slowing them down and stopping them from flying straight out the other end.
    – RobbG
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 15:18

Just to drop in a note... "Space shuttle uses tires" is used as a dismissive why they "won't work in space"

The tires are one time use as the temperature cycling causes embrittlement and equally it is under higher pressure than normal tires.

Also when a shuttle comes into land it is gliding in ATMOUSPHERE so there is alot of drag on landing. When a viper "lands" on the desk there would be no air friction, vipers would be coming in alot faster and I am also certain the "runway" is alot shorter. The "rubber" would not present significant friction


The easiest in-universe example I can think of is that skids are cheaper and less prone to mechanical failure than tires, and since Vipers can "soft land" if they need to (not in combat obviously), then there's no need to have complicated tire and braking systems to stop them. Either they're going to combat land (in which case who knows if tires can stand up to the force, and there's a lot of parts to break) or soft land (in which case a skid is no worse than a tire).

Now, imagine that you're on BSG, facing supply issues, constant attacks, and barely keeping your fleet of Vipers flying. Would you rather have each one have three sets of tires, brakes, etc, or three chunks of steel when it comes time to repair and replace parts? I think I know which one the Chief would pick, even if he has to bang dents out of the flight deck.


In universe the Vipers are primarily launched and return to Battlestars the landing skids allow them to land with minimal space required (on a separate note Im not sure what pressurized tires would do in space)

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    NASA's Space Shuttle used tyres. Why would using skids reduce the space needed to land?
    – Burgi
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 8:38
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    The space shuttle isnt a fighter that needs to refuel and rearm in the middle of battle, it also doesnt have maneuvering thrusters capable of supporting its weight in a gravity field.
    – Revenant
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 8:42
  • Your comment doesn't seem entirely relevant to your initial argument.
    – Burgi
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 10:04
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    Pressurized tires do just fine in space. As Burgi points out, the space shuttle had tires in space. Atmospheric pressure on Earth (presumably similar pressures are found on the Battlestars) is 14.7 PSI so if you design a tire that can withstand pressures that are 14.7 PSI greater than what it is inflated to when on the Battlestar, you'll be just fine. And that's not difficult, since for example my bike tires get inflated to 40 PSI usually but can easily withstand 60 PSI. Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 13:45

This is an old post but I'm surprised no one mentioned this, at least in the most liked answer. Tyres/tires would not work because space is a vacuum, thus tires would explode if filled with gas, assuming they were made of some sort of rubber (read the NASA thing about tires for shuttles, vipers are way lighter that a shuttle/rocket, they push they around by hand on jacks, so having thick rubbered 300psi tires would be pretty unlikely). And its not just combat landings, remember at the beginning of the series, episode one probably, everyone can't believe that you have to land hot with the pilot on the stick for the galactica? That would suggest that the landing skids were more likely the standard around the fleet and just happened to be funky for galactica landings.

  • 4
    The space shuttle used pressurised tyres
    – Burgi
    Commented Jul 13, 2018 at 8:41
  • 2
    If tires exploded in space, then so would space suits.
    – JohnP
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 17:36

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