The landing process for airliners is intensive, requiring enough stopping power to slow an aircraft upwards of 127,000 pounds while it touches the ground at a speed of 160 mph. Nevertheless, it is a standard procedure that most aircraft can conduct with ease, thanks to ample training and various braking systems and components that are situated across the assembly. While an automobile or another similar vehicle may only require wheel braking systems to come to a stop, the standard jet-engine aircraft will utilize disc brakes, wing spoilers, and reverse thrust to effectively slow themselves. In this blog, we will talk about these three braking methods and how they each function, allowing you to have a better understanding of the landing process.
During the approach sequence before the wheels of the aircraft touch down on the runway below, braking will begin with the deployment of wind spoilers. These surfaces are flaps that extend outward from the ends of aircraft wings, allowing for airflow to be disrupted as drag is generated. This allows for the aircraft to begin losing airspeed as it approaches the runway while maintaining a specific attitude.
Once the aircraft lands on the runway, the disc brakes will be activated, featuring caliper pairs that tightly squeeze pads against landing gear rotors for the means of generating high amounts of friction. With the simultaneous dumping of lift with flight surfaces, all the weight of the aircraft can be placed on the wheels and landing gear system, ensuring a rapid stop. Disc brakes are static during typical operations, meaning that they do not rotate alongside the wheels of the aircraft. Instead, they are simply pressed onto the wheel when actuated.
While wing spoilers and disc brakes are both highly effective for creating stopping power, pilots can also take advantage of engine combustion to slow the aircraft through a process known as reverse thrust. Reverse thrust is only available for jet-engine aircraft, and it is an operation where the thrust produced through the ignition of fuel-and-air mixtures within the combustion chamber is directed forward instead of backward. This allows for a large opposing force against the forward movement of the aircraft, ensuring that it is able to stop in time.
While reverse thrust is quite useful for stopping an aircraft at the end of a flight, it is not feasible for other processes such as backing an aircraft up from a terminal or hangar. When a turbofan engine or other jet-engine is powered, it will create large amounts of suction and blowback which can be dangerous to surrounding equipment, personnel, and buildings. Small debris can easily be sucked up into the engine as well, leading to the damaging of various internal components and systems. As a result, reverse thrust is never used for backing an aircraft up, and must be relied on selectively and carefully during the landing process.
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