How Do Aircraft Disc Brakes Work?

While aircraft designs primarily focus on flight capabilities, it is essential that such vehicles are also able to operate safely on the ground as required. For example, if an aircraft operates in and around an airport, they must be able to safely traverse runways and hangers, as well as be able to efficiently come to a stop during the landing process. In order to effectively do all of this, many aircraft feature brake assemblies on their wheels, the disc brake being the most common type. In this blog, we will discuss aircraft disc brakes in more detail, allowing you to have a general understanding of their design and functionality.

The disc brake assemblies of aircraft are somewhat comparable to those of automobiles, featuring calipers that squeeze down onto pads so that they press against the spinning rotor. As this occurs, friction will rise as the rotational speed of the rotor plummets. Depending on the amount of brake force applied, the rotor may be slowed until it is fully stationary and held. As friction is used to reduce speed and motion, the byproduct of braking is heat that must be properly dispersed for safety.

For an aircraft, the braking command signal is sent to the brakes when the pilot depresses a foot pedal in the cockpit. Additionally, some aircraft may feature an autobrake system which will send command signals to brake actuators as required. With either system, the brake will move a piston to squeeze discs together when the command signal is received.

The discs themselves will be situated on a carrier assembly, and a torque tube will be situated alongside the discs to help resist and transmit brake torque to the landing gear structure. With continued use of brakes, materials will wear away as discs become thinner over time. As such, brake pad materials will need to be replaced on a regular basis depending on how much use they face.

Despite a variety of power sources being available for brake actuation, many modern aircraft feature hydraulic assemblies for such tasks. As such, a brake fluid will be supplied to the hydraulic actuator to create a braking force, and a servo valve will govern the amount of fluid that is supplied at one time. To press the discs together, a hydraulic cylinder is relied upon. Aside from hydraulic systems, electric brakes are also quite popular. With these assemblies, power is provided by the onboard electric system, and electricity is converted into mechanical power that may be harnessed by the electromechanical actuators of the brake.

            As stated before, disc brake assemblies generate a large amount of heat as a result of the friction needed for slowing, and this heat must be removed from the assembly to avoid various hazards and damage. One part of cooling is passive as natural conduction reduces temperatures as heat radiates into the surrounding air. As this is generally not enough to fully protect the assembly, fans will often be implemented to force air through brakes.

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