When discussing aircraft and their capabilities of flight, the wings and engine assemblies are typically the first things that individuals give credit to. While engines and wings are indeed essential for lift and thrust, they are not the only things pilots rely on during standard operations as managing the aircraft’s attitude is also essential. In order to do this, pilots utilize what are known as aircraft flight control surfaces to govern flight attitude through the adjustment of aerodynamic devices and lift. While primary flight controls offer a great amount of management over various flight axes, secondary control surfaces improve flight characteristics and relieve pilots of excessive control forces. Two of the most notable secondary flight control surface groups are spoilers and speedbrakes, both of which are manually and automatically operated throughout flight for numerous reasons. In this blog, we will discuss spoilers and speedbrakes in more detail, allowing you to better understand their design, use, and importance.
For an aircraft design to be considered optimal or efficient, it must be able to minimize drag to increase performance while decreasing overall fuel consumption. While a highly aerodynamic design is beneficial for such reasons, low drag can make the slowing of an aircraft more difficult while descending or during idle speed. To remedy this situation, speedbrakes began being implemented on high-performance military aircraft before eventually finding their way onto commercial aircraft as well due to the deployment of landing gear assemblies being a less optimal solution for increasing drag.
In general, speedbrakes can be understood as a form of high drag device, generally being fuselage-mounted panels that pivot outward into the stream of air when actuated to increase drag. Depending on the type of aircraft and its specific needs, anywhere from a single panel to multiple, symmetrically-mounted panel pairs may be found on an individual model. In other instances, speedbrakes may also be implemented on other surfaces such as the tailcone of the aircraft. As speedbrakes allow for an aircraft to slow its speed without pitching up or down, they are most often used during the final approach, touchdown, and landing processes.
Aircraft Spoilers, on the other hand, are control surfaces found on the upper surfaces of wings. Like speedbrakes, spoilers also extend into the flow of air when activated, and they increase drag through their disruption of airflow over the wing. Depending on the type of aircraft, spoilers may be used to carry out different functions, often serving as ground spoilers, roll spoilers, speedbrakes, or a combination of the three.
Almost every modern aircraft that features spoilers will have those with ground spoiler functionality. Generally, this type of spoiler option ensures that wheel brake efficiency is maximized as spoiler panels are fully extended during a ground roll or rejected takeoff to dump all generated lift. This is an important capability as it causes the full weight of the aircraft to be placed onto landing gear, raising drag and other slowing forces to keep the aircraft on the ground.
As a roll spoiler, such flight control surfaces will work together with wing ailerons to bolster roll authority and response, increasing ease of control for the benefit of the pilot. When operating off of automatic flight system commands, roll commands will take precedence over speedbrake commands so that spoiler panels may be adjusted however necessary. With this basic set of operations, roll spoilers ensure that an aircraft can better increase lift on one wing to begin a turn.
As the final primary spoiler role, speedbrake spoilers are those that deflect into the flow of air to decrease the amount of lift being generated by wings. As incorrect speedbrake spoiler actuation can lead to a hard landing, some aircraft feature automatic protection systems that retract surfaces when speeds fall below certain values. Nevertheless, pilots will use these flight control surfaces during the approach process.
With a better understanding of spoilers and speedbrakes, you can better see how such assemblies play an essential role in safe and efficient flight operations. As such, any prospective or current pilot should ensure they are well aware of how such surfaces may be used and maintained for their effective operations. If you find yourself in need of flight control products, aircraft engine parts, or other various aerospace items, we have you covered here on Aerospace Orbit with our unrivaled inventory of items that are ready for purchase today.
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