Airplanes rely on a braking system to safely land on runways. At cruising altitude, most commercial airplanes fly at a speed of roughly 500 to 600 mph. When landing, however, they must reduce their speed. A typical 747, for instance, has a landing speed of about 160 to 170 mph. And upon touching the runway, airplanes must quickly brake until they come to a complete stop. How do airplanes brake when landing exactly?
Many airplanes use wing spoilers to assist with braking when landing. Not to be confused with ailerons, spoilers are extendable flaps on the ends of an airplane’s wings. Pilots can raise the spoilers to decelerate the airplane as it approaches the runway. And even while on the runway, pilots will typically leave the wing spoilers raised. Raised wing spoilers create drag, which essentially slows down the airplane so that it’s able to brake more quickly.
In addition to wing spoilers, airplanes use disc brakes. Airplane disc brakes are similar to the braking system in automobiles. They consist of a pair of calipers that, when engaged, squeeze pads against the rotors of an airplane’s landing gear.
Disc brakes are designed to remain static at all times. In other words, they don’t rotate with the wheels of an airplane’s landing gear. As the wheels turn, the disc brakes will remain static and stationary. They are a vital component of an airplane’s braking system because they are designed to apply pressure to the airplane’s wheels. Disc brakes will squeeze the wheels, thereby slowing down the speed at which they spin. In turn, this reduces the speed of the airplane so that it can come to a complete stop on the runway.
Finally, many jet airplanes use reverse thrust to assist with braking during landings. Reverse thrust is a feature in jet engine airplanes that, as the name suggests, involves the reversal of the engines’ thrust. When flying, the thrust is projected out the rear of an airplane’s engines. When landing, however, pilots may use the reverse thrust feature. Reverse thrust changes the direction of the engines’ thrust. Rather than projecting out the rear, the thrust will be projected out the front. This reversal of thrust provides deceleration that allows airplanes to slow down more quickly when landing.