While much investment has been put into advancing the speed capabilities of aircraft over the years with higher engine thrust and refined structures, improving the technology that provides speed reduction has been just as important to aviation engineers. Whether slowing the aircraft down for a descent or coming to a full stop once on the ground, a number of devices and systems must work together in order to reduce the speed of an aircraft during operations as needed. With the use of spoilers and brakes, pilots can harness the forces of drag and aerodynamics to efficiently and safely reduce the speed of their aircraft during flight and ground procedures.
To achieve heavier-than-air flight for fixed-wing aircraft, wings are shaped specifically to cause air to travel faster on the top of the surface as compared to the bottom. This results in a drop in air pressure above the wing as the higher air pressure below begins to exert an upwards force. As such, the wings will be lifted up into the air, and thus the aircraft can fly with ease. Nevertheless, flight is always opposed by an opposite mechanical force known as drag that combats lift and speed. As drag is generated by a solid object moving through a fluid, lift, speed, and other flight dynamics may be adjusted through the use of drag.
As a control surface that helps govern flight, airplane spoilers are panels that are typically mounted to the upper surfaces of wings on larger aircraft. With a spoiler, the amount of lift that is produced by a wing can be disrupted by increasing drag and mitigating airflow. As such, flight spoilers are useful components for the means of slowing down an aircraft for descents and landing procedures. Depending on the aircraft and its configuration, airplane spoilers may come in various forms.
For most aircraft that have spoiler surfaces, ground spoiler functionality will be present. Actuated upon the landing ground roll, ground spoilers are used to dump all of the lift produced by the wing so that the entirety of the aircraft load is placed on the landing gear. To achieve this, ground spoilers are deployed to their peak angles which creates a large amount of drag. Depending on the aircraft in question, the operation of ground spoilers may be conducted automatically or manually through pilot control. For increasing drag for various needs during a flight operation, a flight spoiler may be used. As compared to the ground spoiler, flight spoilers are only deployed during flight operations and may be actuated through cockpit controls. With many modern electronic flight control systems, pilots may not even have to worry about the deployment of flight spoilers due to automatic control and adjustment.
Similar to the spoiler, speed brakes are also highly useful for achieving stopping power for aircraft. Commonly found on many high performance aircraft models, speed brakes are small drag devices that are often mounted to the fuselage. To slow an aircraft down, speed brakes can be extended into the airstream via actuation by the pilot, and they produce high amounts of drag. While speed brakes, air brakes, and spoilers are all terms that are used interchangeably by many pilots, speed brakes differ from spoilers in the fact that they do not affect lift on the wings.
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